023 Torah Portion of the Week – Devarim – What’s So Special About the Jews – The Anti-Semitic Double Standard – A Powerful Parable about the Sign on the Shop – A Great Story about Rav Yitzchak Hutner and Peace in Your home – Eliminate the Negative Influence
The Torah Podcast Transcript
023 The Torah Podcast – What’s So Special About The Jews? Living up to a Double Standard
Torah Portion of the Week – Devarim
I want to start out with Parshas Devarim, which always falls around Tisha B’Av. That’s because we know that Parshas Devarim starts with rebuke, the rebuke that Moses gave to the Jewish people. The possuk says, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisroel – eilu hadevarim asher diber Moshe lekol Yisroel,” to all the Jewish people. Rashi there explains, “These are the words,” we want to leave a little bit hidden. Why? For the kavod, honor of Yisroel. That’s why it says devarim, “words” and it is not specific. And also, it’s hidden in the words of the specific places that each place is a sort of a tochacha, a rebuke, without actually mentioning the actual sin that occurred in that place. We go by the places instead. Why? All this for the honor of Yisroel. Even though we were being rebuked, Moshe did it with kavod, for the kavod of the Jewish people. This rebuke always falls just before Tisha B’Av and I just want to tell you what happened on Tisha B’Av.
There’s a Gemara in Shabbos on 119B that says, “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the people did not rebuke one another for their misdeeds.” Chazal says, “Their princes have become as deer that find no pasture.” Just as each deer butts its head into the tail of the front, so too those who live in a generation set their faces to the ground and they don’t rebuke one another. Therefore spiritually, they’re stuck. The Temple was destroyed because of this. There was no way to have progress. How were people supposed to grow if nobody tells each other what’s wrong?
There is the famous story of Bar Kamza. A certain man had a friend named Kamza, and an enemy called Bar Kamza. What happened is, the man wanted to invite Kamza and by mistake his servant went over to Bar Kamza and invited him. And Bar Kamza was sitting there at the meal. The one giving the seuda, meal, sees him sitting there and he says, “You’ve got to get out of here.” He begged to stay, he didn’t want to be embarrassed. Then he offered to pay for half the meal, he offered to pay for the full meal. He didn’t care, he kicked him out. The problem was that the Rabbis were sitting there, and didn’t say anything. This is what what really got him so aggravated. Since the Rabbis just sat there and didn’t object to the way he was treated. Therefore, he went to Roman Empire and that caused the destruction of the Jewish people. We see that the Rabbis did not rebuke the one who gave the seuda. He should have at least told him, “Calm down, relax. Let him stay.” Nobody spoke up. Nobody gave rebuke, and it caused the destruction of the Temple. And nobody gave honor to Bar Kamza, even though he was a bit of a low guy. But still, they should have given him the basic honor of a human being, and nobody gave that. And that caused the destruction of the Temple. On one side, you see you have the power of rebuke, that you have to tell the other person what the problem is. The Rabbis have to tell the people what’s going wrong. On the other side, you see that there has to be kavod, there has to be honor for all human beings.
Now, Rav Noam Elimelech points out that this idea of rebuke is actually connected up with the honor of the Jewish people. I want to quote you the Rashi. The Rashi says on the words, “Eilu ha devarim asher diber Moshe al kol Yisroel,” the possuk says specifically that he spoke to every Jew. Moshe gave rebuke to every Jew. So Rashi there explains that he wanted to bring every Jew together that none of them could say, “Hey, I wasn’t there. But if I was there, I would have spoken up against Moshe.” Nobody can say that. Rav Noam Elimelech wants to bring out a tremendous chiddush here, you’ve got to hear this. He says, “In this possuk we can learn how to really serve God. How can God’s nation serve God?” So, we know there’s a famous formula, chassidim say it, the misnagdim say it maybe on Pesach. We know that it says it there in the sefer, Yesod Veshoresh shel Avoda, “Leshem yichud,” that before you do a mitzvah, a commandment, there’s a leshem yichud that you can say which says, “For the sake of the unification of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the shechina, heavenly presence – in other words, by doing the mitzvah you’re bringing the presence of God into the world, and for the sake of kol Yisroel, the same loshen, language – for the sake of all the Jewish people.
Rav Noam Elimelech says, “If you say this before you do a mitzvah, you’ll have a tremendous spiritual awakening, and you’ll feel tremendous inspiration from it.” But he wants to explain it. We know that in Koheles it says, “There’s no righteous person who doesn’t have sin.” Every person sinned, there were only a couple of people who didn’t sin, maybe six people. He has a question, “How is it possible that people can serve God when people sin?” With that same hand that sinned, they can even use that same hand to serve God. It doesn’t line up. How could he bring holiness on himself on his body if that same body sinned? How is the holiness going to penetrate him? He wants to say that when you say, “kol Yisroel leshem yichud,” for the unification for the sake of all Yisroel, there’s a spiritual realm called kol Yisroel. We know the Bal Shem Tov also talks about this. There’s a concept, there’s a reality called “All the Jewish people” as a whole, as a klal, as the concept of the Jewish people. And that concept of the Jewish people is completely whole and unblemished, because collectively as a nation the Jewish people are considered completely tzaddikim. Like the possuk in Yeshayahu says, “Your whole nation are tzaddikim. So in general, the Jewish people are righteous people. Even after it happens to be certain individuals that sin, but if you connect yourself up with klal Yisroel with the nation as a whole, you are connecting up with the holiness of the nation. The Satan can’t even enter in there. We know that, it’s called adam akadma, it’s a kabbalistic concept. The original man, adam akadma. We know that man which is Yaakov is on the kisei hakavod, on God’s throne. On one side of the throne is man. That’s Adam haRishon, adam hakadmon. That’s Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish people. The purpose of creation, because we were put here to bring God into the world. If a person could connect up at that level of being part of the Jewish people, he connects himself up with holiness. Even if he as an individual sinned, he can now rectify himself by connecting himself with the Jewish people as a whole.
So, this is the point. In this same verse where Moshe Rabbeinu is giving us rebuke, he is hinting to the fact that we’re klal Yisroel, that we are the holy, great people, the people created to bring God into the world. And that is hagufo, part of the rebuke. The greatest way you could give your children rebuke is to say to them, “That’s not fitting for you. It doesn’t fit you to do such a thing. It’s below your level.” That’s how the person’s going to change, when he realizes who he is.
I want to bring Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in this week’s parsha, who also talks about rebuke. He brings the Midrash that says, “The essence of tochacha, the essence of rebuke comes from here.” Listen to this, it’s unbelievable. “Rav Shimon ben Eliezer said, ‘Woe to us on the day of judgment. Woe to us on the day of rebuke. Oi lanu beyom hadin. Oi lanu beyom hatochacha.’” Yosef was the youngest of the tribes and yet his brothers were overwhelmed, they could not answer him. Certainly, that must be the case when the Holy One will rebuke each of us and every one according to his deeds – in other words, on the final day of judgement when we go up to heaven, we won’t be able to answer. As Yosef was the youngest of the brothers and the other brothers couldn’t answer him, this is the essence of rebuke.
The famous kasha, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Beis haLevi is, “Where’s the rebuke? Go, look in the possukim over there by Yosef and see the rebuke that he gave his brothers. He didn’t say a word to them. What did he say to them, did he tell them off? The answer is, the rebuke was that, “Ani Yosef.” When he said, “I am Yosef,” that was the rebuke. Why? Because they all told him, they claimed he was a liar. He was making up these dreams, and he was making up these dreams. And he was making up a dream they’re all going to bow down to him. In the end they saw it was true. They saw it was a true prophesy. When he said, “Ani Yosef” they saw that they were wrong. What greater rebuke can there be than that? This is the essence of tochacha. This is the essence of rebuke – seeing that you’re wrong, realizing that you lived your life in the wrong way, based on the wrong premises. You lived your life a lie – that’s the rebuke. That’s why they compare the yom hadin to yom hatochacha. Your judgement and rebuke are one and the same. When a person realizes that he made a mistake his entire life, what could be a greater punishment than that? It happens in people’s lives. Hopefully it will happen in ours also. Even after 20 years, 20 years of educating your kids the wrong way, but maybe you wake up and you realize, “Hey, I did the wrong thing.” What a rebuke.
He brings another example from the Yalkut Shemoni by Yitzhak. The possuk in Bereishis says, “And Yitzhak trembled an exceedingly great trembling when he realized that he gave the beracha to Yaakov instead of Esav he trembled.” Rav Chama says there, And
“exceedingly” implies that it was even greater than the trembling that took place at the altar, when Avraham was about to sacrifice him. He trembled more when he realized that he gave the beracha to Yaakov, than he trembled when he was about to be shechted, about to be killed by his father, Avraham on the altar. What was he trembling about? Because he realized at that point, his entire perspective was off. He thought that Esav was the one that was supposed to get the beracha. He thought all the generations of the Jewish people were going to come from Esav. But at that point when God changed everything around, he realized that, “Hey, it was really Yaakov that was supposed to get the beracha.” He realized that all his days, he made a mistake. That is the tochacha – realizing that you’re wrong.
So, what’s our tochacha? What tochacha are we having now? The Temple is destroyed, the Arabs are fighting against us. The whole world is turning against us. There’s riots in France, in Germany, everywhere. In Miami they’re destroying shuls, synagogues. Tochacha, rebuke. We’re being rebuked. What are we being rebuked for? And why does the world demand from us that we live by a double standard? It’s clear, it’s obvious. “Ah, so they killed 250 people in Syria, no big deal.” They killed three Palestinians, “Oy vavoy.” And everybody accepts that it’s a double standard. You can’t even talk about it. It’s like normal, because the reality is, it’s true. We are judged by a double standard, because we are Jews and we have to live by a double standard. That’s what Rav Noam Elimelech was saying, “Klal Yisroel,” we have to hook up with the Jewish people. We have to become part of the whole Jewish people, the holy people. It’s demanded upon us that we are holy, and yes, we need to live by a double standard. Because we were created to bring God into the world. We are the Cohanim of the nations, the priests of the nations. Even though we hold we are better and we’re the chosen people, we’re not racist. It’s called ethnocentric, we hold we are the best. But anybody could join with us. You want to join? Come. But when a convert comes, what do we tell them? If you look over there in Hilchos Bea chapter 14 the first Halacha, law there, the Rambam says, “What is the procedure when accepting a righteous convert? One of the gentiles comes to convert, we inspect his background. If an alternative motive for conversion is not found we ask him, ‘Why do you choose to convert? Don’t you know in the present era…’” he was talking about the time of the Rambam, it’s talking about all through history, and it’s always going to be like this. “The Jews are afflicted, crushed, subjugated, strained and suffering comes upon them.” This is what we tell the convert. We know it, it’s a fact. It’s going to happen. We’re going to suffer. You are going to suffer. You want to convert? If the answer is, “I know. I still want to be a part of them,” we accept him.
So, what is all this tochacha? What is all this rebuke of all the generations of Hitler, and Spain and France, everywhere. What’s going on? God demands from us that we be a holy people. It says in Bechukosai, and this is the answer as to why there is anti-semitism. It’s built into the reality. God will not let us assimilate. And He demands from us holiness. It’s meforesh in the Torah itself. It says in Parshas Behukosai in possuk Yud Daled, “But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments, and if you will consider my decrees revolting; and if your being rejects my ordinances so as not to perform my commandments and to annul my covenant, then I too will do this to you. I will sign over you panic and wasting away, and the fever causing your eyes to pine and your souls to feel anguish. You will sew your seed in vain, and your enemies will eat it. And I will direct my face against you. You will be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you will subjugate you. You will flee, but there will be no one pursuing you. And if doing these you don’t heed me, it’s going to get worse. I will increase tormenting you, seven for your sins. I will break the pride of your might. I will make the heavens like iron, and your land like copper. Your strength will be spent in vain.” It goes on, and on, and on. This is written meforesh in the Torah. You want to know the source of anti-semitism, it’s right there. It’s written, it’s clear. Why is this true? Because we are commanded to be holy. We have to be a holy people. We have to live by the double standards.
Listen to this. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz also brings in this week’s Parsha, it says, “Kedoshim tihyu,” you shall be holy. I would think that this means holy like God. A person, a man has to be holy like God. Therefore the next possuk says, “For I am holy.” In other words, my holiness is superior to yours. The Midrash says, “I would think this means exalted as God Himself.” Therefore it says, “rak, only God is higher.” Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says, “This is unbelievable. How could a person think that he could be holy like God? If it wasn’t for Chazal telling us this, you wouldn’t think it possible. You wouldn’t even have the chutzpa to have such a thought. But Chazal tells us, “Yes, Jews can be holy like God.” And we’re demanded and commanded to be.
There are articles being written now by converts who recently converted or converted within the past couple of years. Now that there’s things happening with anti-semitism and shuls are being destroyed in Miami and all over the world because of this war that’s going on, they’re saying they’re scared. They didn’t really think, they didn’t really believe. Even though we know that the Rambam tells them and that’s what we do, that’s the Halacha. We tell them that that’s what’s going to happen to you. They said they didn’t really believe that this is going to happen to them and they’re a little bit torn. The fact is, no. The Chazal is true. What does it say? We’re going to be afflicted, crushed, subjugated, strained and suffering. That’s the facts. Now of course, it doesn’t mean that it has to be this way, because if we follow in the ways of the Torah there’s just the opposite also in Behukosai, if you look over there. If we go in the ways of the Torah we will bring all the blessings, and we will bring the blessings to the world. And the world will be blessed. It’s because of us that there are no blessings in the world.
So you see, interestingly enough you have together these two ideas. You have the tochacha, the rebuke. But together, you have the honor of the Jewish people. It goes together. Our honor and who we are is really connected with the rebuke that we need to receive. I want to bring down another thing that Rav Noam Elimelech says, that inside the possuk is also the answer. Listen to this – which is Shabbos. We know that the root of all sin comes from the original sin, which was the eating of the Tree of Knowledge. He said, “When that happened, 39 curses came onto the world. 39 curses, and we’re living in that cursed world.” What fixes that? Shabbos, because Shabbos has 39 forbidden categories of work. And if we keep Shabbos which is only for the Jewish people, and if we keep Shabbos we rectify the sins of Adam haRishon, the original man. It says there in Gemara Shabbos, “Anyone who keeps a Shabbos even if he worships idols like the generation of Enosh, he’s still forgiven.” Shabbos is the foundation of being a Jew. And it’s in the possuk. Listen to this. The Gemara in Shabbos says, “Eileh hadevarim,” the word eileh. They have a gematria, numerical value there that the word eileh comes out to 39, which is a reference to Shabbos. It says the hey makes an extra three, and you have 36, it comes out to 39 to that Gemara. 39 is a reference to Shabbos. So, in the possuk, “Eileh ha devarim,” Hashem tells us how to connect up with the Jewish people. What’s the pawn to king 4? What’s the first move if a person is far away from yiddishkeit? What’s the first thing you should do to get back? Shabbos.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was right by giving out Shabbos candles. We want to bring Jews back? Shabbos. Shabbos is a thing that’s going to connect us up to the Jewish people, to reconnect us to being Jews. So, with all the rebuke that we’re receiving nowadays, all the anti-semitism that’s coming out of the woodwork, we have to get back to keeping Shabbos. The Jews will come back, the Temple will come back.
The destruction of the Temple was because we didn’t honor one another. What does that mean?
It also means we don’t give honor to ourselves. We don’t know who we are. When we start to understand who we are, that we’re part of klal Yisroel, we’re a holy people and give honor to each other, and give honor to ourselves, so then the Mashiach will come, and the Temple will be rebuilt.
A Powerful Parable
This week’s parable is about – guess what? Shabbos. It says, “The sign on the shop. If you have a shop owner and he hangs a sign out, so everybody knows his shop is still open. People could see what he has for sale. Even if he says he’ll be back in two weeks, he’ll be back in a month, but everybody still knows that the shop is still open. But if he takes the sign off and there’s no sign and nothing written there, everybody assumes that this guy is gone, he left town and his shop is vacant. He must have gone somewhere else. So, what’s the nimshal, conclusion? Shabbos. As long as a Jew keeps Shabbos, everybody knows that he’s connected up with the Jewish people. It says, it’s a sign between Him and us, a sign to attest to the six days the Lord made heaven and earth. And the seventh day he ceased to work, and rested. This is the sign, this is the siman, this is the os between God and the Jewish people. The fact that the Jews keep Shabbos is the greatest proof that there’s a God in the world, because a Jew is attesting that he has faith. He believes that his parnassa is going to come from God, he’s not going to work on Saturday, and he can’t work on Sunday either. So, where’s the money coming from? He admits that the money comes from God, and everybody sees what’s going on with these Jews. They dress differently on Shabbos. They eat differently on Shabbos. They don’t do work on Shabbos, they don’t drive on Shabbos, and everybody sees it. It’s a sign between God and the Jewish people. So, as long as that sign is out, the shop is still open. A Jew is still a Jew, he’s still in charge of the store. He’s still in business as a Jew. But as soon as he takes his sign off, that’s it. The Chazal says that anyone who violates the Shabbos, it’s as if he denied the entire Torah. He is out of business as a Jew. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep Shabbos.
Great Stories – Rav Yitzhak Hutner
I want to speak about Rav Yitzhak Hutner, the Rosh Yeshiva from the last generation in Brooklyn, New York. His talmid, student, says like this. “At the hands of the Rosh Yeshiva, each and every maamer Chazal, every word of Torah, of the Rabbis, emerged as a unified account of the matters, and issues of awesome, cosmic significance.” He says, “At this level of seriousness, there are no coincidences. Each apparent detail is part of an essential element in the larger drama folding across the millennia.” In other words, Rav Hutner had such a grasp on the Torah and the words of Chazal, the words of the Rabbis, that when he spoke it was part of a unified whole. It wasn’t just a detail, one particular thing. He was able to connect the dots, and he showed the depth of the understanding of the Rabbis. He said like this. He said, “It was very uplifting. It was uplifting because the glimpse of the true level of the participants in this drama. You could see from the Chazal the way he spoke, you understand that the Rabbis understood what reality was about, and how it was unfolding.” We have a tradition of how things are going to unfold, and what things mean. He was able to give over to the talmidim. He says, “It was also uplifting because you saw the stature of the historians of the drama. You could see the unbelievable understanding of the Rabbis. How could they understand to this level what’s happening in reality, that they had a grasp on reality that was beyond human comprehension.”
The third thing he says that was uplifting about listening to Rav Hutner was that “the drama’s not unfinished.” In other words, we also have part of the drama. We’re also part of the history. Rav Hutner was able to bring out that each individual was also a part of the unfolding of history, which gives chashivus, an importance to what the individual is doing, and how it fits to the bigger picture. In other words, our own learning, our tefilla, our davening, prayers, Shabbos, Yom Tov, all these things were also a part of the history and the future of the Jewish people – our individual actions. He says, “When you heard the Rosh Yeshiva speak, you were able to understand the importance of what you were doing with your life.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Avigdor Miller speaks about the need to eliminate negative influences from your house. I really should have spoken about this last week, because it was the exact possuk. It says, Sur merah, aseh tov. First you have to get rid of the bad, then you have to do the good. So, how do we see that? We see Sarah threw Yishmael out of the house, because Yishmael couldn’t be there. The possuk says, “You should not bring an abomination into your house.” He brings the Rambam that says that books of atheists are worse than idol worship. You shouldn’t have these magazines, you shouldn’t have trash in your house that your kids could pick up and read it. You have to get these things out of your house, you can’t have that nonsense of the world inside the house. He says, “Women shouldn’t gather to play cards,” to pretend like it’s Las Vegas, a little casino in the house. Parties that are not for a mitzvah are out of place. We don’t have parties stam, we have a party for a mitzvah – a baby was born, a bris, circumcision. A Jewish party. We shouldn’t bring into our house this idea, this goyish idea of having a cocktail party, walking around with a glass, men and women talking together. The Jewish way – if you see a Jewish home, when you have a simcha, a bris, a baby was born, the men go to one side and the women go to the other side. The men talk about the men’s thing, and the women talk about the women’s things, they don’t mix together. It’s not a Jewish idea. We have to get these negative influences out of our house, these ideas.
Then he says, “God-forbid a person should have a television in his house.” It sounds like I’m saying extreme things, but it’s really obvious. What are you bringing…he used to say. I know it’s a famous quote of his, is that “having a television in your house is like flushing a toilet into your living room.” Would you do such a thing? No, but that’s what it is. Especially nowadays what’s going on on television. You’re talking about in his time, in the 50s. Can you imagine nowadays what he would say? He says, “A Beis Yaakov girl should get married as soon as possible after graduation. The longer she hangs around in the house, hanging around, that’s going to lower her level, her level of spirituality which she got from the school.” He says, “Girls should dress properly even in their house, where nobody sees them. They should dress tznious, modestly, for their own self-dignity. They shouldn’t be walking around in a tank top in the house. His point is like this. We as the Jewish people have a tradition to be holy, and we have to be holy in our house. Therefore, we have to get rid of any of the evil influences that are in our house, and we have to take them out. We have to go back to living like the old times, because there is no difference to the old times and the new times. We still have to keep the holiness of our homes.
That’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. Please leave comments, and you can even leave a voicemail and I’ll put you on the next podcast.