Essence of Peace- Parshat Pinchas

13 07 2012

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The parsha begins by telling us that Pinchas was rewarded with the brit shalom, the covenant of peace, for boldly avenging the honor of Hashem. Pinchas performed an act of vengeance. He was c

ertainly righteous. He did not express misplaced hostility, egotism, or superiority. However

, Hashem deals with us midah k’neged midah. He relates to us in a way that matches our beha

vior, as the verse says “Hashem tzilcha.” Hashem is your shadow. One would think that the zealous Pinchas would be rewarded with the role of eternal warrior. Perhaps he would have appeared as a reincarnation of King David who slayed Golyat or Yehuda Maccabee who conquered the Greeks. Why was he rewarded with the covenant of peace?

Alacrity and kana’ut (zealousness) are not just the desire to eliminate evil. The motivating force for this middah is that one treasures goodness. Pinchas’s vengeance did not stem from hatred but from love. The more one is drawn towards good, the more one will hate evil.

If there were children trapped in a burning apartment, you’d break down the door and flood the house with water, not because you hate the fire but because you desperately want to save the children. Pinchas acted in this manner. His goal was to preserve holiness. This is why Hashem gave him the covenant of peace. He’d be the one to draw things together.

Pinchas teaches us what true zealousness is about. There will always be issues that we will have to fight against. We must stamp out evil but it should never take on its own energy. Rather kana’ut should come out of a desire for purity and holiness, which is what true peace is about.

Parshat Tazria and Metzora: Mirror Image

27 04 2012

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Why did the Torah specifically designate the kohen to determine the status of a nega (leprosy spot)?

Tzaraat was not a physical disease but rather a sign of a spiritual malady within the person. For that one needed to go to a spiritual source for help, to a kohen. The kohanim represent those who teach Torah. They are our spiritual guides. It’s difficult for a person to admit his faults. This is why the Torah says, “V’huva el hakohen.” The metzora is brought to the kohen. The kohen was meant to guide the metzorah on the path to repentance.

Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz explains the Targum Unkeles which describes the metzora as an adam segira, a person who is closed in. Often a person with a spiritual illness refuses to listen to other people. Haughtiness is the quintessential sign of an impure person. Therefore, the way to respond was, “V’huva el hakohen,” He must nullify himself before the tzaddik. He must recognize his need for guidance.

Rav Pliskin writes that the kohen would teach the person how to pray to the Almighty for help. In addition, he himself would pray for the welfare of the person. This is a lesson for all of us. When we are faced with challenges, we must seek out a spiritual guide. We must look for someone who can point out the areas where we need to improve. We must ask for advice about what to pray for and ask him to pray for us too.

The Shaarei Chaim explains that when the kohen pronounced the person tameh (impure), the pronouncement created the tumah (impurity). The moment the kohen pronounced the person impure, the laws of impurity were activated and he could begin fixing himself.

The Noam Elimelech notes that the kohen was the spiritual mentor of the people. The names of the different kinds of tzaraat wounds indicate the different desires people have to connect to Hashem. Se’eit a person who wants to connect with Hashem, sapachat is one who yearns for attachment, baheret is one who has a light within him that desires to connect to Hashem. They want to bond with Hashem but it’s only external. They don’t have the right intentions. These people would also go to the kohen to help turn their avodat Hashem into something deeper and more meaningful.

Parshat Vaykhel: The Secret of One

15 03 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

Why is the mitzvah of Shabbat mentioned in this parsha with a specific emphasis on gathering together? In addition, why is there a special mention of the prohibition of not kindling a fire? Furthermore, in earlier parshiot the mitzvah of building the mishkan is discussed before the mitzvah of Shabbat, but in Parshat Vaykhel the order is reversed. Why?                                                                                                                                

The Shem Mishmuel explains. In Parshat Terumah the pasuk says, “Take for me a portion from every person whose heart willingly offers.” The Midrash interprets this to mean that before the sin of the golden calf every person was holy enough in his own right to warrant the building of the mishkan. In Parshat Vaykhel it says, “Those who are generous should contribute.” After the sin, there was a shift from the individual to the communal level. Now only as a nation could they build the mishkan.

Shabbat is the secret of one. During the week nature creates a veil behind which Hashem hides, but on Shabbat, the world, Israel and Hashem become united. Shabbat gives us the power of connection. This is why it’s mentioned first. In this parsha, Shabbat comes first to unite the individuals into a group worthy of the Mishkan.

How can we understand how a tzaddik of Aharon’s stature helped fashion the golden calf? When Moshe ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, Aharon saw that the people had lost their unifying figure. It was as if Moshe had spiritually left them. They no longer felt bound together with a single minded purpose and goal. Moshe was the soul of the Jewish nation. Similarly, Shabbat is the soul of the world, uniting all in purpose.

Where there is holiness, impurity seeks to get in. Therefore, when a person’s soul departs, his body becomes tamei, impure. When Moshe’s soul left the Jews, the void he left was filled by evil energies, which created havoc among the Jews. Aharon knew how much Moshe’s presence meant to the people. They needed something that would unify them. He therefore told them to contribute gold. Gold symbolizes giving up one’s personal aspirations for a higher national goal. Aharon threw the gold into the fire. Fire has the power to purge evil. Aharon thought the fire would refine their desires and lead them back to pure unity. He meant to fashion the golden calf as a harmless statue inspiring in some ways, but not at all idolatrous, but he failed. The Jewish people could not overcome the evil forces that had set in.

When Moshe came down from heaven, he threw the calf into the fire and purified the people. Vaykhel-He then gathered them together. He created a unified community. He reversed the order of commandments and gave the Jews Shabbat first. For Shabbat is raza d’echad-the secret of one. It is the key to our unity and our ultimate ability to build a dwelling place for Hashem in this world.

Parshat Beshalach by Rabbi Ginsburg

3 02 2012 teacher Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg presents the following dvar Torah on this weeks Parsha.

In this week’s parsha the Torah writes (13,18) that Am Yisroel left Mitzrayimchamushim.” What exactly does this word mean? Rashi quotes several pshatim, and one pshat is that they were armed, they were carrying weapons. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l raises the following question. It seems to be a little strange that they were carrying weapons with them. Everything that has been happening to Am Yisroel has been b’derech neis, has been miraculous. Am Yisroel is in the midst of the ultimate experience of neis nigleh, miraculous events. So why should they bring weapons with them? Hashem was obviously aware that He was going to fight the battles for Am Yisroel. Hashem knew that Am Yisroel did not “need” their weapons, so why did they bring them? That is the question Rav Moshe raises.


Rav Moshe explains that this is a “chidush gadol” which carries an important message for Am Yisroel then, as well as for us nowadays. Hashem wanted to teach Am Yisroel that a neis, a miracle, is not limited only to when Am Yisroel does nothing and our enemies fall before us. Rather, Am Yisroel has to know that even when we put in the effort and we do our “hishtadlus,” still all of our accomplishments and all of our success come from Hashem. Hashem is the “Ish milchama;” Hashem fights our battles. Therefore, Hashem wanted us to take our weapons with us, so that when there would be a battle, we could make use of them, while still recognizing that our victory comes from Hashem. Even when we do fight and the victory does not appear to be overtly miraculous, we know Hashem is guiding our success[i].


We have discussed in the past the concept of neis nister, hidden miracles. Hashem sometimes governs Am Yisroel with a neis nigleh, an overt miracle where Hashem works outside the ordinary laws of nature. But most of the time Hashem governs us through neis nistar, hidden miracles, where Hashem works within the laws of nature. And one challenge we have is to recognize that the natural events we experience are really neis nistar governed by Hashem. One of the messages of neis nigleh is that Am Yisroel is supposed to learn from the neis nigleh that all of nature is really from Hashem as well. If Hashem can change nature, that means Hashem controls nature. And if Hashem controls nature, that means when events and natural phenomena run “naturally,” they are really being governed by Hashem- it is a neis nistar.[ii] For example, several times in history Hashem has caused the sun to stand still in the sky and not set normally. From these exceptional cases, we are supposed to appreciate that when the sun rises and sets normally, that is actually a direct neis nistar from Hashem.


With this yesod of neis nistar in mind, it seems to me that Rav Moshe here is developing a very deep idea. Am Yisroel is in the midst of a completely neis nigleh experience; we have just witnessed the makos, and we have just witnessed the ultimate makah- makas bechoros. We have the Clouds of Glory and the Pillar of Fire guiding us as we leave Mitzrayim. We will soon experience krias Yam Suf, the ultimate neis nigleh. And in the midst of that neis nigleh existence, Hashem begins teaching us the idea of neis nistar. As you leave Mitzrayim, take your weapons with you. That will teach that you have to do your hishtadlus, you’re going to ‘fight’. But, still you must learn and know all of the success is coming from Me. Am Yisroel recognized that their entire existence depends on Hashem. They saw that in a very clear way. So at that moment, at the beginning of the Yetziah, the leaving, from Mitzrayim, Hashem begins the education process of teaching us about neis nistar as well. I think this is a deep message which comes out of Rav Moshe’s explanation on this posuk.[iii]


We should all work on recognizing the Yad Hashem in the natural world. All of teva is really a neis nistar from Hashem.


Good Shabbos,

Beinish Ginsburg

[i] Rav Moshe then asks that according to this approach, why didn’t we bring food as well? Why didn’t we bring food in order to show our own hishtadlus, before Hashem does any sort of miracle, like sending us the man? Rav Moshe explains that it would have been impossible b’derech hatevah, in a natural way, to bring enough food for such a long trip. So, we had no choice but to rely on a miracle. We only took the leftovers of the matzos. We performed a mitzvah with the matzos, so we cherished the matzah, and therefore brought the extras with us. However, when it comes to a military battle we are able to do some sort of hishtadlus, so we were supposed to bring our weapons.

[ii] We have discussed previously that the gematria of hatevah (86) equals Elokim (Remember that in the gematria, replace the letter ‘kuf’ with the letter ‘hei’.)


[iii] This mehalech blends well with the famous Ramban in Pzarshas Bo. The Ramban develops the idea that when we experience neis nigleh, we are supposed to learn that all of teva is really a neis nistar from Hashem. Rav Moshe’s approach parallels the Ramban.

Parshat Bo: Kiddush Hachodesh and Kiddush Hazman

26 01 2012 presents this d’var Torah on Parshat Bo by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

In this week’s parsha we have the mitzvah of “hachodesh hazeh lachem”, the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. This is actually the first mitzvah given to Am Yisrael as a nation. Rav Soloveichik zt”l would like to explain1 that this mitzvah represents the idea that the Jewish people have the koach, the ability, to be mekadesh the zman, to sanctify time. Bais Din has the ability to create real kedusha in the world. The Torah gives a date for the Yomim Tovim- Pesach, Succos, and Shavuos. However, Bais Din decides on which day the Yom Tov will fall, Bais Din has the authority to decide when Rosh Chodesh will be, and based on when Rosh Chodesh falls out, then the date of the month is established, and that determines when the Yom Tov will occur two weeks later. This is why in our davening we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”. Hashem is mekadesh Yisrael, and then Hashem, along with B’nai Yisrael are mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. We play a role in being mekadesh the Yomim Tovim. The Rav explained that it does not say “mekadesh Bais Din, v’hazmanim.,” rather mekadesh Yisroel v’hazmanim.” Why? The Bais Din Hagadol served two functions2. One is to be similar to the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of certain halachic shailas. And two, in certain areas the Bais Din Hagadol would act like the House of Representatives, as the representative of Am Yisrael. When B’nai Yisrael was mekadesh the chodesh, the Rav explained, they were acting on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael, and that is why we say “mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim”.

The truth is this is very important. Why is kiddush hachodesh the first mitzvah in the Torah? I have seen the following explanation. When Bais Din is mekadesh the Chodesh, they are actually creating real kedusha. As explained above, Bais Din decides when Yom Tov will occur. If for example, in a certain year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan could fall on either a Tuesday or Wednesday. And a Jew was planning on eating a bread sandwich on the third Tuesday morning of Nissan. Who decides whether that would be muttar or ossur? Not Hashem, but rather Bais Din! If Bais Din declares Rosh Chodesh on Tuesday, then it would be prohibited because the third Tuesday would be Pesach. If Bais Din, however, declares Rosh Chodesh on Wednesday, then it would be permitted. This is a powerful idea. Bais Din has the authority to create Kedushas Hayom. So too, when a Jew performs any mitzvah, he is creating real kedusha. Kedusha, ruchniyos, lasts forever. When a person performs a mitzvah, the impact, the schar, is forever. Each moment in time becomes an opportunity to generate nitzchiyus. Therefore, as opposed to time being the enemy, time is our friend. We control time. Every moment of time is a chance to produce nitzchiyus that will last forever. Therefore it is fitting that the first mitzvah given to us is the mitzvah that most powerfully expresses the idea that human beings can create kedusha in the world.

We mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well. L’chorah, what does Yitziyas Mitzrayim have to do with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? The Rav explained3 this is the idea. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are yomim tovim which have dates in the Torah, but again, on which day the date falls out depends on the declaration of Bais Din regarding kiddush hachodesh. Bais Din plays a role also in the establishment of the kedusha of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and therefore, we mention zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as well.

The Rav went further. Why is it that we received this mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh in conjunction with leaving Mitzrayim? The answer might be as follows4. A slave lacks time awareness. A slave has no control over his own time. The Rav explains various dimensions that are part of the time experience: retrospection, anticipation, and appreciation. Anticipation “is man’s projection of visions and aspirations for the future. Appreciation embraces the present as precious possession, as inherently worthy.” The Rav explains that a slave lacks this. Time awareness is the singular faculty of the free man, who can use or abuse it. To a slave it is a curse or a matter of indifference. It is not an instrument which he can harness to his purposes. The free man wants time to move slowly, because presumably it is being employed for his purposes. The slave wants to accelerate time because it will terminate his oppressive burdens. Not being able to control time, the slave grows insensitive to it.

The Rav explains this is why a slave is patur from mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama, because he lacks time consciousness. Therefore, it fits beautifully that as we were becoming free men and leaving Mitzrayim, and we were achieving this newfound sense of time appreciation and time consciousness, specifically at that point we were given the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh. At that point we were given the opportunity and the obligation to be mekadesh the zman. Time becomes an instrument which we can harness for our purposes. The ability to be mekadesh the Chodesh, the ability to be mekadesh time, comes along with our freedom from slavery, and therefore, we received this mitzvah in conjunction with Yetziyas Mitzrayim.

Our challenge is to use our freedom properly. As the Rav explains, a Jew is supposed to use his time as an instrument, to harness it for mitzvos and kedusha. A person should fill his day with productive uses of his time5- Torah, avodah, chesed, productive exercise, making a parnassah, developing strong relationships with friends, etc… This is one of the lessons of Yetziyas Mitzrayim and one of the lessons of this week’s parsha. It is our obligation and our challenge to be mekadesh our time in our everyday lives just as the Bais Din Hagadol is mekadesh the Chodesh.

Good Shabbos,

B. Ginsburg


Parshat Chayei Sarah: Chevron Connecting Us All

18 11 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Mystery of Lot

The Zohar tells us that the Me’arat Hamachpeila is called the double cave because it connects this world to the next. It is a counterpart to the city of Yerushalayim. However, if we examine Jewish law, the strictures of sanctity pertain only to Yerushalayim and not to Chevron. Why is this so?

Rav Wolfson in his book Emunat Itecha explains a concept of itgalya, revelation and itkasya, concealment. Every physical thing in this world has its equivalent in the next world. We can easily perceive our biological and emotional soul, but the counterpart to this is in the hidden world, the upper levels of our soul, chaya and yechida. The Divine Presence also comes to us on two levels, b’itgalya, in a revealed way and b’itkasya, in a concealed manner. Yerushalayim is hitgalut, where we can sense Hashem’s revealed presence. When the Beit Hamikdash stood, people entered its holy environs and emerged prophets because they felt Hashem’s presence in such an intense way. Likewise, when we invest our hearts and minds into the study of Torah, we feel the Divine Presence close beside us. Rav Soloveitchik used to learn by himself but he often said, “I have a chavruta.” He sensed the Shechina studying Torah with him. Intense prayer in shul elicits the same feeling of spiritual closeness.

Chevron and the Mearat Hamachpeila is itkasya, concealed holiness. Although Hashem’s presence is there too, it is hidden, just as the Avot are buried deep within the ground.

Hashem created the world using three energies: place, time, and soul. Chassidut draws a parallel between them. There’s a miniature Mearat Hamachpela inside each of us. When we begin Shemone Esrei we invoke the names of the Avot. We ask Hashem to listen to us the way he listened to our forefathers because they and we are one. Our revealed prayers go through Yerushalayim, but our inner supplications pass through the hidden burial cave of the Avot in Chevron.

Yerushalayim was destroyed because its holiness was exposed. Chevron remains with us forever precisely because it is concealed. Similarly, the part of our soul that is connected to the Avot can never be defiled no matter how far we’ve fallen. On the revealed level, our soul may be tainted, but deep within we remain pure because we are bonded to the Avot. Chevron comes from the root word chibur, connection. It signifies hope and redemption. King David’s dynasty began in Chevron and in the future, Mashiach will redeem us with the power of this holy city.

Chevron is called Kiryat Arba, the city of four giants. They represent the four evils in the world: jealousy, desire, honor, and forbidden speech. These in turn correspond to the four exiles: Bavel, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Chevron appears evil on the outside, however, deep within one can find its hidden sanctity. The righteous Avot are the counterpart to the four evil giants. Their influence hovers over us in every corner of exile. No matter what evil we encounter, we remain connected to Hashem and the merit of the Avot.

Yerushalayim is revealed while Chevron is hidden. Every Jew has a beit hamikdash in his heart. When he’s inspired, he can feel Hashem’s presence b’itgalya, in an open way. But there are also times of itkasya, concealment, periods when it is hard to connect with Hashem. During those times we can hold on to the Machpela, where His presence remains forever no matter what level we’re at. The Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim was destroyed, but in a sense it continues to exist in Chevron, in Mearat Hamachpeila, and in the heart of every Jew.

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

1 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Chukat-Miracles of Faith

The Gemara tells the story of the angels’ argument to save Chananaya, Mishael, and Azarya from the fiery furnace of nevuchadetzar. The angel Yurkuma offered to put out the fire with ice and hail while the angel Gavriel countered that he would descend into the fire and cool it down. Hashem sent the angel Gavriel. The Shem Mishmuel asks, what would have been the difference between the two miracles? Ice putting out fire shows that Hashem can harness specific forces to overwhelm other forces. But a greater testimony to His omnipotence is manipulating the force itself. Hashem controls the essence of nature. He can change the rules as He sees fit and He can make fire cold just as He can make it hot. Ratzon Hashem (G-d’s Will) can alter the behavior of the laws of nature, because its very behavior is His Ratzon.

In Shachrit we say, “Hamechadesh b’tuvu bchol yom tamid“-Hashem in His goodness renews every moment of creation. He is constantly involved. When Hashem caused water to flow from the b’eer (the miraculous Well of Miriam which produced water from a rock) it was as if stone molecules were turned to water molecules. This testified that Hashem could control things at their root source. However when He commanded Moshe to hit the rock, it was a miracle disguised in nature.  A stick made of hard-like diamond can potentially split a stone so water will flow out. It was one force overwhelming another. Miriam’s merit activated the miracle of turning stone into water. When she died, the water ceased flowing. It was now necessary to essentially change the rock to water again, but Hashem refused to perform this miracle for Moshe . The merit of Klal Yisrael would need to replace the merit of Miriam. Miriam had emunah. She believed that the stone was Hashem’s will and that He could transform it into water if He so wished. Finding Hashem in our everyday lives, in the little incidents of Divine Providence, helps us come to the belief that He can change the essence of nature. This is what the Jewish people were expected to achieve at the end of forty years.  Hashem said to Moshe, “Hakhel es h’am…v’dibartem el hasela”-‘Gather the people and speak to the rock’. If the Jewish nation would have acquired the proper faith it would have been adequate to just speak to the rock. Unfortunately they did not reach that level and therefore Moshe failed.

How can we rectify this flaw in emunah? Opening our eyes to see the daily Divine Providence in our lives, cultivating faith and belief in Hashem, and trusting that just as miracles kept us alive throughout our long exile they will continue to sustain us.