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Shmooze News August 13, 2022

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Shabbos Nachamu

Shema Yisrael! One for All and All for One

This week’s parashah contains what is arguably the most well-known verse in all of the Torah: “Shema Yisrael…”“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our Gd, Hashem, the One and Only” (Devarim 6:4). This verse is among the first pesukim we learn as children. We recite the Shema at the beginning and end of each day. Its message is meant to guide our actions (as it is in our hand tefillin – representing action) and to guide our thoughts (as it is in our head tefillin – representing thought). It serves as the “mission statement” of every Jewish home (as it is in our mezuzos), and traditionally, it is to be among the last words we utter from our lips before we leave this world.

We understand why it is so important to continually state that “Hashem is our Gd, Hashem, the One and Only.” In doing so we express the fundamental truth that there is no other power, no other truth, and by extension no other Source by which to obtain purpose and lasting joy. What, though, is the meaning of the first two words, Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel?

Maharal (R’ Yehuah Loew of Prague) suggests an approach to their significance based on a teaching of our Sages regarding one of the earliest times the phrase Shema Yisrael was used. Our forefather, Yaakov, had gathered his sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes, to his deathbed. Right before he addressed them, however, the Divine Presence departed from him, causing Yaakov to fear that perhaps, Gd forbid, one of his sons was unworthy. The Shevatim (tribes) then reassured their father by declaring in unison, “Shema Yisrael…,” – Hear O Israel … – (referring to their father, whose name was also “Yisrael”). They told him that just as

Hashem is one in your heart, so too is He one in ours! (Pesachim 56a).

Maharal explains the significance of this declaration of the Shevatim in particular. You see, for Yaakov, the notion of Gd’s Oneness and absolute authority expressed in the opening line of the Shema, was a given. It was part and parcel of his very identity; insofar as Yaakov’s image itself is engraved upon Hashem’s throne of glory (Midrash Eichah Rabbah 2:2)! Yaakov is, in a sense, one of the cornerstones of the throne which represents the expression of that very authority itself in the world! Yaakov personified the first verse of Shema. For the children, though, who did not possess that same lofty level as their father, it was a different story. For them, the declaration of Shema Yisrael carried more significance. Each tribe, with his unique strengths, and his unique mission toward bringing Gdliness into the world, was declaring that they too ascribed to the teachings of their father and everything for which he stood. They too were absolutely devoted to doing their respective parts in bringing forth Hashem’s Oneness into the world. They too would always follow in the lofty footsteps of their father Yaakov; not as isolated individuals, but rather as part of a nation. For only as a unified body, could the true Oneness of Gd and His Authority be properly expressed. “Shema Yisarel! Hear O Israel (Yaakov), just as Gd’s Oneness is fully expressed through you, so too will it be fully expressed through all of us together.

Indeed, this very idea is alluded to in the gematria of the word אחד. The letter א is equal to one – a reference to Yaakov himself. The letter ח, equal to eight, is a reference to the eight sons of the wives of Yaakov – Rachel and Leah (i.e., Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Zevulun, Yosef, and Binyomin). Finally, the letter ד, equal to four, is a reference to the remain four sons, who stemmed from the concubines of Yaakov – Bilhah and Zilpah (i.e., Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher). Together, they would express that “Oneness” – אחד, of Hashem to the world (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ha’avodah 7).

And when we say Shema Yisrael, we are making that very same declaration. We too are calling to the nation, and ourselves, and saying that together, we will bring forth that Oneness. We too are ready and willing to devote our unique talents and energies, to fulfill our unique role as part of this unique nation, Klal Yisrael, toward bringing forth that Gdliness into the world. One for all, and all for One – for אחד.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz


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Sensitivity to the Honor of Our Fellow

Much of Sefer Devarim (the Book of Deuteronomy) includes Moshe’s parting words of encouragement and admonishment to the Jewish People which he delivered over the last five weeks of his life. The Sefer begins with the words, אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר משֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, these are the “Devarim” (a term implying ‘words of admonishment’) that Moshe spoke to all Israel. The Torah then immediately continues by noting the exact location of the Jewish People at this time that Moshe commenced with these words. They were located “across the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Plain, opposite [the Sea of] Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab” (Devarim 1:1). Why does the Torah list all these place markers; even more markers than one would list if he were purchasing a field (Ramban)?! Moreover, some of the places seem problematic, for they were not in the unsettled wilderness, but rather they were in the plains of Moav!

Our Sages therefore understand that with each of these terms Moshe was making a veiled reference to a failing of the Jewish People. Each represents another place where we had sinned over the forty years of sojourning. For example, “in the wilderness” refers to when we complained to Moshe for taking us out “to this wilderness” to die of hunger (Shemos 16:3). The term, “in the Plain” refers to the sin of worshiping Baal Peor which took place in the “plains” of Moav (end of Parashas Balak). But if Moshe’s intention was to give admonishment, why then did he not simply state the sins explicitly? Why the need to resort to veiled references? Our Sages explain that Moshe used veiled references rather than explicit statements because he was concerned for the honor of the Jewish People. For the sake of our honor, he did not want to make more direct mentions of the errors of our past (Rashi here citing Sifri), at least not now with his opening words (Bartenura).

Now, certainly the need to admonish the Jewish People was real. (Otherwise, Moshe would not have done so, and it would not be recorded forever in the Torah). Moreover, these sins were not secrets. They were well known by the entirety of the Jewish People! Yet, Moshe bends over backwards, displaying incredible sensitivity, to avoid making his words more hurtful than they had to be; all due to his concern for the honor of his fellow! Such is the sensitivity necessary when dealing with the honor and feelings of another.

Indeed, this very issue played a central role in the famous “Bar Kamtza” story that was the precursor leading up to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash (Temple). The Gemara records this story at length (see Gittin55b to 57a). In short, Bar Kamtza was mistakenly invited to his enemy’s feast. When the host noticed his enemy, Bar Kamtza, in the crowd he unceremoniously threw him out. Bar Kamtza was humiliated by this afront and was angry at the Jewish leadership that were present at the party who did not object. He decided to craft a plot by which to convince the Roman Caesar that the Jews were rebelling against his authority. The Caesar fell for the ruse, and in the end destroyed the Temple. While this story is well known, what is less known is perhaps the most crucial part of the story; namely, the lesson our Sages say we are to derive from it: “R’ Elazar said, ‘come and see how great is the power of shame. For the Holy One, Blessed is He, assisted Bar Kamtza (in his plot to avenge his own honor), and He destroyed His Temple and burned His Sanctuary.’” (Gittin 57a). If the Gemara did not say this, it would be impossible to say. But our Sages here are telling us that Hashem is concerned for the honor of even someone like Bar Kamtza; a traitor to his own people! That is the power of a person’s dignity, says R’ Chaim Shmulevitz, for every person truly is a marvelous being (Sichos Mussar 89). As the verse says, “What is frail man that You should remember him, and the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him? Yet, You have made him but slightly less than the angels, and crowned him with soul and splendor!” (Tehillim 8:5-6).

Tisha B’av is a time of year where we mourn over the fiery destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and the concomitant lack of the manifest presence of the Divine in our world. It is no coincidence that the spark that began that fire was the pain of a fellow Jew whose honor was trampled. He is perhaps but an example of the rampant breakdown in interpersonal relationships among Jews that marked the waning years of the Second Temple. This is a time of year where we are reminded how important those interpersonal relationships are; for if that breakdown destroyed the Beis HaMikdash (see Yoma 9b), then repairing those fissures are what will make the world right again. How do we get there? It all starts with an appreciation of the incredible significance of the person sitting right next to you, or across the room, or in the shul down the block or across the world. Moshe was worried about our honor because we are intrinsically worthy of honor. When we too appreciate the miracle that is our fellow Jew, we have developed a true and correct perspective; a perspective that will turn Tisha B’av from the fast day we now know it to be, into a day of celebration, please Gd, with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.

Wishing you a Good Shabbos / Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful and easy fast this Tisha B’av.

Rabbi Moskovitz


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A True Legacy

Parashas Mattos ends with a brief discussion of the conquering of the region in the Transjordan accomplished by families of the tribe of Menashe. The Torah there notes that the conquerors of some of the cities in that area renamed the cities that they conquered after themselves. Yair vanquished the villages around Gilead and renamed them “Chavos Yair,” the Villages of Yair. Similarly, Novach conquered a nearby city (Kenas) and named it after himself, as the pasuk says, וַיִּקְרָא לָה נֹבַח בִּשְׁמוֹ, and he called it Novach, after his name (Bamidbar 32:42).

Rashi, however, notes a grammatical anomaly in this last verse. Normally, the letter hei (ה) in the word לָה (it) would have a dagesh (a dot) to emphasize its pronunciation (“luh). In this verse, though, it lacks that emphasis and is therefore silent (“lu”). In effect, the word לה ends up sounding more like the word לא, not. Rashi cites those who explain that the pasuk here is indicating that the name Novach gave to his city did not last. That is, unlike the name of the nearby villages, “Chavos Yair,” which did continue to be used into the future (see Judges 10:3-4), the name “Novach” did not go very far.

The fact that the Torah informs us of this historical point is of course meant to teach us something. Perhaps what the Torah here is teaching us is an important lesson relating to the very notion of legacy itself.

Novach’s error was that he identified viscerally with the city that he conquered. He did not just call it “City of Novach” or “Villages of Novach.” Rather, he called it “Novach.” He saw himself in that city, explains Rabbi Shimon Schwab. That city was his very identity. And in that city, he believed, would ultimately be his legacy. That’s how he wanted to be remembered. But all things that are of this world, are, by definition, temporal. All the “stuff,” only lasts so long, and to wrap up one’s identity with such items, to hinge his legacy upon them, is foolhardy.

But there’s another kind of identity, another form of legacy, which can indeed last the test of time; where rather than identifying with stuff, one identifies with ideals. Rather than seeing one’s persona in bricks and mortar of a temporal city, he or she finds their identity within matters of the spirit. For example, among the eternal gifts given to us by David HaMelech, were the songs and praises of Tehillim that he composed; praises which make up so much of our own tefillos. David HaMelech, for his part, actually saw himself in those tefillos, declaring וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּה, and I am prayer! (Tehillim 109:4). David viscerally identified with tefillah; that was who he was, and therefore that is a large part of who he remains to us. Similarly, our Sages (Avodah Zara 19a) teach that when it comes to Torah study, the words of Torah that we learn, start out being called תוֹרַת ה', the Torah of Hashem (Tehillim 1:2). Yet, when one delves into that learning and identifies with the wisdom of Torah, something changes. The Torah becomes identified with the student himself, and the Torah then is called תוֹרָתוֹ, his torah (ibid.). He and his Torah become one, such that the Torah scholar becomes a “living sefer Torah” (see Makkos 22b). Finally, in the realm of interpersonal relationships, bein adum l’chaveiro, we see a similar phenomenon. When a person lives his or her life with a focus on the “other,” engaging in acts of kindness and giving, increasing harmony and peace, they become associated with the very notion of “Shalom,” of peace. And so the pasuk says about such a person, אַנִי שָׁלוֹם, I am peace (Tehillim 120:7). That becomes their identity, and that becomes their true and lasting legacy (Maayan Bais HaSho’eivah).

Novach, faced with his own mortality, was looking to the future, and hoping to leave behind a legacy that would stand the test of time. Novach’s intentions were most certainly good and noble. His mistake though was that he was looking in all the wrong places. When we identify with our holy aspirations, with our accomplishments of the soul, those have lasting import. Those are a persona worthy of taking on; and that legacy is indeed forever.


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom / Good Shabbos

Rabbi Moskovitz

Thu, August 18 2022 21 Av 5782