Monday, September 29, 2008


I will then display anger against them and abandon them.
I will hide my face from them
and they will be their enemies' prey.
Beset by many evils and troubles,
they will say, 'It is because my God is no longer with me
that these evils have befallen us.'
- Devarim 31:17

The conventional take of G-d hiding his face, which can be traced to Moreh Nevukhim 1:23, 3:51 and to the Ralbag on this verse is that G-d will take away his protection/providence. The lesser known alternative to this is that of the Chizzkuni and Paaneach Razah and Baaley Tosafot (cited by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan); that G-d out of love must look away when we are being punished, as if He can't bear to see it.

The above idea fits with the concept of "Imo Anochi Betzarah," G-d's telling us "I am with you in your pain" - Tehillim 91:15. There was once a rabbi who used to have a system with his children that if they misbehaved at breakfast they wouldn't get jelly on their bread. Part of the deal was that on days when he didn't spread jelly on their bread - he didn't put jelly on his own bread either.

The Ramban points out in his rich comment on this pasuk that feeling bad in our hearts is significant, real. When bad things happen around us and we say maybe evil has befallen us because G-d is not in our lives - that is true reflection, sincere regret, and of great value. (This is in contradistinction to the Rambam who says that we have to verbally confess our sins for it to qualify as legitimate teshuva.)

On Rosh HaShana the Jewish People re-accept G-d and start a process. May we be blessed to hold on to what our hearts feel via Rosh HaShana and continue to participate in the process of true teshuva and hasten the process of real redemption.

Text of Ramban:

רמב"ן - (דברים פרק לא:יז - יח) וטעם ואמר ביום ההוא הלא על כי אין אלהי בקרבי - איננו וידוי גמור כענין והתודו את עונם, אבל הוא הרהור וחרטה, שיתחרטו על מעלם ויכירו כי אשמים הם. וטעם ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני - פעם אחרת, כי בעבור שהרהרו ישראל בלבם כי חטאו לאלהים ועל כי אין אלהיהם בקרבם מצאום הרעות האלה, היה ראוי לרוב חסדי השם שיעזרם ויצילם שכבר כפרו בע"ז, וכענין שאמר (ירמיה ב לה) הנני נשפט אותך על אמרך לא חטאתי: ולכך אמר, כי על כל הרעה הגדולה שעשו לבטוח בע"ז יסתיר עוד פנים מהם, לא כמסתר פנים הראשון שהסתיר פני רחמיו ומצאום רעות רבות וצרות, רק שיהיו בהסתר פני הגאולה, ויעמדו בהבטחת פני רחמיו (ויקרא כו מד) ואף גם זאת בהיותם בארץ אויביהם לא מאסתים ולא געלתים וגו' עד שיוסיפו על החרטה הנזכרת וידוי גמור ותשובה שלימה, כמו שנזכר למעלה (ל ב) ושבת עד ה' אלהיך וגו

Thursday, September 25, 2008


The Shemen HaTov offers the following explanation of the pasuk:
Hanistarim LaHashem Elokeinu,
VeHaniglot Lanu Ulevaneinu Ad Olam” -
"Hidden things may pertain to God our Lord,
but that which has been revealed
applies to us and our children forever."
- Devarim 29:28
(The crux of what I’m presenting here is based on the Shemen HaTov.
I have embellished and expanded on the idea.)

Really, mitzvot should only be between G-d and us (for Hashem what we do should be nistarot). Our own needs dictate that we publicize what we do, for the sake of our children as well as others (though, for our sake actions should be niglot). Children especially need to know about the Tzedaka , Torah, and Chesed of their parents because they learn through that example.

The Yalkut Shimoni says that when Elkana set out on his holiday pilgrimage he would camp out at a different spot in order to educate new people regarding the mitzvah of Aliya LaRegel. Rav Aron Kotler said based on this that we should tell others about the mitzvot we do, in order to teach and inspire them. Rabbi Paysach Krohn cited these two sources and gave the example of his wife telling her high school students about her involvement in the local Chevra Kadisha because it’s something they might not learn about otherwise.

On the other hand, the Zohar that says that if you do a mitzvah and tell someone, you lose the mitzvah. The message is that a mitzvah’s value should be the mitzvah itself, the relationship between you and G-d. Telling someone about the good you’ve done shows a need for something other than the act itself to make you feel good about what you’ve done. According to this quote G-d says if that’s what you want then you get that instead of the mitzvah itself.

Jeff Korbman once came across the following explanation of the Sfas Emes regarding the Seder. The Matzah is the main mitzvah of the night, and the fact that it is covered or uncovered at various times reflects the idea we’ve been discussing. When there is some educational purpose, then the Matzah is uncovered in order for our children to see it and learn from it. When there is nothing taking place that is educational in nature then proper etiquette is to cover our matzah/mitzvah.

If a person's intent is to teach others, and that is a viable possibility, then one can/should make his mitzvah known. If someone makes his positive actions known in order to feel good about what he's done it is less than ideal. Things like telling a classmate about one's extra learning or having a donation amount announced could be important lessons for others or they could be things we do for our own honor.

Deep inside our hearts know the truth.

Have a great Shabbos,
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ki Tavo

There were these big stones
They aren't much spoken of
But there's a story
And it's not written in stone
Study Parshat Ki Tavo

I. Introduction: How the Torah Is Divided

A Hebrew letter Paih or a Samech in the Chumash indicates the Torah's paragraphs. These letters are codes for either open (patuach) or closed (satum) paragraphs. In a Torah scroll the former follow a space and begin on a new line, while the latter continue on the same line as the previous paragraph, after a brief space.

The Living Torah by Aryeh Kaplan is the only published version of the Torah to number and name the text according to the paragraphs of the the Torah, the way it was broken up in its original form. The chapters and verses of today were added later. Yeshivat Aish HaTorah encourages its students to pay close attention to and even memorize the names of the Torah's individual paragraphs as titled in a list, which they provide for their talmidim.

Let's focus together on one paragraph which Rabbi Kaplan calls "The Written Stones."

II. Main Body

A. Devarim 27:1-8, The Written Stones

Moshe and the 70 Zekeinim tell the people to construct twelve large stones and to cover them with lime. According to Sotah 32a the lime coating was to prepare them to be written on or to laminate that which was written upon them. Chizkuni says that these stones were made into an altar and the lime was used to attach them to each other. Ibn Ezra maintains that the lime was used to keep the pillars standing.

The people were told that after they crossed the Jordan River and entered Israel they were to write "all the words of this Torah on them." Some commentators say it was a review of the Torah, or parts of Devarim (Abarbanel). Ibn Ezra says it refers to certain commandments that were listed.

After they entered the land these pillars were to be set up on Har Eival - according to Chizkuni, as a consolation for those tribes who were associated with this mountain. Abarbanel says that the point of putting these pillars on Har Eival was to remind us that the curse comes for violating the Torah.

There was a stone alter that would also be built on this mountain - possibly made of the stones with the writing on them. The altar had to be of whole stones, untouched by iron, and was used for various offerings, some of which were to be eaten there in joy.

The paragraph ends with the instruction to write "all the words of this Torah in a clear script", which the Gemorah in Sotah (32b) interprets to mean that the Torah was translated into seventy languages.

B. What's It All About?

Rav Hirsch writes that the point of this section is to remind us that -"It is only the Torah that you have to thank for the Land, you receive the land for the Torah, for its preservation and observation of its dictates." He also notes that these pesukim switch between plural and singular. [In the first line we're told "Shamor" (singular)- keep the Torah. Then we are told that it was commanded "etchem" (plural) - to you. The second line also contains both plural and singular. The third is all singular. The fourth is mostly singular, with one exception. The rest of the paragraph is phrased in singular.] This oscillation between plural and singular emphasizes that the observance of Torah which the land of Israel exists to facilitate is not something that relates exclusively to either the individual members of the nation or just to the nation as a unit. Rather, the land is for "the nation as a single unit made into such by the plurality of its members, so that the whole nation, in the united working together of all its individuals, were responsible for it."

III. Conclusion: Take Home Point

It is is Ellul and we are all concerned about what will be for ourselves, and for the Jewish People, for the Jewish Land. This portion of the Torah serves to remind us that Teshuva and the land of Israel are more closely linked than it is sometimes comfortable to admit. May we merit being part of the unit comprised of various individuals that these pesukim allude to. May we do Teshuva Sheleima and experience Geula Sheleima as soon as possible. G-d knows we need it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ki Teitzei

Balance the balance
The balance of our life's work
Balanced by G-d's hand

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way (BADERECH) when you were leaving Egypt,
and how he happened upon you/cooled you down on the way (BADERECH)” – Devarim 25:17. Why two references to DERECH in one line?

Rabbi Bernard Weinberger in his sefer Shemen HaTov asks and answers this question: Amalek lives inside us, it is the yetzer hara. It attacks us using two techniques, which are both alluded to in this pasuk by the double mention of the path on which we encountered Amalek. When we’re up high and feeling great the negative force inside us pushes us too far, toward haughtiness and beyond. And when we’re (rachmanah litzlan) in dire straits and feeling a bit down, the Amalek within pulls us into depression and inaction.

This ties in with an explanation that I heard from Rabbi Ephrayim Polyakkof. Why is it that immediately preceding the pasuk we just cited is the ruling that we must have even weights and measures? If we consider Amalek to be the Yetzer HaRa, the emphasis here on balance becomes more clear. The Amalek inside us thrives on extremes and waits to pounce on any trace of imbalance inside us. When we gravitate too far toward one side we run the risk of having our Amalek pull or push us down to the depths or up over the edge.

This is one explanation of our appeal to G-d (in Hashkiveinu) to remove the Satan from before us and behind us. Sometimes our Amalek pushes us too far up, and sometimes he pulls us too far down. Our only hope is to monitor our own balance and pray to G-d for help.

A Chassidic Rebbe was once imprisoned and his roommate was a circus performer - a tightrope walker. The Rebbe asked the fellow what the secret was behind his success. The man explained that the key was looking forward, not back, and not to the sides. As long as he moved evenly forward without being distracted by other directions, he did not fall. The Rebbe later said that it was to learn this life lesson that he had needed to be in that jail at that time.

Rabbi Weinberger ends his comments on this pasuk observing that we read these lines imploring the remembrance of Amalek twice annually - before Pesach and before Rosh HaShana (this parsha ). As Pesach approaches, the world is experiencing the joyous rebirth of spring, and we are celebrating our freedom and our nation’s birth. At this time we must be wary of Amalek, lest we carry our elation too far. And now fall with its looming darkness and deterioration approaches, along with our days of awe and the judgement of all. At this time we must work to not allow our Amalek to drag us into despair.

May we be blessed with a meaningful Shabbos and Ellul. Ketivah Vechatimah Tovah.

Ki Teitzei - On Returning An Aveidah

The other day on the bus a stranger wearing a baseball cap and sitting in the seat behind me tapped me of the shoulder and asked if I wanted to hear a vort. He told me in the name of The Novaminsker Rebbe the following. After it discusses returning a lost item it says you will go home and then you will return not look away from the lost item and will return it. But this is after you've already done the returning! His explanation was that it's saying that once you do this right thing in the future you won't be able to look away and will for sure return a last item when the issue arises.

It's nice when people on the bus tell me Torah.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Post Shoftim Post


For the third week in a row I am starting to post, post Shabbat in parsha-post. The attempt is to write in an organic way about Shabbat and parsha experiences and memories that relate to the just passed holy day. This post is being started at about 12:30 on Motazai Shabbos, and it might not be done so fast. But as the fisherman's wife said, we shall see.

I spent Shabbos hours from home - deep in Long Island - at a Chabad House. I was the entertainment for the opening Shabbos meal of the semester, which dovetailed with the end of my first week. I want to write about the experience, but I have so many things in my mind and I'm going to weave them in - sometimes randomly.

Very much on my mind all of Shabbos was something that learned of on Thursday. I was in a pharmacy and saw a tube of something that looked like toothpaste. You don't brush with this stuff, rather - you rub it on your tongue and it helps with dry mouth for up to six hours. And how do you get dry mouth? There are many ways, but one of them is by being a mouth breather. I think I may be a mouth breather. Sigh .

It's now post minyan on Sunday morning (who'd have thought that the word post would become a part of my vocabulary/repertoire). This week's lookjed mailing includes an article from The Times about Facebook, etc. It had this link to an article from Times from September 5, 2008
about these sites. The piece is called Brave New World of Digital Intimacy and it's by Clive Thompson. The author wonders why people share details about there days, why people read details about there days. I wonder how do people use facebook effectively and how did blogs grow old so fast?

I had wanted to write about my very Chabad Shabbos. So much to say. Meschiism was in the air, though never overtly mentioned by the Shaliach. He told me that the great thing about Chabad is that there is no boss. The reason why, he said, Chabbad grew to have 4000 centers in roughly the same amount of time that Aish HaTorah grew to have 40 is because it's every shaliach for himself. They get no organizational money, have to do all fundraising for themselves, and don't answer to anyone in terms of supervision or budget, etc. I asked if they have conventions and he said that they have kinusim and thet the topic always turns to fundraising.

There was a lot of Torah and a lot of interesting happenings. Please G-d, I'll write about them soon. Meanwhile time has flown. I need to get out of the library were I've been writing and conversing and and anding. I plan to continue ths is pieces.

3. Monday 7 PM - Aint it funny how Shabbos slips away? It's now Monday evening and even it was a long day. My friend Jeff Korbman once told me when I spoke of a long day - "Neil, it wasn't longer or shorter than any other day." But still.

There's a dvar Torah that I was thinking of saying at lunch on Shabbos. It turns out that it was the idea that the seven year old son read off of his pasha sheet. I heard it in the name of the Opter Rav - the sheet, and the son, and the gracious host didn't know who'd said it. The vort is that we have to guard our orifices and that that's also included in the command to protect the city gates: the imperative to protect the openings to our souls.

My shaliach host felt, when I told him that had been thinking of saying that idea, that I should build on it rather than say something else. And so I did. The review afterwards was that it was too heavy for the crowd.

I spoke about Rav Yitzchak Kirzner and how I heard him say that the way to deal with hard times is to prepare during the good times. If we train our senses to take in the world in a spiritual way regularly then we'll have a shot at continuing on that path if things get rough.

Later, a girl who was visiting a friend was talking with The Rabbi (I had to get used to not turning around every time a kid called out 'Rabbi') and she was not into his suggestion of going to the Chabad House back at her school (Brooklyn College). He told her - "You can still go out and party in the city after the Friday night meal. You can do for your soul and then for your body." She replied that she generally kept the two together. Later I told her that she raised a good point - there's often a split made between body and soul but reality indicates that they are more intertwined than convenient dichotomies allow for. She tied it back to Rabbi Kirzner's (Z"TZL) idea that the attitude of good times and bad have to be one - it's not like there's just a category of dealing with bad times. She wisely expressed her sense that we have to treat ourselves holistically, not address soul times or body times separately, but address our whole selves.

4. I wrote more and it disappeared. Gam Zu LeTovah. Looking ahead this Tuesday night.

Monday, September 1, 2008


The imperative of appointing judges (“You must establish judges and officers” / “Shoftim VeShotrim Titein Lecha…”) is concluded with the words “and they will adjudicate the nation with true justice” (“VeShaftu Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek”). There is a disparity in that the first half of the sentence is a direct command to “you” (plural) while the latter words speak of a third person nation that will naturally become impartial arbiters of law (veshaftu) as opposed to obedient appointees (veyishpetu).

The Kli Yakar raises these questions and marshals this response: The text instructs one who has the power and means to select judges and officers to assign people who will be honest and not allow for bribery even by those who chose them. This is why it stresses to choose judges who will impartially try even you (titein lecha). It flows naturally that if you pick individuals that can handle even you, the influential communal leader then surely they will pass judgement with righteousness over the rest of the nation (VeShaftu - it will definitely happen, that they will judge, Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek - the people fairly).

The Kli Yakar was Rav in the large metropolis of Prague. This is one of several places where he addresses a problem of his place and time in his commentary, a context that will ring familiar to us today. He says that the Torah is specifically stating that it is improper to do what politicians did in his time. People were appointed via nepotism, practically on condition of overlooking wrongdoings of those who appointed them. This led to inequity all around, as different people earned different verdicts for the same crime.
Hashiva Shofteinu

G-d, please return to us judges as once
and give us the advisers
of our early days as a nation.
Thus, remove from us sorrow and sighing,
and rule over us uniquely and alone
with kindness and mercy.
And treat us righteously in justice;
Blessed are You Hashem,
King who loves righteousness and justice.
Tamim Tihiyeh

"You should be wholehearted with your eternal G-d. " The Ramban counts this as a positive mitzvah; to only inquire about the future from G-d through the sources He provides such as nevi'im - prophets, and the Urim VeTumim - Breastplate of the Kohen Gadol. We should not inquire of astrologers or the like. Upon hearing astrological predictions we should respond by saying "everything is in the hands of Heaven."
This command follows warnings against using diviners to find out about the future. While others define it differently, the Ramban understands this mitzvah in light of what precedes it. He cites and agrees with Unkelus, who explains this command to mean that we must be whole-hearted in our fear of G-d.
It is not a new fashion to turn hopes toward places other than G-d. It wouldn't be a command to trust only in G-d if there wasn't the inclination not to. Particularly for those who have an open world view, it is important to remember the differences between ourselves and others.
I remember well the Shabbos years ago when my dear friend Shamai's father in law to be spoke at Shamai's aufruf. It was the week of Parshat Shoftim and his father in law said that he could think of no better expression to sum up Shamai than to say that he is tamim with Hashem. I agree. May we all be blessed to truly be whole in our attachment to G-d.
P.S. Here's my post on Shoftim from last year, which was submitted to AJWS. It's part of a larger post about what was at that time the big talk in the Jewish community. Remember?