The Torah Portion of the Week Shoftim – You Got to Get in to Get Out – A Jewish Mind – A Powerful Parable about the Filthy Jewels, A Great Story about the Chazon Ish and Peace in Your Home – How to Create Love
The Torah Podcast Transcript
025 The Torah Podcast – You Got to Get in to Get Out
Torah Portion of the Week – Shoftim
Now we’re in the month of Ellul, we’re going to be getting ready for Rosh Hashana with Parshas Shoftim. What does Shoftim say? The first possuk says, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities.” So, you have judges – people who judge, and officers – people like policemen – you shall appoint in all your cities, “Which Hashem your God gives to you.” It says “lecha”, specifically “to you”, for your tribes. “And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” The next possuk says, “You shall not pervert judgment. You shall not take notice of someone’s presence, and you shall not take a bribe.” Why? “For the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise, and make the righteous words crooked.” That’s the first two verses in Shoftim. Everyone is bothered by the extra word in the verse that says, “For you. Judges and officials you shall appoint for yourself.” What do we need that for? Just say, “You will appoint judges and officials.” You don’t need to say, “For you.” We’re also going to explain what it means, “In your gates.”
Rav Miller from Gateshead wants to explain with the Midrash Rabba. The Midrash Rabba says like this. “Who are the judges and the officials? Our sages explained, ‘The official should be like a judge, that his deeds should serve in place of the rod and the whip, so that the smiter should not himself require punishment.’ We see from here that the officer should be like the judge. What does that mean? In a sense, that the officer has to make sure what he’s doing is correct.
The Matnas Kehuna wants to extend this and say that the officer and the judge should be alike, the judge should be highly self-critical. In other words, he should have like an officer inside of himself. He should focus his attention on any possible deterioration within himself. This kind of moral self-awareness will serve him instead as the rod and the whip, that the judge shouldn’t be punished because of what he orders to be done. You see, it works in both directions. The judge should be like the police, and the police should be like the judge. All the baalei mussar, masters of character development want to say that “lecha” means for you, we have to apply this to ourselves. We have to have both an inner judge and an inner officer, because we have to be like a judge that our decisions and our thinking should be straight and clear. And at the same time we have to be like the policeman who’s really guarding that purity. In other words, making sure that our motives are pure, that we’re doing it for the right reason because it’s only if the officer inside of ourselves makes sure that we have pure motives, that our thinking will be clear. So, we need both aspects – clear thinking and a pure heart. And they work together, because if one of them is off, we’ll come to the wrong conclusions. We’ll make the wrong decisions in life.”
Now, Rav Miller extends this and he talks about this same kind of idea in our relationship to God. He uses the shofar, sheep’s horn as an example. We know we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. We also blow the shofar when there’s a war. The shofar in many places is used to represent judgment and justice, and din. On the opposite hand, we know that blowing the shofar brings rachamim, brings mercy. Rav Miller says, “How can this one thing, the shofar, have two opposites? Make up your mind. Either it’s judgment or it’s mercy, how can it be both?” The answer is, that judgment can turn into mercy as soon as we repent. In other words, if there is a judgment coming on us from the heaven, if we repent and we change our ways and come back, so it turns into mercy. On the other hand, if we don’t repent and we don’t do the right thing and we continue in the wrong way, that judgment will come out to be judgment. So, the shofar has both aspects. This also plays into the idea of being both the judge and the officer in terms of our decisions of how are we going to live our lives.
Rav Simcha Zissel explains that the other baalei mussar also bring this possuk, with the same kind of idea – daas, chochma u’mussar, the second possuk in Mishlei – to know wisdom and discipline. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that wisdom means the actual knowledge, and discipline means understanding in a deep way the ramifications of this knowledge. Chochma means the wisdom, the understanding of what the Torah is saying. What is the law? What’s the fact on the ground? What is it? And mussar means discipline. What’s going to happen if I live by this law, or do not live by the law? What are the ramifications of the law? How is it going to affect me, how is it going to affect others? What is it going to do to society? Now I want to explain how these two things play off each other, how is it that the morality of the law can lead us to a deeper and purer understanding of what the law is. And how deeper and purer understanding are affected by our understanding of the morality of the law, it works both ways. I’m going to explain.
The verse said, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all of your gates.” We know according to the Torah, gates represent different spiritual aspects. There’s a famous Gemara in Shabbos in 31B, it says like this. “Anyone who learns Torah but who is not God-fearing is like a treasurer who has been given the inner keys, but denied the outer keys to the treasury.” In other words, if you learn Torah without the fear of God, you’ve been given the inner keys but you’re denied the outer keys. Now, obviously these keys open up the gates, but this is a little bit anti-intuitive. Why? Because usually, you’d think of the inner part as the God-fearing part. The inner part is the emotions. The heart, which is related to the fear of God, and the outer part should be the knowledge, Torah itself, but it switched it around. It said, “If you have Torah, you have the keys to the inner part.” And without fear of God, you don’t have the keys to the outer part, so why is there a switch?
The second verse which I bought explains it, which said, “You should not pervert judgment. You should not take notice if someone is present, and you should not take a bribe, for a bribe will blind the eye to the wise, and make the righteous words crooked.” Bribery comes when we’re receiving pleasure from things, and it actually distorts our thinking process. This is how Rav Yerucham HaLevi explains it. There’s a verse in Micha that says, “How have I wearied you. Testify against me.” He’s talking about the mitzvas, and people are wearied by the mitzvos. It’s so hard for us. But wait a second, he says, “God desires only for the good of mankind. All of his commands expressed his loving desire.” But how is it possible that people feel wearied that God has to say to them, “Testify against me.” The answer is, we are blinded by our material longings and our desires. So, what happens? All these taivas, these lusts, all the desires of the physical world, the materialism, starts to affect our perception of reality. In other words, from this perspective it’s the Torah that’s in the inside, and the fear of God that’s on the outside. So, if a person has lust and runs after this world, the physical world, what starts to happen is even though he’s been given the key to the inner gate which is the Torah, but he doesn’t have pure Torah. Why? Because he’s locked out from the outer gate which is the fear of God. In other words, his emotions start to affect his thinking process. His thinking process will become krum, will become crooked, because of his desires. It doesn’t mean he’s not smart, which is what I want to explain. He could be a genius. He could have a pure, clear intellect. But he won’t get to the inner essence of Torah, which is what I want to speak about now, coming to Ellul and Yom ha Din, we have to come with Torah, daas Torah, which means a Jewish mind. Which is not pure intellect, and it’s not pure emotions, it’s the combination of both those things which leads to a synthesis, a gestalt where two things make a third thing that’s greater, which is the Torah itself, the real understanding of Torah. Which is what the possuk in Mishlei was saying, that daas, chochmas u’mussar, to understand chochma, wisdom, and mussar, and discipline. And at that point, a person will start to have daas Torah.
Rav Elchonan Wasserman said, “All of us have daas Torah, to a certain degree. Some perhaps 50 percent, others 15 percent. And the rest of the person’s mind is not daas Torah, but perhaps a business mind, or his wife or children’s opinion, or some other type of understanding. Daas Torah of 100 percent is only found among the gedolei Torah, the great people of Torah, who have cast off the vanities of this world and are loyal to the Torah perspective. Daas Torah is not an easy thing to get to. But daas Torah is the real relationship with Hashem. It’s the real decision-making mechanism that we want to reach. We want to get to have 100 percent daas Torah. We want to have daas Torah to make the right decisions in life, to relate to people in the right way, to do the right thing. We need daas Torah, but it’s a very, very deep thing.
I’m going to read to you what it says here in Shirei Daas. He brings a Gemara in Moed Koton where it says…we just had it in daf Yomi. “Anshei letzatsura.” Rashi explained, these are called wise men. The men that are able to understand form, the men that could comprehend form. He says like this. “That is because the prime greatness of man is the ability to understand and comprehend the form of wisdom. Men of form thus is referring to the ability to see form or concept, not just the ideas. Not just the data. This is true not only in knowledge, but concerning faith.” You’ve got to get this, this is unbelievable. “They are deeper and more profound as well as clearer than those who do not grasp the concept or form in all matters. The faith of those who fail to grasp the concept are much more shallow, and their faith does not reside in their soul.” It says here, look what he says here. “Ve’aino ezrahut benafsham,” it doesn’t reside in their soul. In other words, you could have faith, but where’s the faith coming? Is it an emotional faith, is it an intellectual faith? Or is it a daas Torah faith? It’s a faith that comes from the combination of clear thinking and purity of heart that combination leads to a gestalt, a new level of faith. He says, “This is because they can conceive form.” In other words, they conceptualize it. The form which is the soul of the Torah simply cannot be conveyed out of merely words. It manifests itself through the entire being, expressing the emotions of the body, and the facial expressions.
If you’ve ever met a talmid chacham, he’s a different breed. He’s a different creation. In other words, he’s using his intellect and he’s using his heart, and he’s using them together to go to higher and higher levels where he gets to the level of daas Torah, the real Jewish mind. The being who’s relating to God in the real way, not the way that most of the world, the majority of the world, the majority of the Jews are relating to God. Most of them are either on one side of the coin – they’re into emotionalism, and their faith and their beliefs and their system of decision-making is based on emotions. Or you have nerds, guys that are totally intellectual. But where’s their heart? Either of those things are not daas Torah. That’s not what God, that’s not what a Jew is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, nowadays it’s so rare that people don’t appreciate what Judaism is, because they don’t bump into these talmidei chachamim like they used to.
One time, I had a Rebbe who said, “Listen, Judaism is not the Boy Scouts.” What did he mean by that? It’s not the Boy Scouts, a goody-goody. That’s not what it means to be a Jew, which means emotionalism. I’m just doing it because it’s the right thing to do, everything right like goody-two shoes? On the other hand, like I said, you can’t be a total nerd, purely intellectual. It has to be daas Torah, and this is the teshuva that we have to do before Rosh Hashana. This is how we have to come close to God. If we’re more emotional, we have to become more intellectual. If we’re more intellectual, we have to become more emotional. We have to show up to God with sheleimus, completeness, wholeness. These are the gates that the possuk was talking about – the gate of the emotions, or the gate of the intellect. But it has to be both. In other words, you have to be both a judge and an official, and a policeman. A judge in terms of the intellect, and a policeman in terms of the emotional aspect, to make sure we’re pure. It’s daas, chochma u’mussar, to understand chochma, wisdom and mussar, discipline. The Ramban in Vayikra 19:2 explains that God-forbid, a person could be a manuva bereshus ha Torah, he could be within all the halachas of the Torah, but be disgusting. He says there, “What does it mean to be Holy?” Basically it means, you have to guard yourself, guard from not eating foods that are not Kosher, sexual relationships that are not Kosher. But a person could wind up being a glutton, eating Kosher food. Or he could wind up being with his wife every night, which is not acceptable. So, without the sheleimus, without the completeness of the understanding, he could wind up being a villain within the domain of the Torah. When we come on Rosh Hashana before God, we want to come with sheleimus, completeness.
I want to end off with what the Alter mi Kelm says, in chochma u’mussar. He says an unbelievable thing. Look at this, you’ve got to hear this. “Why do we say in the Shemona Esrei, the daily prayers, Elokeinu, our God, v’Elokei Avosainu, and the God of our fathers? Why do we need both? Say our God, or the God of the fathers, why do we need both?” A great difficulty! He says, “There are two kinds of people that believe in God. One person who believes in God because he’s just going in the footsteps of his fathers, so he has a strong faith. It’s true, he has tradition for thousands of years, it’s what we did as Jews, and he’s following along. And the other type of person is a person who is working from an intellectual perspective. He learns Torah, and he understands his faith. It makes sense, the Torah is so deep how can it be that it’s human? It must be Godly.
He says, “The first one, he has a strength in the sense you can’t persuade him. He’s going according to the faith of his fathers. He’s rosh bakir, he’s got his head to the wall. You’re not going to move that guy. But on the downside of that, he’s just doing it out of a habit. In a certain sense, He doesn’t have any inherent personal meaning to him. On the other hand, the independent thinker, the guy who’s thought it out, it’s very personal to him. He has faith, it’s very personal. A strong faith. But he’s open for refutation, because as you work on an intellectual level, people can refute him and knock him out. He can wind up going off the derech, and leaving the Torah. Therefore, the Alter mi Kelm wants to say you have to have both. You have to have our God and the God of our forefathers. That means that while learn from tradition what is true, he should also investigate to understand what these truths are. This is the proper approach to faith.” This is unbelievable. Our God – our God, because we thought it out and it’s really ours, and the God of our Fathers because we’re following it, because it’s our tradition. This is where our faith should come from, and this is daas Torah. We’re not just talking about intellectual things. We’re talking about living, how we live, how we wake up in the morning, how we relate to people, how we do the mitzvos. What are we doing with our lives? It’s faith in the sense that how do we relate to God? How do we relate to reality? It has to have both these aspects. This is how we have to come before God on Rosh Hashana, as both the judge and and an officer, with wisdom and mussar and discipline, with Torah, understanding the Halacha, and the fear of God. With the inner and the outer, with the intellect and the emotions, not just a Boy Scout, and not a nerd. We have to come as a human being. We have to come as the whole person, and this is the teshuva. Whatever we’re weak in, we have to work on. This is what the verse is telling us for the month of Ellul, as a preparation for Rosh Hashana.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim brings a parable like this. He says, “In the morning prayers, every morning before Shema we say, ‘And unify our heart to love and revere thy name.’ In other words, let our heart be filled with one particular love – the love of God, to focus on one love and that’s the love of God. Generally,” man he says, “Is filled with all kinds of loves and affection, for his father, his mother, his wife, his children, the world, all kinds of things, all kinds of desires. And it’s all mingled up together. But really, a person should focus on his love of God, and drop everything else.” He wants to bring a parable to explain that.
One time when there was a rich man who wanted to go on a long journey, and he told his worker to please guard his property. But he said, “This one room I really want you to guard very well. Keep your eye on that,” and he left. So, the worker got curious. He started to say, ‘Hey, what’s in that room?’ He looked for the keys, he went through the places, he found the keys. He sees inside there, boxes. He sees a couple of locked up trunks he wants to check out. He finds the keys for those, opens them up, and it’s unbelievable. Inside is gold and jewels, beautiful things. But as he looks at them, he starts to notice that there’s dirt in the box, and mud. The jewels, half of them are all covered up with dirt and mud. He doesn’t understand, “What’s going on here? He puts in the box with his jewels and his gold, mud? He himself tells me to guard this place with my life, and then he puts mud in the boxes with the jewels. I don’t get it.’
The Chofetz Chaim explains that when a man goes to heaven, he is judged on all the different limbs of his body. What sin, what mitzvah he did with his hand, with his arm, with his leg, his foot. But the most important thing where he’s judged is his heart. The heart is like the silver and the gold and the jewels. That’s going to be judged. What does the heavenly court find in a man’s heart? Dirt, mud, filth, together with the love of God. What a combino, what a combination. It’s a jewel, it’s true he loves God. But he also loves his wife, and his kids, and his things. He also loves everything. Can you imagine the embarrassment that he has, that he didn’t love his wife and his kids and people le shem shemayim, for the right reasons, for his own personal reasons he loved them. That’s what we pray every morning, “Let our singular, our deepest love be the love of God. There should be no other love.”
Great Stories – Chazon Ish
I want to tell a couple of stories about the Chazon Ish. We know that the Chazon Ish was famous for his medical knowledge. But he never opened up a medical book, so how could that be? They said, day after day people would come to his house and ask the Chazon Ish whether he should have surgery or not have surgery. His wife used to joke. She said, “When I married him, I thought one day that he would become a Rav. Now I see he’s more like a physician.” Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Gadol haDor said about him, “His medical advice is on target 100 percent of the time.” He was a medical whizz, and he knew all the doctors of Eretz Yisrael and their strengths and weaknesses. He said, “Rav Greineman used to say that the Chazon Ish would send one guy before he diagnosed it, and the same guy he would send him for administration to a different doctor, because he knew each doctor’s strength.” One time, he contradicted the opinion of a very prominent doctor. At the physicians’ conference, this doctor mentioned, “I don’t understand how these religious people, they’re not listening to our advice. They’re listening to the words of the rabbis over the knowledge of experts.” It happened to be that one of the doctors in the audience spoke to the Chazon Ish in that exact case. It came out that that doctor bought out that the Chazon Ish was right, and the doctor who was complaining was wrong. He used to map it out…they still have his papers on surgical procedures for a complex heart operation. “The doctors themselves,” says Dr. Ashkenazi, “Used to go to the Chazon Ish to ask whether they should operate.” The Chazon Ish said back to him, “What exactly is your soffek? What’s your doubt? He explained to him the doubt exactly. He said, the doctor was able to make the right decision. But the doctor said, “Take note of how the Chazon Ish summarized the various angles of the case in a few concise sentences. Any of us would have needed pages to write what he expressed so succinctly.”
One time they asked Rav Diskin, “How can it be that the Chazon Ish knows so much about medicine?” He quoted the Pirkei Avos that says, “Whoever studies Torah lishma merits many things.” Rav Diskin explained, “The Chazon Ish never read medical literature. He never read secular literature. He never entered a medical library. He never went into the laboratories. It was all God-given.” You see, when a person totally applies himself to learning, God opens up the gates of wisdom.
Peace in Your Home
I just want to say over a summary of Rav Nachman Diament’s second chapter here. He is an expert in shalom bayis, peace in the home. One time, a couple came to him, a father came to him and said, “I have no inner peace. I realize I can’t stand my third son. How could I live with myself, knowing that I don’t love my own son?” He said to him, “Just keep giving to him as much as you can.” So, for a while there he started to give to him. He started to see, wow. He came back a couple of weeks later and spoke to the Rav. He says, “You know what? I don’t love him completely, but it’s not like I can’t stand him. Before, I couldn’t stand him.” He said, “Very good. So, what happened?” It happen to be, a couple of weeks later that same child, they found out how he had leukemia. Then he spent months and months with the child, helping the child with drugs, and treatments. In the end, the child recovered and today, the person says, “I have such a special love for that child.” The Rav said to the father, “That’s called the blessing and the curse.” How does this work? How do you get true love? Where does love come from? What’s true love, and what’s false love? Somehow, when it comes to the kids usually most people don’t say, “I don’t really love my child.” But when it comes to their wife or their husband, they say, “I don’t really love them.” The answer is that most people give to their children while they may not give to their spouse. We know that Rav Dessler says that love is a direct result of giving. Even if a person would paint a picture and work on it for months, and he had to give it away or sell it, he would feel bad because he invested in it. He said, “The secular view of falling in love is totally false. It’s really just self-love. As you see, after three or four or six months or a year of marriage, things start to thin out. It’s only if the couple actually gives to each other that the love continues and builds.”
One time, one of the Rebbes asked one of the students who was eating fish, so he said, “Do you love fish?” “Yeah,” he says, “I love fish.” He says, “Why don’t you build him an aquarium, give him food and drink?” He says, “No, you don’t love fish. You love yourself, and the fish tastes delicious.” Some people might say, “So, what’s the difference? I love myself, I love the fish, I love my wife, I love myself.” The answer is that the ikar, the essential thing is that the love is there. The answer is, if it’s just self-love, in the end a new love will come which will destroy the old love. I want to explain.
He tells a story. One time, a chosson’s good friend said, he wanted to tell the wife what to make his best friend, his roommate, for dinner. “You know what? Make him schnitzel and tomato sauce. He loves it.” It was true. So, she made it for him and he was all happy. Then she made it for him again, and she made it for him again, and she made it again. Then she made it for him again, so at one point he says, “Listen, I don’t want schnitzel and tomato sauce anymore.” What happened? He loved schnitzel and tomato sauce. The answer is, it doesn’t help. You have to constantly renew. If it’s self-love, it has to be constantly renewed. The nature of man, he wants chiddushim, he wants new things. So now, he wants to eat something different – hotdogs, I don’t know what. He says, “The same thing with people. Even a couple when they’re in love and they first get married, sometimes they start walking arm in arm. Then they go hand in hand. Then they go finger in finger. Then they go head to head.” How do you keep the love going for 70 years? How do you do that? And how do you stop the person’s faults that you see as time goes by, from ruining the marriage? You have to have motivation for love. When there is a motivation to love, the love will surely follow, even strong love.
For example, before a baby’s born, you don’t know who the baby is. You don’t know if it’s going to be a boy, you don’t know if it’s a girl. But you know you’re going to love it. You’re motivated to love that child. No matter what, you’re going to love that child. You know why? Because you are going to give to that child. When you give to that child, you’re going to come to love them.
He says…he gives an example like this. “Sometimes, the army sends out two guys or a group of guys to get back from the middle of a desert, and the two guys hate each other to begin with. In the end, they become best friends. Why? Because they were forced to cooperate with each other. They were forced to love each other. They were forced to get along, they had no choice.” The same thing with business partners. It doesn’t make sense that two business partners can stay in business for so many years together, and they have different middos, character traits, and different thinking. The answer is that they’re making a lot of money. They’re making millions of dollars, so they learn to get along. The same thing is in marriage. You have kids, you have a whole history. You have a whole life together. If you’re motivated to love, you will come to love, which means what? You’ll come to give to each other. If you give, you will love and you have to know that rule. If you know that rule, you could fix up any marriage. Just start giving to each other. Do it because you need each other, do it because you want to stay together. Get motivated, and start giving to your spouse.
That’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends.