As a university and Yeshivah graduate who enjoys writing, my aim is to write Divrei Torah that can enhance not only our Shabbos tables, but our day-to-day lives in general. For your piece of mind, the content is reviewed prior to posting by Rabbi Meir Rappoport of Beis Hamedrash Imrei Shefer of North West London.
Sometimes we come up against the opinions of others about ourselves. “you’re a lazy so and so”, “You won’t accomplish anything”. We take the words to heart, and they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The first people on record to address that mistake were the spies. In their damning report of their expedition to Israel they recounted:
וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם (במדבר פרק י”ג פס’ ל”ג):
“And we were, in our eyes, like grasshoppers. And so we were in their eyes [like grasshoppers] (Bamidbar 13:33)
Rashi tells us that the spies had heard the giants talking among themselves about grasshoppers who looked like men, which they understood to be a reference to them.
Noted educator Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstien observes (in a shiur that can be accessed at https://www.torahanytime.com/#/lectures?v=19099) that the spies said ‘we felt like grasshoppers in our eyes, and therefore we were grasshoppers in their eyes’. In other words, they were admitting that it was their perception of themselves that affected the way the giants viewed them, and not the other way around.
As I’ve heard from one veteran teacher, the best way for a parent to help a child being bullied (in addition to telling him/her to tell his teacher and ensuring that the bully is dealt with appropriately) is to empower the child to choose what he/she thinks of himself/herself, rather than relying on the views of the bully. This equips him/her with a reservoir of resilience that he/she can draw on later in life.
We could extend the lesson taught by the spies to the way we view our life circumstances in general. Victor Frankl was a Jewish Psychiatrist who spent much of World War 2 as a prisoner of Auschwitz. He observed that those who survived the longest were the ones who lived for others, the ones who gave up their bread, the ones who supported the sick people on the death marches. Frankl summed up his conclusions in his famous book, Man’s search for Meaning:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
We are not affected by our circumstances and other’s views of us. We affect our circumstances and other’s views of us.
Parshas Nasso discusses a difficult situation: a wife who is suspected of cheating her husband. She is put through the rather humiliating experience of having to strip naked and drink the ‘Sotah’ waters, special water containing the full name of G-D (which is a lesson in and of itself, as it goes to show just how much holiness there is in a good marriage). If she is guilty, she simply explodes. If she is found to be innocent, she is promised to have beautiful children.
Even if the woman is found to be innocent, she will find the experience to be rather humiliating. Couldn’t the Torah have found a more dignified way to judge her?
The answer is a lesson in Hashem’s belief in us.
Any woman could avoid that situation by ‘owning up’, even if she never sinned. She could have solved the problem more respectably by other means. The fact that she agreed to undergo such humiliation bears testimony to her willingness to be raw and truthful for the sake of her marriage. And G-D knows that he is able to expect that of his Jewish daughters.
It shows the confidence that Hashem has in His People. He knows that Jews have the strength to go through any difficult situation to serve Him.
G-D has rules. But those rules are meant not to punish us, but to strengthen us. He sets the bar high. But never high enough that we can’t jump over it, albeit with some difficulty.
I have in my inbox a ‘letter’ penned by none other than the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) that expresses this point
(If anyone knows the identity of the real author, please let me know. I, for one, owe him a debt of gratitude!):
To my star pupil,
I am writing this letter to let you know what I think of you. Up here in Heaven, things are not like they are down on Earth. Over there, people only know what they can see. If they see a person is “successful”, they think that he is the greatest guy. When they see somebody struggling, they think he might be one of the weaker elements.
Let me tell you something. Hashem gives every person certain abilities that nobody knows about down where you live. Some people are capable of tremendous things, while others were put there for much smaller purposes. Only Hashem in His infinite wisdom is able to give every person exactly what he needs, to reach his potential.
I am very misunderstood. Most people hate me, and I don’t really blame them. Most people think that my job is to make sure that they fail in all aspects of Mitzvos, and that I rejoice every time they sin. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Did you ever watch a boxing coach train his student? It is really a funny sight. The coach will put on gloves, and fight against his student. At first, he won’t hit him so hard or throw his best punches. But, as the student gets better and better, the coach will start to fight him harder and harder. He does this so that the student will improve his skills and become the best boxer he can be.
This is where it gets strange. Every time the coach knocks down the student, the student gets yelled at!! But finally, when the coach threw everything he has at his student, and not only does he withstand the beating, but he knocks the coach down, there is nobody in the world happier than the coach himself! This is exactly how I feel. If you fail right away, and don’t even try to fight back, I see that there is not much talent to work with, and so I take it easy on you. But if you get back up swinging, I realise that I may have a real winner here, and so I start to intensify the beating. With every level that you go up, I increase the intensity of the fight. If you finally deal me a blow that knocks me out, I will get up and embrace you and rejoice in your success.
Sometimes my job is very disappointing I see a person with lots of potential, and I start right in on him. He fights back for a while, but when the fight gets too tough, he quits and just remains on whatever level he was on. (And he usually ends up going down!) I feel like yelling at him, “Get up you fool! Do you have any idea how much more you could be accomplishing?!” But I am not allowed to do so. I just leave him alone and go try to find another promising candidate. If I have chosen you to be the target of my more fierce battles, it was not for no reason! You have tremendous abilities! You were born into a very special family, you have Rabbeim (teachers) who really care about you, and parents who would help you grow in Torah and Mitzvos. You are a very respectful and kind person.
I am writing to you now because I have a very serious request to ask of you. Please don’t stop fighting! Don’t give up! I have been beating too many people lately, and I am losing patience, Believe in yourself, because I would not be involved with you as much as I am if I didn’t think you could beat me. Know what your strengths are! A great Rabbi once said: “Woe is to he who doesn’t know his weaknesses. But, ‘Oy Vavoy’ to him who doesn’t know his strengths – for he will not have anything with which to fight.”
Always remember one thing: you have a secret weapon at your disposal. I shouldn’t really be telling you – but I will anyway. Hashem himself is watching our “training” sessions very closely. I’m pleased to inform you that He’s rooting for you! If things should ever get tough, almost too tough to bear, just call out to Him with a prayer, and He will immediately come to your aid. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that after 120 years when your time is up in that world of falsehood, you will come up here to the world of truth. There I will be waiting for you with open arms to congratulate you on your victory and personally escort you to your place next to the Kisey HaKavod (throne of glory).
“The price of greatness is responsibility” is one of Winston Churchill’s many famous quotes.
And unsurprisingly, there is a precedent for this in the Torah.
The priests were on the last day of the 8-day inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Now their service in the Mishkan begins in earnest. Hashem instructed Aharon to bring the first sacrifice; a sin offering made up of a calf, an Eigel. Rashi comments that this is to atone for the sin of the golden calf.
The question is that this has already been achieved. The Torah tells us in Parshat Tetzaveh how Hashem commanded the Jewish people to offer up ‘one bull and two rams, unblemished’ (Shemos/Exodus 29:1). Rashi over there tells us that that sacrifice was also an atonement for the incident with the golden calf. Why did Aharon have to atone a second time?
Rabbi Yehoshuah Leib Diskin answers that it is a lesson in responsibility. Aharon certainly had good intentions when he instructed the people to take their wives’ jewellery and create the golden calf. He knew that resisting was futile, as they would have killed him and built the calf anyway. His idea was that this would stall the process, as the wives would surely resist their husbands. In that time, Moshe would be back and the Jews’ perceived need for a replacement would disappear. He certainly didn’t imagine that the people would be so riled up by the troublemakers that they would have the gold in a few hours!
Nevertheless, good intentions notwithstanding, Aharon had played a part in the people’s spiritual downfall. And he, as their second in command, was required to take full ownership of his role in the wrongdoing.
In my humble opinion, this is what separates men from boys.
I’ve yet to hear of a great person who got to where he or she was without making mistakes. Nor have I heard of any great people who achieved their greatness by blaming other people for their failures. If anyone knows of such people, please introduce me to them!
We all fall. It’s part of the process. But the idea is to learn from our mistakes. To take ownership of them.
If you’re astute enough, you’ll notice that each festival is usually hinted to in the parashah read the Shabbos before it.
Tzav discusses the laws of the various offerings brought by the Kohanim in the tabernacle (and later, the Holy Temple).
One of them is Korban Todah, a thanksgiving sacrifice. This offering is brought after safely travelling over an ocean, taking a dangerous land journey, recovering from an illness or being released from captivity (today this obligation is fulfilled by making the ‘hagomel’ blessing. Please consult your local orthodox rabbi for details of the laws regarding this blessing).
As a form of the Peace Offering, part of it is eaten afterwards by the one bringing it.
But here’s the strange part:
Unlike a peace offering, which is offered up and eaten over two days, a Todah must be offered up and consumed within 24 hours. And it must be eaten along with forty loaves of bread!
Why the short time span? And why so much bread?
The answer is that this was designed to maximise the opportunity to thank Hashem for saving him. The time constraints will force him to look for others to share the meal with. When the offerer asks his friends for help, he will have to explain to them why he is bringing the sacrifice. That way, he will be able to spread the word of his personal miracle and increase the praise of G-D.
If there is one theme that runs through the Passover Seder- which is next Friday night and next Sunday night (outside Israel)- it is the theme of gratitude to G-D. We are told to spend as much time as possible recounting the story of our Exodus. The Torah itself instructs us to run it with our children, in a way which encourages them to ask questions. The law is that one should read the traditional four questions to himself if he has no wife or children present.
Have you ever wondered why G-D even needs human beings to praise Him? He’s the Ultimate Being, for Heaven’s sake (excuse the pun)! He has no ego, no emotional need for any recognition!
The answer is that it’s not Hashem who needs this praise. He’s got plenty of Angels to do that!
It’s us who needs it.
We need to strengthen our sense of gratitude. We need to become people who automatically feel thankful for every small thing we have. That’s how we come to be deserving of blessing. The more we appreciate His kindness to us, the more Hashem showers on us.
And it’s not just G-D we need to thank. Even the bus driver or the Tesco delivery man, people who are getting paid to serve us, are opportunities to strengthen our gratitude muscles.
Jews are called ‘Yehudim’, people who give ‘hoda’ah’, gratitude. Let’s learn to live up to our name and become the people Hashem intended us to be.
(Special thanks to Rabbi Binyomin Denderovicz for the thought on the Parshah, and motivational speaker Charlie Harary for the additional inspiration!)
“The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”
Those were the words of one of the brightest people of the 21st century, Albert Einstein.
And like all inspirational quotes from famous people, there’s a source in the Torah for it.
ויקרא אל משה- And G-D ‘called’ Moshe (Vayikrah Ch. 1 V.1)
To answer the question, you probably have; no, that small alef at the end of the first word (‘Vayikrah’ was no technical glitch. It is written in the Torah that way by request of Moshe himself.
The Kli Yakar explains: In his immense humility, Moshe initially requested that the alef be omitted, so that the word read ‘vayakar’- and G-D ‘happened upon’ Moshe. Almost as if G-D had encountered him by accident, as if He had met Moshe in the supermarket (so to speak). Such was his humility that he didn’t feel worthy of G-D coming out to meet him. G-D, however, insisted on including the alef. Moshe acquiesced, on the condition that the letter is shrunk.
Rav Shach notes that the Torah actually praises Moshe openly for his humility elsewhere, calling him ‘the humblest of all men’. In his understanding, Moshe wasn’t just acting in the way he was accustomed to, but he was actively increasing his humility. This was a new level of humbleness, even for the man who stood head over shoulders above the whole world in this area.
Think about it. Moshe was 80 when he lead the Jews out of Egypt. He was an old man by now. And to have reached the level of humility that he had attained had taken him 8 decades.
And yet, he still felt that he could do better.
When a person has got to a certain point, there’s often a danger of complacency. We’re happy where we are and don’t feel the need to carry on growing.
And that’s where we often fall down. Because if we’re not constantly pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we’re not remaining stagnant, but probably falling.
Because when it comes to personal growth, the sky’s the limit.