Thursday, September 28, 2017

teshuvah = achdus

I haven't had time to write much lately, but wanted to say gmar chasima tovah to all and thank everyone who takes the time to read, comment, email.  Our biggest tefilah on Yom Kippur should be that Hashem should give all of us strength to continue learning Torah and growing in avodah. 

"Va'yar Moshe es ha'am ki par'ua hu..." (Shmos 25:32)   Rambam explains that as a result of cheit ha'eigel the people were torn apart -- some thought making an eigel was a good idea; others thought just the opposite; everyone was going in a different direction. 

The tikun of cheit ha'eigel -- the achievement of forgiveness -- occurred on Yom Kippur.  On that day the shattering of Am Yisrael into splinter groups was repaired.  We became one people again and regained that lost unity and common direction.

"Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha" -- lashon yachid, in the singular, not Elokeichem, the plural.  The path to teshuvah starts with our becoming one united people.

(Another possible pshat is that teshuvah is not accomplished by thinking about what the Klal can/should do -- it starts with each individual asking what he/she can do about his/her own behavior.  As the Brisker Rav points out, when Yonah was sitting on a boat filled with people who were actual avodah zarah and a storm arose, he stood up and said, "Throw me into the sea -- it's my fault."  He didn't point the finger at anyone but himself.)
Sefas Emes explains that this is why there is a special mitzvah of ritzuy on erev Yom Kippur.  Ritzuy is not appeasement or saying, "I'm sorry."  Ritzuy, says Sefas Emes, is from the word ratzon.  We have to want to be with all our fellow Jews, we have to want good things for them.  (I'm only half joking if I say that this idea is probably a more difficult mitzvah than all 5 inuyim combined.)

Wishing all a year of shalom and achdus and kaparah and geulah.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

the parsha of teshuvah

"V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha... b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha." (30:2)  A few pesukim later we have, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa es kol mitzvosav." (30:8)  Chasam Sofer explains that the first pasuk is addressing us in galus.  We don't have a beis hamikdash; many of us are not even living in Eretz Yisrael.  Return to authentic Jewish life, meaning living as Jewish nation in our own Jewish homeland where Torah and mitzvos are our national culture, is something we dream of, "b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha," in our hearts,but is something far from our reality.  R' Tzadoh haKohen interprets "lo b'shamayim hi," assuming that the pasuk is speaking about teshuva (as Ramban learns, not like Rashi), as meaning that one should not think that the fact that Beis haMikdash is up in heaven now and inaccessible is an obstacle to teshuvah; "lo mei'eiver l'yam hi," the fact that Eretz Yisrael is across the ocean is not an obstacle either.  We can dream, we can hope, we can have the desire to get there.  Continues the parsha, one day, "v'hevi'acha Hashem Elokecha el ha'aretz..." (30:5) we will return to the land.  When that day comes, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa," (30:8) we will have the opportunity to do, to take action and live as we are supposed to, not just to dream about it.  But it all starts with the "hishtokekus," the desire to get there.  That much we can all do now. 

Ramban asks why it is that when describing the mitzvah of teshuva the Torah uses "lashon beinoni" -- a description, not a command, e.g. "V'hasheivosa... V'shavta..." but it does not say "tashuv."  Minchas Chinuch raises the possibility that according to the Rambam there is a mitzvah of viduy, but no actual mitzvah of teshuvah.  When you want to do teshuvah, you have to do viduy, but there is no command to do teshuvah.  According to this approach, Ramban's question seems to be moot.  Ramban, however, assumes there is a mitzvah of teshuvah and explains that the Torah here is giving us more than a command -- it is a promise.  We all have dreams, some of which might come true, many of which will not.  The hope and dream of the Jewish people returning to Eretz Yisrael and doing teshuvah is something that is built into our destiny.  The Torah is describing what must come to fruition, not just giving a command that we have a choice whether or not to fulfill.

I would like to flip this model of the Chasam Sofer, of moving from "hishtokekus," from desire, from the heart and soul, to the world of action, on its head.  Shem m'Shmuel is bothered by the order of words in the pasuk, "...b'ficha u'b'levavcha l'asoso"  Ramban writes that the Torah here is describing the mitzvah of teshuvah.  Shouldn't the order be reversed?  Doesn't a person first come to teshuvah with his heart, and only afterwards, articulate through viduy what he/she did wrong, and express and formulate and new, positive direction?  The heart precedes the mouth, not the other way around? 

Of course you should see the Shem m'Shmuel for a great answer, but I would like to suggest that the pasuk makes perfect sense and is telling us how to do teshuvah.  There are lots of people who know that it is the teshuvah season and they therefore run to this shiur or that lecture seeking to be inspired.  They wait to do teshuvah -- they are waiting to hear just the right lecture that will lift them up, they waiting to hear just the right shiur from the right Rabbi that will capture their heart.  In the meantime, while they are waiting for that elusive moment of inspiration, the clock is ticking toward Rosh haShana.  The Torah here is telling us, "Don't wait!"  Say the words of viduy, say an extra perek of tehilim, learn an extra blatt of gemara.  You may not feel inspired -- you may feel like you are just going through the motions -- but those words will sink in.  Start with the words (and deeds) and the heart will follow.  Inspiration will stem from action, not the other way around.

We baruch Hashem get a second helping of parshas hashavu'a this week with Vayeilech.  The Midrash Tanchuma writes that "Vayeilech Moshe" is a tochacha.  Here Moshe steps out of his holy space and comes to each sheivet, maybe each member of Klal Yisrael, to speak to them -- where is the rebuke?  What could be more positive than that?

Shem m'Shmuel writes that the Torah is not telling us that Moshe took a physical walk to get from place to place -- who cares about that?  It is telling us that Moshe had to make a spiritual journey.  He had to leave where he was spiritually holding in and travel down a notch to come speak to us. 

I don't remember what the person did to earn it, but the Tchebiner Rav promised a certain person that he would make sure to get him into Gan Eden.  Later in life the Tchebiner asked that person for one favor: "Don't make it so hard for me."

Why should Moshe Rabeinu need to take a walk down the spiritual ladder in order to speak to us?  Why do we have to make it so hard for him?  Can't we make it a little easier and come a little closer to his level?  That's the tochacha.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

for the sake of bikurim

"B-reishis" = the world was created for the sake of reishis, the "reishis pri ha'adamah," the first fruits of bikurim which the farmer brings to the Mikdash, as described in the opening to our parsha.  

I don't mean to minimize the importance of bikurim, but let's be real -- if you asked 100 people to pick one mitzvah for which the world was created, most would answer things like learning Torah, saying shema, emunah.  Not bikurim.  What do Chazal see as so crucial in the mitzvah if bikurim?

When the farmer brings bikurim to the Mikdash in essence what he is saying is, "It's not me."  He may have plowed the field, he may have planted the seeds, he may have weeded, watered, tended the crops, and finally harvested, but the crops are not the product of his work alone.  By bringing bikurim the farmer is saying that it's not "kochi v'otzem yadi," but rather his success comes from Hashem.  

"V'lakach ha'kohen ha'teneh mi'yadecha" -- bikurim takes the fruit out of being "mi'yadecha," the work of your hands (alone), and acknowledges that it is a gift from Hashem.

"Lo achalti b'oni mi'menu" -- R' Shimon Sofer explains that the word "oni" can be interpreted as strength.  Ya'akov describes Reuvain as "kochi v'reishis oni," my first strength.  Again, the farmer is declaring that the fruit does not come from the strength of his labor, but rather is a gift from G-d.

What Chazal are telling us is that G-d created this thing we call "earth" with laws of nature that serve to obscure his presence and where humans can delude themselves into thinking they are in total control in order so that we might have the opportunity to make the biggest kiddush Hashem possible -- to pierce that veil and declare that Hashem is behind it all. Even if there was no physical world there could be angels who learn Torah, who say shema, who have emunah.  You don't need a world for that.  All that can take place in Heaven.  What you need a world for is so that we can declare, through our bikurim, that G-d is present even where he doesn't seem to be.

The Torah uses the term "higadti" when describing the farmer's speech to the kohen. Normally the term hagadah, as opposed to amirah or dibur, connotes harsh words.  The farmer is relating how G-d helped bring us to Eretz Yisrael and his asking for Hashem's bracha -- what's so harsh about what he is saying?

Here we have the kohen, says the Ishbitzer, who lives a holy life, who can cloister himself in the Mikdash, who is involved in Torah (Rambam end of Hil Shemitah) when he is not doing avodah.  Along comes a simple farmer with his basket of fruit and barges into that domain of kedusha.  You can picture him with his overalls, maybe with the mud from the field still on his workboots, marching up to the kohen and handing over that basket. The farmer then declares to the kohen, "Don't think you have an exclusive on G-d.  I may be out on the field working, I may be a simple farmer, but my basket of fruit is as valuable as what you are doing."  That's hagadah = kashe k'gidim, harsh words.  "Higadti l'Hashem Elokecha..." -- your G-d, reb kohen, is my G-d too.  My avodah is at least as valuable as yours.  Real holiness is not just when you live a life in the Mikdash, in the beis medrash, the life of the kohen.  Real holiness is when you live in the darkness of olam=he'elem, where G-d's presence is hidden, out in the field, out dealing with the struggles of the world, and you come with bikurim and declare that that "real" world is just a fake and what is real is G-d. 

Maybe this is what the Midrash Tanchuma means when it teaches that Moshe was troubled as to how we would get by without bikurim when we no longer had a Mikdash.   Moshe was not worried about the loss of korbanos or avodah -- holiness.  Moshe was worried more about the loss of a place where one could elevate the mundane and make even it holy. That's what bikurim is all about.

Hashem's answer to Moshe was that we will have 3 tefilos a day that will make up for the loss.  Tefilah reminds us (especially when you stop right in the middle of a work day for minchah!) that it's not the hard work we do that makes things happen, but it's G-d who is behind it all.