014 – Torah Portion of the Week – Behar – How to Experience Jewish Spirituality – A Great story about Rav Noam Elimelach – A Powerful Parable – about a gift from the King and Peace in Your Home – Love your neighbor as yourself
The Torah Podcast Transcript
014 The Torah Podcast – How to Experience Jewish Spirituality – https://globalyeshiva.com
Great Stories – Rav Noam Elimelech
We’ll start with a story of Rav Noam Elimelech. It happened to be that Rav Elimelech and his brother Zisha were wandering as disguised beggars across the country, and they stayed at this inn. At the inn there was a wedding celebration, so the two poor brothers were part of a group of beggars that used to come to the weddings and it was a custom to give the poor people food at the weddings. It happened to be though at this wedding, it was a rough bunch of guys. What used to happen, they would get drunk and as they would dance around in a circle, every once in a while they would grab a poor person and give him a couple of punches. It happened to be that Rav Zisha was sitting nearest to the crowd. So, Rav Noam Elimelech said to him, “Listen, why are you sitting so close? Let’s switch seats because what’s happening, you keep getting beat up. They keep grabbing you. You sit in the back for a while. I’ll sit over here.” As they were dancing around they were about to grab another poor person and give him a couple of slaps, what happened was they started to grab Rav Noam Elimelech. Then one of the drunk guys says, “Hey, this is not fair. We keep beating up the same guy. Let’s grab somebody else.” So, they went to the back of the room and they grabbed Rav Zisha, thinking that he hadn’t been beaten yet. Rav Noam Elimelech said to his brother, “You see? Wherever a person is supposed to be struck he’ll be struck. It doesn’t matter where he sits. They seek him out and they deal him his due portion.” In other words, you can’t escape the decree of God. Wherever you’re going to be, that’s what you’re going to get, what you need and what you deserve.
Torah Portion – Behar
This week’s Torah portion is Behar, be Har Sinai. The verse states, “Hashem spoke to Moses on the Mount Sinai saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, when you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem.’” He’s talking about the mizvah, commandment of shemitta, the mitzvah to rest the entire land of Israel for one year. The verse continues and says, “For six years you may sew your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard. And you may gather in its crop. But in the seventh year a complete rest there shall be for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem, Shabbos l’Hashem. Your field you shall not sew, and your vineyard you shall not prune. The after-growth for your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes that you are keeping away, you shall not pick. It shall be a year of rest for the land.” So, this is the mitzvah of sheviis. We know that the Minchas Chinuch says that this is one of the hardest mitzvos in the Torah. The question that Rashi has is, what’s the connection between Har Sinai – the verse starts up by saying that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai, and then it goes on to speak about the mitzvah of sheviis. Rashi says, “What’s the matter of shemitta doing next to Har Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated at Sinai? Everything was stated at Sinai, so why specifically this? He brings the Toras Cohanim, it says like this. “Just as with shemitta its general rules and its details and fine points were stated at Sinai, so too all of the commandments. Their general rules and their fine points were stated at Sinai.” In other words, all the details of all the mitzvos were stated at Sinai.
The Mashgiach Rav Yerucham of Mir wants to explain, he brings the Raavad, the sefer, book of the Raavad, Balei Nefesh, and explains the deeper connection between shemitta and all of the other mitzvos. He says the idea is that this is a big yesod, a big foundation. “Rav hamitzvos,” most of the mitzvos, “Are there to teach man that there is a God above, there’s someone ruling. Le’maan yedai ha’adam ki yeish lo Borei Olam shelav,” that man should know that God is ruling over the world. Now, listen to this. “Ki achrai she Hakadosh Baruch Hu, ha’aretz beteilu benei adam.” We know that after God created the world, he gave it to man. Most of man’s days, he’s dreaming that the land belongs to him, that he is the owner of the land and there’s nobody else really around. He forgets about God bichlal. We think we’re here, God gave it to us, God gave us the whole world. We have the entire world for us. Where’s God? Not around. So, who’s the owner of the land? We are. Therefore, the Torah connects many, many mitzvos with the land and with our mundane life in order to remind us that there is a Creator, and we’re just renters here. Therefore he makes many laws connected to all the common things that we do in life. “For example,” he says, “A man wants to live with his wife but he has to be careful for nidda, the menstruation of a woman, and the laws connected with a man and a women being together. He says, “For every gift that God gives us, He gives us a law along with the gift. He gives us a field, and He gives us laws about ploughing, about seeding, about collecting the grains. For example on Shabbos you can’t do those things, in shemitta you can’t do those things. You’re not allowed to mix grains together. You can’t do kelaim, you can’t plant wheat and grapes for example in the same field. You have to have peah, you have leave off the corner of your field for the poor people. Lekach the same story. You have the omer, to bring a sacrifice for new wheat. Terumah, you have to give certain percentages of maasers and terumas of everything that you get from the field. There are so many mitzvos connected up with the fields and with the food. In the process of making dough you have to give challah, you have to take a certain percent off. When you eat the food you have to say blessings before and after. How many different mitzvos are connected up with the gifts that we receive from the land, and the food we receive. This is all to remind us where it’s coming from, that man should understand his place in the world.
Also when it comes to clothes, he can’t wear shaatnes, which is a type of a kelaim of tzemer u’pishtim, wool and linen together, you’re not allowed to wear. And if you have a begged, a garment of four corners, you have to put tzitzis on it. Even when it comes to your animals, you can’t plough together a smaller animal and a big animal, a donkey and a shor, ox, for example. You have to do a peter chamor, you have to give the firstborn of the donkey. You have to pidyon bochur the first animal you have to give to the Temple. How many mitzvos? And the fruits of the field – you have orla, reviah, it’s unbelievable. And even on your own body you have a mitzvah. He says, “You have to do bris milah, a man has to do bris milah, circumcision.” And all these different melachas, forbidden work, all of them on Shabbos and on shemitta, most of them you can’t do. And all these different things that we do, the work that we do, we can’t do it on Shabbos and we can’t do it on Yom Tov. When it comes to the field of shemitta, we can’t touch the land.
What’s going on here? It sounds like a crazy religion. What kind of religion is this? The answer is, it’s all there to remind us, that you shouldn’t think that the land and your life and everything you have belongs to you, because it doesn’t. That’s why God gives us Shabbos, ki l’Hashem ha’aretz ve’atem rak sechirim yom atem, the land belongs to God. You guys are just renters. You can’t do this seven days of the week, you can only do it six days of the week you take care of your field. But on the seventh day, you can’t. Ki yeish Borei asher hu mishe aleiha, because there is a Master of the Universe who runs the world. This is an amazing foundation in the depths of Judaism, and we’re not hearing it from a small Rabbi. We’re hearing it from a big Rabbi, the Raavad, commentator on the Rambam. He’s telling us, that most of the mitzvos are there to remind us who the Master of the Universe is. And after we hear that, Judaism makes sense. It’s not a crazy religion. We’re the crazy people. Okay, God set it up like that. He gave us a world. But we’re here to become conscious. He says, “We shouldn’t think that it’s our power and our strength and our acts that are getting everything done. You can stop working one day a week, and nothing’s going to happen. It’s just the opposite. That’s where all the blessing, mekor haberacha, Shabbos itself is the source of blessing, because we stop and recognize where the blessings are coming from. Where are all these gifts that we have, where are they coming from? We can even stop working. In this week’s Parsha it says we could stop working for an entire year! We leave the land to fallow. We leave it there, we don’t work the land. God says, “Don’t worry. The blessing will come. I’m the owner of the field, not you. You’re just the worker.” This is the work that we have to do on Shabbos and on shemitta, to disconnect ourselves and realize who the real owner is. But not only that, this is the foundation of holiness. The separation that we do, the space we create between us and the world, is the space where holiness comes in. If you’re consciousness is limited to this world, you won’t have any holiness. You have to step out of this world to start to gain holiness.
The Shem Mi Shmuel explains, “Who could bring forth purity from impurity? The Midrash. For example says, Avraham came from Terach. Avraham our father came from a bad father. Chezkyahu came from Achas, Yeshayahu came from Ammon, Mordechai came from Shimmi and olam haba comes from olam hazeh. The next world comes out of this world. This world by definition, is impure. It’s more physical. The next world is spiritual. Where does the spiritual world come out from? From the physical world. How does it come out? By separating ourselves from the physical world, we start to build the spiritual world. He says like this. “The more one flees from superficiality, the greater one connects to truth and spiritual reality.” He brings a raaya, proof, from Moshe Rabbeinu. The possuk said by Moshe, “And Moshe fled from Pharaoh and he dwelt in the land of Midian. And he sat by a well.” What does he want to say? It’s a little bit of a drosha, but he says, “Moshe fled from the forces of evil represented by Pharaoh, and immediately he found a source of spiritual inspiration symbolized by a well. And this is Shabbos, and this is shemitta. This is letting go of this world. But the contradiction is that it doesn’t mean that it’s not pleasurable Listen, Rabbi. I don’t want to be celibate. I don’t want to separate myself from the world. I don’t want to live in a cave. No, that’s not Judaism at all. You’re married, you have kids.” Now, listen to this. “Shabbos, what’s Shabbos? Food, basar veyayin, meat and wine.” You’ve got to hear this. Rashi says – there’s a Rashi in Gemara Beitza 16A that is explaining what the neshama yeseira is. We know that on Shabbos we receive an extra level of our soul, we connect with a deeper level of our soul. You won’t believe what Rashi says, how he explains the neshama yeseira. He says, “It’s an expanded heart regarding rest and joy, and the quality of being open wide that such a person may eat and drink without repulsion.” Can you believe this? He says, the extra soul that we get is that we can eat more. We won’t be repulsed by the food. What’s going on? You just told me that Shabbos is the separating yourself and shemitta means to separate yourself, and the more you separate yourself from the physical, the more spiritual you’re going to be. And then Shabbos comes out to be that you you’re going to have an extra soul in order to be able to eat and drink more.
I want to explain. Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinchus olav hashalom, of blessed memory, says like this. He says, when he used to speak in public in front of people if he speaks on shalom bayis…there’s two sets of mitzvos. There’s mitzvos bein adam lechavero, and there’s mitzvos being adam laMakom, that means between a man and his friend, chavero, or between man and God. Two sets of mitzvos. When he would speak in public about mitzvos between man and man or a man and his wife, so everybody would be into it. They’d be asking questions. The audience would look happy. But as soon as he starts to speak about mitzvos that are between man and God, all of a sudden the audience would turn off. “It’s not for us,” they said. “What do you think, we grew up in Meah Shearim?” So, what’s going on there?
We know that men can understand human relationships – not to be a nice person. But when it comes to God, somehow they draw a blank. But you’ve got to hear this, look what he says. He says, we know there’s this famous Chazal, a non-Jew came to the great Hillel and asked him, he taught the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel answered him, “Don’t do to your friend what you dislike. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” How does Rashi explain the Gemara in Shabbos over there? What does it mean, “Don’t do what your friend dislikes?” He says, “Who’s your friend” He brings a possuk from Mishlei, “He who is your friend and your father’s friend, do not abandon him.” It means Hashem. The whole Torah means, “Don’t go against the words of God.” We know that even though bein adam lechavero, between a man and his friend is also connected to the commandments of God. For example it says in the Rambam when he explains the sheva mitzvos of benei Noach, the seven mitzvos of the sons of Noach, it says, “If that person does it just because he thinks it’s a good thing, it means nothing. Everything we have to do is for God.” In our generation somehow when it comes to the word ‘God,’ nobody wants to hear about it. No one wants a relationship with God. They don’t want to hear, but they shut down. So, how do we break through and create this relationship? Chazal tells us the essential mitzvah that’s going to create the connection to God is Shabbos – shemitta also, you can have the Shabbos, the resting of the land, the resting of the soul, the resting of the person. This rest, it’s not a physical rest. It’s a disconnecting from the physical reality, because Shabbos is the mekor haBeracha, the source of all blessings. Not only that, we know that someone can eat treife, can eat pig, he’s still considered Jewish. But if someone doesn’t keep Shabbos, he is considered like a non-Jew. The law by him is that he’s not Jewish. He could always do teshuva of course, he could return. But in the meantime, if he doesn’t keep Shabbos, he has a law of a non-Jew. And on Shabbos is a time where you can create a closeness to God that doesn’t exist on any other day of the week. And that’s why you have to be close to God on Shabbos. Like I said in last week’s podcast, you have to dress differently, you have to speak differently.
So, getting back to my question, what does it have to do with this extra soul that we have to eat and drink more? That’s going to bring us closer to God? You just told me you have to separate from the physical reality. The answer is, it’s a two edged sword. Eating and drinking on Shabbos gives us the pleasure of connecting with God as long as we’re in the perspective that everything that we have is a gift. In other words, by stepping out of ourselves, by raising our consciousness to be outside the physical world and looking towards eternity and feeling our souls which are disconnected from everything here, the process of eating and drinking is going to be holy. This is what was going on in the Temple. The Cohanim were bringing sacrifices, eating meat and drinking wine. Talk about a crazy religion! And this is because man is physical, and the pleasure that he gets in his physical body, he has to use it to uplift him to connect him with God in a deeper way. When a man eats, he takes the energy out of the food and he starts to feel vitality in his physical being, which that vitality really in essence is coming directly from God. All the gifts that we have, everything we have is coming from God, it’s there to give us pleasure as long we understand that it’s a gift.
And therefore, Jews on Shabbos eat in holiness, they drink in holiness. That’s our job to uplift ourselves, to have another level of consciousness with the awareness that everything is a gift. We say a blessing before, we say a blessing after. We separate maseros, we give tzedakah. All these mitzvos that are connected with the physical world, are there to give us the consciousness of the beautiful gifts that God has given us. And this also applies to shemitta, to the seventh year where we allow the entire land to rest. We call it Shabbos le’Hashem. It’s a resting for God. And this is the work that we have to do every Shabbos. We have to re-identify ourselves. Our problem is that we identify ourselves physically.
Let’s try a little experiment. Who would be without your house? Who would you be without your home town? Who are you without your friends? Who are you without your parents? Who are you without your body? Who would you be if you weren’t physical? After 120 years you’re not going to be physical. But if you re-identify yourself now with your spiritual self, with your soul, like you’re an angel, connecting to your higher self, and you build it up, you’re building your next world. And all this world is here as a gift to help you build this next world, for the next world comes out of this world. By properly treating this world, by putting everything in its right place and really knowing who you are, what your place is, you are building your next world. And not only that but the pleasure that you get from this world is so much greater.
Rav Pinchus brings a story about some kids who were very loud and boisterous. In our generation you see kids outside screaming and yelling. His son was a little boy. He asked him, “Why are they screaming and yelling and laughing, and laughing, and they’re happy?” He says, “You know why they’re doing that? Because they’re not really happy, so they have to make a false happiness. But a person who knows his place, he could appreciate all the gifts that God gives him, he has such a happiness he doesn’t know what to do with it.” And that’s Shabbos. That’s the eating and drinking that we do on Shabbos. And Shabbos is our real connection with God.
A Powerful Parable
I’m going to bring a powerful parable also about Shabbos. It says like this in the Midrash, “Once there was a king who had a dear friend. He told his friend, ‘Ask for a precious gift, and I will grant it to you.’ The friend was very clever. He said to himself, ‘If I ask him to make a governor or duke, that’s all I’ll get. Rather, I will ask for the thing that everything else comes along with it.’ He said to the king, ‘My master, since you have granted me the opportunity to ask something special of you, I will ask you to give me your daughter your marriage. And I will be your son-in-law.’ The king replied, ‘By your life, so I will do.’ That was the moshul, parable. What’s the nimshal, conclusion? Shabbos. Shabbos is the thing that gets us the closest to God. Shabbos puts us in God’s family. Once we’re in the family, we have the mekor haberacha, the blessings of Shabbos, which is the source of all blessings of the world. And we will have all the blessings of the Torah if we keep the Shabbos.
Peace in Your Home
Now, Rav Avigdor Miller brings another commandment of marriage – love your neighbor as yourself. Even though that’s a Torah commandment, it happens to also be a commandment of marriage. We know there’s a Gemara that says, “A man cannot marry a woman that he did not see.” That’s why at every chuppah, marriage canopy, you go up and you raise the veil from the woman that the man should see which kind of woman, who is he marrying? Why is that? So, you think it’s for the man, he doesn’t want to get stuck with an ugly woman. No, it’s for the woman. Why? Because if later he sees her and he doesn’t like her, can you imagine how she’s going to feel? And this is under the commandment of love your neighbor as yourself – not to hurt your wife’s feelings.
He brings down here – this is unbelievable. He says, “If a mitzvah is done many, many times, it becomes bigger and bigger, and you get more reward for it. But Rabbeinu Yona brings the opposite also. He says in Sharei Teshuva, “If a man transgresses a mitzvah asseh…” a positive commandment – he just doesn’t do the positive. He doesn’t go and daven, pray for example, a number of times, “It becomes so serious that it becomes like a sin of cutting off. He gets kores,” it’s a very serious punishment. He gets cut off for the next world. He says for example, if somebody doesn’t say Shema every night, he doesn’t say it properly, and he does it over and over and over again, he has the same law by him according to Rabbeinu Yona, like mechallel Shabbos, or like he killed somebody, or idol worship. Why? Chazal explains, if you have thin little pieces of rope, if you put them all together it makes a big, thick rope. That’s how a rope is made, out of small pieces. The same thing if you transgress over and over and over and over again, you’re going to wind up with a big, thick rope.
What does it have to do with marriage? Marriage is daily contact. Marriage has to do with day to day, month to month, year to year dealing with each other. If you transgress against each other, it’s going to come out to be a big mess in the end. He says, “A person should never say, ‘I hate my wife, I hate my husband.’ He shouldn’t hold it in his heart, because it’s a negative commandment which says ‘you should not hate your brother in your heart.’ All the more so your wife or your husband. And if it goes on for years and years, oy vevoy. That thin little thread turns into a big, thick rope.
On the other hand, you have a daily obligation. If you love your wife as you love yourself, every day you’re going to get a new mitzvah. You have to make up your mind that you’re going to love your wife or your husband, no matter what. An unbelievable idea. The world doesn’t understand this. You have to make a decision that you’re going to love your husband, or you are going to love your wife. You decide what to feel, and you do it, because it will take you far. He says, “No matter what, you are going to love your spouse. And you should always say, ‘please,’ and you should always say, ‘thank you.’ And you have to always be nice. Even if you’re not obligated, they give you something, they’re obligated to give you.” For example he says, “The wife asks the husband to go buy the kids shoes. So she says, ‘thank you.’ He’s obligated to buy those kids shoes, but thank you helps. So, the commandment is, love your neighbor as yourself. Love your spouse as you would love yourself.
That’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments on the blog. Make sure you have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff