Blog

Pearls of Rashi – Re’eh

This week we read the Torah portion of Re’eh. This portion tells us to (Devorim 16:1) “Keep the month of spring, and make the Pesach offering to Hashem. For in the month of spring G-d brought you out of Egypt at night.” Rashi cites the words “keep the month of spring” and explains the meaning of these words. “Before Nissan arrives, watch that it should be fit for spring, capable of producing ripe ears of barley by the sixteenth of the month. These would be needed to offer as the Omer meal offering. And if not (if it is not yet spring), proclaim it a leap year. (This will enable you to wait another month until the barley ripens).”

We need to explain this in a manner which will help us in our service of Hashem. During the winter all growth is hidden; it is asleep. It appears to us as if there is no growth. During the spring the beauty and greenery suddenly awakes. We become aware that it was temporarily gathering its strength. Now, in the spring, it can appear in all of its glory.

The same was true during our exile in Egypt. It was bitter both for the physical body and the soul. However ultimately we were able to traverse in a mere 50 days from the 49th level of impurity to the ability to receive the Torah directly from the Almighty Himself.

This is the lesson for each of us. At times we may (G-d forbid) undergo a period during which there appears to be no growth. Everything around us appears to be frigid and lifeless. We must realize that this is just a temporary state. We are merely gathering the strength needed to “spring” into life. All that it means is that we are about to step into the complete and true redemption with our righteous Moshiach.

 

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos!

 

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Advertisements

Pearls of Rashi – Eikev

This week we read the Torah portion of Eikev. Here we are told the second paragraph of Shema which begins (Devorim 11:13) “And it will be, if you obey My commandments that I command you this day … and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Rashi cites the words “and to serve Him with all of your heart” and explains as follows. “This means with a service of the heart, namely prayer. Prayer is called service, as it says (Daniel 6:17) “your G-d, Whom you serve regularly.”

The Mishnah at the beginning of Chapter Five of Berochos says “One must not stand up to say the Amidah without deep earnestness (literally a heavy head).” The Maggid of Mezritch explains this as follows. One may not pray for his own needs. Rather one must pray on behalf of the Shechinah, the G-dly presence. This is the head of everything within the world.

Thee Maggid’s explanation, however, is not so simple. The Rambam explains that the Halachic definition of prayer (Laws of Prayer, Chapters 2 – 4) is requesting all of one’s needs from Hashem. Only in this manner will he realize that Hashem alone takes care of all of our needs. How can we reconcile the two?

The explanation is that each of us must be totally subservient to Hashem. I am nothing besides for Him. Therefore all of my needs are encapsulated in the needs of the Shechinah. My only prayer is for Hashem, our collective head and being, to be drawn down throughout all worlds.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Pearls of Rashi – Vo’eschanan

This week we read the Torah portion of Vo’eschanan. This marks the second time that we read how Hashem gave us the Torah. Moshe spoke to us saying that (Devorim 5:19) “Hashem spoke these words to your entire assembly at the mountain from out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the opaque darkness with a great voice. His voice did not cease. He inscribed them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.” Rashi cites the words “His voice did not cease” and offers two interpretations. One is that from the moment he gave us the Torah, His voice never paused. The second is that He never again spoke publically in the same manner.

We are discussing Hashem’s holy, infinite voice; He is totally above both spiritual and physical. Obviously He can speak in a manner which never ceases. The question is however, why is is necessary for him to do so. We know that Hashem does not perform miracles for no reason. He created the world through the laws of nature. Unless there is a specific reason not to follow those laws, He does so. What need was there for a miracle here?

The explanation is that as we mentioned earlier, G-d transcends both nature and that which is above nature. G-d is not “above nature” as many mistakenly think. He is above everything which is within this world, both that which is natural and that which is transcendent. The entire point of giving us the Torah was in order to make the world into a vessel within G-dliness can be contained. That is the reason for the miracle.

Most of the Mitzvos which we perform are done with physical objects. Beginning when Hashem gave us the Torah the physical absorbs the spiritual. It is transformed into spiritual, a dwelling below for the Almighty with the coming of Moshiach!

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

 

Pearls of Rashi – Matos-Massei

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Matos-Massei, the Torah tells us the laws of annulling vows. The Torah says (Bamidbar 30:3) “If a man makes a vow to Hashem, or if he makes an oath to prohibit something from himself, he may not violate his word. He must do whatever came out of his mouth.” Rashi cites the words “he may not violate his words.” He explains that it means that “’he shall not profane his word,’ he shall not treat his word as being unholy.” Simply put, Rashi is saying that one must keep his word.

Let us put this into context. The Jews are concluding the forty years in the wilderness and standing on the brink of entering the Holy Land. What was the difference between life in the desert and life in Israel? In the wilderness we had no physical concerns whatsoever. We always had food to eat; the “Mon – Manna” which fell every day. We always had what to drink; water from Miriam’s well. We had no need to be concerned with clothing; our clothes were cleaned, pressed and grew with us thanks to the Clouds of Glory. These would also serve as our protection. Our only concern was following Hashem’s commandments and learning Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Contrast that with the life which we would lead in Israel. We would have to work for our food. It would involve ploughing, planting and harvesting. Then we would first be able to begin making food from the grain which we managed to collect! We would have to dig for water and make our own clothing. We would also need to build our own shelter.

What is the reason for this great change? Our years in the desert were just a preparation for what was to follow. This is similar to the first 20 years or so of a child’s life. The child is not concerned with paying bills. Their main concern is doing well in Yeshivah/Seminary. Once they get married that all changes. This was the same as the change which awaited us in Israel. We had the preparation which we needed in order to fulfill our goal; G-d’s purpose in creation. Transforming this world into a dwelling place for Hashem below.

One fundamental preparation for this is the laws of vows. Rashi explains this as “not profaning one’s word.” One may not make his word into something profane, i.e. not holy. Rather he must sanctify his words. Everything we say must be holy. This is a great step toward transforming this world into Hashem’s dwelling place.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos! May we merit the time of the complete and true redemption now!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

 

Pearls of Rashi – Pinchos

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchos, we find something which appears to be out of place. The Torah tells us that (Bamidbar 26:11) “Korach’s sons did not die.” Rashi explains that “they were originally involved in the conspiracy, but during the dispute they repented in their hearts; therefore an elevated area was set apart for them in Gehinnom and they stayed there.” We need to understand why the Torah is telling us here that Korach’s children were saved; it would seem more appropriate for the Torah to have told us this in the Parshah of Korach.

We can explain that in the following manner. We are told that all of Korach’s band who were involved in the rebellion (Bamidbar 16:33) “They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up and they were lost to the assembly of Jews.” That assembly saw Korach’s son’s sin. However they did not see them do Teshuvah. As Rashi told us, they performed Teshuvah in their hearts. Therefore that assembly had to see them become lost together with their fellow conspirators. They could not think that they were not punished.

However a new assembly which had not witnessed their rebellion, could see their salvation. This was a new assembly which had not seen Korach’s rebellion. At this point no one that witnessed Korach’s rebellion was there. Rashi explains in the Torah portion of Chukas (Bamidbar 20:22) that at this time “All were perfect ready to enter Israel … all those destined to die in the desert had already perished.” Since this was a new community of Jews, Korach’s sons could now leave the “elevated area which was set apart for them in Gehinnom.” Now we could first be told that they were saved.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos! May we merit the time of the complete and true redemption now!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Pearls of Rashi – Balak

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we find that Balak, the king of Moav, found himself surrounded by the Jews. Fearing that the Jews would attack him he attempted to hire Bilaam, a prophet of the gentile nations, to curse them.

The Torah tells us that (Bamidbar 22:21) “In the morning Bilaam arose, saddled his she-donkey and went with the Moabite dignitaries.” Rashi cites the words “saddled his she-donkey,” and comments as follows. “From here we learn that hate causes a disregard for the standard of dignified conduct, for he saddled it himself. Hashem said, ‘Wicked one, their father Avrohom has already preceded you, as it says (Bereishis 22:3), ‘Avrohom arose in the morning and saddled his donkey.’’”

It did not suit one of Bilaam’s status to saddle his own donkey. His servants should have done it for him! The same is true of Avrohom (Le’havdil); it did not befit one of his stature to saddle his own donkey. However that is where the comparison ends. Bilaam got up early in the morning and ran to saddle his own she-donkey because of his hatred for the Jews. In contrast to that Avrohom was so anxious to fulfill Hashem’s words that he jumped up in the morning and saddled his own donkey. How can Rashi compare the two by saying that “their father Avrohom already preceded you?”

Rashi can be understood as follows. As a prophet of Hashem Bilaam could not curse the Jews without G-d’s permission. The problem is that Hashem had already told him not to go! Why did Bilaam decided to go anyway? He hoped that he would manage to “persuade” G-d. He hoped that perhaps he could point out the Jew’s sins; thereby gaining G-d’s permission to curse them. He tried to demonstrate that they had sinned. In order to do so he disregarded the standard of his own dignified conduct by saddling his own donkey. He meant to allude to the fact that throughout the years in the desert the Jews had done the same. They had disregarded the standard of their own conduct as servants of Hashem. Hashem’s response was “wicked one!” You are too late. Their ancestor Avrohom had disregarded his honor years earlier in order to perform G-d’s will as quickly as possible.

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos! May we merit the time of the complete and true redemption which will begin an eternal Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Pearls of Rashi – Chukas

This week’s Torah portion, Chukas, tells of (Bamidbar 19:2) the “Chukas Hatorah,” the “Chok” of the Torah. A “Chok” is a Divine commandment which has no explanation based on human understanding. It can only be understood according to G-dly intellect. The statute of the Torah, the most outstanding of all of these is what our Parshah discusses. It is a procedure which must be performed with a completely red cow. Through this procedure one who came into contact with a corpse can be ritually purified.

There are various levels of spiritual impurity. Each is the result of contact with death in one form or another. Hence the most serious form of spiritual impurity is contact with a corpse. The only way to remove this defilement is through the “Red Cow.”

Rashi comments on the above verse (ibid.) “This is the statute of the Torah which Hashem commanded saying, ‘Speak to the Jewish people and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid.’” Rashi cites the words “and have them take for you” and writes that “It will always be called on your name; the cow which Moshe prepared in the desert.” We have written many times that Rashi is very “stingy” with the words he uses. He only writes that which is absolutely necessary. What need is there to tell us that Moshe prepared the cow “in the desert?” We all know that whatever Moshe did was in the desert! He received the Torah and carried out all of Hashem’s commands in the wilderness!

As is the case with everything in Torah this comes to teach us an important lesson. One can ask how he has the power to purify a Jew who has descended to the lowest level. The answer is that he must keep in mind that the “Red Cow” was prepared in the desert. The desert is a place of (Devorim 8:15) “…snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water …” Nevertheless it was from this cow specifically that each Kohen who would prepare each cow throughout all subsequent generations would be prepared. Even in an environment of that sort we have the power to purify each and every Jew no matter how he has fallen

We must use that power in order to sanctify ourselves and all of those around us. In that manner we will certainly bring Moshiach now!

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Pearls of Rashi – Korach

This week’s Torah portion, Korach, tells of a rebellion against Aharon’s possession of the position of High Priest. Korach was the one that instigated this terrible rebellion. Surprisingly he managed to recruit 250 leaders of the nation to his side! Rashi tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu said to him (Bamidbar 16:6) “We have only one G-d, one ark, one Torah, one altar, and one Kohen Gadol. However you 250 men are all seeking the position of High Priest! I too would like that!” From Rashi’s words it seems that Moshe was agreeing with them. How is such a thing possible even if it was merely verbal?

We can explain this by understanding the answer to a different question. Hashem had promised Moshe that (Shemos 19:9) “they (the Jewish Nation) will believe in you forever.” In light of Hashem’s promise how is it possible that 250 heads of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court, rebelled against Moshe? The explanation is that Korach and his band did believe in Moshe! Their rebellion was not against him. Their mistake was that they sought the office of Kehunah Gedolah.

Why was this position so important to them? They realized the great spiritual heights which only the High Priest can attain. They were aware that G-d had separated the Kohen Gadol from all other Jews; he alone would attain the status of “holy of holies.” They had witnessed that sin of the spies. They knew that prayer can annul a physical decree against the Jews. They thought that it might also cause them to attain a higher spiritual status.

That is why Moshe was able to tell them that “I too want that.” The desire to reach that sort of connection to G-d is something which is desirable! However it cannot happen. Just as “we have only one G-d, one ark, one Torah and one altar, so too do we have only one Kohen Gadol.

May Hashem help that we all strengthen our connection with Hashem. In that manner we will all reach the greatest heights and bring Moshiach now!

Wishing one and all a good Shabbos and a good month!

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn

Pearls of Rashi – Shelach

This week we read the Torah portion of Shelach. It tells us, strangely enough, a story of espionage. Moshe sends 12 spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Israel. This was the land which Hashem had promised us. It is the land which we were to conquer and inhabit. The Torah lists the names of each of the scouts, telling us the tribe which they represented (Bamidbar 13:4-15). It then tells us that (Bamidbar 13:16) “These are the names of the men which Moshe sent to scout the Land. Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun Yehoshua.” In other words the name of the spy from the tribe of Ephraim was Hoshea. Moshe changed his name to Yehoshua. Why did Moshe perform such a strange act at that time? Rashi comments on the verse that “He prayed on his behalf, ‘May Hashem save you from the counsel of the (other) spies.’” The meaning of the Hebrew name Yehoshua is that G-d shall save you.

This is quite difficult to understand. Rashi himself taught us (Bamidbar 13:3) that at the time that Moshe sent them each of the 12 spies was virtuous. This being the case what need was there to pray for any of them. On the other hand, if Moshe foresaw that a problem would arise from the spies’ mission, why only pray for Yehoshua? He should have prayed on behalf of all of them!

This can be understood based on the way in which Chassidic philosophy explains the sin of the spies. Being that they were all virtuous why did they present Israel to the Jews in such a negative manner? The explanation is that they loved living in the wilderness. Their entire existence was spiritual. All they were occupied in was studying Torah from the greatest teacher of all time; Moshe Rabbeinu himself! They had no physical or material concerns whatsoever. Hashem took good care of them. They ate “Mon – Manna” which fell from heaven on a daily basis. They drank water from Miriam’s well. G-d protected them. Contrast that with entering Israel. They knew that they would have to plant and harvest their own food. They would spend most of their time “making a living.” Hence their time for Torah study and being occupied with the spiritual would be limited. They had no desire to exchange their spiritual existence for a human one.

What they overlooked was the fact that a physical existence in a physical world is what Hashem wanted. Hashem desired “a dwelling place below,” in this world. Israel would be the epitome of this. There we would ultimately build the Bais Hamikdosh; G-d’s “palace” in this world.

Their mistake was actually quite “noble.” The only one who could not make such a mistake was Yehoshua. He was destined to succeed Moshe as the leader of the Jewish Nation. He was the one who was chosen to bring the Jews into Israel as Hashem desires.

May we merit to return to Israel under the leadership of our righteous Moshiach!

Wishing one and all a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn