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Eikev, 5781

כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם... כי על כל מוצא פי ד' יחיה האדם

Man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that Hashem decrees. (8:3)

The forty years of wandering in the wilderness served as a course of instruction and training – instruction about Hashem’s Hashgachah, Providence, and training for serene and disciplined surrender to His guidance. When our lack of conviction in Hashem’s Omnipresent care and guidance over us diminishes, our practice, which fulfills the requirements of our moral and spiritual training, likewise wanes. For forty years we lived a lifestyle that impressed upon us the notion that, “It is not by bread alone that man make a life for himself.” We have been taught that the prime factor for man’s sustenance is the…

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Eikev, 5781

ויאמר ד'... ראיתי העם הזה והנה עם קשה ערף הוא

Hashem said… “I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people.” (9:13)

Stiff-necked, otherwise known as stubbornness, obstinacy, is usually incompatible with uprightness and righteousness, because a stubborn person makes up his mind and sticks to it – even if his conduct is less than desirable. He has made up his mind, and he will stick to his guns. Hashem informs Moshe that the nation’s stubbornness is not conducive to their spiritual growth. He will send an angel to lead them. Hashem wants no part of an obstinate people. If we look back to the original redaction of the sin in Parashas Ki Sisa (Shemos 34:9), however, Moshe beseeches Hashem, Yeileich na…

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Eikev, 5781

עשה משפט יתום ואלמנה

But upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow. (10:18)

The Torah teaches us that Hashem is concerned about the honor of the downtrodden, the widow and orphan, individuals who are alone with no one to care for them. The exhortation to preserve the honor of a widow applies even to a king’s widow. In his commentary to Bereishis 37, Rabbeinu Bachya quotes this from a Midrash. The reason for this stringency is that their spirits are low and their tears are frequent. Widows and orphans who are oppressed have no one to turn to other than Hashem – Who listens. Horav Ovadiah Yosef, zl, was very careful to safeguard…

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Va'eschanan, 5781

ואתחנן אל ד' בעת ההיא

I implored Hashem at that time. (3:23)

In the Zera Kodesh, the Ropshitzer Rebbe, zl, observes that the pasuk neglects to identify “that time.” Was Moshe Rabbeinu referring to a specific time? The Ropshitzer explains that this omission is by design. The Torah is teaching us a critical lesson with regard to tefillah, prayer. No specific time is established for petitioning Hashem. We can approach the Almighty at any time. No “appointments” are necessary. A son need not have a special time to speak with his father. (If he does, both father and son have a problem.) Hashem is our Heavenly Father, Who waits for our entreaty…

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Va'eschanan, 5781

וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל

This is the Torah/teaching that Moshe placed before Bnei Yisrael. (4:44)

V’nasan lanu es Toraso, “And Hashem gave us His Torah” is the motif that should accompany each Torah learning session. When we study Torah, we are hearing the words of Hashem and carrying out His will. He gave us His Torah, so that we should learn it, learn from it, observe its precepts and lessons. It is from the Torah that we, as Jews, receive and accept our guidance concerning our derech ha’chaim, way of life. The Jew that lives his life with the Torah as his lodestar has the ability to navigate the murky, stormy waters of life, to…

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Va'eschanan, 5781

ושננתם לבניך

You shall teach them thoroughly to your children. (6:7)

Rashi comments that “children” is not an exclusive category. It applies, likewise, to one’s students, since the Torah considers students to be like children. We have a responsibility to reach out and teach, or see to it that all children are taught. If one has limited time, and he must decide between teaching his own children or someone else’s children, however, his children take precedence. Horav Yechezkel Sarna, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron, and premier expositor of the Slabodka approach to gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, was a prime example of a Rosh Yeshivah/Rebbe to whom his talmidim, students, were…

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Devarim, 5781

אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל... בין פארן ובין תופל ולבן וחצרות ודי זהב

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael… between Paran and Tophel, and Lavan, and Chatzeiros, and Di Zahav. (1:1)

Eileh ha’devarim is reference to Moshe Rabbeinu’s rebuke of Klal Yisrael for their past insurrections. In his attempt not to embarrass and offend his listeners, Moshe did not mention the sins in detail; rather, he made veiled references to the sins by using place names which alluded to the sins. Chazal (Tamid 28a) teach that one who rebukes his fellow l’shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven (solely to help and guide his fellow back to a path of appropriate behavior), will merit to dwell in the portion of Hashem… Moreover, the Heavenly Court extends over him a cord of…

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Devarim, 5781

אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael. (1:1)

Moshe Rabbeinu’s “words” were words of reproof, in which he lectured the nation for their past indiscretions. He did not censure; rather, he subtly alluded to their sins by mentioning places which intimated their sin: Why did he refer to the sins via the medium of place, rather than period/time during which the sin occurred? The Mei HaShiloach implies that since the place where they were encamped at the time of the sin’s occurrence was not their decision, they had some sort of excuse to mitigate their behavior by blaming the effects of the environment in which they were located,…

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Devarim, 5781

ד' אלקינו דבר אלינו בחרב לאמר רב לכם שבת בהר הזה

Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us in Chorev, saying: Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. (1:6)

Rashi quotes the Midrash which defines rav, enough, as abundance. This refers to the abundance of reward and achievement that Klal Yisrael gained during their one-year layover at Sinai. At Sinai, they received the Torah, built the Mishkan with its accoutrements, and Hashem designated the Zekeinim, Elders, as the leaders of the nation. Now, it was time to move on. The Nesivos Shalom offers an alternate exposition, with a homiletic twist. Chorev may be translated as destruction, referring to the churban, destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Does this mean that we as a nation in exile are finished? Do we…

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Devarim, 5781

ויפנו ויעלו ההרה ויבאו עד נחל אשכל

They turned and ascended the mountain and came until the valley of Eshkol. (1:24)

“Never allow the sadness of the past and your anxiety concerning the future to cloud the happiness of the present moment.” Chazal teach that Eshkol was the name of one of Avraham Avinu’s three friends, whom he consulted when he was commanded to have a Bris Milah. Anar advised against the procedure, claiming that it was too dangerous to chance at his advanced age. Mamreh told him to follow Hashem’s command. Eshkol concurred with Anar and added his own negativity, suggesting that Avraham’s enemies would take advantage of his weakened state. Horav Elie Munk, zl, sees an analogy in the…

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5781, Matos

וידבר משה אל ראשי המטות

Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes. (30:2)

It is good to digress once in a while to gain insight into the eminence of those individuals who have ascended the ladders of Torah erudition sufficiently to be called Roshei ha’mattos, heads of the tribes. Someone asked Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, how many times the word “Moshe” is mentioned in the Torah. He replied, “614 times.” The questioner countered that he had checked with a computer, and the total was 616. Rav Chaim disputed this, claiming that the computer had erred. “Moshe” appears in the Torah exactly 614 times. The man was shocked. How could the computer be wrong?…

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5781, Matos

וידבר משה אל ראשי המטות... לא יחל דברו בכל היוצא מפיו יעשה

Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes… He shall not desecrate his words; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do. (30:2,3)

The Tiferes Shlomo suggests that the root of matos is yateh, to turn. The roshei ha’mattos are the leaders of the people who have the ability to turn the hearts of the people toward a positive trajectory. The Torah commands them to guard and commit to whatever exits their mouths. In other words, they should not speak from “both sides of their mouths,” saying one thing and personally doing another. They must be consistent in personally adhering to what they expect of the people. Only then will they earn the respect to have the ability to be mateh, turn, the…

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5781, Matos

וד' יסלח לה כי הניא אביה אתה

And Hashem will forgive her, for her father had restrained her. (30:6)

The implication is that the girl sinned, and, as a result, she requires Hashem’s forgiveness; but if her father had revoked her nedarim, what prohibition did she transgress? This applies to a girl who was unaware that her nedarim had been revoked, and, despite being bound by neder (in her mind), she violated its terms. In actuality, she did not sin, but she certainly acted inappropriately, thus mandating for herself some form of repentance. Chazal compare this to one who meant to eat ham and instead ended up eating kosher meat. Technically, he did not sin, but his intention was…

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5781, Matos

ויעל אהרן הכהן אל הר ההר על פי ד' וימת שם

Aharon HaKohen went up to Har HaHar at the word of Hashem and died there. (33:38)

As believing Jews, we adhere to the concept of Hashgachah Pratis, Divine Providence, which means: The world’s continued existence is directly/solely dependent upon the ratzon Hashem, will of G-d. Once a man creates an entity, the creation becomes a separate entity, apart from its creator. Veritably, he created it, but now, it exists in its own right. Furthermore, each individual creation often gains control over its creator. While human beings have within them the power and capability to be creative, to unleash forces or to combine them, they are unable to control their creations or bridle the forces they have…

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5781, Masei

ונס שמה רצח מכה נפש בשגגה

And a murderer shall flee the one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

The word rotze’ach, murderer, followed by makeh nefesh, one who takes a life, is seemingly redundant. Why does the Torah repeat itself? Horav Chaim Toito, Shlita, employs the following story as a means for distinguishing between the two terms. A devout, G-d-fearing Jew lived in a small village not far from Sanz. He earned a living by using his house as an inn and restaurant. It was a lucrative business. One day, a poor man dressed in tattered clothes appeared at his inn. Being a kind-hearted man, the innkeeper gave this man a decent, nourishing meal, after which he took…

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Pinchas, 5781

פנחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן השיב חמתי מעל בני ישראל... לכן אמר הנני נתן לו את בריתי שלום

Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen, turned back My wrath from Bnei Yisrael… Therefore, say: Behold! I give him my covenant of peace. (25:11,12)

Hashem granted Pinchas and his descendants the covenant of peace as a result of Pinchas’ zealous intervention. Why was Pinchas granted this reward more than Moshe Rabbeinu? When Klal Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf, Moshe intervened on their behalf. He petitioned Hashem to forgive them to the point that he was prepared to see his name erased from the Torah. He succeeded in quelling Hashem’s displeasure with the Jewish nation – not once – but many times. Yet, it was Pinchas who intervened one time during an act of moral profligacy, and, consequently, was credited with turning back Hashem’s…

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Pinchas, 5781

ובני קרח לא מתו

The sons of Korach did not die. (26:11)

Chazal teach that Bra mizaki abba; “A son (children) brings merit to his father (forebears).” If so, why did the teshuvah, repentance, committed by Korach’s sons not serve as a merit to save him from spiritual infamy? Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, offers a powerful insight. The idea that a son’s mitzvos, z’chusim, merits, can somehow mitigate a father’s punishment applies only as long as the father has not become deficient in the principles/foundations of emunah, faith. A kofer, apostate, heretic, who has denied the existence of his Father in Heaven, who has repudiated Hashem, Our Father, Our King, cannot be…

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Pinchas, 5781

אבינו מת במדבר והוא לא היה בתוך העדה הנועדים על ד' בעדת קרח

Our father died in the wilderness, but he was not among the assembly that was gathering against Hashem in the assembly of Korach. (27:3)

The daughters of Tzlafchad approached Moshe Rabbeinu concerning their father’s inheritance. Moshe replied that he would present their case to Hashem. Our quintessential leader rarely had an issue with proffering an immediate response to a Halachic query. Why was he reluctant to answer Bnos Tzlafchad? Furthermore, the women added a caveat to their identity of Tzlafachad, claiming that he had not been a member of Korach’s mob of usurpers. Their father was not guilty of impugning Moshe’s authority. What did this introduction have to do with the case? The Minchas Chinuch, who asks this question, replies practically by employing an…

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Pinchas, 5781

יפקד ד'... איש על העדה אשר יצא לפניהם ואשר יבא לפניהם... ולא תהיה עדת ד' צאן אשר אין להם רעה

May Hashem appoint… a man over the assembly who shall go out before them and come in before them… and let the assembly of Hashem not be like sheep that have no shepherd. (27:16,17)

The text of the pasuk appears superfluous. Once Moshe Rabbeinu presented his request for a leader who would go out and come in before the nation, it is obvious that he was seeking someone who exemplified caring leadership. If so, why was it necessary to add “the assembly should not be like sheep who have no shepherd”? If they have a leader who cares and worries about them, it goes without saying that they will not be left like sheep without a shepherd. That is the purpose of a leader. Horav Avraham Yoffen, zl, explains by relating an incident that…

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Pinchas, 5781

יפקד ד' אלקי הרוחות לכל בשר איש על העדה

May Hashem, G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly. (27:16)

Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, comments that, although Moshe Rabbeinu was acutely aware that his sons were not worthy successors to his mantle of leadership, he nonetheless asked for them to succeed him. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma) relate that Hashem countered that Yehoshua, his primary student, who never left his side, would succeed him. Why did Moshe ask if he knew the answer? Moshe sought to underscore that sons do not inherit a Torah position solely due to pedigree. One must be worthy to be a leader. Torah leadership is not transmitted by inheritance, but by substance and distinction. Furthermore, the Torah…

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Balak, 5781

עתה קבה לי אתו

Now go and curse it for me. (22:11)

In Bilaam’s dialogue with Hashem, he related that Balak, king of Moav, had petitioned him to curse the Jewish people. The word Bilaam used for curse is kavah, imprecate, which is a stronger, more emphatic, tone of curse. Rashi observes that kavah is stronger than arah, which was the actual term which Balak employed. Bilaam changed the word from arah to kavah, because Bilaam’s enmity for the Jews was more intense than that of Balak. Balak feared the Jews. He was anxious lest they overrun his country, as they did to the other pagan kings in the area. Bilaam’s animus,…

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Balak, 5781

ויתיצב מלאך ד' בדרך לשטן לו

And an angel of Hashem stood on the road to impede him. (22:22)

It is well-known that the Shem Hashem, Name of G-d, yud-kay,vov-kay, denotes the middah, attribute, of Rachamim, Mercy. In other words, the angel of Hashem/Rachamim, who was sent to prevent Bilaam from going to curse the Jews, was sent on a mission of mercy. Since when is reproof attributed to mercy? It is much closer to Din, Strict Justice. Horav Chaim Toito, Shlita (Torah V’Chaim), explains this with the following story.  During the tenure of the Alter, zl, m’Kelm, there lived a wealthy man whose enormous wealth was overshadowed only by his miserliness. He absolutely refused to share any of…

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Balak, 5781

ויאמר מלאך ד' אל בלעם לך עם האנשים

The angel of Hashem said to Bilaam, “Go with the men.” (22:35)

Hashem originally instructed Bilaam not to go with the Moavite emissaries. Then, He changed the message. He could go with them. Rashi explains this based upon the Talmudic dictum, B’derech she’adam rotzeh leilech bah molichin oso, “The path that a person chooses to follow, they bring him (and allow him to go) down that path.” In other words, Bilaam indicated that he would like to join the officers of Moav. When Hashem saw that Bilaam yearned to accompany them, He said, “Go!” Chazal’s statement leaves us with a question about the text. What is the meaning of the word bah,…

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Balak, 5781

וישא בלעם את עיניו וירא ישראל שכן לשבטיו

Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Yisrael dwelling according to its tribes. (24:2)

Rashi comments (Bilaam raised his eyes): “He sought to instill the evil eye in them.” The Michtav Mei’Eliyahu explains the concept of ayin hora, evil eye. The blessings which Hashem bestows upon an individual should not serve as a source of angst to others. If one allows his blessing (such as: wealth, children, good fortune) to cause pain to others who are less fortunate (especially if he is so callous as to flaunt his good fortune), he arouses a Divine judgment against himself and a reevaluation of his worthiness for those blessings. Chazal in Pirkei Avos (5:19) distinguish between the…

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Chukas, 5781

זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל

This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent (19:14)

It takes only one person to make a change, to alter one’s plans, goals, trajectory towards success. Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen stood at the helm of the Jewish nation. Hashem had selected them to lead Klal Yisrael. One cannot be more legitimate and more authentic than being the personal choice of Hashem. Yet, one person – Korach – disrupted the pristine functioning of this leadership. It takes one student to disrupt a class. One rotten apple in a group can set the tone that undermines the group’s functioning. One malcontent in a shul can infect those willing to listen…

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כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם... כי על כל מוצא פי ד' יחיה האדם

Man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that Hashem decrees. (8:3)

The forty years of wandering in the wilderness served as a course of instruction and training – instruction about Hashem’s Hashgachah, Providence, and training for serene and disciplined surrender to His guidance. When our lack of conviction in Hashem’s Omnipresent care and guidance over us diminishes, our practice, which fulfills the requirements of our moral and spiritual training, likewise wanes. For forty years we lived a lifestyle that impressed upon us the notion that, “It is not by bread alone that man make a life for himself.” We have been taught that the prime factor for man’s sustenance is the…

Continue Reading

ויאמר ד'... ראיתי העם הזה והנה עם קשה ערף הוא

Hashem said… “I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people.” (9:13)

Stiff-necked, otherwise known as stubbornness, obstinacy, is usually incompatible with uprightness and righteousness, because a stubborn person makes up his mind and sticks to it – even if his conduct is less than desirable. He has made up his mind, and he will stick to his guns. Hashem informs Moshe that the nation’s stubbornness is not conducive to their spiritual growth. He will send an angel to lead them. Hashem wants no part of an obstinate people. If we look back to the original redaction of the sin in Parashas Ki Sisa (Shemos 34:9), however, Moshe beseeches Hashem, Yeileich na…

Continue Reading

עשה משפט יתום ואלמנה

But upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow. (10:18)

The Torah teaches us that Hashem is concerned about the honor of the downtrodden, the widow and orphan, individuals who are alone with no one to care for them. The exhortation to preserve the honor of a widow applies even to a king’s widow. In his commentary to Bereishis 37, Rabbeinu Bachya quotes this from a Midrash. The reason for this stringency is that their spirits are low and their tears are frequent. Widows and orphans who are oppressed have no one to turn to other than Hashem – Who listens. Horav Ovadiah Yosef, zl, was very careful to safeguard…

Continue Reading

ואתחנן אל ד' בעת ההיא

I implored Hashem at that time. (3:23)

In the Zera Kodesh, the Ropshitzer Rebbe, zl, observes that the pasuk neglects to identify “that time.” Was Moshe Rabbeinu referring to a specific time? The Ropshitzer explains that this omission is by design. The Torah is teaching us a critical lesson with regard to tefillah, prayer. No specific time is established for petitioning Hashem. We can approach the Almighty at any time. No “appointments” are necessary. A son need not have a special time to speak with his father. (If he does, both father and son have a problem.) Hashem is our Heavenly Father, Who waits for our entreaty…

Continue Reading

וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל

This is the Torah/teaching that Moshe placed before Bnei Yisrael. (4:44)

V’nasan lanu es Toraso, “And Hashem gave us His Torah” is the motif that should accompany each Torah learning session. When we study Torah, we are hearing the words of Hashem and carrying out His will. He gave us His Torah, so that we should learn it, learn from it, observe its precepts and lessons. It is from the Torah that we, as Jews, receive and accept our guidance concerning our derech ha’chaim, way of life. The Jew that lives his life with the Torah as his lodestar has the ability to navigate the murky, stormy waters of life, to…

Continue Reading

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