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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Avigdor Miller’

Vayelech: Giving Thanks

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

We live in an age of conveniences – and dangers. Our affluence presents dangers to our quest for spiritual perfection, which the Torah cautions against and which Rabbi Avigdor Miller elaborates on in Parshas Vayelech.

“And he shall eat and become satiated and shall become fat…” (31:20). This warning is already stated before: “And you shall eat and be satiated. Beware for yourselves lest your heart be deceived and you shall turn aside” (11:15; also 8:14). And it is reiterated: “And Yeshurun grew fat and he kicked” (32:15). This aspect of the perils of prosperity emphasizes the selfishness and arrogance that are engendered by being overfed.

Thus, even the blessed communities of the loyally observant must be constantly on guard, especially today when the comforts and luxuries have increased beyond the experience of previous generations. No previous era has ever witnessed as much satiation and opportunities for happiness as we have today, and therefore the admonition “Beware for yourselves” is now more appropriate than ever.

Today’s conveniences and abundance impose a responsibility beyond that of all previous generations. Man’s chief function in life is to recognize Hashem’s kindliness: “It is good to give thanks to Hashem and to sing to Your name, O Most High” (Tehillim 92:2), meaning: What is the highest good? To give thanks to Hashem. How much must we give thanks and sing? “To narrate Your kindliness in the morning, and Your steadfastness in the nights” (ibid. 92:3), which actually means to begin in the morning to declare Hashem’s kindliness and His steadfastness, and to continue throughout the day into the night.

This fundamental duty is incumbent not only upon the blessed people of Hashem, but also upon all of Mankind. “For thus is the obligation of all the created: to give thanks, to acclaim, to adore, to glorify, to exalt, to honor, to make supreme and to praise” (Shabbos-morning prayers). “Praise Hashem, all you nations” (Tehillim 117:1); but Israel is even more obliged: “For His kindness upon us is greater” (ibid. 117:2).

Therefore even the loyal observant Jew must constantly exert himself to fulfill his function of always being mindful of Hashem’s constant kindliness. But especially today, and even more when dwelling in lands of abundance and total liberty, how great becomes the necessity to busy ourselves with the study of Hashem’s countless benefactions and with endless praise both in thought and in words, and also in increased performance of Hashem’s Torah obligations.

This presents a very real challenge. Thus: “Beware for yourselves lest your heart be deceived” to fail to understand this obligation.

* * * * *

“Take this book of the Torah and you shall put it at the side of the ark of the covenant of Hashem your G-d, and it shall be a witness against you” (31:26). This is an important function of the Book of the Torah (in addition to its function as the authentic model for all future copies): that the nation of the Torah must never attribute any of its misfortunes to any reason other than a retribution for transgressing the words of the Torah. Instead of merely blaming our persecutors and saying “We do not understand Hashem’s secrets,” this testimony stands forever as the sole and true explanation of all that transpires.

Thus the catastrophe which came upon European Jews must impel us to “search out our ways and investigate” and understand that never before had European Jews become estranged from Torah loyalty as in the last 80 years. And the travails experienced by Jews in the Holy Land must open their eyes to recognize how far the State of Israel has travelled away from the Torah. This is precisely that which this verse declares (Fortunate Nation).

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.

For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

Ki Savo: Emulating The Creator

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Many passages in the Torah appear at first glance to be repetitious. Often, each iteration has a unique and deep message. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, finds such a case (in the passage of the Blessings and Curses) in the Torah’s instruction to keep Hashem’s commandments and walk in His ways.

Also in the passage of the Blessings and Curses, Rabbi Miller highlights the great blessing of a long life.

“And all these blessings shall come upon you, and they shall overtake you” (28:2). One of the greatest puzzles of the Torah is the lack of more open mention of the reward of the Afterlife. Rambam (Teshuvah 9:1) declares that the rewards foretold in the Torah for obeying the commandments are solely in this life, but the true reward is reserved for the Afterlife. But the reward of a long, peaceful life is bestowed for the purpose of being enabled to achieve more perfection by performing the commandments (“A mitzvah brings on a mitzvah” – Avos 4:2) and thereby becoming eligible for even greater happiness in the Afterlife.

The opportunity to achieve perfection is available solely in this physical existence; and though the happiness of the Afterlife is the end-purpose of Creation, that happiness is in proportion to the perfection achieved in this physical existence. Thus, a long life of peaceful and prosperous conditions is the supreme blessing, because in illness or poverty or with the tribulations of wartime, men cannot accomplish so readily the great achievements for which they would merit the higher status of the most virtuous in the life of eternal existence.

“If you will keep the commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you will walk in His ways” (28:9). This is not a rhetorical repetition, but two separate statements: keep His commandments and, in addition to keeping the commandments, study the ways of Hashem as demonstrated in the Torah or in the events of history or of the phenomena of Creation and emulate these ways by our own behavior.

One example of these ways is taught in the Torah when Moshe said, “Let me know Your ways” (Shemos 33:13) – at which time Hashem revealed His thirteen ways (ibid. 34:6-7). Also: “Behold, to Hashem your G-d belong the heavens and the heavens above the heavens.… Only in your Fathers did Hashem delight, to love them” (Devarim 10:14-15), which demonstrates that the ways of the fathers were pleasing in the eyes of Hashem. Thus we are obliged to love the ways of Abraham and Yitzchak and Yaakov, as described in the Torah, and we must walk in those ways.

We read, “He does justice for the orphan and the widow, and He loves a ger” (ibid. 10:18) and many similar instances of His ways. “Who is a G-d like You, that pardons iniquity and passes over the transgressions of the remnants of His heritage. He does not retain his anger forever, for He desires kindliness. He will again have compassion upon us, He will conceal our iniquities, and He will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will give faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, as You swore to our fathers from the days of old” (Michah 7:18-20).

From these verses the Tomer Devorah has drawn up a list of character traits and attitudes, which we are obliged to learn and to emulate in accordance with this mitzvah of “You should walk in His ways.” These are not optional forms of piety or exceptional excellence; everyone is required to fulfill them because of the mitzvah “to walk in His ways.”

In addition to these examples of Hashem’s ways, we are required also to learn His ways that are demonstrated by the wonders of Hashem’s creation. The rain comes to supply water to drink and to cause the earth to produce food. The fruit trees produce attractive and luscious delicacies. The winds convey the rain clouds over the continents. Clothing is supplied by sheep’s’ wool and flax and cotton plants. Hundreds of remedies are derived from plants. The body heals itself in countless wondrous ways, most of us are born without any one of the thousands of birth defects that could have occurred.

Wherever we look, we see the kindliness of the Creator, which He showers upon man. Thus the attitude and the practice of kindness are “ways” of Hashem, which we must study and emulate. “Their G-d hates immorality” (Sanhedrin 93a); therefore we must hate immorality. “Hashem loves the righteous” (Tehillim 146:8) and Hashem loves Israel (10:15); we must emulate Him.

Devarim: Like The Sand Of The Sea

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Moshe’s blessing to the nation of Israel is interesting in that a similar blessing, which Hashem had given Avraham and Yizchak, had already been fulfilled. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, observes that among the greastest blessings is abundant offspring, and therefore this blessing was particularly auspicious – even the third time around.

“Hashem your G-d has caused you to increase, and behold: you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven” (1:10): This very important statement by Moshe declares that the prophetic promise given by Hashem to Avraham (Bereishis 15:5, 22:17) and to Yitzchak (ibid. 26:4), that their seed would be as numerous as the stars, was already actually fulfilled by this time. If we should include in the count all men even over 60, and all women and children, the total would certainly be two million. (The additional blessings given here by Moshe that they increase a thousandfold, has not yet been fulfilled but it is proper to believe that the kindly and pious blessing by Moshe will eventually be fulfilled by Hashem.)

This declaration is part of the list of kindnesses Hashem bestowed, and it is used as a preface to the rebukes Moshe subsequently voiced. (The stars actually number more than two million, but, “The Torah speaks in the language of men” – Berachos 31b; and when the intention was to express a very large number, the comparison to the stars was employed.) The mention of their numbers is also intended to encourage them to be more bold in the conquest of Canaan.

We read later: “Yehudah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea, in multitude” (I Kings 4:20), but we find the prophecy which was said long afterward: “The number of the sons of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted” (Hoshea 2:1). Thus it is evident that the original promise to Avraham (Bereishis 13:16), though fulfilled in the days of Moshe, included even more for some day in the future. This additional increase may perhaps be due to the prayer Moshe now said: “Hashem, the G-d of your fathers, should make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as He has promised you” (1:11).

This hoped for increase in the numbers of the holy nation is one of the most desired wishes of Hashem and also of our great fathers. Nothing can equal the blessing of a huge multitude of the holy people. The Presence of Hashem increases in proportion to their numbers. Every ten Jews gain the Shechinah (Sanhedrin 39a), and a greater “Shechinah dwells upon 22,000 Jews” (Yevamos 64a); and when 600,000 assembled, Hashem came down upon Mt. Sinai.

All of the benefits that are enumerated (which Hashem had bestowed) were for the purpose of the great conclusion: “Fortunate are you Israel; who is like you” (33:29) – the very last words of Moshe.

“That Hashem your G-d carried you just as a man carries his son” (1:31): This is a most significant declaration. Israel, and Israel alone, is Hashem’s son, as He had declared, “My son, My firstborn is Israel” (Shemos 4:22); and “Send forth My son” (ibid. 4:23). All the severe castigations and the heavy chastisements were the strongest demonstrations of Hashem’s love: “And you should know with your heart that just as a man chastises his son, does Hashem your G-d chastise you” (8:5).

Though that generation, more than any other, was privileged to see and to be close to Hashem, the principle that Hashem bears Israel in His arms as His son continues to hold good for all their generations. This is an astonishing statement, which we ourselves would never have dared say; yet Hashem declares openly for the entire world to hear that the loyal and observant Jewish nation is held in His arms as a father holds his beloved child. This is repeatedly stated, as in Yeshaiah 49:15-16 and elsewhere.

This Tisha B’Av, be inspired by the thought-provoking words of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Access free streaming lectures from your computer or smartphone at www.simchashachaim.com/tisha-bav.html or bit.ly/rabbimiller9av.

Matos-Masei: Virtue Of Men, Virtue Of Nations

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the confrontation between Israel and Midian, the Torah reveals the great void of virtue that separated the two nations. While Israel had fallen to great depths in the challenge of the Peor, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, points out that it had risen again to great heights in the ensuing battle against a nation steeped in immorality.

“And Moshe said to them: have you allowed all the females to live?…Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, by the word of Bileam, to be disloyal to Hashem in the matter of Peor. And now kill every male among the little ones” (31:14-17).

Twelve thousand men participated in the expedition (31:5) against Midian, and not a man was missing when they returned. But a still greater wonder was that no man committed any misdeed (Shabbos 64a) with the captive women.

If among 12,000 men there had not been one instance of such behavior in a time of war, the nation demonstrated thereby its supreme superiority over all the peoples of the world. Certainly, the destruction of the 24,000 (25:9) had exerted an effect; yet the fact remains that this expedition now gained for Israel a great perfection.

This explains why Hashem had sent them against Midian instead of sparing them the effort by His own action to punish the Midianites. The females of Midian had exerted themselves previously to ensnare the Sons of Israel, and it is certain that now when the Midianites were attacked, their women had done their utmost to seduce the Israelites. But not even a single son of Israel yielded. This was indeed an atonement for the sin of Peor and the daughters of Midian.

Opponents of Israel point accusingly to this extremely harsh incident in which all male children and even babies were slain. But they must note that the sons of Israel had no intention of doing this, as is openly stated (31:9). The sole reason the children were killed was because of Hashem’s command (31:2) by the word of Moshe.

It is evident from the Scriptures that the sons of Israel were reluctant to destroy the conquered nations. Hashem found it necessary to admonish them again and again to have no compassion upon the peoples of Canaan (Shemos 23:32-33, 34:12; Bamidbar 33:55; and elsewhere), and the Scriptures blame the Israelites for their tolerance of the nations among them (Shoftim 1:27, 29, 30, 31 ,33, 2:2-3, and elsewhere).

But Hashem judges nations collectively and they are rewarded or punished together, with their posterity included in the national reward or punishment. Just as a murderer is put to death and as result his potential unborn children are also destroyed, so too are entire groups of mankind sentenced together. (In this instance, only part of Midian was sentenced for destruction. A remnant remained and became a full-fledged nation again.)

We are surprised to learn that Bilam laid this plot against Israel after he had spoken such noble words in their praise. There is no question he was certain his praises of Israel were true, for he was willing to forfeit the great reward Balak had offered him to curse Israel. But here we see again the principle enunciated above (16:1) – that even one who has attained excellence in awareness of Hashem must also contend with the even more difficult task of conquering envy and similar flaws of character.

It was because Bilam knew the greatness of the Israelites that he came to be inordinately jealous of them. Inflamed by this jealously, he sought to induce Israel to sin so that they should fall from their greatness and be rejected by Hashem. But this fiery jealousy actually enhances the value of his unsurpassed praise of Israel.

This Tisha B’Av, be inspired by the thought-provoking words of Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Access free streaming lectures from your computer or smartphone at www.simchashachaim.com/tisha-bav.html or bit.ly/rabbimiller9av.

Pinchas: Zealous For Hashem

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

In a moment of zealousness, Pinchas earned eternal honor for himself and his family. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains, such is the power of zeal in the service of Hashem and His Torah.

“Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon the kohen turned away my wrath from upon the sons of Israel by his zeal for my sake in their midst; and I did not bring destruction upon the sons of Israel because of my jealousy. Therefore, say, behold, I give to him my covenant of peace” (25:11-2). This is a special proclamation of acclaim. Though Moshe certainly approved of Pinchas, Hashem here teaches the necessity to render public recognition to the righteous.

“And they shall justify the just, and they shall condemn the wicked” (Devarim 25:1) actually means that the just shall be held up to public view as men all should admire, and that the wicked must be held up as examples of scorn and public shame. Thus, in the rare instances when a prophetic Bat Kol was heard during the Second Sanctuary era, we find an instance (in the Gemara in Sanhedrin) when this miraculous phenomenon was used to point out the excellence of Hillel; and similarly, a Bat Kol came forth later to proclaim the excellence of Shmuel the Little (ibid.).

“Hashem encourages the meek” (Tehillim 147:6) (i.e. the righteous) “but He lowers the wicked to the ground” (ibid.). “Condemning the wicked, and justifying the righteous” (I Kings 8:32): this is a principle of all the narrations of the Scriptures concerning the righteous.

Against every good man (or good deed) there will always be detractors and opponents, or at best the people will fail to appreciate properly the worth of the righteous and their deeds. Here in these verses Hashem supplies a model of how to react to the deeds of the righteous and how highly we should admire their personalities and publicize their importance.

Pinchas is commended for being jealous (i.e. his zeal) for Hashem, and this jealousy was especially commended for being performed in their midst, meaning in open public demonstration. This quality of public open speech or action on behalf of Hashem is especially prized. Moshe became angry when he saw any infraction of Hashem’s Torah and was constantly commended by Hashem; we understand that Moshe was protecting the sons of Israel from the consequences of Hashem’s wrath.

When Moshe, during the episode of the golden calf, broke the Tablets, it was a monumental deed of jealousy for Hashem’s honor, and this prepared the way for the final pardon that was granted for that transgression. Similarly, when Abraham prayed that Sodom be spared destruction, Hashem consented if there would be ten righteous men, but the condition was made that they be righteous men in the midst of the city (Bereshis 18:26), meaning that they openly and publicly demonstrated their disapproval of the sins of the city. Just as the ketoret brings forgiveness from Hashem’s retribution, even more does public action for the honor of Hashem and His Torah bring forgiveness. This is the highest ketoret of all.

In the following verse, a covenant of priesthood is bestowed upon him and his posterity. But the covenant of peace for Pinchas himself is a separate covenant whereby he is assured of peace throughout his lifetime (Bamidbar Rabbah 25:1). Why was Pinchas granted an assurance of peace throughout his lifetime? Because he brought peace to the sons of Israel. This is twice stated: 1) He turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel and 2) he was zealous for his G-d and atoned for the sons of Israel (25:13). The second statement is added to explain the priesthood was bestowed upon him because he atoned for the sons of Israel, therefore he and his posterity shall atone for Israel as kohanim. Thus we learn that the man who is zealous for Hashem and His Torah is considered as one who brings peace to Israel and protects them against misfortune; and therefore he deserves a long life of enjoying the fruits of his deeds.

Pinchas was active even in the days of the War of the Concubine at Giveah (Shoftim 20:28). Similarly, though Eliyahu Hanavi departed from men (II Kings 2:11), he was rewarded in not having to die like other men (ibid.) because he was zealous for Hashem (I Kings 19:10); and in our tradition the deathless Eliyahu appeared to the Sages numerous times. Men such as these have brought upon Israel the assurance that our nation would continue deathless.

Balak: A Covenant Forever

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

In the aftermath of the episode of Zimri and the Midianite women, Hashem struck down 24,000 Jews. Yet immediately afterward, Hashem reaffirmed his tremendous love for Israel. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that this is in character with Hashem’s quality of chastising severely the nation he loves so dearly.

“And those who died by the plague were 24,000” (25:9). When our opponents read this, they declare Hashem had just reason for rejecting the Jews, who had failed His trust, and therefore He chose the more righteous gentiles. But against this falsification, the voice of the Torah after this episode is loud and clear:

“Behold, to Hashem your G-d belong the heavens and the heavens over the heavens, the earth and all therein. Only in your fathers did Hashem delight to love them; and He chose their seed after them, you of all the nations, as of this day” (Devarim 10:15).

And among the last prophets, Ezekiel speaks:

“And I shall make with them a covenant of peace; an everlasting covenant it shall be with them; and I shall establish them and multiply them and shall put My sanctuary in their midst forever. And My dwelling-place shall be with them, and I shall be to them a G-d and they shall be My people. And the nations shall know that I, G-d, make Israel holy, when My sanctuary shall be in their midst forever (Yecheskel 37:25-28).

All the sins of the generation of the Wilderness were minimal; and despite everything, these men were beloved by Hashem more than anyone or anything in the entire Universe. They were most severely chastised solely because they were more close to Hashem than any other generation. “By My close ones I shall be sanctified” (Vayikra 10:9). “Him that Hashem loves, He chastises [or: rebukes], like a father to a son that he favors” (Mishle 3:12). Let us keep in mind the verse spoken later (35:34): “For I am Hashem that dwells in the midst of the sons of Israel.”

A surprising statement is made by our Sages: Pinchas cast down the dead bodies of Zimri and the Midianite woman, and he said to Hashem: Is it for these that 24,000 of Israel should perish? (Sanhedrin 44A). But were the 24,000 not punished for their own sins that they committed? How could Pinchas say they perished because of Zimri and the Midianite woman? According to the Ramban, the sins of those who yielded to the women and ate of the Peor offerings (25:1-3) were expected to be atoned by slaying the guilty ones as Hashem commanded (25:4).

According to this opinion of the Ramban, had Zimri not attempted his public act of wickedness, all would have been forgiven. But when Zimri, a prominent Shimeonite (25:14), publicly attempted his scornful licentiousness, many of the Shimeonites demonstrated their support and approval. Thereupon Hashem’s wrath was aroused at the nation in general and at Shimeon particularly; and in the plague that now began. Twenty-four thousand (mostly of Shimeon) perished. For such an open desecration, which was approved by many spectators, the entire tribe of Shimeon (and many others) might have been wiped out, had not Pinchas arisen to defend Hashem’s honor by a public act that atoned for the Sons of Israel (25:13) and stopped the plague.

(This number does not include those put to death by the judges of Israel for their involvement with Baal Peor (25:5). Thus it seems that these 24,000 were not guilty of actual idolatry. At most, they were sympathizers of Zimri. The number of those put to death because of Baal Peor is not stated, but we see they were relatively few in comparison to the victims of the plague.)

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.

For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

Chukas: Chastisement And Perfection

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Hashem criticized His holy nation relentlessly, yet Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, observes that for 38 of Israel’s 40 years in the desert, Hashem expressed no criticism at all. Herein is a lesson in Israel’s greatness.

“And the sons of Israel, all the congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin, in the first month” (20:1).

Thirty-eight years have elapsed since the episode of Korach. Miriam passed away in the first month of the fortieth year since the Exodus, Aharon passed away in the fifth month and Moshe passed away in Adar, the twelfth month (Megillah 13b).

From the preceding section of the parah adumah until now, no events or prophecies are recorded in the Torah, and by now all the generation of the episode of the meraglim have passed away (Rashi, lbn Ezra). No complaints are mentioned, and even by the very stern standards of Hashem no fault is found in the nation.

This lack of criticism is actually an immense encomium both for the old and for the new generation. In view of the supremely exalted standards required by Hashem, and considering the scathing criticism to which the generation had been so frequently subjected, the absence of any comment for this period of 38 years is actually a declaration of extraordinary commendation.

The severe chastisements proved a great blessing for this holy nation, for the people gained in greatness from each episode until they rose to the heights of perfection Bilaam recognized when he spoke the words of Hashem’s sublime approbation.

A great question arises: How can the psalm declare “Forty years have l quarreled with this generation; and they knew not My ways” (Tehillim 95:10)? For 38 of these 40 years not a word of criticism is written in the Torah, except in the episode of the daughters of Moab (25:1). Especially when we consider the words of Bilaam (23:8-4:9), this crushing expression of disapproval seems wholly unjustified.

It is clear that the Torah is written so as to serve as a stimulus to remorse and penitence forever. Just as the pious Jew beats his breast and recites on Yom Kippur a confession of a list of sins he had not committed, so also does our nation read the Torah contritely and flagellate its conscience for national sins which actually would be the pride and boast of any other people had they performed so few misdeeds as those for which Israel is castigated so severely.

“It is better for the righteous ones when Hashem shows His wrath in this world” (Shabbos 30a), and because of the stern disapproval shown to this greatest of all generations they became the most perfect in history. But all the castigations are merely the Face of Hashem. What actually was in the Mind of Hashem?

For the answer, we have recourse to the superlative declaration of Hashem’s eternal love, as enunciated by our archenemy Bilaam (23:7-24:17).

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com.

For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.

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