The Torah Portion of the Week Mattos – Why Do We Love Life So Much – Our True Desire for Life – A powerful parable about a fly, A Great Story about Rav Chaim Shmulevitz and Peace in Your home – The Ultimate Goal
The Torah Podcast Transcript
021 -The Torah Podcast – Why Do We Love Life So Much? – Torah Portion Mattos
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim wants to explain the Gemara in Brochos that brings down a parable about a fly. The Gemara says there, “The evil inclination is comparable to a fly. A person’s desire to do the wrong thing is comparable to a fly.” The Chofetz Chaim explains, “Why did they choose this small, disgusting creature to explain how the evil inclination works?” He says that most creatures will be frightened off once, twice, three times. If you start scaring them away, they’ll leave you alone. Not the fly, however. Once it starts to come and bother somebody, it just keeps swarming around, buzzing around ceaselessly. No matter how many times you frighten it, it comes back and bothers you again, without any letup. It won’t give you any peace until you destroy it.
The same is true of the evil inclination. It does not grow ashamed or frightened by anything in the world, however much you try to drive it away and get rid of it, it comes back at you. Push it away in one direction and it comes back seven times in the other direction. There’s no way to get rid of it. As long as a person is alive, he’s going to have inside of him a desire to do the wrong thing. But we have to be aware that it’s there, and it’s a constant battle. That’s why it’s like the fly that doesn’t give up.
Torah Portion of the Week – Mattos
This week’s Torah portion is Mattos. I want to start out with Ohr Yisroel, Rav Yisroel Salanter. He says, “When we contemplate the substance of our wants and our longings, we discover the desire for the pleasures of this life supersede all other things. This will to live is anchored deep in our hearts, like a stake set firmly in the earth. We would be willing to exchange everything just for the sake of our own survival.” He explains that man has a tremendous drive to live. He continues and says, “Our sense of lacking, our craving for the illusionary corporal desires, this very sense of lacking stems only from our sense of desires of our will.” What does that mean? It means we have a will, we have desires. And that’s what’s creating our lacking. So, my good friend Rav Tzvi Miller in the footnote over here translated Ohr Yisroel and he says, “Our material desires are blended together with the very desire for life itself.” In other words, we’re confused. We think that our drive for life and our drive for our desires are one and the same. Therefore, our sense of desire does not discriminate between valid and illegitimate needs. We falsely imagine that everything we desire is a necessity of life.
Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that we’ve bunched together our own desires and our desire for life, and we think it’s all one and the same thing. But the question is; what is our true desire for life? Where is it coming from? And I’m going to explain that according to Rav Eliyahu Dessler. But first I want to explain what it says in the Parsha. It says, “Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take vengeance for the Children of Yisroel, for the Midianites. Afterwards you will be brought in unto your people.’” Hashem told Moshe his last mitzvah before he died. He wants him to take vengeance against the Midianites. And he says, “Afterwards you will be brought in unto your people,” in other words, you are going to pass away after that. Rashi explains, even though he heard that his death is dependent upon the matter, he acted with joy and he did not delay. He knows he’s going to die. It doesn’t matter. He does the mitzvah with joy, and he doesn’t wait. He doesn’t delay.
The Sifri explains there, that God did not order Moses to take vengeance against Midian immediately. He could have delayed and prolonged his life. Nevertheless, out of joy of fulfilling God’s commandments, he immediately ordered the Israelites to arm men and attack Midian. He didn’t wait. We see that Moshe Rabbeinu even though he knows he’s going to die, he does his commandment with joy, and he doesn’t wait – with zerizus, he does it fast. So, Rabbi Mordechai Miller from Gateshead asks, “Why was Moses so fast to go into this war?” I just brought at raya, a proof, a second ago from the Sifri that said, actually, he could have waited. He didn’t have to tell them to do it immediately. Isn’t it a little bit rash? He knows he’s going to die. Doesn’t it appear that he has a little bit of a too casual attitude towards his own life? Where’s his desire to live? And we know that Moses himself in Parshas Vayeschanan prayed, the Midrash says, 515 separate prayers that he should live longer to be able to enter into Eretz Yisroel. The only reason he stopped praying was because God Himself intervened and said, like Rashi explained, Hashem said to Moshe, “You’d better stop praying. People are going to say I’m too harsh, because I didn’t let you go in and let you live.” We see that Moshe Rabbeinu for sure appreciated life. He prayed 515 separate prayers in order to live a little bit longer. How do we put these two things together?
Rav Dessler explains that really the physical instincts of man all have a spiritual root – in other words, our instinct to pull away from something disgusting is really connected up with our souls pulling away from something that’s spiritually impure. Rav Miller wants to explain that this is also true for our will to live, our drive to be alive. It also has a spiritual source. There’s something spiritual happening there. It’s not just clinging to physical life, even though like we said before according to Rav Yisroel Salanter, we mix up things. But in its essence in the deeper part of a person’s soul, he wants to live because really he wants to grow. He appreciates that life is an opportunity, and he understands that he’s here for a purpose. He could reach new spiritual levels. He says that once a person becomes aware of that, becomes conscious of why he’s driven to live, he will never, God-forbid, do something dangerous – dangerous sports, all these crazy things that people do, to get some kind of high sensation. He will never do it, because he appreciates the value of life. The value of life is an opportunity to grow, every minute. Once you understand that life is a vessel in order to be able to do mitzvos and come close to God, so every second is valuable. We know for example that the Sabbath is allowed to be profaned in order to keep life going. What does it say there, in Gemara Shabbos? It says, “Profane one Shabbos in order to live, and keep many more Shabboses.” In other words, for pikuah nefesh, if somebody’s going to die God-forbid on Shabbos, you’re allowed to break the Shabbos in order to save a life. The Gemara explains there, that’s because he’d be able to do many more Shabboses, he’ll be able to do many more mitzvos.
I want to bring down the famous Mesillas Yesharim that says…everybody knows this, “Our Sages of Blessed Memory have instructed us that man was created for the sole purpose of coming close to God, and delighting in the splendor of the Divine presence. The true place for this pleasure is the world to come, which is created with this purpose in mind. However, the path that helps us reach our desired objective is this world. As our Sages have said, ‘This world resembles a corridor for the world to come.’ The means that lead man to this goal are the mitzvos. Therefore, man was first placed in this world and through those means he’ll be able to reach his destination which is the world to come. Like it says in Eruvin, “You do them today and receive the reward tomorrow.” He continues a little later on and says, “For a person to be entitled to this good, it is only appropriate that he first labor and make the effort to acquire it. This means that he must try to cleave to the Blessed One through deeds which lead to that goal. These deeds are the mitzvos.” In other words, God put us into this world in order to do the mitzvos, in order to work hard, and to sweat, and to push forward and to grow, in order that we should be worthy and feel worthy in the next world to receive our reward. This is basic, basic Jewish philosophy. Sometimes people ask me, “Do Jews believe in the next world?” It’s the whole basis of the Torah, the next world. This world is a corridor for the next world. And here’s where we do the work. Here’s where we grow. Here’s where we perfect ourselves. Here’s where we grow in wisdom and perfect our character, and in the next world we stay that way for eternity.
We know Chazal tells us that the limbs of our body are connected up with the mitzvos. The Chofetz Chaim explains, God-forbid if a person doesn’t do a certain mitzvah he’ll be deformed. The mitzvos create our spiritual body in the next world. And therefore, every Jew has to value every second of this life, it has an unbelievable value. How much energy, how much koach God is putting into this world. Niagara Falls for example, has 200,000 gallons per second. What’s going on? That’s just Niagara Falls. How much resources God has put into this world, into this universe? It’s all for us. It’s all for us to come close to Him. It’s an opportunity beyond anything.
Rav Miller explains, what does it mean, al piskan peh le Satan? We even have a Jewish saying, “Don’t open your mouth to the Satan. Why? Because we understand that a calamity, if something goes wrong, God-forbid, we don’t talk that way. We don’t even mention these things – talking about dying, we don’t talk about the Machala, the sickness. We don’t say exactly what the sickness is, but we talk about “the sickness.” Why? Because we value life. But why do we value life? We value life because of the mitzvos. So, this explains how it could be on one side, Moshe Rabbeinu prayed 515 times to stay alive for a little bit longer, and on the other side in this week’s Parsha, he jumped to do the mitzvah. It’s not a contradiction, because life is about the mitzvos, so this was his last mitzvah. He did it with all of his energy, with happiness. He understand, okay now has come his time, but he’s going to do the mitzvah with everything that he has – concentrated on the one last commandment that God gave him.
He brings a beautiful proof here. We know the story of Dovid Hamelech when he was hiding from Shaul, so Shaul actually came so close to him that he was able to cut off the corner of his robe. David later shows him that. “You see, I could have killed you.” But the Yalkut says, “Then David arose and cut off the corner of the robe of Shaul. And it came to pass afterwards that the heart of David smote him, because he had cut the corner of Shaul’s robe.” He explains why Dovid felt so bad, because he’d cut the robe of Shaul. What was the big deal? He could have actually killed Shaul. He could have saved himself, saved himself a lot of trouble and he feels bad that he cut his robe. The Yalkut says, “David’s regret was that through this actions, Shaul was unable to do the mitzvah of tzitzis, a fringed garment, for one hour.” In other words, Dovid felt so bad that he prevented someone who was trying to kill him, from doing a mitzvah for one hour, from not being able to wear tzitzis. Meanwhile, people go without tzitzis, they don’t even care about their tzitzis. Here, one hour, Dovid understood the value of what was one mitzvah for one hour.
Also we know it’s a famous thing of the Vilna Gaon, he was crying when he was about to die. What was he crying about? “In this world, for grushim, for a couple of pennies, I could wear tzitzis. In the next world, that’s it. I can’t do mitzvos anymore.” We know that when you go into a graveyard you have to tuck your tzitzis in. The reason is because it creates a jealousy for the people that are there. They see your tzitzis, “Oy, I can’t do the mitzvah anymore.” We don’t understand the value of the mitzvos. But that’s the real Jewish value for life, because it’s a value of the mitzvos, the value of growing, the value of coming close to God.
He brings another beautiful raya, proof. Listen to this, this is unbelievable. We know that God-forbid when a relative dies you have rip kria, so you have to cut part of the garment. However, when a parent dies, this tear has to be larger, and extend right over the heart. Why by a parent it has to be larger? You say, it has to be larger because simply you feel worse, it’s your parent, God-forbid. That’s not what the Gemara says. Rav Shmuel explained, “This is because the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim. Why is it a bigger loss? Because you can no longer do the mitzvah. You can’t do the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim anymore. You can’t honor your parents because they’re not there, God-forbid.” That’s why you rip the bigger kria. That’s why you have a bigger mourning, the mourning over the mitzvah. Not only did a person lose his parents, God-forbid, but he also lost the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. That’s why he has a bigger kria. We have to appreciate the value of the mitzvas. We’re here for 120 years. That’s it, and then we’re set for eternity.
I want to bring one last proof because it’s also shiach, relevant to this week’s Parsha. Bilam was killed in this week’s Parsha. So, the famous proof of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitch that it’s better to be alive than even have the suffering of Iyov. Even if a person is absolutely suffering who knows what, it’s still better to be alive. He brings a proof from this week’s Parsha. We know there were three people who gave advice to Pharaoh what to do with the Jewish people. Chazal tells us that Bilam actually gave the advice, Iyov was quiet, and Yitro ran away. So, they each got their punishments respectively which was…what? Bilam was killed by the sword, Iyov had the sufferings of Job, unbelievable sufferings with his family and his possessions. And Yitro ran away, and he got rewarded. The proof is that it can’t be that the one who did the lesser thing gets the greater punishment. So, Bilam was the one who gave the eitzah, gave the advice to Pharaoh. He got killed by the sword. That has to be the greater punishment, because Iyov who did the lesser thing, which was just to be quiet, he got the sufferings of Iyov. That’s a proof that even if a person God-forbid has the sufferings of Iyov, it’s better to be alive than to get the punishment of Bilam which was to be killed by the sword. So, if anybody says they’d rather be dead than to suffer, they’re making a major mistake. That’s not a Jewish way of looking at things. We’d rather be alive. A minute of life, we don’t appreciate what’s one minute of life. Some people can gain their entire olam haba, world to come, in one minute. There’s stories like that in the Gemara.
I want to end off with the Vilna Gaon in Even Shelema who says, “Failing to fulfilling a positive commandment is worse than transgressing a negative commandment.” You hear this? Not doing a positive commandment is worse than doing a negative commandment. Why? Because it says, “When a man sits idle and fails to fulfill a positive commandment, he transgresses a sin every second. Whereas transgressing a negative commandment, he only did that sin at the time that he did it.” In other words, sitting around and wasting your time, goofing off hour after hour, is a greater sin than going out and doing a negative commandment which is a one-time deal. I don’t want to be too harsh, but the Pirkei Avos says, “He who does not learn Torah is liable for death,” God-forbid, lo aleynu. You see the purpose of our being here is for Torah and mitzvos. That’s why God gave us life, and that’s really our inner drive, our spirituality inside of ourselves, our soul is calling out for the drive for life. But as Rav Yitzhak Salanter explains, we got mixed up a little bit. We think everything we desire is a drive for life. And we call life all of our physical desires. Rav Yisroel Salanter has a solution. He says, “If we learn mussar, character development, and we learn Torah, and we apply ourselves, then our intelligence will wake up and we’ll really realize the real tachlis, purpose, for why we’re here.
Great Stories – Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz
I want to tell you a story about Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, which says like this. On his way to America from Shanghai, the ship was teeming with refugees. It was almost impossible to move around. Under those circumstances, it was quite difficult to study, and almost impossible to concentrate. Like you go to a waiting room somewhere and there’s things moving around, people…you take a book with you, you try to concentrate, you can’t concentrate. How can you possibly concentrate? People are coming in, people are going out, people are trying to sleep. How can you concentrate? It says that Rav Chaim brought with him a copy of the Shev Shel Maaser which is a very difficult sefer, a very hard book, which he studied adamantly throughout the entire trip, oblivious to what was going on. He just had his head in a book. He was just going back and forth, thinking about what the book was saying. It’s an unbelievable sefer.
One of the fellow passengers asked him during the trip, “Where are we?” He answered, “In shmaysa gimmel, we’re in the third section of the book.” That’s where Rav Chaim was, he was in the third section of the book. It continues and it says, “During his younger years he would learn with a chavrusa the entire night. It says he was learning with Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, and the plan was to learn all night and catch a few minutes of sleep during the day. When day broke, Rav Shmuel went to sleep, leaving Rav Chaim at study. When Rav Shmuel awoke, he saw that Rav Chaim still didn’t go to sleep. Two full days passed before Rav Chaim realized he had not eaten or slept for two consecutive days. You hear this? That’s how osek, that’s how they were involved in learning. They saw the beauty of the Torah, the excitement. It says that when he was older there was no difference between night and day. He would be sitting and learning Gemara. In the Yeshiva you have what’s called “intercession,” so the students would take a little bit of a vacation, to gather more strength for the upcoming session. Rav Chaim said, “I agree that recuperation was important. But nevertheless,” he told us, “It’s hard for me to understand the whole idea of bein hazmanim, intercession. It’s like having a bein hachaim, an interruption of life. Does one ever take a vacation from life?” You see what levels these Rabbis were on. For them the Torah was life, it was alive. Mitzvos were alive for them. Learning was so exciting. Even though we can’t be on those levels, we need to know about them. We have to strive for them.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Avigdor Miller explains the goal in your marriage is to build a sanctuary, a little Beis Hamigdash in your own home. You should bring in as much holiness as you can into your home, as possible. We know that when a man gets married he says, “harei at mekudeshes li,” you are sanctified to me. He said, “This should be expanded as much as you can. You should bring as much holiness as you can, sanctification into your house as possible so that you should bring the presence of God there. This should be the ambition. We wish to bring the shechina into our house, the presence of God. Nobody’s really successful and there are ups and downs and failures. Sometimes there are minor tragedies but he says, “This should be the goal, because this is our only house we have in our lifetime, and we should try to make it into a Holy Temple.” How do we do that? Be kind to each other, serving God, and successfully living together – that is living on earth for a purpose. He says, “Nobody lives forever, and in the end a person is going to be taken before the great Judge. His record will be taken out. And the record that was inscribed from the house will have the most to say. This is where you spent a lot of time, and did a lot of actions. Therefore, your olam haba, your next world depends mostly on the success at home. Therefore, people should keep in mind the great goal for which they are married.” He says, “Our next world will largely be a reflection of the way we lived in our homes in this world.”
That’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. And leave comments, I would like to get some feedback.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff