091 So Far Away – How to Get Close Again -Torah Portion of the Week – Kisisa – A Powerful Parable about the Many Beautiful Garments – A Great Story about Rav Gifter and Peace in Your Home – Having Good Character
Torah Podcast Transcript
091 The Torah Podcast – So Far Away – How to get Close Again
Torah Portion of the Week – Ki Sisa
In Shemos verse 32:19 it says like this. “It happened as he drew near the camp, and he saw the calf and the dancers, that Moses anger burned. And he threw down the tablets from his hand, and shattered them at the bottom of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, and he burned it in fire. He ground it into a fine powder, and strewed it in the water. And he made the Children of Israel drink from it.” Then Chapter 34 says like this. “Hashem said to Moses, ‘Carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I shall inscribe on the tablets the words which are written on the first tablet that you shattered. Be prepared for Me in the morning to ascend Har Sinai, in the morning ascend for Me on the mountain top. No man shall ascend with you, and no man shall be seen on the entire mountain. And the flock and the cattle too should not be grazing on that mountain.’”
One of the questions that the commentators ask is, “Why did Moses wait to shatter the tablets until he saw the Jewish people?” We know that Hashem told him before. And the Maharsha brings the Gemara in Yevamos that says that Moshe’s reaction was not an emotional outburst. It was an intellectual decision. The Maharsha asks that if it was an intellectual decision, why would he wait? Hashem already told him before that they sinned. He should have broken them on the spot. There are different answers to this question, but the Maharsha wants to answer, “He waited because even though he knew intellectually that what they did was wrong, until he actually saw, it didn’t penetrate his being to the point where he felt that he could break the luchos. So we see there, the effect of actually seeing something. There are different levels of what something means. Just because you hear something, it doesn’t mean you have the full picture of what it is. Once you see with your own eyes and experience it, the experience of it has a much greater effect on a person. That’s the answer to the Maharsha.
But Tzur Maor wants to answer, that Moshe wanted to wait for just the opposite. He wanted to have the effect on the people. He wanted the people, the Jewish people to see that he was breaking the tablets that Hashem gave him. There was no way that Moshe Rabbeinu was able to give the tablets to the Jewish people at that point, because here they are. He comes down after 40 days of being at Har Sinai. After the Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments directly from God, now he’s bringing down the rest of the Torah. And here the people were sinning. How could they possibly be given the Torah? Therefore, he wanted to wait to show them, “Look what you’ve lost. It’s unbelievable what you lost.” So, he broke the tablets in front of them.
Another question the meforshim, commentators, ask is, Why did Moshe break the luchos? He should have brought them back to Hashem. So, Rabbeinu Bachye wants to explain, “The letters flew out of the Torah.” In other words, the tablets themselves just became like stones. They had no value. The Torah flew off of them. They saw the letters flying off the Torah, so he was able to break them. They had no value. And the Midrash says, “At that point, they were just like stones, like a dead body.” Just when the soul leaves the body, all you have there is a body. It had no purpose, no meaning, because the holiness of the Torah cannot enter the camp of Yisroel. Once they sinned, the Torah couldn’t be amongst them. The Torah had to be separated. But the problem now is, the only way to get close to God is through the Torah. And now the Torah’s gone. Moshe Rabbeinu breaks the luchos, and therefore God has to command him to re-write them again. Look what Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says. He says, “The condition for the restoration of the original intimate relationship between God and Yisroel is our re-acceptance of the Torah in our midst.” Only Torah can create a relationship with God. The people were now handed the blank tablets, he had to take blank tablets, bring them to God. And then God again had to write them with his own finger. “The Torah was written by the finger of God,” like it says. Our transgressions do not in any way alter the concept of God’s law. It was going to be the same law. God does not reform the law to accommodate our weakness. But now it has to come from us. The physical luchos had to come from Jewish people. It had to come from our side. We had to be more proactive at this point, in order to receive the Torah. Before when we were receiving the Torah, it was coming completely from Hashem, down from Moshe Rabbeinu. Now that the tablets were broken, we were going to have to be more proactive.
So okay, now that makes sense. Many of the meforshim ask, “Why did Moses have to go back another 40 days on Har Sinai to receive the Torah again? He already received the Torah. He could have gone up there for one day, had God write it down again, and come back. Why another 40 days?” So, the Sefas Emes has a unique approach. Most of the meforshim do not say like him. He wants to say that really now, Moshe was on a higher level. Why was Moshe on a higher level? Because after the Jewish people sinned, and Moshe Rabbeinu himself did teshuva, he had so much empathy towards the Jewish people, he felt like he sinned and he had to do teshuva. Because he did teshuva, he went up to a higher level. So, if he went up to a higher level, he had to get more depth from the Torah. He had to ascend new, higher levels in another 40 days to go up. But that’s a unique approach.
Most of the other meforshim want to explain the opposite. Since we went down a level, Moses had to go back to relearn the Torah in order to teach it in a way that would be able to relate to us. And the Shem Mi Shmuel explains that we know it’s true. The Zohar says that when the Jewish people received the Torah, at that point they went back to the level of before the chet, sin of Adam HaRishon where the yetzer hara, the evil inclination was outside, the nachash was outside of the Jewish people. Once we ate from the tree, so then the Satan came inside of us. At Har Sinai again, Hashem took away our yetzer hara, our evil inclination. So, our evil inclination was outside of us. So, the Torah that we were receiving directly from Hashem was the Torah to be able to live in a world where the yetzer hara exists outside, much less influential. Once we sinned again, the yetzer hara came back inside of us, so we needed the Torah. And Moshe Rabbeinu had to go back up to receive the Torah in a way with more dinim, more laws, and nuances that would affect the Jewish people, that he’d be able to lead us in the right way.
Like the Torah says, that our status changed. It’s a fact, and we see that from the fact that it said, “No man should come to the mountain on the second time. No sheep, no cattle should be around.” We dropped levels. So, we needed a new Torah to be able to relate to the level we were on. And this exactly what Rav Moshe Feinstein says. “It takes much more effort to be a leader and an influence in a generation of sinners. And therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu had to go back up to Sinai for 40 days to mechazek, to strengthen himself, that he should have more strength. He should learn the Torah with more intensity, and more force, in order to have the power to be the leader of a generation that sinned.”
And Rav Wolbe brings the Gemara Avoda Zara 5:A that says like this. “The second set of luchos was different than the first set. Why? If we would have had the first set till today, we would be able to conquer our yetzer hara.” Like I said, our evil inclination would be outside of us. We’d have the ability to not sin. And not only that, we never would have been oppressed by the foreign nations. We would never have gone into exile, all the exile we’ve been in for thousands of years. That’s if we had the first luchos. So, that set of luchos was not actually applicable for us any more. We dropped levels. He said, “The actual Torah had remained unchanged. The manner in which it was conveyed to Bnai Yisroel would be different.” And he brings a proof for this.
Chazal said in Gemara Rosh Hashana 25b, “Yiftach and his generation was parallel to Shmuel and his generation. “ So, how can that be? It doesn’t make any sense. Shmuel was a navi, a prophet comparable to Moshe and Aaron. And Yiftach was not even a prophet. So, Rav Tzaddok HaCohein answers, “Yeah, they were the same. Just like Shmuel gave over the Torah to his generation on their level, so too Yiftach gave over to the generation on his level. They were the same.
And he brings down Rav Chatzkel who said, “In our generation, the past 100 years, it is not applicable to talk about punishment and fire, and gehinnom, all these different horrible things that can happen to a person if he sins. People can’t relate to that any more.” And that’s why the Sabbah of Slabodka always talked about the opposite, the gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man. Understand who you are. You’re a tzellem Elokim, you’re in the image of God. How can you possibly sin? And for us, that speaks to our hearts much more than hearing about all these horrible punishments we’re going to get. That doesn’t speak to us any more. We need to hear how great we are, and how great we can be, and give us hope with this inspiration.” So, in the sense, the focus of both of these things are true, that man is both a tzellem Elokim and God-forbid there is punishment. But in order to move us, to motivate us, we have to focus more on the greatness of man. How can we possibly sin if we’re in the image of God? How can we do such a thing? How can we degrade ourselves? We have to understand our greatness, which will help us in a situation where we’re about to fall.
So, he ends off by saying that the beauty of the Torah always stays the same. It’s a question of what the focus is in the Torah. The focus has to change, based on the generation. Now, the question is, what did it have to do with our side? This is a fact. We are now in what’s called a bedi eved position. After the fact, the first luchos were broken, now we’re in a world where we live, the sin happened, and we have to try to come close to God. So, Rav Moshe Shapiro explains exactly this point. This is exactly why Moshe broke the luchos. Why? Because the first luchos totally came from God. But the new luchos had to be written coming from us. They were written on something that came from man. He says that after the sin, our natural connection with the Torah was broken. If we would have had the first luchos, we would have had a natural connection to the Torah. Now they were broken, then only way we can get the Torah is we have to really, really want to receive the Torah. We have to be receivers of Torah.
It says the second luchos were “kerishonim”, the second luchos were “like the first set” of luchos. What does that mean? In the sense that both of them had connected us to the Torah, but the rules were different, he explained. So, what’s the difference? He brings the Vilna Gaon and the possuk says, “Asher bara Elokim la’asos” Hashem created to do. Man was put into the world to do. He made it possible for our lives to fuse with His. Passul lecha, when Hashem said to Moses, “Possul lecha,” invalidate these first luchos. So, he wants to explain that this gives us the ability now, since the first luchos were possul and we have the next set of luchos, so now we enter into the world where we have to act. No longer is it going to come directly to us. We have to act. It has to come from us.
The Vilna Gaon says, “The luchos are an action – our human medium, something that would otherwise have been exclusively empowered and negated to Hashem.” In other words, everything would have been in Hashem’s hands before, but now the ball’s in our hands. He continues and explains that Hashem consulted Moses. Why? The concept of Torah she b’al peh, the Oral tradition, did not exist in the first luchos. This is unbelievable. The first luchos, everything would have been clear. Everything would have been barur. We didn’t need the Torah she b’al peh. It was only after the second luchos that we received the Torah she b’al peh, which means the ball was in our hands. Torah she b’al peh means you have to work hard to understand, to go back and forth and spend hours figuring out what it says. What’s the real perspective, what’s the right thing, what’s the truth? Is it clear? Working and working constantly, but it’s all coming from our maasim, from our acts. Before, the Torah would have been much more directly from God Himself. So this is the answer to what we have to do. We have to work hard to come close to God. Since we were pushed away, we have to come back. That’s what we’re supposed to do now that we’re in this position. We have to try, to strive to understand what we’re supposed to do in our lives. What are we doing in this world?
And he says, “A parallel to this idea of possul lecha is the Mishkan.” This is unbelievable. He says, “Most of the Rishonim except for the Ramban, said we received the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, when? Only after the first luchos.” In other words, the Beis HaMigdash and the Tabernacles, the presence of God in a very specific place, that idea only came after the breaking of the luchos. Why? Because before that, if we would have the first luchos, God would have been everywhere. We didn’t have to go to a specific place, and a specific time to daven, pray. God would have been close to us. The schechina would have been here. But after the luchos were broken we needed the Mishkan. We needed a Temple. We needed to do maasim. We needed to get out of our bed to go to a specific place. We have to do things in order to come close to God, because God’s presence became very limited in this world – put into the Mishkan, put in the Temple. So, therefore it’s more on our side and we have to produce the results. So, we have to know it’s up to our actions. Religion is not saying, I just hang around, I’m religious. What do you mean, religious? “Oh, I keep Shabbos and I eat kashrus, and I do this…and I’m basically good” Where’s God in your life? It has to be active. We have to be proactive in coming close to God. That is our position, and that’s what we have to do if we want to be happy, and we want to have success, and we want blessings in our life. It’s not just going to come by itself. We have to do actions now – maasim.
One time a guy in the Mir said to me “Maasim”, “Maasim”, you have to act.” It’s not just a religion where you hang out, and you read books. No. We must act. And the more we act, the more blessing we will have.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno brings the same verse. I actually brought this parable once before, but I’m going to bring it again since it’s so applicable here. The verse says, “I will write upon these tablets the words which were on the first tablets which you broke.” He brings the Masechet Yevamos which says, Reish Lakish says, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe, ‘Thank you for breaking the luchos. What’s the moshul, parable? The moshul is, one time there was a guest who had a lot beautiful clothes, and he came to visit this town. He wanted to spend several weeks to show off his clothes to other people in the town. So, what happened? Every day it was a sunny day, he looks outside. He wants the weather to change. Why? Because he thinks, “Listen, if the weather changes, I can change my clothes. On a sunny day I wear these beautiful clothes. On a rainy day, I wear these beautiful clothes.”
So, he’s looking out the window and he’s waiting for some rain. And when it rains, he’s all happy. So too, when Moses broke the luchos, if we would have stayed on the original level which we were before the sin of the Golden Calf, we would have no need for anything but the written Torah. And no one would transgress, that’s all we needed. But once Bnai Yisroel sinned, well now we need the Midrash, the halachos, the aggados, the Torah she b’al peh. We need all these other beautiful things. They’re all beautiful and we need them. So, Hashem said, “Thank you Moses, for breaking the luchos. Why? Because now I can give to the Jewish people all the other aspects of the beautiful Torah.”
Great Stories – Rav Gifter
The verse in this week’s Parsha says, “I shall broaden your boundaries.” One time, Rav Eliyahu Bloch asked Rav Gifter to rebuild the glorious Telz Yeshiva on American soil, and Rav Gifter agreed. So, one time they were going to a sefarim store, book store, and Rav Eliyahu Bloch asked the store owner if he had the Ketzos HaChoshen. The Ketzos HaChoshen is a very lomdishe sefer, a very difficult sefer, a very deep sefer. It’s only for a few people who are really dedicated to learning Talmud. So, he asked him if he had this sefer. He really thought that it was a very slim chance that the bookstore is going to have this sefer here in America.
The store owner starts looking through the back, he’s looking through all the books. All of a sudden, he finds a Ketzos. It’s unbelievable. Everybody was happy. The store owner was happy, because he understands the value of the sefer. The store owner said to him, “Listen, you managed to survive the Holocaust. Your whole family passed away, and you rebuilt your family here. Now you want to open a yeshiva, you think a yeshiva’s going to work in America? It’s not going to work here. Give up the idea of opening a yeshiva. It’s going to be too much stress for you. You’re going to collapse under the strain. And not only that, I believe that this Ketzos that I’m selling you right now is the last Ketzos that’s going to be sold in America. I don’t think any other Jew on this continent is interested in this Ketzos.
So, this is a historic moment the store owner said. “This is the last Ketzos being sold in America.” But Rav Gifter didn’t listen to him. He wasn’t the kind of person to listen to this type of talk. Even though it’s true, in post-War in America it almost seemed impossible to open up a yeshiva, who was going to come to the yeshiva? But he said, “Torah is not subject to the laws of nature, nor do the Torah scholars limit their natural ability. Hashem has promised that the Torah shall not be forgotten from the mouth of the Jewish people’s offspring.” It’s a possuk in Devarim. And what happened from that point? Torah flourished in America. He says, “There are more copies of the Ketzos printed in America than there were printed in the entire time in the entire world up till then.” So, the store owner was wrong, and Rav Gifter was right.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains that if you want to have peace in your house, you’re going to have to have good character traits. It says, “A man must always fear God” What does it mean, a man? A mentsch. A mentsch – being a man, a mentsch comes before fearing God. You have to have good character before you get involved with religion.
Rabbeinu Yonah says the Torah never resides in the body of someone who has bad middos. If you have bad character, you’re not going to have any Torah. He brings the Gra on Mishlei that says, “Seize mussar and do not let it go.” You have to go against your nature. What’s the purpose of life if you’re not to go against your nature? And if not, if you keep the exact same character and you learn Torah, the Torah itself will become a poison. In other words, you’re going to grow, and that’s exactly what he says. He brings the Vilna Gaon, the famous Vilna Gaon that says, “The Torah is like dew and rain, so whatever is there, whatever character you have, the more Torah you learn, it’s a spiritual force that’s going to help you to grow. But what grows? Whatever is there.” What’s supposed to happen? As you grow, and you see that your bad character gets worse and worse, so then you uproot it and you keep the good and you push away the bad. But if you learn and you become spiritual, and you have bad character, you’re going to turn yourself into a monster and become the spice of death.
So, learning Torah is not going to help you in your house if you don’t also work on your character. And why is it, we see that Eliezer tested Rivka. And Avraham Avinu made Eliezer swear. Why did he make Eliezer swear? He wasn’t afraid that before that, he was going to steal money. He transferred his possessions to Yitzhak, he wasn’t afraid that Eliezer was going to steal any money. No, but when it came to finding a wife for his son, no compromises in middos tovos and yiras shemayim, because these are the foundations of life. He wanted to make sure that Eliezer tested Rivka to make sure she really did have good character.
And the Brisker Rav notes that Yitzhak was only consoled after he brought Rivka into his home and he saw that she had the good middos and the blessings came back. There was the cloud, the candle, the dough, all the blessings came back. That was a sign of her good middos. It wasn’t enough that there were miracles by Eliezer. That’s what the Brisker Rav asks, “Why weren’t the miracles enough?” So, the Brisker Rav says, “It wasn’t enough. The main thing was really good middos”. We don’t care if there were miracles, that Eliezer found her through miracles. The main thing was good middos.
And one time he said, a man complained that his wife had such exceptional character that the neighbors were taking advantage of her. “Everybody takes advantage of my wife, she’s such a good person.” So, he told him the famous Chofetz Chaim that says, “The good natured person suffers from others. And a bad natured person makes other people suffer.” So, who would you rather be when you get to the next world? The good natured person who has suffering or the bad natured person who made other people suffer? But the main thing is, that if you want to have peace in your house, you have to have good middos, good character. And you have to make sure you do not make your spouse suffer. God-forbid your spouse should suffer because of you.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast, I hope you enjoy it and please share it with your friends.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
It is easy to lose our first love and inspiration when we do not immediately get what we expect and want. Like those who started to worship the golden calf, we will sooner or later be forced to eat the results of our own sins.
We always need to be alert and keeping our faith and contact with G-d alive. If we do not, we are at great risk to become petrified like the wife of Lot.
It is also very important to realize that there are no shortcuts in the spiritual realm. Many are they who have tried to change (reform) the road to G-d. To no avail. On the very contrary, we end up on side roads that only lead to destruction.
Our faith must be active and not dormant, by keeping the mitzvot and learning the Torah. Faith is not a passive performance, a distraction, but an activity, a living communication with the Almighty.