Torah Portion of the Week – Vayakhel -Born to Be Great – The Power to Overcome – A Powerful Parable about the Happy Drunk – A Great Story about Rav Chatzkel and Peace in Your Home – Springing Back
The Torah Podcast Transcript
006 The Torah Podcast – Born to be Great – The Power to Overcome
A Powerful Parable
We’re going to start out this week with a powerful parable. What is a parable? A parable is called in Hebrew, a moshul. It means you work from the known to the unknown. I’m going to explain something you know, and from what you know you can understand something you don’t understand. I’m also going to talk more about parables in the Torah portion of the week. Rabbeinu Bachye explains how they work. But here is one right now. This is the Chofetz Chaim.
He says, “People live like they’re blind, like they never saw the light of day. They’re running around with their heads off, not really thinking about what life is about. And they think that they’re happy and fortunate. They’re full of laughter and enjoying themselves, going out to eat, doing fun things. The only problem is…” he wants to say, “It’s compared to an alcoholic.” What do you mean? Some guy drank so much that he wound up losing all of his money. He lost his wallet. Not only that, he gave away his clothes to buy another bottle of whisky. Next thing you know, the guy is lying in the street, completely drunk out of his mind, in the mud, covered with filth and muck. He’s unclothed and barefoot. The guy is in bad shape. The only thing is, he’s feeling completely happy. He’s singing, he’s clapping his hands, he’s singing a little song. He has no idea how unfortunate he really is that in reality, he’s without his clothes, he’s covered with filth and completely penniless. It’s only the next day when he wakes up and he sobers up, and he realizes what happened to him and then he realizes what bad shape he really is in. That was the moshul, that was the parable. That was the thing that we understand. But what does it refer to? Something that may be more difficult to understand. He’s saying that is like when we go to the next world. This world we could be having a great time, thinking that everything is great. We have no idea, we’re not sober, we’re drunk from the world and we don’t realize that in the next world, things are going to be a little bit different. Even though we’re happy and celebrating and having a great time, since we’re not doing mitzvos, we come to the next world naked, barefoot, dirty, full of mud and full of dirt. We don’t want that to happen. Who is the Chofetz Chaim speaking to? He’s not just speaking to people who are not so religious. He’s speaking to people who are religious. How much time do we waste? How many mitzvos can we do? We’re happy, we think everything is fine, and meanwhile life is going by. And we’re like the drunk guy, who one day is going to have to sober up. This is something to think about. The more we think about it, the more real it becomes.
Torah Portion of the Week – Vayakhel
Now I want to speak about the Torah portion of the week. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel. We know there that Betzalel has been assigned to build all the parts of the Mishkan, everything that was inside of the Tabernacle. The Daas Zekanim explains – that’s one of the Balei Tosefos, and he says that Moshe really thought that he was going to build everything in the Mishkan. He was the man and he thought he was going to do it. But Hashem said to him, “No, on the contrary. Betzalel is going to do it. He is more suitable for the task.” Who was Betzalel? It says, “Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur.” His grandfather was Chur. Betzalel’s grandfather Chur, who was the son of Miriam, was killed trying to dissuade the Bnei Yisroel, the children of Israel from building the Golden Calf. In other words, the Jewish people wanted to build the Golden Calf like we explained in last week’s portion and according to some opinions, they wanted to do it leshem shemayim, they really wanted to come close to God. But he stopped them because still it was not the right thing. Now according to the Beis haLevi which I didn’t speak about last week, they were not doing it with the commandment of God. They were doing it on their own. That’s called ibra chacham, they’re smarter than God. So, they got punished for that. But they wanted to come close to God, but he stopped them. Since he stopped them – and he was right to stop them, actually. But they killed him, they actually killed him. The Daas Zekanim explains, on the verse “He is suitable for the task.”, Betzalel who was the grandson, Why? The Shemos Rabba explains that the Mishkan was to fix up, to atone for the Golden Calf, so Hashem felt that it was especially fitting for Betzalel whose grandfather was killed trying to stop the Golden Calf, that he’s the one that should build the Mishkan.
Now, Betzalel was only 13 years old at the time, but in terms of his qualifications we know Chazal, the Rabbis, tell us for example the Rambam explains that he was filled with a Godly spirit with wisdom, insight and knowledge, which meant he could complete the inner, esoteric symbolism of the Ark made with the proper intent. He had ruach hakodesh, he was a Prophet and he knew exactly how to build the Ark. Not only that but the Gemara in Berochos 55a explains that Betzalel knew how to put the letters together from which the world and the universe were created. We know that according to the Torah, everything in this world is created from the letters of the aleph beis. And he knew how to put those two things together. In other words, the whole idea of the Mishkan was that God’s presence was going to dwell in the Mishkan, which was the fusion of heaven and earth. And he knew how to join the letters of creation in order to make that happen. We’re talking about somebody who was on a very, very high level.
But Rav Henoch Leibowitz has a kasha, the Kedushas ha Lev, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, was the former rosh yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim in New York. He says, “Really, Betzalel was probably the worst choice for the job, even with all of his qualifications. Why? Because since his grandfather was killed trying to stop the Golden Calf from happening, so he’s going to have bad feelings towards am Yisroel.” The Shemos Rabba tells us that the Mishkan itself was supposed to fix up the sin of the Golden Calf. So here you have his grandfather trying to stop the Jewish people from doing the Golden Calf, and he gets killed doing such a thing. And now you have the grandson trying to fix up their sins for killing his own grandfather. How is it possible that he’s not going to have bad feelings towards them, and he’s not going to have the right intentions in order that the Mishkan should atone for the sins of these people who killed his grandfather? He was the wrong guy for the job. We know that revenge is a very difficult thing to overcome.
The Mesillas Yesharim explains in Chapter 11, that revenge is as sweet as honey, since it’s the only way out. And therefore someone who overcomes revenge is considered a very strong and courageous individual. This is something which is easy only for the ministering angels. He has to be like an angel in order to overcome his revenge, because the angels don’t have the quality of revenge and jealousy because they weren’t part of the physical world, and they weren’t formed from earth. It’s only people who were formed from earth that have the ideas and feelings of jealousy and revenge. So, Betzalel was obviously a very bad choice.
What’s the answer to this difficulty? The Midrash tells us that the Tabernacle was never destroyed only hidden, because it was holy, without any impure motives involved in its construction. We know for a fact that Betzalel overcame his quality of jealousy, because it was built with pure intentions. The fact is, even though it might have been difficult for Betzalel, but he overcame this quality – unbelievable power. You can’t imagine such a thing, that somebody killed your grandfather and you’re going to atone for their sins. What middos, what character, he had. In other word, the difficulty is really the answer. The answer was, he had within him the ability to overcome this quality of jealousy or revenge and he did it. And he was the right guy for the job, because he was on such a high level.
I just want to bring now the Rabbeinu Bachye on this week’s Parsha. Rabbeinu Bachye explains that man is half spiritual and half physical. He says, “If he succeeds in making his spirituality the dominating feature, he is like a malach,” it’s like a man becomes an angel. “On the other hand, if his physicality dominates him, he is like a beast that perished and has no afterlife at all.” If God-forbid a person doesn’t have a tzura, doesn’t have the form of a human being and acts like an animal his whole life, he has no afterlife, so we’re stuck in between. The whole purpose of our life is to overcome our physical nature. Now, a person who does overcome his nature in any area is considered strong by the Torah. Eizeh hu gibbor, the Pirkei Avos says, “Who is strong? Ha kohvesh beyitzro,” one who subdues his personal inclination. That’s the Torah’s definition of strength. The Maharal says there, “The measure of human strength is self-discipline, which is the power of the intellect to direct the physical faculties according to what is right and wrong”. In other words, if your intellect can overcome your tendencies, that’s called strong. The Rabbeinu Yona explained that this strength is even greater than the strength that a man has in battle. He says, “But the battle of the evil inclination of the man is a much greater, more powerful and a more sophisticated force. It lies in wait, ready to attack and destroy. And it already has a powerful grip over the body. The freeing of this formal enemy is true heroism in battle.” In other words, since the body already has its tendencies, to overcome it is a tremendous battle, even greater than fighting a physical battle in a war. We see that this ability to overcome our physical nature takes tremendous strength, but really it’s the purpose of our lives, and we have to do it.
So, the question now is, how do you do it? What are some of the tools that we need in order to overcome our bad tendencies? One of the tools that I want to speak about is how we started this week’s podcast, which is parables. Parables have the ability for us to go beyond our limitations and to understand things beyond what we normally can understand. By working from the known to the unknown and the Ramchal explains that’s how it works. You have a known and you work from the known, we use the moshul or an analogy to teach us the unknown. He explains there that the whole book of Mishlei was based on this. It’s called Mishlei, it’s the Book of Parables which was written by Shlomo haMelech. The Rabbeinu Bachye explains an unbelievable thing. He says, there is no communication between the body and the soul, only through a parable. He says, “When Shlomo wrote the Book of Proverbs, parables, his purpose was to teach man to relate his spirit and his intellect, to his nature. Seeing that man is made up of a physical part and a spiritual but disembodied part, the only way he could relate the one to the other is by the use of a parable. Comparisons between the physical and the spiritual have to be illustrated for a man in order for him to comprehend it literally.” In other words, there is no communication between the body and the soul. The body speaks one language, and the soul speaks a different language. There’s nothing going on between them. The only way is through a parable. I’ll give you an example. He starts out with a possuk from Mishlei. Each week the Rabbeinu Bachye brings a verse from Proverbs that’s connected with the Parsha. The verse says, “My son, eat honey for it is good and the honey comb is sweet to our palate.” That’s physical, that we understand – honey, “So shall knowledge of wisdom be to your soul. If you have found it there, it’s your future and your hopes will not be crushed.” He wants to compare honey to wisdom. Honey we understand, that’s what the body understands. The body doesn’t understand wisdom, it’s only in the mind. So, in order to get a person to sit and spend time to learn to gain wisdom, you have to explain to the body that it’s like honey.
What is he referring to? He’s referring that Moshe Rabbeinu was up in the shemayim, heavens, for 40 days and 40 nights without eating or drinking. He brings a possuk from Shemos, “They saw God and ate and drank.” In other words, just as eating and drinking provide with physical gratification, so a vision of the divine provides man with a spiritual gratification. One of the reasons why Moses could spend 40 days on Mount Sinai going without bread and water was because of these divine visions that he had. He was gaining nourishment from the divine, that’s the moshul. That’s how we can explain to our body that by gaining divine wisdom we’re being nourished. It’s like honey. He says, “Unless the parable is something with which we are familiar with, it cannot hope to achieve its purpose. You have to speak to the body to coerce it in physical terms. If you explain it in physical terms that just like the body gains nourishment, so the soul too gains nourishment. You can convince the body to let you sit and learn for hours on end toiling in the words of Torah.” That’s one of the tools that the chachamim use to help us to overcome our nature.
Another tool is the Torah itself. It’s only through learning Torah that we’ll able to overcome our physical nature. How do I know that? It says it in Mesillas Yesharim, “Can you imagine a sick person goes to the doctor. The doctor gives him his medicine and then he says, ‘You know what? Maybe I’ll take something else. I’ll try this or that.’ Surely he’s going to die. He says, “The same is true in our situation. No one can diagnose the malady of the evil inclination and its inherent power over the Creator who has created it. God knows exactly what’s going to fix up our nature, our evil inclination, and he has forewarned us that the only cure for it is Torah. Can anyone expect to live if he puts aside a substitute with something else?” In other words. only Torah, Torah tavlin. It says, “The Torah is the medicine.” That’s the only thing that’s going to overcome. A person who sits in Yeshiva, who sits and learns and spends time learning Chazal, learning Torah, that’s the thing that’s going to help him overcome his nature. It’s going to give him the spirit, the extra intellectual power, spiritual power, to overcome tendencies of jealousy, anger, lust, all these types of things. We’re lost. There’s no way. There is no way we could overcome it, the only way is through Torah itself. God created us. He knows the evil inclination, and he himself says, “Only Torah is the terufa, is the medicine, that’s going to help to overcome, to make a person reach perfection.”
But not only that, there’s a third thing we need, and that’s prayer. It says in Mesillas Yesharim also, “It is yet obvious. Even a person supervises his conduct even if we work with all of our strength it is not within his power, our power, to achieve salvation without the assistance of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, without Hashem. We cannot do it on our own, there’s no way for us to overcome our tendencies.” We need the help of God, and therefore we need to pray. We need to pray that God helps us to overcome our bad tendencies.
I’ll just end off with this. It says, Rav Simcha Zissel who was one of the baalei mussar said like this. “Man’s power of reflection and observation, are the weapons of his struggle against his tendencies, reflection and observation.” In other words, you have to do what’s called cheshbon hanefesh, a person has to do an accounting. “What did I do today? How did I act today? What am I going to do about it?” We know the baalei mussar told us, one of the ways in which we can help ourselves to overcome our tendencies is to learn mussar which means we learn the books of Chazal and the great Rabbis. But we do it with our whole heart, we sing it and we participate in it, and make it real to ourselves. For example it says, “When Rav Simcha Zissel would learn mussar, his whole body was involved. He would pace back and forth singing penetrating heart remedy melodies that touched the soul and awakened the mind. He himself composed the tunes.” In other words, the Torah has to become real to us. We have to sing it and talk about it, and tell our friends about it and learn it. And through all these different methods we can help to perfect ourselves. We wouldn’t want to wind up like the guy in the parable, the drunk guy in the street who one day becomes sober, when he leaves this world.
Great Stories – Rav Chatzkel Levenstein
Now I’m going to tell a story about a great Rabbi, Rav Chatzel Levenstein. He was the mashgiach of the Mir. We know that the Mir Yeshiva went to Shanghai. While they were in Shanghai they were being bombed like crazy, but from the Americans. So, not all the talmidim wanted to stay in Shanghai, they wanted to go to Tenstin. The mashgiach was against it, and they were for it. There’s a Gemara in Pesachim that says like this, Rav was asked if the students who come early in the morning or late in the night and go back and forth from the Yeshiva and they go through the woods and it’s scary, it’s dark and there’s bandits and wild animals, should they have to worry? Rav answered, “Upon me and upon my neck. Let them come on my account, and the responsibility for their safety will rest on my neck.” This is what the mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel brought as a raya, proof. He says like this. The mashgiach paused and continued. “If I were Rav here too I would say, ‘Let it be upon me and upon my neck.’” We know that he took on the total responsibility for the Yeshiva, and it’s a known thing that most all the guys in the Yeshiva survived.
Listen to this. I have a footnote here that says like this. One of the talmidim who was there said that the talmidim discovered that the civil war between the communists and national China broke out in Tenstin, this is the place they wanted to go to. And who was killed first? All the foreigners living in the city that were among them were slaughtered. They took the foreigners out and they killed them all. The mashgiach’s insistence that they remain in Shanghai saved the Yeshiva from annihilation. He saved them. More than that, it says after the mashgiach accepted full personal responsibility for the safety of the entire yeshiva, not another word was heard about their leaving Shanghai, but his promise was only to those who remained with the Yeshiva. In other words, if they remained with the Yeshiva they were going to be protected. And he said, “I assure you that none of you will be harmed. We could continue on our way.”
What happened? Just the day before Hiroshima, before the atomic bomb was dropped which ended the war, so there was a blanket bombing and a raid over Shanghai by the Americans. It says that some of the students were in the dormitory building next door when the building suffered a direct hit and collapsed. The dormitories of the Yeshiva got hit. Listen to what happened. Nobody got hurt. One of them happened to stay outside, he was not in the building, in other words he was in a reinforced concrete staircase. A certain one was sleeping in a bed and the building collapsed. He slid out of the building from his bed. Another one said he had to go to the doctor. He felt like some kind of force was pushing him to go to the doctor. But nobody was hit. It says, “A Divine protection blanketing the talmidim was so obvious that the local peasants and Chinese laborers ran to be as near as possible to a Yeshiva student when the bombing raids began.” In other words, they used to run close to be next to a Yeshiva guy because they knew they were being protected on the zechus, on the merit of the mashgiach. It says, “After the war it was clear to everyone that the mashgiach’s promise and it’s fulfillment were divinely sanctioned.”
Peace in Your Home
Now last but not least, peace in your home. I call this spring back. When things get painful in a relationship, and there’s been a lot of fighting and people are saying nasty things to each other unfortunately, even though they’re sitting at the same breakfast table they’re like a million miles away. Everybody retreats. Most people go back inside themselves, and no one talks to the other person. Or the other alternative is that they get aggressive between each other. The proper solution for this horrible situation is to gather your courage and jump in and be the first one to make peace, to bring it back fast. You have to jump forward. Don’t let it linger. Don’t let these fights in your house linger. You have to get the courage like we talked about overcoming your character, overcoming your tendencies, and stand up and go back and try to make peace with your wife or with your husband. Rav Avigdor Miller explained like a rift in a marriage, a spike in a marriage, is like a small hole in a dyke. The longer the water pours through, the wider the rift gets, making it more difficult to mend. So, don’t drei, don’t wait, because the longer you wait, the fight’s just going to get worse. You should try to fix the fight as soon as possible.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, olav hashalom, said on the verse that says, “There will never be like Korach and his company,” we know that Korach made a rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. So, how did he learn that verse? He said, “You’ll never have another case where one side which was Moshe who was 100 percent right, and the other side which was Korach was 100 percent wrong. All other arguments there’s a bit of truth on both sides, which should make it easier to say you’re sorry, and to try to mend the argument by realizing it takes two to tango. A relationship by definition means two people. It might be 20-80, maybe it’s 50-50, maybe it’s 60-40, but each side is to blame. It’s not just a one-sided thing. Therefore if you want to have the last word let it be, “I love you and I’m sorry.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please tell your friends about it. Please give me some feedback on my site. I need to know if people are enjoying the podcast or if I should change something. Thank you very much.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff