Parshat Matot & Masei: Science of Speech

29 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles   

Parshat Matot and Masei The Parsha of nedarim differs from the rest of the Torah in that Moshe told it directly to the leaders of the Jewish people in a very condensed fashion. This comes to teach us the extraordinary power of speech. Our mouths should be sanctified with pure words. If we pollute it with lashon hara and other verbal transgressions, we destroy our gift. Our Torah cannot be effective nor can our prayers reach the heavens if we profane our speech. By using concise language, Hashem wanted to teach us how careful we must be with every word. The Parsha was taught directly to the leaders because it was only great Torah scholars who could accurately communicate these terse words to the people.

Rav Itzele Blazer once came to Rav Chaim Berlin in a dream and said that all judgments in heaven are difficult but those relating to speech are exceedingly severe. The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash came because of baseless hatred. Enmity often arises from corrupted speech. The writings of the Chofetz Chaim teach us that improving our shemirat halashon can bring tremendous salvation. Rebbetzin Kanievski often tells women to study two halachot every day. By reviewing the relevant laws we train ourselves to be more guarded when we speak.

There’s an art to speaking but there’s also a science. We must recognize that there is an aspect of holiness within each of us. Speech puts man above all creation. It is the quill of the heart and the medium of connecting the deepest aspect of ourselves, with the world around us. Whatever we say has spiritual energy. Only a person who feels disconnected from Hashem can speak improperly.

There are different levels of communication. The first is everyday speech. Every mundane conversation is recorded and will be replayed at the yom hadin. Parents must teach children to keep their word and in turn they must be a model for their children. The second level is vows and oaths. With speech, we can create fences and render something forbidden. The final level is the power of speech to impact worlds. If a person is careful with what emerges from his mouth, then his words take on unbelievable strength. Death and life are in the hands of the tongue. A tzaddik can decree and Hashem will follow through.

The Nesivos Sholom writes that a Jew’s mouth is like a vessel in the Temple. When flour was placed in the pan, the sacrifice took on holiness because the vessel was holy. So too words that emerge from a sanctified mouth are sacred. Our mouths are like a kli sharet for Hashem. Tefilah, studying Torah, reciting Kiddush, making brachot are all expressions of elevated speech.

If speech is so significant, we must focus on how we can use it positively. In Shachrit we say, “You give life to them all.” We can emulate Hashem’s ways by becoming “life builders.” Speaking kindly and compassionately is a great form of chesed. Greeting a stranger with a smile tells him he’s important, he counts. A leader in particular must be careful what emerges from his mouth. On a micro-level this refers to the head of the family too who must teach his children the importance of pure speech. The Mikdash Halevi points out that the only halachot relevant for a boy of 12 and a girl of 11 is the area of nedarim. Our children must be ingrained with the weightiness of speech.

The beit hamikdash was destroyed and the Shechina left us because of sinat chinam-baseless hatred, lashon hara, and profane speech. Let us re-commit ourselves during these weeks of bein hametzraim to studying the laws of shemirat halashon and elevating our speech.


Ask the Rebbetzin: Keeping Close to Hashem

28 07 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective III #4Question:

When my children were young, I developed an ongoing “conversation” with Hashem. It’s wasn’t formal davening, but continuous and in some ways more meaningful. Now that my children are older, I’ve gotten back to normal davening, but I miss the feeling of closeness I had.


You are really asking what the value of formal davening is as opposed to spontaneous davening. Praying from the heart is extraordinarily powerful. It’s a way of giving oneself over to Hashem by expressing one’s essence. Our words are like little notes that we write to ourselves. We revisit what we think and what we feel when we talk to Hashem. This affects not only our closeness to Hashem but our understanding of ourselves and our ability to make something of our lives. It’s hitbodedut (solitary communion with Hashem) and hitbonenut (introspection), which is vital in avodat Hashem, but it is not davening.

The Rambam tells us that formal davening is a consequence of a decision made by the Men of the Great Assembly. When they returned from Bavel, they observed that the Jews were no longer davening in the same way. Each person followed their heart and created their own personal prayers. However davening isn’t just self -expression. It’s meant to help us form a connection to Hashem. When the Men of the Great Assembly composed the praises in the Siddur, they did it knowing the deeper meaning behind the words. When we say, “Hakel ha’gadol, ha’gibor, v’hanorah,” it’s not just acknowledging Hashem’s awesomeness. It’s raising the question in our minds, “What does awesomeness really mean?” Formal tefilah is connecting to the collective soul of Klal Yisrael. It’s supposed to change us. Therefore there is really no substitute for it.

Your question should really be what you could do to make davening from the Siddur more meaningful. Today there are many books on the subject such as, Praying With Fire and Rav Schwab on Prayer. If your Hebrew skills are up to it, I would recommend the Siddur Eis Ratzon which explains the deeper underpinnings of the tefillot in a way that touches the heart. Set aside time to learn. This will uplift and add new depth to your prayers.

Simcha and Bitachon

27 07 2011
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and BitachonHashem tell us, “I have betrothed you forever.” The bond that binds us to our Maker is faith. A person who has emunah, trusts that Hashem is the tzur-the rock. Tzur can also be translated as l’tzayer-to draw. Hashem is the artist who creates the picture, we only fill in the colors. Just as a sick person will swallow medicine happily, knowing that it will cure him, if a person truly believes that his suffering will heal him, he will rejoice with it. There’s a kind of simcha where people just want to let go of their emotions and escape reality for a while. But there’s simcha where it is life itself, where you bring yourself to a level so profound that you are compelled to dance. Anyone with true bitachon can achieve this. Inner peace brings inner happiness and there is no one richer than one who rejoices in Hashem.

We must develop a new way of relating to mitzvot. Particularly when it is difficult, we should treasure the experience, because it is these commandments that will takes us towards clarity and the interpretation of life, as opposed to the fogginess brought by investing oneself in transient things. Doing a mitzvah with joy earns a thousand times more reward than treating it as a burden. The reward of a mitzvah is feeling closer to Hashem. A mitzvah is compared to a merkava-a chariot, and simcha is the fuel which takes the person where he needs to go. When a person is consistently happy, his soul is connected to the source of joy and Hashem reveals His secrets to him. When one’s soul comes to that level of consciousness, it is in a constant state of delight and it is continually full of desire and yearning for Hashem’s love.

I was reading in Reishet Chochma about the author’s daily routine, how he awakens in the morning and cannot wait to get out of bed, because it’s another new day with fresh opportunities to rise higher and come closer to Hashem. The Shechina can’t dwell where there is sadness because it is a reflection of forgetting who is really in control. Hashem will give a person more simcha in response to simcha and his soul will be reignited and will burn with great love.

True tzadikim serve Hashem with happiness. When they have to say no to themselves, which everyone has to sometimes, it gives them joy. This is a natural consequence of bitachon, as it says “Ohr zaruah l’tzaddik-light is implanted in the tzadik. Rashi says, “Ohr mamush“- they see things clearly. Giving up something for Hashem brings us to a point where we can perceive the Shechina, and that is the greatest simcha of all.

Growing In Ruchniyut During The Three Weeks

26 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsurg

Growing in Ruchniyus During the Three WeeksWhen we visualize the Beit Hamikdash in its glory, we imagine there was nothing holier than it. Yet Chazal tell us that studying Torah is even greater. “Hashem consoled David who did not merit to build the Beit Hamikdash, “One day of Torah learning in your courtyard is greater in my eyes than one thousand sacrifices.” Similarly David said, “Tov li Torahat picha…” David gathered great quantities of precious metal for the Beit Hamikdash yet he affirmed that Torah was worth more to him than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Additionally Chazal tell us, “The Torah study of children may not cease even to build the Beit Hamikdash.”

Bitul Torah was the cause of the first exile. It says, “Im bechukosai teileichu.” Rashi explains, “Shetihiyu ameilim b’Torah,” If we immerse ourselves in Torah we will merit blessings, if not, klalot (curses) will come upon us. The Ramban says that the tochacha of Bechukosai corresponds to the first Beit Hamikdash and the tochacha of Ki Tovo corresponds to the second Beit Hamikdash. We can understand from this Rashi and the Ramban that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of a weakening in Torah study.

In Eicha it says,”Her kings and her priests are exiled among the gentiles and there is no Torah.” Rav Dessler lived in England and in his later years settled in Eretz Yisrael. He once said that a day of Torah study in Eretz Yisrael could not equal many days of learning in chutz l’aaretz. Indeed Chazal say, “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” The Gra writes that exile lacks the special spiritual aura of Eretz Yisrael. We end Shemone Esrei with a prayer to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and we add “Give us a portion in your Torah.” The Gra explains that the sufferings of exile weakened our Torah study. Therefore we ask Hashem to restore the Beit Hamikdash so that we can once again serve Him with all our capacities in Eretz Yisrael.

Let us dedicate ourselves with new vigor to the study of Torah in an attempt to rectify the misdeeds of the past and merit the ultimate redemption.

Israel for Everyone?

20 07 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective I Class #5


I know living in Israel should be every Jew’s dream but it doesn’t seem to be the best choice for my family right now. There are many reasons keeping us where we are including health and financial considerations. Am I wrong for only wanting to go there when Mashiach comes?



As Jews our mission is to bring light into the darkness of the world through Torah and mitzvot. Eretz Yisrael is the ideal place where we can fulfill our collective purpose. The Maharal writes that we end the second blessing of Birchat Hamzon with, “Al ha’aretz v’al hamazon,” as opposed to thanking Hashem for what was mentioned in the actual blessing, i.e. yetziat mitzraim, brit milah, Torah, because all of these levels of elevation are meant to take place in Eretz Yisrael.  The spiritual capacities of other countries are limited in that they cannot reveal Hashem in a way that He can be revealed in the land of Israel. Of course you can live a good life in chutz l’aaretz, but it is in spite of where you are, not because of where you are. In a sense you are working against your environment and the unique spiritual forces that define your country. No matter how holy a person in Lakewood may be, he can never fulfill the mitzvah of maaser there. The kedusha of maaser-elevating gashmiut, is limited in chutz l’aaretz.


A meaningful question to ask yourself would be, “Where can I best accomplish my mission?” If there is no one to replace what you or your husband are doing in chutz l’aaretz then you have to sacrifice and stay. But if what you’re thinking is, “I’d rather be in chutz l’aaretz because my family lives here, there’s better shopping, I have a nicer home, and I’m emotionally comfortable with the language and culture,” then there’s a root problem with your reasoning. We shouldn’t feel comfortable with the culture of galut. Our purpose is not shopping, consuming, or owning. If Hashem is compelling you to stay in chutz l’aaretz for financial or health reasons, that means you have to find your role and place there.


This was the difference between the First Temple and the Second Temple. The First Temple contained all the vessels and was an edifice of great light. During the Second Temple, everything was concealed.  In a sense the First Temple had more sanctity. However, the Second Temple really brought forth greater holiness because we were forced to reach into a dark place within ourselves to find the light. May Hashem illuminate your path wherever it may lead.

Practical Aspects of Yichud

19 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Azarya Berzon

Yichud What is the most important ingredient in life? What virtues define man?

Philosophers throughout the generation have debated this question and have come up with several theories. Early Greeks put emphasis on knowledge as the key to human success in behavior and morality. The stoics believed in self-discipline and will power. The school of Epicureans taught that contentment and banishment of fear and pain were central to human existence. Judaism accepts all these ideas as worthy but there is one overpowering virtue that defines us and that is kedusha-sanctity.

Kedoshim tiyhe ki kadosh ani“-Be holy for I am holy. The key to developing a relationship with Hashem is sanctity. There is hardly an endeavor in human behavior that is not encompassed by kedusha. Kedusha means imitating Hashem in mind and spirit and focusing our energies on that which is uplifting. One area where kedusha is stressed most is tzniut-modesty. Much emphasis has been placed by the Poskim on the halachot of yichud. A man and woman who are forbidden to each other, may not be alone in a secluded area. The laws are complex and have become even more so in contemporary society. Sociological and technological advancement such as the fact that more women have joined the workplace, adoption has become more popular, and the rise in innovations in therapy and medicine have raised many questions in halacha. There is a whole gamut of reasons why the laws of yichud need to be studied, but most compelling is that society has become so permissive and immoral.

The laws of yichud are discussed in three places in Gemara -Kiddushin, Avodah Zarah, and Sanhedrin. The Rishonim question if yichud is a Torah prohibition? The Rambam answers that it is m’divrei kabbalah because there is only an allusion to it in the Torah. For something to be m’dorayta there has to be an explicit verse telling us so. However many Rishonim counter that it is m’d’orayta  How then could the Torah allow so many leniencies in different situations?

The Smag and the Sefer Hachinuch point out a verse in Vayikra that forms the base for the prohibition of yichud, “V’el isha b’nidas tumasa lo sikorov.” What does kirva mean? According to some Rishonim kirvah is yichud. There are cases when a prohibition is deliberately vague in the Torah allowing our Sages to define the parameters, which is the case here with yichud.

What is the nature of yichud d’orayta? What defines it?  Yichud is a situation where a man is secluded with a woman who is forbidden to him. Is the Torah protecting the person from a more serious prohibition or is yichud in and of itself objectionable? The Ramchal writes that yichud is prohibited onto itself. This is also a machloket between Rashi and Tosfot. The Gemara in Kidushin asks, may a man be alone with a married woman whose husband is within the city limits? Rashi rules that it is prohibited while Tosfot maintains that it is permitted. The root of their disagreement is really how yichud is defined. Rashi maintains that yichud itself is an issur while Tosfot maintains that it is only to protect us from a more serious violation. Therefore according to Rashi even a split second is yichud while according to Tosfot it would need to be a longer duration.

The Piskei Teshuva rules that if the door is closed and unlocked, there is no issur yichud. However according to Rav Akiva Eiger the door or window must be open in a way that anyone can look in.   The Gemara in Avodah Zarah writes that King David and his beit din enacted an issur d’rabanun of yichud that a man may not be alone with an unmarried woman. The Beit din of Hillel and Shammai ruled that yichud extends to being alone with a non-Jew too. The Mishna prohibits a man from being alone with two women.  The Rashba adds that this is only d’rabanun. For yichud to be d’orayta it must be a state of perfect seclusion.

If there is a situation of yichud in a car, some poskim rule to take another woman along. Then the prohibition gets reduced m’dorayta to m’darabanun and in a car there’s less suspicion of an issur. In the presence of a young child who can serve as a chaperone, according to some Poskim between the ages of seven and nine, yichud may be permissible. Giving another man the key with the understanding that he can come in at any moment could also be a deterrent. The halacha differentiates between a man who is kosher and a paratz (one who is not careful with Jewish law). In a case of a paratz, he may not be alone even with ten women. If such a man is traveling on the road and there is a woman riding along, three men must be in the car. The same would be the case if they are alone in a secluded area or in an apartment late at night. A brother and sister may be alone in a house temporarily. They may not live together permanently.

Simcha and Bitachon

18 07 2011
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Simcha and BitachonWe all understand that we are better off not stealing or murdering. Having a day of rest is great, as is dealing kindly with others. But Torah moves us further than that. It takes us beyond our comfort level. If you don’t believe, you’ll only be ethical when it’s easy for you.  But a person with emunah will stay strong come what may, because he trusts that there’s hashgachic consequences and consequential punishment. The Torah is the blueprint of the world. Hashem wants certain choices to be made and therefore he provided defined consequences. He made the world in a way where one choice brings about another choice. Although all mitzvot have rewards and sins bear punishment, there is always hashgacha even if it seems like consequential reality. The more you are open to seeing Hashem, the more you will see Him. And if you really believe He’s there, you’ll keep the Torah because you’ll recognize it as Hashem’s imprint on reality.

 “A tzadik lives by his faith.”  It says about Avraham that he believed in Hashem and Hashem thought of it as tzedakah. Avraham saw Hashem as the master of all cause and effect in a way that was transcendental. He went beyond his limits of thought. Avraham chose to be thrown into the fiery furnace because he believed that doing what Hashem wanted would only bring good into the world. He could have thought, “I won’t submit, I’m tough, I’m a man of truth.”  Then it would have been all about him, his principles, and his ego. But Avraham not only had courage, he had emunah.

On a collective level, the Jewish nation experienced ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) in the merit of emunah. When they sang the shirat yahom, the Song at the Red Sea, it wasn’t just an epic poem, but a song that took them through the end of  time to Mashiach.  The theme of shirat hayom is that Hashem is there all along in many different manifestations.  Certainly the Jews had many merits, but it was emunah which redeemed them from Egypt.

Following the path which begins with emunah, can take you all the way to ruach hakodesh. Galut is meant to challenge us into facing all the things that tell us Hashem is missing. When we affirm His presence, when we acquire true faith, then we can be redeemed. The Gra sent his students to live in Eretz Yisrael because he believed that the mitzvot hat’luyot b’aaretz move a person to emunah more than any other mitzvot in the Torah. In the land of our fathers we can see Hashem’s hashgacha and His presence moment by moment. This is what will bring about our spiritual geulah.