The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 008 – Serving God is Easy – Not Mission Impossible – Torah Portion of the Week – Vayikra – A Powerful Parable about Selling at Cost – A Great Story about the Chafetz Chaim and Peace in Your Home – Being Realistic
A Powerful Parable
In this week’s parable we’re going to speak about how some people could spend their entire lives just thinking about the physical, and not thinking about the spiritual side of things. For example, you have a guy who invests a ton of money to start a new business. He builds a new building, he has to get an architect. And he has to take all of his money for that, and then he has to build the building. Then that costs a fortune, and then he gets all the people in the building, all the furniture in the building. He’s building this huge factory, and he’s got to get the thing happening. Finally, he hires all the people, gets all the material, buys the material, shleps it from overseas, brings it, investing and investing and putting tons of money and energy, and hours and hours and hours into this merchandise that he’s going to produce. Then he produces the merchandise and he decides, “You know what? I’m going to sell this at cost, exactly what it costs me, I’m going to sell it.” Wouldn’t that be a great idea? Fool. The guy is a fool. The whole point is to wind up with more money than you started with, not the same thing. So too with this world, God built this whole world in order that we should go forward, we should gain something from the world. He didn’t just do it, that we should just spin our wheels and keep the world going the way it is, we have to go forward. You have to grow in spirituality. It says, “The whole world was created for the Torah. If not for the Torah, heaven and earth would not endure.” It’s a verse from Yirmiyahu that’s like this. “It’s not for my covenant of Torah day and night, I would not set the orders of heaven and earth.” The whole purpose of this world is that we should grow spiritually. If we’re not, we’re just like the guy who opened a factory and sold things at cost.
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
Here is a really great story about the Chofetz Chaim. It says on Yom Kippur after the prayer services were finished, he sat alone in the beis medrash, study hall, contemplating and thinking about the past year. He made an accounting for every minute of every week, every day. He started to go through the entire year, thinking about how he could have done better, and what he could have done better. And he realized there was 10 minutes where he didn’t do any good deed, he didn’t do anything good. He was just wasting his time. He started to cry, “Yisroel Meir, Yisroel Meir.” That was his name. He said to himself, “Why did you go and waste those 10 minutes of the day? God gives kindness to man, He gives him a year of life, He gives him health, food, children. He gives him everything, but there’s an accounting in heaven. Not everything is just for free, you get things for a reason. Everything we have is in order to serve God.” He started to cry and say to himself, “Why did you waste those 10 minutes? Why did you waste those 10 minutes?” This is hard for us to understand a little bit. We can go by weeks, months, years go by, nobody’s even thinking what’s going on. Nobody’s doing any kind of cheshbon accounting of what’s happening. There are select people who maybe would say, “Oh, I had a couple of bad months. I’d better get myself back into gear,” but who would possibly think of 10 minutes, 10 minutes that he wasted not doing the right thing, not doing something good, not being productive with those 10 minutes? It’s only the Chofetz Chaim who had the level like that.
Torah Portion – Vayikra
This week’s Parsha is Vayikra, Hashem called to Moshe. I’m also going to bring a Chofetz Chaim on this. The Chofetz Chaim is so simple and so sweet and easy to understand. He brings the words of the Rabbis that say like this. There’s a possuk from Micha, “My nation, what did I do to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer me.” In the Midrash there it says there are 10 species of kosher animals. This week’s parsha we start to talk about bringing korbanos, bringing sacrifices in the Temple. Out of the kosher animals, there were the 10 types of kosher animals, only 3 of them are used in the Temple. Which three are those? The cow, the lamb and the goat. Those are the only three animals that are used in the Temple. And the seven other ones like the deer, the gazelle, different types of wild antelopes, the mountain sheep that are all kosher, are not used in the Temple. What’s the difference, they’re all kosher? Why don’t we bring sacrifices of all the kosher animals?
If you think sacrifices are strange, let me just give you a little introduction to what sacrifices are about. When a person sees the sacrifice get sacrificed, he thinks of himself being sacrificed. It’s a very, very strong symbolism to realize you’d better get your act together. You did sins, and now you’ve got to fix them up. You see that animal get sacrificed, really it was supposed to be you. You do teshuva, you return to God because of that. This is a side point that was just to explain what sacrifices are about. Also, the fact is that God told us to bring sacrifices. It doesn’t have to have a reason, but that would be the reasoning behind it.
So, back to our question – why is it only the three of the kosher animals are brought as sacrifices? The answer is, because they’re domestic animals. A deer, he runs away. As soon as you let him go, he runs away. A sheep, a cow and a lamb, they hang around. They’re domestic, so they’re easy to get. The Rabbi said like this, “To obtain offerings, do I trouble you to go searching in the mountains and the valleys for the animals that are not in your possession? Not at all. I told you to bring me only offerings from domestic animals which you raise yourself.” The Piskei de Rav Kahana says you see that God is not demanding things outside of our reach. It’s not mission impossible here to serve God. God makes it easy for us to serve Him. He makes it that we don’t have to run around catching these animals out in the wild. They’re right there in our own domain.
The Chofetz Chaim brings another proof for the same kind of idea, and he brings a Chazal that says, “Who praised me before I gave him a living soul? Who circumcised his sons before he gave him one? Who fulfilled the mitzvah of tzitzis before I gave him a garment? Who tithed tithes before I gave him grain?” It’s the Yalkut Shemoni. All these things, God is setting up to do the mitzvos, He’s making it easier for us to do the mitzvos. What does the Chofetz Chaim want to learn from this? A person shouldn’t praise himself to think he did it with great sacrifice, because he served God. Okay, you served God. But God made it easy. God set you up to serve God. The whole world was created for us to serve God. God is setting you up to do the mitzvos. Even though we give voluntarily, we give from ourselves, but God set us up beforehand in order to serve Him.
I want to now bring the Shem Mi Shmuel who also speaks of this week’s Parsha, Vayikra with a similar kind of an idea. He brings a Chazal like this. He says, “The Rabbis said that God showed every variety of atonement to Avraham Avinu – every type of sacrifice He showed to Avraham Avinu, except for one – except a 10th of an epher, a measure of fine flour.” That was the Rabbi. “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,” he said, “He even showed him that one.” What is the point that the Midrash says? That God even overlooks us for an extra atonement of his own – this is the 10th of an epher of fine flour. We’re talking about a 10th of an epher of fine flour, a very small sacrifice, you’re bringing the flour as a sacrifice, which is very inexpensive and very easy to do. And God didn’t want to show this sacrifice to Avraham Avinu because He didn’t want to show Avraham how far his mercy went, that even unworthy people could come back and return in repentance to God. What does he say here at the end? I’ll translate it. He says, “There’s always hope, however far a Jew is from the Creator, however few his merits, however devoid he may be of Torah and good deeds, there is hope. God will never forsake any individual.” A Jew can always come back to the service of God. It’s lo bashamayim hi, it’s not in heaven. It’s not mission impossible. God set us up that we can be successful. It’s just a question of a switch in the head.
So, what is this switch in the head exactly, that a person all of a sudden realized that he should serve God? He says like this. I’m going to bring down the Sfas Emes on this week’s Parsha, Vayikra, also. He brings a possuk from Tehillim it says, “Blessed is Hashem, all of his angels are strong, the warriors who do his bidding to obey the voice of His words.” They listen to what God says. We’re talking about malachim, angels. The Chazal tells us that there’s malachim in the heaven and there’s also malachim on the earth. There’s angels in heaven, but there’s also angels on earth. Anyone who listens to what God says and does what God says, he’s considered like an angel. And who had this quality better than anybody, better than any other human being ever? That was Moshe Rabbeinu, and it’s this week’s Parsha, Vayikra. Hashem called to Moshe Rabbeinu and Moshe was there, ready to listen. He says that Moshe is the ultimate role. He’s always ready there to do God’s will. Hashem called Moshe. Why did he call Moshe? Because he knew he was there. You just call him, he’s there. He’s ready to go. That’s how we have to be. We have to be ready to serve God. We have to be looking and searching for the truth. A person who’s not searching for the truth, he’s really in a dream world. The world’s just going by, it’s 120 years, is he not thinking, “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to do it? What was I put here for? How did I get here?” I give the example to my kids. I tell them, “If you went to sleep in your bed in Jerusalem and you woke up in a tent in India, wouldn’t you ask, How did I get here?” You’d wake up, suddenly you’re in a tent in India. But the truth is, that’s all of us. We go to sleep at night and we wake up in this world. How did we get here? Look at your hand. Look what’s going on. What’s going on? Why are we here? How did we get here? You have to think abstractly, you have to step out of yourself and really think, “What are we doing here?” We’re obviously here for a purpose. A person has to search inside of himself to figure out what that purpose is. And we know as Jews that at Har Sinai we received the Torah, and we know what the will of God is. God told us what to do, it’s just a question of doing the mitzvos. And anyone who does the mitzvos and starts to do the mitzvos and investigates the mitzvos and learns about the mitzvos, he starts to grow spiritually. The proof of the pudding is the pudding, my Rebbe always used to say. As you start to do these things, you start to feel the influx of spirituality coming into your life, and the blessings, and a person wants to do God’s will more and more. Obviously we have all kinds of forces, animalistic forces pulling us in different directions. But the point of this world is lo bashamayim hi, it’s not impossible. It’s not in heaven, it’s right here on earth. God set us up for us to serve Him, and the personality type that wants to serve God is someone who wants to listen. You have to start to listen. Vayikra, God called and we listened.
The Sfas Emes said, “Not only that, there are side benefits to being a servant of God.” He says like this, “Moshe Rabbeinu could have been very unhappy with his life. He had one of his children didn’t go in God’s way, and he knew that Bnai Yisroel were not going to listen to him. And he didn’t get to enter into the land of Israel, even though he wanted to. He could have been very disappointed. But we see in Chazal, there was no siman, no sign at all of his disappointment. Moshe didn’t come across as a victim or some tragic hero. And the reason why was because he had no ego of his own.” That’s the Sfas Emes. He said, “He was viewing himself totally as an agent to carry out God’s will.” In other words, a person who drops his personal desires and realized that there’s a bigger picture, there’s something bigger happening here, he starts to gain the benefits of not having those personal desires. He starts to become happy. I want to talk about in the last piece here. I’m going to bring the Ways of the Tzadikim, Orchas Tzadikim. He has a chapter here called the Shaar haRatzon, which in English would translate as, The Gate of Willingness. The quality of willingness. A person who’s just out there to do what he’s supposed to do, he’s willing. He’s willing to give up things, his own ideas, his own desires, for the sake of others and for the sake of God. He says, “This kind of personality who has this trait of willingness, he’s satisfied with all that befalls him. He doesn’t question God’s judgment.” Why question, God does His job. God does His job, I do my job, and God does His job. Where would the two meet? They have nothing to do with each other. I just have to do what I’m supposed to do. He doesn’t start asking why God did this to me, and why didn’t He do that? He’s someach behelko, he realizes that everything is a blessing. He’s blessed to be here, and he’s what’s called someach behelko, he’s happy with his portion. Mi ashir? The Pirkei Avos says, “Who is a rich person? The person who is happy with what he has, that’s what makes rich. Rich is in the mind. I know a lot of physically rich, miserable people. I know tons of them. But rich, real rich means according to Chazal, according to the Rabbis, it means in your mind. You’re happy with what you have. And this type of personality, people find them very pleasant. People are happy to be around somebody who’s willing to give up all the time his own will. He’s not pushy, he’s laid back. He’s willing to help. He’s got nowhere else to go, he’s just doing whatever God tells him to do.
He says that when Hashem desires man’s ways, his foes too make peace with him. Even enemies, even people who want to be mad at him, they can’t be angry with him, he’s such a nice guy. This is the quality of the person that’s an eved Hashem, that is a person who serves God, because in order to serve God you have to listen. In order to listen, you have to give up your own desires. You have to be willing to look at the bigger picture and do what God wants. The Orchas Tzadikim says, “The entire Torah itself is subsumed in the trait of willingness.” The whole Torah in a nutshell comes down to the individual doing something beyond himself, willing to listen to the bigger picture, what God has planned for him. The verse in Mishlei says, “He who listens to Me will dwell securely in tranquility from fear of evil.” This person knows that God’s going to protect him. He’s close with God. He feels close to God. He feels God’s protecting him.
I want to end up this word with the last piece here. He brings in the last paragraph some of this. He said, “There’s nothing better than listening. There’s nothing better in the world than listening.” This is the quality we’re talking about. Listening has to do with giving yourself over to God or the other person. “If a man falls from a roof and breaks his limbs, he needs a compress, bandages for each of his limbs. Each limb he needs a separate bandage. But the sinner who sins with all of his limbs,” the guy does all kinds of sins with every part of his body, from his soul to his foot, “To the head there’s no sound spot,” it’s a possuk from Yeshayahu. He says, “God heals him with one simple compress, and that’s listening – the ear. Incline your ears and go to me. Listen and your souls will live. If we just learn to listen, we will be healed.” And the point is, it’s not mission impossible. Serving God is not hard. It’s right there, it’s just a question if you want to or not.
Peace in Your Home
I’m going to start out with the first commandment of marriage. This is Avigdor Miller. This is a famous thing, you have the 10 commandments of marriage. And his first commandment of marriage is to be realistic. Being realistic doesn’t mean being depressed, it means being realistic. Life has its ups and downs, and marriage is also going to have its ups and downs. He explains that God made the world with a lot of variety. He keeps on changing things, the battles keep changing. Every day, it’s a new thing, another thing comes and this thing comes, He keeps changing it. He wants to say that every single one of those things is a test. He’s just sending one test after the next. In the end we’ll see that every moment was a test. There’s a test of relaxing, a test of success, a test of failure. All this tests, how do we react to what is happening, and how do we deal with these things? A guy could be successful, and he becomes arrogant. A guy could be down and he becomes depressed. Where are you? You have to be a success, and not be arrogant. You have to have bad things happen to you and smile and laugh at them. So, everything that’s happening is a test. He says, “Marriage is also a test. You have to realize that you’re marrying a human being. You’re not marrying an angel, you’re marrying a human being. Even though a human being has elements of greatness inside of him, but he also has ordinary characteristics. We all have it, and that’s who we’re marrying, so we have to be realistic,” he says. “When you marry, romance flies out the window. You settle down and then you begin seeing things that you didn’t expect, so expect them, and now you’re going to see them.” It’s not a depressing world, this is reality. This is what it is.
He gives examples here, unbelievable examples. He has here, there was once a man who married a simple woman, a plain woman. She wasn’t too smart. But she was a functioning woman, loyal and capable of running a household. So, he thought that she was going to be smarter, and he’s upset. He was expecting this, and expecting that. In the end he divorced her, he ruined her life with unrealistic expectations.
You have the opposite. One time this woman married a talmid chacham, he’s supposed to be a very clever guy. She realizes that she could do the grocery bill faster than he can. He’s a bit of a blunderer, and he’s not so intelligent. But he was a good husband, and he took care of her, so she should have been happy. Also, you have a typical guy. He’s waiting for the perfect girl, right? He’s gone out with 100 different girls. He’s waiting for the perfect girl. In the end, he marries a fat girl, a little too late to have children, and all those years went by. All because he just wasn’t being realistic. He thought he was going to get the perfect girl.
Or you have a case where a guy is not trained to live with somebody else. You have people like that. He wanted his wife to be more obedient, a demanding husband – do this and do that. In the end he says, “That’s it, I’m getting rid of her.” He divorced her. Actually, it’s a true story. She fell ill with cancer and died. Who’s guilty? He’s guilty. He dumped her for no reason. But the point is, in marriage you have to be realistic. Nobody’s perfect, and why do you expect to get somebody so much better than you? Do you really think you’re going to get an angel when you’re a human being? We’re all human beings. We have to be realistic, and we have to be happy with what we have. We have to realize that the person we married is the person for us, and to continue with that marriage and to have peace in your home.
Okay, that’s the end of this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please, please, please leave me comments. I need to know what’s going on. I need if you guys are enjoying it, what I need to change and what I need to fix. Please let me know.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff