Torah Podcast 026 – Torah Portion of the Week – Ki Teitzei – How to Wake from Your Complacent Dream – A Great Story about the Chafetz Chiam – Peace in Your Home – Love Defies Logic and A Powerful Parable about the Wasted Request
The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 026 – Wake from Your Complacent Dream – Rosh Hashanah is Coming
Torah Portion of the Week – Ki Teitzei
This week’s Parsha starts out with, “Ki Setzei l’milchama,” when you go out to wage a war against your enemies. The verse continues and says, “And Hashem your God will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture it’s people as captives. And you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her. And you will take her for herself as a wife.” That’s called the Yafes Toar. So, Rashi explains we’re talking about an optional war – in other words, when we have enemies and we want to get rid of them. It’s not a war that’s commanded by God. So, the verses continue and it says, “This woman that you’re going to take into your house, she has to let her nails grow. And she has to shave her hair. She’ll sit in your house for a month, and she has to weep over her father and her mother.” Basically, she has to make herself uncomely in front of you. What’s going to happen is, you’re not going to want to marry her. But if you do marry her, you know what’s going to happen? The possukim say, “You’ll come to hate her.” The possukim after that say, “You’re going to wind up with a rebellious son.” If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father and to the voice of his mother, and they discipline him but he still doesn’t listen, so the mother and father are going to grab him and take him to the elders of the city by the gate. And they say to the elders of the city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious. He doesn’t listen to our voice. He is a glutton and a guzzler. He’s eating meat all day, and he’s drinking wine all day.” What do they do? All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones, and he shall die. And you shall destroy the evil from your midst, and all of Israel shall hear and fear.” Chazal tells us, this never happened actually. There are too many tenaims, too many conditions. It never happened and never will happen.
Rashi explains, “He has to eat a certain amount of meat and he has to drink a certain amount of wine.” The Zohar and many other Chazal, many of our Rabbis explain, this war that we’re talking about is also applicable to the war against the yetzer hara, against a man’s evil inclination. The Zohar says, “When you go out to war on your enemy, this is the evil instinct against which we must go out with words of Torah and attack it. Thus it will be surrendered to man. As it is said, ‘And the Lord your God will give him over in your hand,’” those possukim say. “And you will take captive his captivity.” In other words, if you learn Torah you’re going to win over the evil inclination.
Rav Miller from Gateshead has a couple of questions on this. The question is, first of all – why is Torah study the number one remedy to curing the yetzer hara, man’s evil inclination? Why is it more powerful than other mitzvos? Secondly, he brings a famous Gemara in Brochas that says, “If a man experiences suffering, he should search his deeds. If he searched and failed to find the cause of his deeds, he should attribute it to the negligence of Torah study.” Why should this misdeed be greater than any other misdeed? In other words, if you can’t find what you did wrong and a person’s suffering, he’s having a hard time in life, he has to do a cheshbon hanefesh. He has to think, “What am I doing wrong? Why is this happening to me?” We say, “If you can’t find something, it must be because of negligence of Torah study.” What does that Chazal mean? What’s so special about Torah study that you’ll be punished over any other mitzvos?
The third question is, the Sifrei explains that it says, “On your enemies.” We’re talking about optional war, al oyveiha, keneged oyveiha the Sifrei says. It sounds like it’s an aggressive kind of a war. Why are we being so aggressive against our enemies, which in this case is the yetzer hara? Why do we have to be so aggressive against our evil inclination? If he’s not bothering us, so we shouldn’t bother him. Why do we always have to be in the offensive and always have a preemptive strike?
The Vilna Gaon explains in the Gemara in Berachos, like this. Why is it true that if a man searches through all of his deeds because he’s suffering and he wants to really figure out what’s going on, and he wants to stop his suffering – why should he attribute it to neglect in Torah study, if he can’t find anything and he’s doing wrong? The Vilna Gaon says an unbelievable pshat, explanation. He says, “The reason why he can’t find anything wrong is because of the Torah study.” In other words, it’s because you’re not studying Torah, that’s the reason why you can’t find anything else that’s wrong. Because it’s the Torah study itself that gives consciousness. It’s the thing that wakes us up, the spiritual drug of choice which gives us awareness is the Torah itself. So, of course the person is doing the wrong deeds, he’s doing things wrong. But if he can’t find any deeds, so he has to attribute that to lack of Torah study. Plus the actual fact that the chomer itself, what you are learning, it’s teaching you morals and the right way to go, so you don’t know you’re making mistakes unless you learn. If you don’t learn, you’re not aware of your own mistakes. That’s why the Zohar says that the way to attack our evil inclination is with Torah. That’s the only thing that works, which the Mesillas Yesharim is going to say. I’ll bring it down later.
Now I want to explain why this is considered an optional war, this war against your evil inclination. The answer to that is in the other verse which we read, which has to do with the rebellious son. There’s a Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin which says, “The rebellious son is judged because of the way he would end. God saw that he would eventually dissipate his parents’ wealth, and become a highway robber man at the crossroad, robbing people and taking their lives. And finally, forgetting his learning,” the Yerushalmi says. In other words, the reason why we kill this boy – which we never did, but this is why we would kill this boy – is that we see where he’s going. We see his future. The funny thing about this is at the end of the Yerushalmi it says, “And after he does all that, he is going to forget his Torah learning.” Why is that the worst thing? That’s because even if he’s robbing and he’s stealing, if he forgets his Torah learning he’s actually going to lose his consciousness. He’s going to go into a deep sleep, because at that point, all is lost. If a person doesn’t learn, he doesn’t know what the laws are, he doesn’t have any kind of spiritual influence, so that person is lost. In the end, this person will not come back. He will not be chozer beteshuva and repent. So, why is this fight against our yetzer hara considered optional? How did this boy go off? What happened, he drank wine, he ate some meat? What’s the problem?
The answer is in the Ibn Ezra. You’ve got to hear this, this is unbelievable. The Ibn Ezra says, “Marbei lishtot,” he drinks a lot, “vehu mishtaker,” and he gets drunk. “Vehinai ze kemo apikorsus.” Unbelievable. He says a person who eats a lot and gets drunk, he’s like an apikorsus. What does that mean? It means it’s probably like a person who knows the Torah but goes against the Torah. He doesn’t believe in the Torah. He’s an apikorsus. He hates the Torah. “Ki lo evakesh chayei haolam hazeh, ki im lehisnaheg ve kol minai meochel o’mishteh,,” because his whole approach to life in this world is to get pleasure from eating and drinking. A person with that view of life is an apikorsus, he’s off the way. He is clueless about what life is about. I know this sounds extreme, I may even get stoned for saying these things, but people who are just following after the physical world, they are completely out of it. They’re in a complacent dream. That’s why it’s considered an optional war, because the people don’t feel like they need to go to war. Go to war against what? What do I need to fight? I need to fight against my desires? Isn’t that what life is about? Isn’t it about going out to nice restaurants, enjoying yourself, having a beautiful house, a beautiful car, all the luxuries of life? Isn’t that what life is about? No. That’s not what the Torah says life is about. You’re sleeping, you’re dreaming. Nobody says that you can’t have these things. Nobody says that it’s forbidden to enjoy yourself, but you have to take everything in the proper measure and the proper focus. What’s the goal of life? When a person says, “What’s the big deal, what am I doing wrong? Basically, I’m a good Jew, I keep Shabbos, I eat Kosher. Why do I need to learn so much? Let me live my life the way I want to live it. I want to enjoy life, have a nice couch, a nice house, a nice everything.” But if you do that, you will start to lose touch with reality. And you don’t think you need to fight against your yetzer hara, you think you’re fine. You think everything’s great. But now the time of Ellul, the time before Rosh Hashanah, Yom haDin. If you start to learn Torah, you’ll start to wake up. You’ll see what’s required of you. You’ll start to feel spiritual. You’ll realize that life is only 120 years. And at that point, the optional war becomes real to you. “Hey, I’ve got to fight against this yetzer hara. He’s trying to trick me. He’s trying to lead me off the path, he’s trying to make my life into something it’s not supposed to be.” That’s why the Chofetz Chaim explains that this verse is teaching us it has to be a constant battle, never ending. He says like this from a Gemara in Berachos, “A person must always stir up his yetzer tov, his good inclination, against his yetzer hara, constantly.” He gives an example like this. It’s like two people are in business, and one guy rips the other guy off. He’s trying to get the money back, and he knows it’s useless, because the guy spent the money already. But he says, “Still yell at the guy, scream at the guy, because it’s going to stop in the future.” The yetzer hara allows you to do certain mitzvos sometimes, and he’s tricking you. You always constantly have to be on guard. Torah study is the only thing that wakes the person up, it puts him on guard. He all of a sudden becomes aware of where he’s holding when he starts to learn. When he learns the laws of where he’s holding, he doesn’t measure it just on his neighbors. In general, we measure it against our neighbors. We think we’re a big fish, but we’re really in a small pond. Like the story of this one guy, he had a calendar, a Jewish calendar. He was the only one in the Jewish town that had a calendar. That made him the Rabbi. Why? Because he had a calendar. Is he really a rabbi? No. The question is, how do we measure where we’re holding?
The Torah has to be our standard. That’s the thing that’s going to get us out of our complacency before Rosh Hashana. The Ibn Ezra says, “If not, we are an apikorsus, God-forbid, we’re against the Torah, because we’re trying to make life into something that it’s not.” The goal of life is not pleasures. Pleasures are there to help us serve God. I am not against pleasure. We need pleasure, because we’re human beings. But it’s there for a different goal. It’s not a goal in itself. I want to end off here with the Mesillas Yesharim. I’m going to read it. “The evil inclination in truth is very strong in man. And without man’s awareness, it overpowers and masters him. Even if a man resorts to every kind of trick in the world, but does not take the cure created for it – ie. the Torah – he will not know or feel that his sickness is increasing, except when he dies in sin, and his soul perishes.” In other words, slowly, slowly if you stop learning Torah, the world creeps up on you and he starts to get comfortable. He starts hanging around, wasting time, buying new things, consumerism, it creeps up on you until God-forbid after 120 years, a person dies in his sin. He’s not even aware of it. He continues and says, “What can this be compared to? A rich man who sought the counsel of physicians, who was diagnosed with this sickness. And they told him to take a certain medicine. He however, was an iberchacham, a wise guy, he didn’t take their medicine, and he took different medications. Doesn’t this patient risk death?” So too with spiritual sickness. No one but God who created the evil inclination knows this sickness and the power which is impressed in man. Our evil inclination is something completely beyond us. No one understands it. And God told us, He has cautioned us that the antidote is the Torah. So, who could possibly say, “No, I’ve got a different trick up my sleeve. Who can use different substitutions? Most certainly, the darkness and gross nature will gain ascendancy, step by step. And he won’t be able to even feel it, until he finds himself steeped in evil, so far removed from truth, that even a casual thought to seek the truth will not enter his heart.” You hear this? It’s scary. He concludes like this. “But if he occupies himself with the study of the Torah, on seeing her ways, he will have a spiritual awakening and he will stir afresh with him, and set him on the right path.” The Torah, Torah tavlin, the Torah is the refuah, it is the drug. It’s the only thing that’s going to wake us up out of our dream. Now is the time of Ellul, it’s just before Rosh Hashana. Open a book. Learn something, the wisdom is there, it’s waiting. We can find our way back and we can get our goals straight. God has given us a chance to find our way back to Him, and it’s only through the Torah.
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
I want to tell a story about the Chofetz Chaim. It says like this. “One time there was a man from another country who heard about this unbelievable Torah scholar, the Chofetz Chaim, and he wanted to travel and see him. He wanted to meet up with him. ‘I have to speak to him.’ However, when he got there he sees this dilapidated house. It took him very much by surprise, so he asked the Chofetz Chaim, ‘Rabbi,’ he asked. ‘How can it be that a great man like you lives in such a poorly furnished house. You have so very little furniture, and it’s in such bad condition.’ He asked him, ‘What about you?’ the Chofetz Chaim asked. ‘Do you have a handsome, well- furnished home here in Radin?’ He said, ‘No, of course not. I’m only a visitor. I only came for a short while. Very soon, I’ll be leaving. Why do I need a comfortable home for such a short stay? Any room will do.’ So, the Chofetz Chaim said, ‘I will tell you. All the people in the world are here just for a short stay.’”
Peace in Your Home
I’m going to go through Rav Nachman Diament, the third chapter here on shalom bayis. This chapter’s called, “Love Defies Logic.” He said, one time he heard about a woman who was a complete tzadekes. She used to pray, keep all the mitzvos, commandments, Shabbos, everything. She was very stringent. She was married to someone, her husband was eating neveilos on Yom Kippur – eating treife on Yom Kippur. And they were married for 60 years happily, how could this be? The answer is, they were from Hungary. They happened to be cousins and the only way to get out, they had these papers that were for a married couple. So, they said they were going to get married and when we get to America we’ll break up. When they got there, they didn’t know the language, the mentality, anything. They said, “You know what? We’ll stay married, as long as we don’t impose our own religious standards on each other,” That’s the way it went. They stayed happily married for 60 years, the woman was religious and the man was not religious.
He says, “Because of that story, he one time gave advice to another couple who were fighting for years and years, they were about to get a divorce. The Av Beis Din said, ‘Let’s send them to this Rav, and we’ll ask him what they should do.’” Min haShemayim, from the Heavens, it came that there was this story that somebody told him. He knew that in Russia they needed a couple there to spread yiddishkeit. So, he took this couple that were fighting all the time and he sent them. He said, “Amazingly, they came back in love. Everything was fine.” He said, “In both of these stories, the people had the motivation to work it out with each other.” So in that sense, if you want something, if you love something, you can defy logic.
He gives another story, one time there was a bochur, young man with a very low IQ. He claims the guy was almost retarded, and he married a very healthy, spiritual girl. So, they tried to break up the shidduch, match before they got married. No, this girl loved this guy. She used to say, “He’s so sweet.” He would say stupid things, and she would say, “Oh, he’s so sweet.” She was able to overlook all his deficiencies, just because she loved him.
There’s a famous Gemara that says that when there’s love, a couple can sleep on a bed that’s the width of the blade of a knife. But even if they don’t love each other, even a bed of 60 amos is not enough for them. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitch explains the famous Gemara that says that in one generation, six men were able to learn under one tallis, prayer shawl. How is that possible? A tallis is really only big enough for two people. The answer is, if each one is trying to cover up the other guy, so you’ll be able to do it. The same thing in the house, the same thing in the wife, the same thing with the kids. If there’s love, you can defy logic. Why? Because if there’s love, you’ll look the other way. You’re able to get along, no matter what – to put six people under one tallis. And when you do that, obviously there’s going to be more love in your house, because if you’re giving love to your wife and your kids and your family, they’re going to be giving back to you.
He ends up with one story like this. One time there was a couple that had a 16 year-old boy that ran away. After four days, the boy called back. The father was real angry on the phone, he was saying, “Don’t you care about us? Do you have any idea what we’ve been through? How do you leave a mother and father to suffer like this? You know, we can’t even sleep at night. Don’t you care? You should have called, just to tell us you were alive.” What did the son do? He hung up the phone. Two days later, no call. They go to the Rav and what does the Rav tell them? He says, “Listen, the boy is looking for love. Since everything you say you’re only talking about yourself, you and your wife, he wants to hear you miss him. You love him.” He says, “Tell the boy next time he calls, ‘We miss you, we’re waiting for you, we love you. We want you to come home.’” The father didn’t want to do it, he was all upset. But still when the boy called, he did it and it worked. The boy came home. Even though it’s logical, when your child is doing the wrong thing you should be upset and you should care about yourself, how he’s hurting you and how he’s hurting your wife, and what he’s doing to the family. But love can defy logic. Tell the boy you miss him, tell him you love him. That’s the thing that’s going to bring peace into your home.
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim has a parable that goes like this. He starts out with an introduction, he says, “Most people’s main concern in their prayers are for the physical world – worldly affairs, food, earning a living, and so on. However, when it comes to praying about other matters such as that I should do teshuva, I should repent, that I should understand what the Torah says, that I should have a love for God and a love for the Torah – spiritual matters – only a select few people really pray for these kinds of things.”
He says, “However, it could be compared to a brainless soldier. One time a king came to inspect a military camp in his country. Everybody stood to attention. The king goes through the line, he’s examining everybody. But he comes, and he’s very pleased at the end. The king comes, ‘I’ve decided to grant everyone here within reason, a wish. Come and ask me for what you want, and if I can, I’ll accommodate you.’ One soldier comes forward and he says, ‘Please, Your Majesty, I want that my daily rations of food are to be given to me regularly, every day without fail.’ Afterwards, the other soldiers started to laugh at him. ‘You idiot, why did you ask for such a thing? You get that automatically. As long as you’re a good solider, you’re going to get food, you’re going to be taken care of. You get clothes, and you get food, whatever you need. The king gave you a chance to ask for a special favor, so why did you ask for food.’” The Chofetz Chaim says, “By us it’s the same story. As long as we do the will of God, God is of course going to take care of us. We’re God’s soldiers. He’ll take care of our clothes and our food and our house, and everything that we need. We should be praying that we are good soldiers, and that our service meets up to the King of Kings.”
That’s it for this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends. It’s Ellul now, maybe somebody’s going to hear this and it can help them. And please leave comments. Have a great Shabbos.