Special Holiday Edition – The 9th of Av – Torah Portion – Devarim – How to Protect Yourself from Sin – Human Complexity & Weakness – A Powerful Parable about the Inn Owners Son – A Great Story about the Satmar Rebbi and Peace in Your Home – Time to Talk and Sensitivity
The Torah Podcast Transcript
066 The Torah Podcast – How to Protect Yourself from Sin – Human Complexity and Weakness
Special Holiday Edition – 9th Av – Torah Portion of the Week – Devarim
We know that really man live in two different worlds. He lives in the world of potential, and he lives in the world of reality. He lives in a world of who he is right now in the moment, but a second later things can change, and he can react in unexpected ways, either for the good or for the bad. There are many layers to a person’s personality, some of them dormant and some of them active. Now, this week’s Parsha starts out with rebuke. It says, “Eilu devarim, these are the words that Moses spoke to all of Yisroel.” Rashi explains, “Why does it say eilu devarim, and is not specific? Because they were words of rebuke, Hashem wanted to keep them hidden. And he only referred to the rebuke by the way of remazim,hints, by the places. He didn’t actually say the sins that the Jewish people did. He spoke about the places and this way, their sins were hidden. And on their own they understood what was going wrong there. That’s one point. The second point that Rashi brings out is that it says to call Yisroel, to all the Jewish people. Rashi explains, they all had to be there so that no one could say later, “Listen, if I was there I would have told Moshe this and that. I would have refuted him.” So, no one could say that, because they were all there and that’s not what happened.
Rav Moshe Feinstein asks a difficulty. He says, “Why did everybody have to be there? Let the ones who were there, they’ll tell the other people and if later they have a argument they’ll come to Moshe and they’ll say, “This is true,” or, “It’s not true.” So, he wants to explain, who was Moshe giving rebuke to? All these people were the children of the dor, generation, before. Anyone who sinned for example with Bal Peor was gone, because Hashem wiped them out. And all those things that Moshe spoke about, they didn’t actually do. These were the sins of their fathers. So, Moshe was saying to them, “Listen. Realize that your fathers sinned in these matters, despite their very, very high level. Your fathers saw the shechina, they were there at Sinai. And they still sinned, so don’t think to yourselves that you’re not susceptible to temptation. It’s not true, because sin comes from the yetzer hara. It comes from the evil inclination inside of every man. No matter how great the person is, he’s still susceptible to sin.” So, Moshe wanted to make sure that everybody was there in order to hear the tochacha, that they should realize that they also have the potential to sin. And therefore they should develop safeguards in order to protect themselves, to stop themselves from sinning in the future, because they would have thought, “Well Moshe didn’t have us in mind when he spoke.” And therefore Moshe gathered everybody and said, “No, I’m speaking to you. You in potential.” Every human being has the potential to sin, and a person has to protect himself and know about that weakness, it’s human weakness. It’s human nature.
There’s the famous story of Rav Yisroel Salanter who was on a train and somehow a woman was put into his compartment, and the door locked and he couldn’t get out. He was about to jump out the window. Rav Yisroel Salanter was about to jump out of the window of the train, because he was locked in the room with this woman! We’re talking about one of the greatest Rabbonim of our times, and he was scared. Baruch Hashem, they opened a door and the woman got out. He didn’t have to jump out of the train. But he understood his own nature. A person shouldn’t feel, “I’m beyond sin. Don’t worry, I’m okay.” But every individual has to know and protect himself in order to go on the right path.
Now, Rav Moshe Feinstein also explains why the sins were only hinted to. They weren’t spoken out meforash, explicitly. He wants to explain that really since it wasn’t their sins, it was the sins of their fathers. So, he wanted to speak to them bekavod, in honor. But really they also needed to hear the tochacha, because as long as they didn’t uproot the traits of their fathers, they still had it within them. And this is truly an amazing thing because when we think about it, you have civilized people who commit war crimes. You put the person in a different situation and all of a sudden everything changes. My Rebbe used to ask, “What’s the quality of steel? It depends. If you heat it up, it melts. If it’s room temperature, it’s very hard. But if you freeze it, you can crack it.” So, what’s the quality? It depends. The same thing with a human being – a normal person is civilized, acts properly, but under certain pressures he can change. He can do sins, lo aleynu, during a war, during pressured times people do things that they regret their entire lives. Rav Moshe wants to explain, “This is part of the mitzvos zecher Amalek, remember what Amalek did to us. Remember what another person could do, the terrible crimes of the Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition.” Where they were not civilized at all? The Nazis were very polite people. Germans were known to be polite people, civilized people. They got riled up by Hitler and look what came out. But it’s inside of all of us. We’re always walking around with this potential for who knows what. That’s on the negative side. A person who also has tremendous potential, there are very positive things. He could become a hero, to do the right thing under tremendous pressure. Look at Schindler, he saved thousands of Jews. There are so many stories of great people who did things that were beyond comprehension.
We see that the human being is very complex. He’s a big mixture of a lot of different things. We know that Chazal tells us that the children get punished for the sins of the fathers. But Chazal explain, what does that mean? It means that if they continue in the same sins that their fathers did. It will be multiplied upon them, because they didn’t uproot the tendencies that they received from their parents. So, the thing continues. Rav Chenoch Leibowitz asks a difficulty. He says, “We see at the time of the destruction of the Temple, Chazal tells us the Yerushalmi in Yoma says, ‘Any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is considered as if it was destroyed in that generation,’ which means now. We are destroying the Temple.” How? Why? The Gemara explains, the Gemara in Yoma says, “The Jewish people at the time…” the time of the destruction of the Temple, “Were involved in Torah and mitzvos and acts of lovingkindness.” These were good people. They’re learning Torah, they’re doing mitzvos, they’re doing chessed. Now, we have to assume that the chessed they did was real chessed, it wasn’t fake chessed. They were doing real chessed. They were helping and they cared about other people. But the Gemara continues and it says that the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. So, what’s going on here? Look at this contradiction. On one side they’re learning Torah, doing mitzvos and doing chessed, and on the same side they had baseless hatred. They hate people? And Chazal tells us that baseless hatred is worse than murder, idolatry, immorality. How can you have the same thing inside one person? The answer is, yes that’s right. Inside one person at the exact same time, he has very, very good qualities and he has very, very bad qualities. That’s every person all the time, but they are in potential though. You never know when they’re going to come out, the good or the bad. But it’s our job to bring out the good and get rid of the bad. We have to uproot the bad.
How are we destroying the Temple right now? The answer is, because right now we also have sinas chinam, we also hate this group of people, we hate that group of people. We hate them. What’s the Gemara’s definition of hate? If you don’t speak to somebody for 30 days. You see the guy every day, you walk by him and you don’t say a word. That’s hate? Yeah, that’s hate. But the person says, “What did I do wrong? Did I curse the guy? Did I speak loshen hara about him?” No. You just hate the guy. Why, you don’t want to talk to him, you don’t want to be around him. You don’t like this person, but he’s a fellow Jew and it’s probably coming from you, your own baseless hatred. And that’s what’s destroying the Temple. We’re destroying the Temple right now, because we haven’t uprooted the deeper parts of ourselves. But it’s an amazing thing, because we exist on many, many different levels. We’re very complex. We have many different parts of our personality.
We have our conscious part, and we have our self-conscious part. We have the part of us that’s polite and has derech eretz, and then we have parts of us which act who knows how. I want to bring Rav Wolbe who brings us a little bit of a solution on how to handle this problem. He brings the Ramchal. The Ramchal explains that the world was created in a way that we have absolute free will. If everything was good and clear to us, so we would never do anything bad. It has to be that we choose. The Ramchal in Derech Eitz Chaim explains, “The Torah is likened to a fire, and its every word like a coal. If one fans the coals by toiling to understand the Torah, each coal will burst into a fiery flame. But if the coal is left unattended, so it will glimmer slightly at its best.” So, what’s right and what’s wrong is basically clear to us. If you learn the Torah, you basically know what’s right. But until you fan that coal it’s not going to turn into a flame. It’s not going to overtake you. It’s not the idea is going to become real to you.
Rav Wolbe explains that this is the concept of hisbonenus, that a person has to look deeper into the Torah. He has to fan the coals. He has to make the concepts real. If you make the concepts real, so then a person will not come to sin. And he’ll be able to uproot the deeper imperfections inside of his being. Rav Wolbe says, “Hisbonenus is the ability to focus on an idea objectively, contemplate a topic with the intention of integrating the knowledge into one’s own life. It means taking Torah and mussar ideas that we might already know, but only as a smouldering coal, and turning them into a roaring fire, that will burst its way into our minds and into our hearts.” So, it’s the same kind of idea. We see the Torah the way that we see it. But it has much more potential. The ideas could be taken at surface value, but the more that you learn, the more you understand it, the more you think and contemplate and focus, the ideas become real. Rav Yisroel Salanter said, “The whole purpose of mussar was to get the heart to feel what the mind knows.” We know right and we know wrong, but we don’t act on it. It’s not part of us. It’s only in potential, but we don’t actualize it. And every person has a different part of the Torah that’s real to him, and other parts are less important. He doesn’t have the full idea, the concept. He doesn’t have the reality.
For example, the Torah always tells us to go to the best doctor. That’s the rule, that’s the halacha. You’re supposed to go to the expert doctor. Why? The other doctor is also a good doctor. They both read the exact same books, what’s the difference? The answer is, the other doctor has taken the concepts that are in the book and they’re real to him. He has more experience. He sees it in reality. He’s taken the potential and making it real. He knows how to deal with the reality. For him, the concepts are real. It’s a different world. That’s why you go to the expert. And in every field, the person goes to the expert. You want to know how to fix up your business, go to the expert. You want to fix up your marriage, go to the expert. Why? Because the expert is a guy who did hisbonenus. He spent time, he thought about the ideas. He worked them out. They became real to him, the concepts are real to him. He’s not just saying words.
My Rebbe used to say to me, “You’re saying words.” Of course I’m saying words. What do you think? You’re saying words, you could be in the middle of a shiur, in the middle of learning and you’re saying the right words but you don’t understand what you’re saying because you’re involved with the klipot, the shell – the shell of the concept, not the reality of it.
So, since we’re just before Tisha B’Av I’m going to end off with one of the Kinnos. The 10th Kinno explains that there were many Cohanim and they gave them different names to make ramazim, hints to the sins that they did just before the destruction of the Temple. But one set of Cohanim, they kept the name the same. I believe the name was Yisheivav. There, the name stayed the same. Why was that? Because they didn’t sin. Even though everything was falling apart around them, the Temple was being destroyed, who knows what was happening. There was sinning going on left and right. But they remained steadfast. The Gemara in Bava Metzia 30B says that Rav Yochanan says that the Temple was destroyed because the people did not go lifnei mishurus hadin, which means beyond the letter of the law. They did what they did, but they didn’t go beyond the letter of the law. So, Tosefos asks the question, “Wait a second. We know there’s a Gemara in Yoma which I brought before that the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam. It was destroyed because of baseless hatred. How can it be the Gemara in Bava Metzia says the Temple was destroyed because people didn’t go beyond the letter of the law. Which one is it?” So, the Ben Yohoda wants to explain, “No, it’s midda kenegged midda. It’s tit for tat.” In other words, really the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. But if the people would have gone lifnai mishurus hadin, they would have gone beyond the letter of the law, the Temple would not have been destroyed. And that’s what these Cohanim understood, who didn’t sin. Obviously it wasn’t enough, because the Temple was destroyed. But they understood that even though if everything is falling apart, if they strengthen themselves they could fix things. If more people would have been like them, the Temple would have not been destroyed, even if they were sinning. And even if there was sinas chinam, baseless hatred.
So, it’s the same kind of idea. What does it mean, “to go lifnei mishurus hadin?” to go beyond the letter of the law? It means to go on with the spirit of the Torah; the spirit of the law, to flame that coal and make it real; understand the ramifications of what the Torah is saying. It becomes a reality, koach hatzir, the ability to visualize, the ability to see the reality of what the Torah is saying; understanding the concepts deeper until they become real to you. And when we go beyond the letter of the law in certain areas, we could bring the Temple back. Why? Because of midda kenegged midda. When you go beyond the letter of the law and there’s middas hadin, there’s judgement on the Jewish people, Hashem doesn’t judge them the same way because since the people were going beyond the letter of law, so Hashem judges them beyond the letter of the law and he lets it slide.
Rav Wolbe says there are certain things that we shouldn’t even touch, we should not get involved with. We shouldn’t be spending time trying to fix them. Sexual things, things like that. Too difficult. But if we go beyond the letter of the law in things that we do have the ability to change, we could bring back the Temple. But this can only be done by fanning the coals of the Torah, that turn the Torah into a flame. And understanding that Torah is the emes, it’s truth and it’s real. We don’t understand. We’re lacking. We look at everything face value. But we’re much more than face value, because inside of ourselves we have tremendous potential for good, and we have tremendous potential for bad. So, we have to fan the fire of good inside of ourselves. And if we do that, we could bring back the Temple.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings the Midrash Rabba on the first possuk of Eichah. Eichah, how could it be that she has become desolate. How? The word “eichah” means how. How could it be that the city of Yerushalayim became desolate. We know that the same word ayicha, the same letters which were in Bereishis, can mean “where.” After Adam haRishon sinned, Hashem said, “Where are you?” If it’s eichah it means “how can it be,” and if it’s ayeicha it’s “where are you?” The Midrash Rabba explains, “And there like a man who transgressed a covenant,” this refers to Adam haRishon. “I put Adam haRishon in Gan Eden and then he transgressed, and then I had to send him out. And I lamented over him. I said, ‘How has this come to pass?’ Like it says in Bereishis, ‘Where are you?’ So too, the Jewish people. I brought them to the Land of Israel, and they sinned and they were sentenced to exile. And I lamented over them, and then I asked, ‘How could it be that she became desolate?’”
He wants to give a moshul to explain this. One time there was a man who had a lot of different inns, and he wanted his son to take over. So he told his son, “Listen, take over all my inns but just be careful. Do not let a stranger in. Don’t let somebody come over and take over one of the inns.” So, the son didn’t actually get the point, and it wound up that somebody came by and took over one of the inns. And as time went by the guy wound up taking over everything. And the son wound up in poverty. The father asked him, “How, how did you end up falling to such a lowly state?” The nimshal, conclusion is, he says, “If the son would have paid attention to where he was, where am I and where’s this other guy, if he would have had awareness of this he never would have let the other guy come in, because he knew where he was. He knew where the other guy was. But what happened was, he broke the boundaries and the guy wound up in. And as he broke the boundaries of where, he wound up with the question of how. How did you get to such a matzav, situation? So, where let him down. The same thing happened to Adam haRishon. Adam haRishon had the whole world, but then he let the yetzer hara in. He let the snake in. He didn’t ask himself the question, “Where am I? Where is the snake?” He let the snake in. Eventually, the snake took over everything and now the question is, “How? How did you get yourself into such a position? How did man wind up in such a state, that evil has taken over the entire world?”
Great Stories – Satmar Rebbe
The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, was a very strong anti-Zionist. He was constantly bombarded by the Israeli media. They used to speak horrible about him. What happened? One of those journalists who used to speak horrible about the Rebbe had a problem. His wife got extremely sick, so he had to take his wife to America to get medical help there. What happened? He stayed with one of his religious relatives. As they were there, they were starting to realize they don’t have enough money to pay for all of these treatments. There’s no way. They asked the relative, “What can we do? Who can help us?” The relative said, “No problem. I know who’s going to help. The Satmar Rebbe.” The journalist said, “What, are you kidding me? I can’t go to the Satmar Rebbe. You know how many bad things I wrote about him? The embarrassing things that I said about him? How can I possibly go, he’ll throw me out.” The relative said, “Fine.” Weeks passed, the guy sees listen, he’s in horrible shape. What’s going to be? He has no money for his wife’s treatments. His wife is deathly sick. What’s he going to do? So, he was left with no choice. He says, “Okay, I’ll go with you to the Satmar Rebbe.” He was all nervous, what’s going to be. He comes to the room, he sees the Rav. He’s overwhelmed by the holy look on the Rav’s face. And he’s just waiting for the dreaded moment that he’s going to ask him what’s your name? The Rav asked his name. He told him the name, and the Rav smiled at him. He’s just waiting for the Rav to start screaming at him.
Instead, the Rav looks up and says, “Okay, how much do you need for your wife’s treatments?” He gave a huge amount. He never thought he would get the whole amount. The Rav didn’t flinch. And he asked him, “How much will it cost you to be in a hotel next to the hospital, because it’s very hard to travel in these situations?” He told him. He said he was never so ashamed in his life. What happened is, the Rav calls the gabbai, whispers into ear. Two minutes later, the guy comes out with all the money. He hands it to the Rav. The Rav hands it to this journalist, and he holds onto his hand, and he gives him the warmest blessings. He tells him, “Never let money determine what kind of treatment you’re going to give your wife. Give her the best treatment. I just want you to do one favor. Before you go back to Eretz Yisroel, come back.” So, the man left with the money but he’s so embarrassed. “I spoke horribly. How many articles I wrote against this Rav? He was so nice to me. I know what’s going to happen. He wants to me to come back, because after the whole story’s finished and my wife is healed, he’s going to give it to me then.” Three months, four months went by. Baruch Hashem, the guy’s wife was healed and he wants to leave but he feels guilty. “I have to go back to the Rav. The Rav told me to come back, what am I going to do?” He goes back and he braces himself for the worst. He’s waiting for the Rav to scream at him. So, he came into the room. The Rav said, “How’s your wife?” “Baruch Hashem, she’s better.” He says, “Well, you know I know you’ve been out of work for all these months. It’s going to be very difficult when you get back.” The Rav gave him another envelope with $10,000 in it. He says, “This should help you get back on your feet.” Trembling, the man took the envelope, thanked the Rav profusely, as tears of relief and remorse filled his eyes. This is called going lifnei mishurus hadin, beyond the letter of the law. It’s time to look beyond anyone who slighted us.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen explains, “Anyone who wants a healthy relationship with their spouse has to set aside time to be able to sit and talk. It’s tremendously valuable. And when you have a fixed time, you don’t always feel you need to express yourself every moment, because you know that later in the day you’ll be able to express yourself. He says, “At the beginning if you set aside 20 minutes to do this, it’s going to seem artificial. But with time you’ll get used to it, and you’ll look forward to it.” But he explains there are some rules. First of all, do not attack each other at this time. This is a time to talk, not to attack. Second of all, you should come spruced up a little bit. You shouldn’t come like a shlump, you should come that your spouse wants to be around you. And don’t come with frozen facial expressions, with an apathetic attitude. And make sure you have direct eye contact. This way, you can fulfill the mitzvah love your neighbor as yourself, just by talking with your wife.
Now, part of talking with your spouse is sensitivity. A very touchy subject is talking about work, what happened today. Sometimes it’s easy for the person to talk about their work, and sometimes it’s not so easy. What could happen is, since the person feels that their spouse is not going to be interested in their work, so they can actually wind up never talking about work. Why? Because when something special happens, they have to give over so many details in order to explain the situation that they just give up completely.
On the other hand, if you never talk about your work your spouse is going to feel alienated from you. “What did you do all day? I don’t know anything about what you do all day.” So, even though you feel it’s mundane, it’s kedai, it’s worth it, to speak about what you did each day. This way when exciting things happen you don’t have to give over a whole spiel, to explain all the details. But the person listening should not give over advice on how to work, and what to do. And don’t interrupt.
One time there was a couple, they were both teachers. The husband starts to tell the wife about what happened that day. She starts to give advice and he gets offended. So she says to the therapist, “I think I can make intelligent comments, even useful ones.” The therapist said, “Listen. Certainly, you’re right. But the goal here is to have a conversation, not to give advice. If you want to give advice you could do that later, in a couple of days from now.” Also, people don’t like to speak about sensitive matters. You shouldn’t expect your spouse to talk about things that make him uncomfortable, or her uncomfortable. For example, if the husband has his two brothers or family members that are always fighting, he doesn’t want to talk about it. He feels uncomfortable about it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to share it with his wife. It’s just an emotional issue for him. And he thinks, “Why should I shelp my wife into this whole mess?” She feels bad because he doesn’t want to talk about it, but she shouldn’t feel bad. He’s protecting her, and it’s upsetting to him. And this applies to other areas. Sometimes, one of the couple is reluctant to speak about something because they’re afraid of the reaction of the other person. They’re going to get afraid, they’re going to be concerned. So, they don’t talk about it but it’s not a personal attack because they’re not speaking. They just don’t want to raise the emotional level of the other person.
On the other hand, a lot of talk is just to let off steam. A couple needs to let off steam. Everybody needs to let off steam. He explains that shell-shock…what is shell-shock in the army? Where a soldier feels abandoned, and he’s traumatized. In the middle of a war, all of a sudden the general’s gone. Everybody’s gone. He’s stuck there for days. And it can cause panic attacks and insomnia, and person can’t live a normal life after that. That all comes from a feeling of abandonment. If you can’t let off steam, if you can’t relate to the other person, if they’re not willing to listen to you, you feel alone. So, he wants to explain this is part of hilchos aveilus, the laws of a mourner. What happens according to Jewish law? You come into the mourner’s house, lo aleynu. You’re not allowed to speak. You have to wait for them to first speak. Not only that, once they do start to speak, you can’t divert the conversation to politics and other things. You have to only speak about the person who passed away. Ah, you thought in your mind it’s better to divert the person’s mind? No, the opposite. The person has to get this burden off of his chest. He has to let off the pressure of what’s happened. He has to be able to express his emotions in order to relieve his suffering. But what do most people do? They want to change the conversation and just the opposite – they want that person out of the house. They’re not interested in this person, because they’re trying to change the conversation. Here the mourner’s trying to express himself about his feelings that he had about his relative who passed away, and this guy’s talking about the news? It’s against the halacha. So, that’s an extreme case, in a case of mourning. But it’s true on a day to day basis also. People need to express their pain to their spouse. It could be a minor trouble, it could be emotional relief. It could how the soup spilled, how her dress tore, how a person missed the bus, the car broke down. My pen disappeared, I don’t know why. Or he feels sick, or feels tired. But the person has to feel the other person’s willing to listen to them, and it’s a mitzvah for the person to listen. And what happens if the spouse refuses to listen? So then the other person starts to speak to other people. All of a sudden the wife hears the husband speaking to his mother, to who knows who about his problems about what happened. She says, “Why do you never speak to me like that?” “That’s because you never listen. You’re not interested. You give me advice back. I don’t want advice back. I just want to let off some steam.”
The husband comes home from work he says, “My boss yelled at me today because I was late.” What does the wife say? “Well, you’d better get up earlier.” That’s not what he wants. He doesn’t want advice. He feels bad that the boss yelled at him. She said, “Oh, really? What happened? How did you feel, did anybody hear? Were you embarrassed?” A person is looking for a shoulder to cry on. Also kids – kids come in the house, kids are crying. What happened? A kid says, “A teacher yelled at me.” The parent says, “I told you to behave yourself in class.” That’s not what the kid wants. The kid feels bad that the teacher yelled at him. Or a woman who’s complaining about her housework, how difficult it is. So, the husband says, “Listen, all women are in the same boat. And Hashem looks very well on a woman doing housework, it’s very important.” But that’s not what she wants to hear. She wants to be appreciated, supported, understood. She doesn’t want to hear that it’s just part of her job description, and she’s making a fuss over nothing.
Or this is a classic. One of the couple says, “Oh, I have such a headache,” and the other one says, “Yeah, my hand hurts me.” It happens all the time. It’s really horrible, the truth is. Don’t respond when your spouse tells you that something hurts them, don’t tell them back that something hurts you. That’s ridiculous. That’s not what they want to hear. They want sympathy. He tells a story of one time the husband…they were building a new house, so the husband drove by the house to check out what was going on there. He saw that the kitchen was installed wrong, the walls were the wrong color, and the flooring was also botched up. He comes home to his wife he says, “Oy vavoy, you don’t know what’s going on in that house.” So, she says to him, “Did they put up a special shelf for me to put up my Shabbos candles?” That’s not what he wants to hear. He wants to say, “Don’t worry, it will be okay. Everything’s going to be fine. We’ll work it out.” He’s trying to express his pain. The point is, we should all be sensitive to one another.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. I hope you enjoyed it, and please share it with your friends.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff