Friday, October 3, 2014

Making Kabbalos that Last

As we near Yom Kippur, people may be considering formal kabbalos to accept for the upcoming year.
Looking back to the previous year's kabbalos (if one still remembers them) can be depressing as more often than not, they were not properly fulfilled. What are some guidelines to making proper kabbalos that are both important and manageable for the upcoming year?

Rav Dessler, in a collection of his writings on the topic, outlines several guidelines in properly accepting kabbalos for the upcoming year, many of which have been supported from the recent psychology literature. For this year, allow us to explore one key idea Rav Dessler offers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eroding Entitlement - The Key to Favorable Judgment

In one of the most powerful and well-known pesukim in the Torah, the person separates ma'aser (tithes), performs viduy ma'aser (confession of the tithes) and concludes with a prayer: "hashkifa mim'on kadshecha min ha'Shamayim u'varech es amcha es Yisrael," beseeching G-d to gaze down from the Heavens and bless His people.

Perhaps contributing to the pasuk's fame, Rashi in Bereishis (18:16) quotes a Medrash which notes that the root of the word "hashkifa," shin-kuf-peh, almost always connotes negativity, as G-d "gazed" upon the people of Mitzrayim and Sedom before judging and destroying them. The only exception is in our parsha, in which the act of giving charity transforms G-d's gaze from harsh judgment to kindness. Rav Shmuel Yakov Bornstein points out that the Medrash serving as Rashi's source actually mentions two weapons to transform Hashem's strict midas ha'din--charity for the poor and tithes for Levi'im--yet Rashi only chooses the former example in his commentary.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Know Thy Enemy - A Heart Filled with Hate

When recounting the battle between the Emorites and the Jews, Moshe compares the Emori attack to an attack of bees, and then describes how the Emorites chased the Jews all the way to Charmah. The aggressive chasing implies a forceful attack; yet Rashi, explaining the comparison to bees, says that the Emori died in the act of murdering Jews, just as bees die with their sting. Rashi's comparison seems to indicate that the Emori were overmatched and attempted to "sting" the Jews with their final breaths. Were the Emori so overpowered that they were left fighting like bees, or were they invested in a proactive attack against the Jews?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Who Are You Fighting For? - Hashem and the Jewish People

Despite being directly told by G-d to command the Jewish people to take revenge for themselves against Midyan ("nikom nikmas B'nei Yisrael"), Moshe told the Jewish people to take revenge for G-d ("nikmas Hashem"). Why did Moshe contradict, even slightly, an order from G-d and change His words from an obligation to take Jewish revenge into Divine revenge?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams - Hashem's Master Plan

As though it were not obvious, the gemara (Bava Basra 14b) says that Moshe wrote "his" sefer, i.e. the five chumashim, and the stories of Bil'am and Iyov. Rashi explains that despite Bil'am's story not being relevant to Moshe, Moshe still included it in the chumash. A perhaps simpler understanding, and maybe Rashi's intention, would be that unlike every other story in the Torah, there was no witness to or participant in the entire story. All of Bil'am and Balak's plan against the Jewish people was plotted and thwarted from afar, without the knowledge of any Jew.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Adam - One Man #BringBackOurBoys

In an age of mandatory political correctness, some of our Sages' statements have unfortunately been criticized. This hardly reflects a new phenomenon, as over a century ago, during the Beilis Trial in which a Russian Jew was accused of killing a teenage boy (blood libel), the prosecution found a "racist" statement of Chazal based off a word in this week's parsha.

At the conclusion of the laws of tumas meis which opens Parshas Chukas, the Torah summarizes "zos ha'Torah adam ki yamus ba'ohel," literally, these are the laws of when a person dies in the tent. The gemara (Yevamos 61a), understands the word "adam," a person, as an indication that only Jewish corpses create tumah, "atem keruyim adam v'ein ha'Ovdei Kochavim keruyim adam," only Jews are called "adam." During the Beilis Trial, the non-Jews dug up this Talmudic wisdom and attacked it as racist. What is the proper Jewish response?

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Ordinary Life - The Meaning of Tzitzis

In one of the worst events in Jewish history, the event occurring on and thus defining the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the spies returned from the land of Israel with a negative report. Instead of focusing on the beautiful parts of the lush land, its large fruit, and easy access (with the many funerals transpiring), they exaggerated negatives and instilled the Jewish people with fear. In the process, their hopes of ever entering Israel were quashed. But why?

The twelve spies were not ordinary people; to the contrary, "kulam anashim roshei B'nei Yisrael," they were all leaders, and not those elected due to political charm. How can such holy men betray their people and their G-d and mislead the nation? What motivated them to do so?