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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yalkut Shimoni’

Shemini – Strange Fire

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The commentators discuss the meaning and implications of the “strange fire” brought as an offering by Nadav and Avihu. In his discussion of this perplexing passage, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, discusses their early demise and observes that their death served a greater purpose (through the sadness that ensued) and that despite receiving a divine death penalty, the Torah regards them as great people.

And the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, took each one his censer and they put into them fire, and they put upon it incense and they offered before Hashem strange fire which he had not commanded them” (10:1).

The Midrash Tanchuma here (Shemini) offers a long preface which quotes numerous examples where sadness occurs in the midst of happiness. The Midrash continues: “Never did we see a man and his wife who saw such happiness as Aharon and his wife Elisheva, the daughter of Aminadav; her husband served as kohen gadol and as a prophet; Moshe her husband’s brother was king and prophet; her sons were officers of kehunah, and her brother Nachshon was the chief of all the n’siim of Israel; but her joy did not persist, and her two sons entered to bring an offering and a fire came forth from Hashem and consumed them. Thus it is said [Tehillim 75:5]: ‘I said to the gay: be not merry.’ ”

From this it is obvious that the plan of Hashem had from the beginning intended to interject sadness into the midst of great joy, for the purpose of teaching that the sole true and unadulterated joy is in the Afterlife. Whatever sin the two sons committed, the severity of their fate was planned also to supply a lesson to exercise caution in performance of Hashem’s service.

But a sadness had been decreed beforehand. Thus the most righteous, Moshe, was denied entry into the blessed Land; and though his 120 years were completed and he could not live longer, this was utilized as an additional opportunity to rebuke: “Because you were disloyal to Me” (Devarim 32:51).

Hashem had commanded, “And the sons of Aharon the kohen shall put fire on the mizbe’ach (1:7) and the two sons of Aharon hastened to offer the ktores which should precede the burning of the olah (Yoma 33a). The fire that came forth from Hashem actually devoured their ktores (together with them) and then consumed the olah and the fats (as in 9:24). Though they were punished for taking action before consulting their master Moshe (Eruvin 63a), yet upon them it is said, “There is a righteous man that perished in his righteousness” (Koheles 7:1 5). “This refers to Nadav and Avihu that entered to offer for the honor of Hashem and they were burned” (Yalkut Shimoni, ibid.).

The matter is far from simple, and we should remember that these two were privileged to ascend with Moshe and Aharon and the Elders of Israel to see the vision of the G-d of Israel (Shemos 24:1). “Said Rabbi Chiya bar Abba: On the first of Nissan the two sons of Aharon died; why is their death mentioned on Yom Kippur? To teach that just as Yom Kippur atones, so also does the death of the righteous atone” (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra 10:1).

Actually, in this instance the ktores was not required before the olah (as the order is stated in Yoma 33a), because the order of the daily offerings was not followed now at the especial service of the dedications of the Mishkan, for this was not the olas tamid, but an especial offering for this occasion.

The name Nadav implies generosity of soul, or “volunteering.” It was probably his nature to volunteer to serve Hashem of his own accord, and therefore he offered that “which Hashem had not commanded” as an additional and voluntary service.

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.

Closing Our Eyes To The New Haman (Part I)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

There is a new Haman on the world scene – Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who unabashedly proclaims his determination to annihilate Israel, and he is preparing to do so. Some say he is a few months away from nuclear capability, others say it will be a year or so, and still others say he already has it in his hands.

And what are we doing about it? Shockingly, nothing; we go on with business as usual.

And should you be among those who take this threat to heart, you will quickly be assured that Ahmadinejad is a madman, not to be taken seriously.

Yes, I agree, he is a madman, and that is precisely why he should be taken seriously. Madmen are mad enough to carry out their satanic plots. Trust me. I saw Hitler in action and I also saw a cruel world accept and participate in the barbaric extermination of our people.

Prior to Hitler’s conflagration, Hashem sounded the alarm. He sent us many wakeup calls, but we went back to sleep until the inferno consumed six million of our people. One would have imagined we learned our lesson and would not allow this tragedy to be repeated. But Hashem’s wakeup calls have once again been sounded, and once again we have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. I have been speaking about this for some time, and there are those who advise me to focus on “happier subjects” – subjects that are “entertaining” and “light.”

But I dare not remain silent. I dare not ignore the wake-up calls and the catastrophe they portend. So I ask you to read my ensuing columns on the subject with open minds and receptive hearts. I will limit myself to the wake-up calls we have witnessed over the past couple of years, though they began considerably earlier.

The number of catastrophes has multiplied to such an extent that we have all but become immune to them. Natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes (even in New York City), global warming, dead birds falling from the skies, dead fish washing up on the shores; the world economic crisis, accompanied by crippling unemployment and high oil prices; hitherto unknown diseases; barbaric acts of terror; nuclear spill in Japan and today’s nuclear threat from Iran – all threaten the very survival of our civilization.

And we take it all in stride. “It is what it is,” we tell ourselves with resignation and go on with our lives as usual.

But can all this be attributed to mere coincidence? Shouldn’t these afflictions give us pause? Shouldn’t we stop and take stock of our lives?

There is a story about a chassidic rebbe who was walking with his disciples when he noticed a little boy behind a tree, crying bitterly.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“Because I’m hiding, and no one is looking for me.”

The words of the child were like a sharp knife in the heart of the rebbe. “Woe is us,” he said to his students. “G-d is waiting for us to find Him, but we have failed to search for Him. Woe is us!”

Maimonides taught that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to examine his or her life, and commit to greater adherence to Torah and mitzvos. Maimonides warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” or “natural occurrences” we will be guilty of achzarius – cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who view trials and tribulations as “natural occurrences.” Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty?

The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways and change. So, yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others.

It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss that which is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance. Great Torah luminaries of past generations such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman told us we were entering the final stages of history – a period of time called Ikvesa DiMeshicha, footsteps of the Messiah.

Our Torah foretells four exiles through which our people would suffer: Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome. (The latter exile is the one in which we presently find ourselves, for it was the Romans who exiled us when they destroyed the Second Temple.)

In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, an early midrashic work, it is written that before the coming of Messiah we will have to contend with a fifth source of tribulation that will come from Yishmael – the Arabs – who will inflict terrible suffering on the world and on our people. This teaching is reaffirmed by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the illustrious disciple of the Arizal, who wrote that before the final curtain falls upon the stage of history, Yishmael will inflict torture on our people in ways the world had never seen.

Crises And Wake-Up Calls: The Only Answer

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

For the past several weeks I have been discussing the various crises currently engulfing us. With this column I will conclude the series (at least for now). What I write is based not on whim or opinion but on that which is rooted and documented in our Torah.

There is an amazing prophecy in the Yalkut Shimoni – a Midrashic compilation that eerily foretells the events of today: Rabbi Yitzchok said, “The year in which Melech HaMashiach will be revealed, all the nations of the world will be provoking each other. The king of Persia (Iran) will provoke the king of Arabia (Saudi Arabia). The king of Arabia will go to the King of Edom (the leader of the Christian nations – the president of the United States) to take counsel, and the king of Persia (Ahmadinejad) will threaten to destroy the entire world.

The nations of the world will be outraged. They will fall on their faces in panic and experience pains like birth pangs. Israel too, will be outraged and in a state of panic ask, Where do we go?

“But say unto them, ‘My children, do not fear. The time of your redemption has come…. and this last redemption shall be different from the first that was followed by further bondage and pain. After this last redemption, you will not experience any further pain or subjection” (Yalkut Shemoni, Isaiah 59).

The Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, referring to this teaching, said, “Remember these words. They are perhaps not understood now, but in time they will be and be a source of strength to our people.”

Had you heard these prophecies centuries ago, when they were written, you might have scoffed. Even if you read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all the Muslim countries the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest to the U.S. and Israel. But today the impossible has become possible, and events are unfolding so rapidly we have difficulty absorbing their impact. How are we to understand it all?

The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive; when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them because they are mild and occur at long intervals. As birth becomes immanent, however, the contractions intensify and the pain becomes more intense. And just when it appears the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world.

It is these labor pains to which we are witness today. How long will they last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain – please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim, however, we may ask, “Is it possible to ease the suffering? Is it possible to protect ourselves from these painful contractions?”

For that too, our sages have an answer: “Let he who wishes to be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilas chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”

The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilas chasadim – are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving kindness must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person.

But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible. We are enjoined to have three seudos – Sabbath eve, Sabbath noon, and the third seudah in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our scriptures and the three Sabbath meals of manna G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).

This final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally means “Three Meals” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our Sages explain that the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.

This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. And to this very day, when I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet voices of my revered father and my beloved husband, of blessed memory, leading their congregants in singing Psalm 23, the psalm traditionally chanted at the Shalosh Seudas: “The L-rd is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place, seeking pasture for his flock, and yet David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a Shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it comes to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him.

What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d, our Shepherd, will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first we do not recognize the pasture is green.

Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing Words of Torah can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs.

But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching. The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all.

The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual. Ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism. It is something our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.

You might of course wonder, Why must we experience birth pangs in order for Messiah to come? Why can’t he just announce his presence? But the Messianic period will be very much like Shalosh Seudos, when we sit around the table not to satiate our physical hunger nor to glory in our material achievements, but to celebrate our spiritual attainments.

In order for that to happen, we will have to divest ourselves of all the icons we hold dear. Therefore, our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we placed our trust, will have to fall away. It is that painful disintegration to which we are witness today. The corporate world, government, religious institutions, science, medicine – all have failed us. And worse, we no longer feel safe or secure in our daily lives. Terrorists and suicide bombers have become a reality of our existence and no army or police force is capable of defending us from them.

Additionally, we are witness to constant horrific natural disasters; we see the devaluation of our assets, be it the dollar or the Euro; we see dictators who for generations ruled with an iron fist falling like dominos as they are overtaken by Muslim fanatics. Yes, prophecy is unfolding before our eyes.

How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth – that we can rely on no one but our Heavenly Father. So let us sound the shofar, awaken ourselves from our lethargy, and heed the voice of our Father calling us. And that is the only answer to the question What are we to do?

Even as I write these words, I realize it may seem like a simplistic response and will disappoint and irritate many. But there is no way that we, the Jewish people, can escape our destiny. G-d appointed us to be His light on this planet, a light that illuminates the world with His Torah; a light that proclaims G-d is One and His Name is One.

That is our calling and we cannot escape it.

The Tragic Vacuum (Part Three)

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Several weeks ago I published a letter from an elderly Holocaust survivor who expressed her fear regarding the world situation, specifically the hatred of Israel and escalation of anti-Semitism that is reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Europe. Her letter provoked a torrent of e-mails from young and old readers, several of which I published, but I had not responded to her directly. B’ezrat Hashem, I will do so now.

My Dear Friend:

First, allow me to apologize for the delay in responding to your specific questions, but since you are familiar with my columns you are aware I always allow my readers to respond to the challenges under discussion.

I wish I could tell you that your fears are unfounded, that your imagination is running away with you, that reality proves you wrong. Sadly, however, you are right on target and those who make light of your worries are sleeping, even as our people slept in pre-Holocaust Europe.

What we are witnessing today was predicted by our prophets and sages but, alas, we are no longer familiar with their teachings. Ours is a generation of which the prophet Amos said: “And days shall come saith the L-rd, and I shall send a hunger into the land – not a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water, but a hunger for the Word of G-d.”

This is the spiritual famine we are witnessing today. We simply do not comprehend and we continue on our merry way with business as usual.

Maimonides taught that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to examine his or her life and commit to greater adherence to Torah and mitzvos.

Maimonides warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” – natural happenings – we will be guilty of achzarius, cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who view trials and tribulations as natural happenings. Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty?

The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways, and change. So, yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others.

It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss what is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance. Great Torah luminaries of past generations, such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, told us we are entering the final stages of history – a period called “Ikvesa D’Meshicha” – Footsteps of the Messiah.

Our Torah foretells four exiles through which our people would suffer: that of Egypt, of Babylonia, of the Persian-Mede empires and of the Greek and Roman empires – the exile in which we presently find ourselves, for it was the Romans who exiled us when they destroyed the Second Temple.

In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, an early midrashic work, it is written that before the coming of Messiah we will have to contend with a fifth source of tribulation that will come from Yishmael – the Arabs – who will cause terrible suffering to the world and to our people. This teaching is reaffirmed by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the illustrious disciple of the Arizal, who wrote that before the final curtain falls on the stage of history, Yishmael will inflict torture on our people in ways the world had never before seen.

One need not have great powers of discernment to recognize the painful veracity of these predictions. Just consider the constant, senseless, brutal acts of terror – the suicide bombers, decapitations, hijackings, missiles, etc.

We are the generation that has been destined to witness the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Hagar (Genesis 16:11-13): “Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall name him Ishmael…. and he shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him .”

The long arm of Ishmael’s terror has indeed reached every part of the world.

There is yet another amazing prophecy in the Yalkut Shimoni – a medieval/midrashic compilation that eerily foretells the events of today and should give us all pause. Rabbi Yitzchok said, “The year in which Melech HaMashiach will be revealed, all the nations of the world will be provoking each other. The king of Persia [Iran] will provoke the king of Arabia. The king of Arabia will go to Edom [the leader of the Christian nations] to take counsel and the King of Persia [Ahmadinejad] will threaten to destroy the entire world.

“The nations of the world will be outraged and panic. They will fall on their faces and will experience pains like birth pangs. Israel too, will be outraged, and in a state of panic ask, ‘Where do we go?’

“But say unto them, ‘My children, do not fear. The time of your redemption has come. And this last redemption shall be different from the first that was followed by further bondage and pain. After this last redemption, you shall not experience any further pain or subjugation’ ” (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 59).

Referring to this teaching, the Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, said, “Remember these words. They are perhaps not understood now, but in time they will be, and will be a source of strength to our people.”

Had you heard these prophecies centuries ago, when they were written, you might have laughed and scoffed. Even if you read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all Muslim countries, the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest. But today, the impossible has become possible and events are unfolding so rapidly we have difficulty absorbing their impact. So how are we to understand it all?

The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive – when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them since they are mild and occur between long intervals. As birth becomes imminent, however, the contractions intensify and the pain becomes more intense. And just when it appears the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world. It is these labor pains to which we are witness today.

How long will the labor last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain. Please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim however, we may very well ask, “Is it possible to ease the suffering? Is it possible to protect ourselves from these painful contractions?”

The answer to that is a most emphatic “Yes!”

(To be continued)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/the-tragic-vacuum-part-three-2/2011/04/13/

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