Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bribes affect even the most moral of people

Parshat Mishpatim

The Torah tells us in Mishpatim 23:8 not to take bribes, as bribes "blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the words of the righteous" (my own translation).
Rashi tells us some interesting points, that even if you are being paid off to judge righteously it will corrupt and even if you are a great scholar and a righteous person you will be affected.

The Gemarah is replate with stories about Judges and Rabbis who refused to judge cases that came before them from people they had received favors from, even the most inane and indirect, for fear of not being able to judge objectively.

Nowadays people feel they are better and more moral and more objective and they can apply their objectivity despite having received small or large favors from people. Just look at all the investigations going in in our political scene. The Torah tells us that that is not the way ti works. no matter how objective you think you are, the moment you take a penny, even indirectly, your judgement is clouded.

Get the "Juke" out of your head

Mishna Megilla 4:8

The Mishna says that one who insits he will only lead the services dressed in colored clothes , should not be allowed to lead in white clothes either. If he says I will not lead in sandals (i.e. only barefoot), he should not be allowed to lead barefoot.
The reason explained is twofold: First of all, these are specific issues the apikorsim of those times were stringent about, and we therefore suspect him of being an apikores for insisting on such behavior. Second of all, because he is insisting on conditions that people are generally not specific about, we suspect him of Apikorsus because a "Juke" must have entered his head and gave him crazy ideas.

We commonly find this practice nowadays where people insist they will not lead the davening unless they are wearing a jacket, or hat or tallit, etc.. The Mishna tells us not to be so finicky and get the "juke" out of your head. If it is not a requirement, you have no right to insist on it. Do what needs to be done and get the crazy ideas out of your head.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sheva Brachos drasha

The mishna in Taanis says that Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur were the 2 happiest days of the year. Tu B'av for a number of reasons - mostly to do with marriage: the girls would go out dressed in white and offer themselves for marriage, also that is the day the shevatim were allowed to intermarry (between shevatim), among other reasons.
Regarding Yom Kippur it brings a passuk that says "Daughters of Israel go out with the crown on the day of the wedding and the day of happiness." "The day of the wedding" refers to Yom Kippur, as that is the day Hashem married the Jews (because of mattan Torah taking place on Yom Kippur) and the day of happiness because on Yom Kippur our sins were forgiven (by receiving the second Luchos on Yom Kippur, Hashem showed us that he had forgiven us for the golden calf).

This is a very interesting juxtaposition between Tu B'Av which is obviously a happy day and Yom Kippur, on which one rarely sees a smile on anybody's face and can hardly be thought of as being described as a happy day. But the happiness is similar and they are both based on the ideas of marriage. on Tu B'Av we are happy because of marriage and on Yom Kippur because of a metaphorical marriage.
Another point is that on the day of one's wedding, it is brought down in the seforim that all of his sins are forgiven and he fasts (similar to Yom Kippur).

I think the connection between these different days is this idea. Marriage is an opportunity. It is similar to the opportunity we are given on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we repent and we are given a new start with a clean slate. On Yom Kippur, the day we start with a clean slate, we were given the Torah. The Torah is the users manual for a Jew's life. It tells us how to live and how to act. When you are starting anew, you should be coming without any pre-conceptions and pre-existing ideas of how things should be done. You must read the users manual for instructions how to live properly.
Marriage is the same. You are being given a fresh start. Your past is behind you and your future is what lies ahead of you. Until now you were a single guy without a care in the world. You could wake up late, you could hang out all day, you could be productive or not. It affected mostly just yourself. Now you have someone else in your immediate circle. You are starting anew, with your wife. Everything you do now will affect not just you, but her. When you are considering doing something, you have to think about it differently than you did previously. You have to consider if it is appropriate and proper for your wife as well.

The new beginning, presenting you with new opportunities, is what effects the great simcha.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

impetus for Achdus

Parshat Yisro

The Torah tells us that the Jews travelled from their encampment at Rephidim and they camped in the desert. "Va'Yichan Sham Yisrael neged ha'har" - and he [Yisrael] camped there opposite the mountain.
Rashi tells us they camped as one person - k'ish echad b'lev echad. All were united s one person. this was a pre-requisite (according to some) to receiving the Torah (and to others at least an important lesson about achdus).

What happened that all of the sudden they are praised for being together as one? We just read numerous times how there was fighting and complaining and murmurring and non-stop kvetching. What happened that all of the sudden they are one?

To figure this out, we must analyze what they did last. It says they left Rephidim and then they camped as one. Something must have happened at Rephidim to cause them to be one. If we look back to Parshat B'Shelech, what happened in Rephidim was the battle with Amalek.

Amalek had the guts to attack the jews, despite everything that had happened pretty much attesting to the fact that the jews were untouchable. But an interesting thing happened during the battle. The Jews did not automatically come out victorious, decimating the Amalekites. It seems that the Amalekites fought ferociously and even won some of (many of?) the various skirmishes and battles. The Torah tells us that when Moshe would raise his hands the Jews would look up and remember Hashem and they would then win, but when Moshe's hands were down they would loose (seemingly because they forgot Hashem and would think they were waging their own war). The war was a real fight, not like what happened with the Egyptians.

We see even in modern day times that when there is a common enemy to rally against, it does wonders for solving internal strife. The troubles presented to the Jews by Amalek, allowed the Jews a chance to ignore the various problems and issues and differences between them and work as one towards the common goal.

That was the prerequisite to Kabbalas Ha'Torah - being able to overlook everyone else's differences, which they had not been able to do up until then. Amalek is what allowed us to do that.

everybody can listen to advice

Parshat Yisro

Yisro advised Moshe to change the court system from being a one-man show (Moshe) to a series of different level courts, upon which moshe would preside and be the ultimate arbitor.
The Torah then says, "and Moshe listed to his father in law and did all he had said."

Moshe obviously did not do all this just because Yisro made a suggestion and he felt it respectful to listen. He obviously weighed the ideas presented by Yisro and decided they were worthy for implementation.

Moshe, the leader of Israel, took the time to listen to a new method of doing something he was already doing, and changed his ways because of it. This was not something Hashem told him to do differently, rather a person who had not experienced everything with the Jews. Moshe could easily have dismissed it thinking that Yisro does not know what they are really like, he only just joined us, give him some time, it won't work, or any myriad of possibilities.
But he did not. The greatest man alive took the time to listen and weigh Yosro's advice.

Everybody can gain from taking a moment to step back and re-analyze things. Sometimes you are too close and subjective to what you are doing and your methods and cannot really see the full picture.
By being open to listen to someone else's advice and ideas, you only stand to gain. At least listen and consider it. You do not have to act on it if you feel it will not work, but at least give it enough of a chance that you listen.

Yisro and the Cubs.

Parshat Yisro

The Torah relates to us that Moshe told to Yisro all that Hashem had done to the Egyptians. "Va'Yichad Yisro". Rashi explains this in two ways. 1) Yisro was happy when he heard how the Jews had been saved or 2) Yisro got goose bumps when he heard what had happened to his former nation.
Basing himself on the second method of explaining the verse, Rashi tells us Yisro was distressed over the downfall of Egypt, as it used to be his nation.

Sometimes a person makes it as if his past never happened. We often find this by people who have become Baalei teshuva, or more Haredi than they had been previously. They will try to hide their past and act as if nothing they ever did had actually been done and experienced by them.

Rashi tells us that no matter how hard you try to bury your past, it will always be with you, even if only latently. There can always be something to trigger some feelings from the past.

That is why I will always love the Cubs, even though it makes no sense.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Don't mess with the Jews.

Parshat B'Shalach

Hashem told Moshe that he will harden Par'oh's heart and cause him to chase after the Jews. Hashem will then take His revenge on Par'oh and the Egyptians and they will know that I am Hashem.

Didn't they know that already? They are not chasing the Jews already just because they were so beaten by the plagues that they were aware of the God of the Jews and chose not to start up with Him again. Why does Hashem have to force them to forget that knowledge and chase after the Jews, just so He can beat them up again. Is that not like kicking the guy in the ribs on the floor after you have beaten him senseless? What was the point? The Even Haezer even says Hashem had to make them forget the plagues in order to get them to chase after the Jews! It seems so superfluous - the knowledge of God had already been achieved!

The Ramban says that Hashem wanted them to see one more miracle, that being the splitting of the sea. Not just the splitting of the sea, but the craziness that after witnessing the splitting of the sea (and all that he had done before that up until then), they still had the idea that they should follow the Jews through the sea.
Were they crazy? What were the Egyptians thinking after all that they had been through? How could they not realize that they were about to be decimated? When would they decide they had had enough? It could only be because Hashem hardened their hearts and caused them to forget all that had happened already. But why do all this?

I think Hashem is just letting everybody know there is a new guy on the block. Don't pick on the Jews. I've got their back. However you want to put it, Hashem was telling the nations of the world that these are not people to be messed with. By totally destroying them time after time with miracle after miracle, this extra event was like putting an exclamation point on the Exodus.

Don't mess with the Jews. Gods got my back.

Hashem takes care of us

Parshat B'Shalach

The Torah tells us that Hashem led the Jews through the desert by day with a pillar of cloud and by night with a pillar of fire.He did not move the cloud from its position by day nor the fire by night.
Rashi explains that this means there was an overlap of a few moments. By day Hashem brought the pillar of cloud and then removed the fire and by night He brought the fire and then removed the cloud.

Why is this such an important fact that it needs to be mentioned in the passuk? What is the lesson taught?

I think the idea is that the jews were not left unportected even for a moment. Here they are leaving the "comforts" of home, going into the unknown of the desert with the possiblity of war and who knows what other troubles would arise. The Jews naturally would be nervous. Are we doing the right thing? How do we know Hashem wil protect us? And all sorts of similar questions.
The passuk is telling us that Hashem was calming the fears of the Jews. He wants us to know that we are never left unprotected even for a moment. Sometimes it may appear as though Hashem has abandoned us and we have troubles of various sorts, but we have to be aware that we just do not recognize His presence and do not understand His plan. Hashem does not abandon us.

Hashem created an overlap in the desert just so the Jews would be aware that they were protected at all times. Normally He does not go so far as to let us know that, but those were unusual times and He chose to let them know. The lesson for us is that even when we are not told specifically, we should still be aware that it is still true.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Guilt by attitude

Parshat Bo

The Torah recounts for us how the plagues have reached the climax and all the first-borns of Egypt are being smitten. The text of the verse tells us, From the first born of Par'oh sitting on his throne, until the first born of the captive sitting in the pit [jail] etc.".

Why did the first born of the hostages need to be smitten along with the Egyptians? They were in the same boat, more or less, as the Hebrews! What did they do to deserve punishment?

Rashi explains that they had rejoiced in the torture of the Jews. For that they deserved punishment.

We know that God has to punish us for our wrongdoings. That punishment has to be meted out by someone, somehow. The Egyptians were chosen, for whatever reasons, as th eones who would mete out the punishment to the children of Jacob. They went at it with a vigor and went beyond the call of duty that was necessary and therefore they deserved punishment, for their harshness towards the Jews. The children of the captives had no obligation to be involved, yet instead of commiserating with their fellow hostages and feeling their pain, theuy rejoiced in the torture they saw the Jews receiving. Therefore they were punished. They were guilty by attitude.
We must keep our attitudes in check and understand when is appropriate for different emotions to manifest themselves. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for depression. A time for happiness and a time for anger. If you have the right attitude of objectivity, you can empathize properly and display the appropriate emotion.