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March 05 Kosherpages launches 

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Vayerah

Thursday, 14th November 2019

The parsha (Torah portion) this week begins with G-d appearing to a ninety-nine year old Avrohom (Abraham) sitting in front of his tent suffering from his recent circumcision. Chazal (the Rabbis) teach us that he was waiting for guests to pass by, so he could invite them in, and he was upset that there were no guests.

Suddenly, Avrohom looks up and notices three men approaching. He ran over to meet them, saying: "Please don't pass on from your servant. Let a little water be brought...and you'll rest under the tree. I'll bring a morsel of bread and you'll satisfy your appetite. Then you'll continue on your way." (Genesis 18:14-15)

Avrohom excitedly ran to his wife Soroh (Sarah). "Quickly knead bread and make cakes!" Then again he ran to his herd to choose a good tender calf for his guests to eat, and hurries the lad to prepare it.
Avrohom went to such great effort to satisfy his guests, yet he only offered "a little water"? Why of all things was the water limited when he offered an abundance of everything else?

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter (1810–1883) was once travelling with a close friend of his when it was time for afternoon prayers. The two entered a small synagogue to pray. As is customary, they both washed their hands before praying. First, the Rabbi's friend washed with a liberal amount of water from a basin which was filled for this purpose, then Rabbi Yisroel followed suit, using only a minimal amount of water. "Aren't you accustomed to wash with a liberal amount Reb Yisroel?" "Yes, in fact, I am. But this is a small synagogue with a small group who comes here on a daily basis. I'm concerned that the Shamash (sexton) only fills the basin with enough water for those who usually come here to pray. If I wash liberally I may leave a noticeable deficiency in the basin. Imagine if the President sees the lack of water and feels that the Shamash is not carrying out his responsibilities correctly, it can cost him his livelihood."

When it comes to the work of having guests which Avrohom and Soroh committed themselves to, and which they personally undertook, they can offer their guests as much as they like. However, in the case of the water, which someone else was bringing, Avrohom did not offer that in abundance at the expense of those who were going to have to carry it, hence "a little water".

Noach

Thursday, 31st October 2019

Our sages teach us that the construction of the ark took 120 years. Although Hashem (G-d) could have saved Noach (Noah) and his family in many ways, which would have saved much time and energy, the sages teach us that He specifically chose to have Noach go through this arduous task to arouse the curiosity of all who passed by. This would enable Noach to have a chance to explain to them that Hashem was planning a flood that would destroy the entire world because of the evil that had pervaded it. The passerby would, hopefully, be impressed enough to change his behaviour and begin to live a more ethical lifestyle. 
 
Is it not odd that from the thousands of people who must have passed by and seen Noach hammering away, not even one person allowed themselves to be inspired and to be saved from death? We know that only Noach, his wife, his sons, and their wives were protected in the ark throughout the flood. Apparently, no one else had decided to repent. If they had, they would have been saved. How could this be?

Perhaps the answer lies in another teaching of the sages. The Torah says that Noach and his family went into the ark "because of the waters of the flood" (Genesis 7:7). From here the sages derive that Noach was mediocre in his belief because it took the pushing of the waters to force him into the ark. 
 
Obviously, this statement is not to be taken at face value. The Torah itself states that "Noach was righteous and walked with Hashem" (ibid. 6:9). There is no doubt that he was aware of Hashem and knew that His word was to be taken seriously.
 
However, we are being told that Noach was lacking in his belief, a belief that was to be expected of him. Perhaps this is the explanation for Noach's inability to convince anyone to repent. One who, himself, is not totally knowledgeable of the truth he is teaching will not succeed in convincing others of its importance. They will sense that he is not firm in his own belief and will, ultimately, be turned away because of it.

In order for a change to take effect, one must have the intent in his heart, as he speaks with his words. Words do not have an effect until they are spoken with sincerity. Noach had something important to teach, which should have been taken seriously, but his lack of belief (on whatever level it may have been) was enough to take the effect out of his warnings to the people. 

Yom Kippur

Monday, 7th October 2019

On Yom Kippur we wipe away our sins. On Rosh HaShana we proclaim HaShem (G-d) as King (but no sin-mention). 

Surely Yom Kippur should go first so we can proclaim HaShem as King in a state of sin-free purity? 

The Rambam - Maimonidies - (hil melachim 1;1) comments that we were commanded 3 commandments upon entry to the land of Israel; 1st to appoint a king, then to wipe out Amalek, and finally to build a Beis Hamikdash (Temple). The order is very precise here. 

So too, Rosh HaShana is compared to appointing a king (we 'appoint' HaShem as King), Yom Kippur to the removal of Amalek (Amalek is the embodiment of sin), and Sukkos to the Beis Hamikdash (a surrounding sanctuary of HaShem's Presence) .

Thus, for the same reason a King is needed to beat amalek, so too is Rosh HaShanah needed to have a successful Yom Kippur.

Ki Tavo

Wednesday, 18th September 2019

The verse states "VeSamto Bateneh" - "You shall place the Bikkurim - first fruits - in a basket". What is the significance of the baskets? Isn't it the giving away of the first and best fruits that is the proof of the farmers' self sacrifice and the important factor?
 
The answer is so as not to embarrass the poor.
Our Sages tell us that the wealthy people would bring their Bikkurim in golden baskets, the Kohanim - Priests - would remove the fruits and return the baskets to them, as opposed to the poor who would bring it in wicker baskets which the Kohanim kept along with the fruit. Why did the Kohanim return the baskets to the wealthy who did not need their baskets, and keep the poor man's basket?
The Commentaries explain, this was in order not to shame the poor. The wealthy gave expensive, beautiful fruit. Even when not in the golden basket the fruit looked impressive. Therefore the Kohanim returned the baskets to them. On the other hand, the poor gave lower quality fruit. If the fruit would have been removed from the basket, the poor man would be embarrassed. Therefore the Kohanim kept their fruit and the baskets. Hence the reason for bringing the fruit in the baskets

Ki Seitze

Thursday, 12th September 2019

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah prohibits marrying an Ammonite or a Moabite for all generations even after conversion. LO YAVO AMONI UMO’AVI BIKHAL HASHEM, “An Ammonite or a Moabite may not enter into the assembly of Hashem (G-d)”. (Deut. 23,4) The reason given is that when the children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land these two nations refused to provide them with bread and water, the two greatest necessities for sustaining life.

There were nations who enslaved Jews and nations who went to war against Jews. Some were not forbidden to be married by Jews and some were forbidden only for a number of generations. But none were forbidden forever as were the Ammonites and Moabites. Why? 

The Sages tell us that there are three important distinguishing characteristics of Jews. Jews are merciful, bashful and charitable. The Ammonites and Moabites demonstrated that they are neither merciful nor charitable. While other people who convert to Judaism may eventually become part of the Jewish fold, individuals of these two nations lack the basic characteristics needed to fit into our people. Conversion will not transform them into true Jews.

Jews have these beautiful traits. They have demonstrated throughout history their desire to help others in need. They have been the greatest contributors to charity. They have always felt for the underdog. They have always demonstrated these traits and never sought credit for doing so. This distinguishes Jews above other people. 

Shoftim

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019

In our parsha (Torah reading for this week) we are commanded (18:13) ‘be complete (tamim) with HaShem (G-d), your God.’ What does this mean and involve? 

Rashi writes that we are not to go looking into what the future will hold, but rather just accept everything with full trust and faith in HaShem; He takes care of us. 

This explains the connection to the next few psukim (verses), which deplores the use of magic (something often used to predict or find out the future). 

The Chofetz Chaim highlights that it only says that one must fully trust HaShem - it does not extend the same level of trust to fellow humans. This means, as the Chofetz Chaim explains, that one is not to be naïve in trusting everyone; before relying on someone, make sure they are trustworthy - one cannot merely fully assume so from the outset. 

Va'eschanan

Thursday, 15th August 2019

The posuk (verse) (6:5) commands that you shall love HaShem (G-d) with "all" your heart (be’chol levavcha), which Rashi reveals refers to loving HaShem with both your inclinations; the yezter hatov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). How can one possibly use the yetzer hara - that force which attempts to hijack one’s spirituality and pull one away from HaShem - for good? 
In Alei Shur (page 35), Rabbi Wolbe quotes Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen who writes that the area with which the yetzer hara tests/entices a person is that same area where we have the greatest potential for growth in serving HaShem. 

For example, one might have a big yetzer hara test to say brochos (blessings over food) really quickly and get on to eating the food - here Rabbi Tzaddok is telling us that since the yetzer hara is attacking your area of brochos, it must be that you have great potential to say brochos properly and with the correct intentions and mindset. 

It is much like war; the enemy will focus their attention on attacking the area most potent and useful to the other side. So too will the yetzer hara attack each person’s individual strength and area of growth - and this area will be different for each individual for each person has their own unique strengths. 

Rabbi Wolbe comments on this that we learn from here that one is not to merely ignore one’s yetzer hara, but to confront it and realise one’s area of greatest potential. Thus, this is one way we can use our yetzer haras for the positive - by noticing which area they attack and thus using it to identify our strongest area of growth.  

Alternatively, one can use the yetzer hara to fuel one’s performance of mitzvos (positive commandments). For example, if you are competitive by nature then use this to become better at learning Torah than the next person. Or, if you are stingy then use this to motivate you to commit to give a certain sum of money to charity. 

Each bad middah (character trait) can be turned round to spur on and promote the development of a positive middah or mitzvos.

Mattos Massei

Thursday, 1st August 2019

At the beginning of Chapter 32, the Torah tells us that the Tribes of Reuven and Gad desired to settle not in Eretz Yisrael (Israel), but on the side of the River Jordan that they stood on. These two Shevatim (Tribes) had an abundance of cattle and believed that this was good grazing land. 

They went to Moshe (Moses) and asked his permission to settle there, promising that they would join the other Shevatim in conquering Eretz Yisrael before they settled down. 

The Chumash tells us that they asked permission to build holdings for their cattle and cities for their families. When Moshe responds to them he reverses the order and tells them to build cities for their families and holdings for their cattle . 

Why did Moshe reverse the order of their words? Moshe was teaching the Shevatim and us a life lesson. He told them that their families must come before their businesses. First, set up cities for your families and then set up boundaries for your businesses. 

Pinchos

Thursday, 25th July 2019

 

"And the Almighty said unto Moshe (Moses), 'Take Yehoshua (Joshua), the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit and place your hand upon him (to designate him as the leader)." (Bamidbar 27:18).

Rashi, writes regarding this verse: "Appoint a man to announce the laws loudly for Yehoshua so that he shall expound the Law during your lifetime; so that people shall not say concerning him, "he was not able to lift his head during the days of Moshe." 

What do we learn from this? We must do all that we can to strengthen the power of Torah leadership. The Almighty - and Moshe - wanted to ensure that the Jewish People had a leader to succeed Moshe who they would follow. Thus Moshe wanted his successor appointed before he died. He also wanted Joshua to publicly teach Torah in his presence to demonstrate that Moshe sanctioned and approved of Joshua's position. This was a great kindness to both Joshua and the Jewish people! 
The renowned Rabbi Akiva Eiger once visited Nicholsburg. Rabbi Mordechai Benet, the Rabbi of the city, honored Rabbi Eiger by asking him to deliver a lecture in Jewish law to his congregants on Shabbos.  

In the middle of the lecture, Rabbi Benet interrupted with a question which seemed to upset Rabbi Eiger's entire argument. After a short pause, Rabbi Eiger descended from the pulpit, vanquished. 
 After the service, Rabbi Benet begged Rabbi Eiger for his forgiveness. With a smile, Rabbi Eiger disclosed that he really knew the answer to the question. 

"But, why didn't you tell me in the synagogue that I was in error?" asked Rabbi Benet. 

"I did not want to belittle you in the eyes of your congregation," replied Rabbi Eiger. "After all, you are their leader; they look up to you. I am only a passerby; my reputation is inconsequential." 

If a great rabbi can forgo his own honour to strengthen the honour of another, then how much more so shouldn’t we be able to also forgo our own honour for the honour of others?

Bolok

Thursday, 18th July 2019

The basic outline of the main part of our sedra (Torah portion) this week is that Balak hires a prophet/professional ‘curser’ called Bilam, to curse the Jewish nation.  However, after several failed attempts at cursing, the Jews are in fact blessed by Bilam, and the danger is averted.  Indeed, there was a real danger involved had Bilam been successful; the Gemorro (Talmud) reveals that Bilam knew the exact tiny fraction of a second in the day when HaShem (G-d) ‘is angry’ and accepts curses, and to prevent Bilam being successful, HaShem closed this window of opportunity.

If one thinks about the events objectively, there should be no natural way for the Jewish people to have known of Bilam’s attempted curses.  How would they know? There were two people on faraway mountains gazing at the Israelites and trying to utter curses. In fact, the Chassam Sofer writes that until the Jewish people received the complete Torah at Moshe’s (Moses's) death, the Jewish nation did not know anything about what Bilam and Balak had conspired to bring about.

This is all part of HaShem’s kindness to us; not only does He save us from precarious or dangerous situations, but He often does so without our knowledge; only later do we find out.  Thus, not only are we saved from the danger itself, but we are saved the anguish at having to worry about the danger (for we did not even know about the danger in the first place). 
 
The Brisker Rav (the Rabbi of Brisk) used to convey this message via Tehillim (the Psalms). We say in Tehillim (Psalm) 117 (and hallel) ‘all the nations will praise HaShem for the kindness He has done to us (the Jews).’  Asks the Brisker Rav; why is it that specifically the non-Jews are praising HaShem for the kindness He shows to us? He answers that often the non-Jews had plotted against the Jews, and HaShem prevented these plans from coming to fruition.  Thus, the non-Jews were in the best position to recognise HaShem's kindness to us, but we - who didn’t even know there was a plot, let alone that it was foiled - would not realise what was done to be able to thank HaShem for it.

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