Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech / פרשת נצבים־וילך

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to address the Jewish people and to impress upon them the importance of keeping the Torah properly, and the reward which will be afforded to those who do, and on the flip side, the severity of the recompense a person will receive for not adequately abiding by the Torah’s holy laws.  However, there is one particular equation in this week’s Parsha which does not seem to add up correctly.  The Torah says that if a person says to himself, “I will go upon my path, everything will be okay”, Hashem will not forgive him and the verses go on to say the terrible punishment he will receive.  I believe that this “non-commensurate” response requires a bit of explanation.

The famous Mashgiach, R’ Chazkal Levenstein explains beautifully that when a person says to himself that he will embark on his path and everything will be fine, he is lacking the most rudimentary and fundamental trait that a Jew is required to possess – the fear of Heaven.  A person who fosters a cavalier attitude about his life and his actions has no hope of ever returning to Torah observance, whereas a person who visualizes the consequences of his actions assumes a true level of responsibility for his misdeeds, and will do everything in his power to ensure that his mistakes are not repeated.  It is specifically for this reason that the Torah tilts all the punishment dials to the right when it comes to this kind of stance.  It is to show us how far we need to stay away from this casual approach and how necessary it is for us to work on our level of fear of retribution for our actions.  We have to always drive home the reality that if we sin, there will be very real and very unpleasant countermeasures for that sin, and allow the fear of those countermeasures to always motivate us to do the right thing.

The famous Tosafos in Shabbos (88) ask a fantastic question.  The Gemorah teaches us that in order for Hashem to have ensured that the Jews would accept the Torah properly, He held a mountain over their heads and said, “If you accept the Torah, then fine, and if you don’t, you will now be buried”.  Needless to say, they accepted the Torah.  Tosafos ask if the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai with the famous remark “נעשה ונשמע” – “We will do, and then we will hear”, why was it necessary for Hashem to then go and hold a mountain over their heads?  Tosafos give their own answer, but The Maharal from Prague answers that although the Jews at Sinai were enthused with a predominant desire to do the will of Hashem forever the moment they uttered that famous declaration, we all know that when the inspiration which led to that moment would begin to die down with time, their resolve may not hold as strong as it once was.  I am sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this statement of the Maharal in our own lives.  It was precisely for this reason that Hashem held a mountain over their heads.  It was to teach them that although inspiration is wonderful, it is not enough.  We need to always maintain a constant level of trepidation at the thought of transgressing the word of the Torah.  This fear and this alone will be instrumental in helping us to keep our lusts in check during a time of temptation.  When we feel a pull toward a particular sin, there is a specific commandment in the Torah to arouse ourselves to feel terrified about the retribution we will receive if we cannot hold our excitement for that sin at bay, and the Torah is teaching us that only this type of fight will truly be effective at curbing our passions.

R’ Yitzchak B’lazar asks a fascinating question.  He proposes that if fear of Heaven is so integral to our service, then it should have been hardwired into our system, much the same way fear of danger or survival instincts is.  Why wouldn’t Hashem have built us with these components if He expected us to succeed in our service of Him?  R’ Yitzchak explains that had we possessed the same fear of Hashem that we do of worldly dangers, we would essentially be robots.  The factor which makes us human, and differentiates us from every other inhabitant of this earth, is our ability to choose right from wrong.  If we would fear Hashem like we do a shark, there would be no room for us to err.  You don’t find many human beings swimming in shark infested water.  Although it is difficult to reach this level of fear, this is exactly what we were created to do.

What are some practical methods a person can use to achieve a higher plane of consciousness in this area?  Firstly, it goes without saying that learning Mussar with great enthusiasm and fervor is certainly effective in increasing one’s general level of awareness of Hashem.  Another powerful tool one can implement is to boost his feeling during the prayer and blessings he recites during the day.  But I would like to share with you something R’ Nachum Zev from Kelm used to do.  He would go every week to visit the sick people in the hospital in order to help enhance his fear of Heaven.  He would explain that although we all know that Hashem is running the world, and we could be sick or healthy at any time of day based on His say so, Chazal says we cannot compare knowing something to seeing it.  When one sees the terrible disfigurements and suffering a human being can become exposed to based on no bad choices of his own, one will certainly begin to inculcate a very real sense of reward and punishment, and how vulnerable we really are at any given time.

During this period we find ourselves in, fear of Heaven is probably the most precious commodity a human being can have in his possession.  Although it is somewhat difficult to come by, let us look to the Gedolim for some examples of outstanding success in achieving fear of Hashem.  The famous Rebetzin Yaffe writes about her father the Beis Halevi; “During the month of Elul, my father was virtually inaccessible.  There was a palpable fear in the air as if there were some capital court case about to happen, and my father was on trial, and if he lost, he would be taken out to the gallows to be hung publicly.”  One of the Brisker Rav’s students once asked him whether or not all the scary feelings Chazal write about the month of Elul are to be taken literally.  The Brisker Rav responded, “of course they are.  In fact, two week’s before Rosh Hashana, I can’t even taste any of my food!”  Once another student met the Rav on the street shortly before Rosh Hashana and asked him how he was feeling.  The Rav responded that he was feeling a little scared about the upcoming judgment and that he needed to repent.  The student asked the Rav in surprise if even the Rav needed to repent.  The Rabbi looked at the man like he was crazy, and asked his Gabbai to check if the student had suffered any sort of brain injury, and remained upset at that question the rest of the day.  Although these giants clearly were able to attain an extremely heightened sense of fear of Heaven, and we are perhaps just taking baby steps to make inroads into our development, it behooves us to do everything in our power to avoid the attitude we described above in this week’s Parsha that everything will be fine, regardless of our actions, and instead replace it with one of genuine concern that our behavior is not quite up to par, and return to Hashem with all of our hearts.

May we all merit to work on our level of fear of Heaven and earn a wonderful sweet new year filled with every blessing!

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah- Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when all of the creations of the world pass before Hashem Almighty, King of Justice. On this fateful day, anything that is to occur to an individual during this coming year and even in following years is decided. One must therefore must arouse one’s self to repent fully before Hashem and rectify one’s deeds so that one and one’s family may merit being inscribed and sealed in the Book of the Righteous and enjoy a good and sweet new year.

Some think to themselves, “How is it possible to perform Teshuva when this is such a difficult task?”

Regarding the above question, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l once exclaimed that it is told over that Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar (the saintly Ohr Ha’Chaim) was once lecturing on the topic of Teshuva in the Bet Midrash to throngs of people. A non-Torah-observant individual was passing by at that time and asked, “Why are so many people gathered here?” They told him, “Go in and listen!” They made way for this individual and he sat before the saintly Ohr Ha’Chaim as he spoke breathtakingly about the topic of Teshuva

This individual was so touched by these words that he began to weep. When the sage concluded his sermon and the congregation dispersed, this individual approached the Rav and said, “Honored rabbi! Your words made a tremendous impact on me. I hereby accept upon myself complete Teshuva. However, since this is so difficult, I ask that you pray for me that when I go to sleep tonight, I should not wake up tomorrow morning, for I cannot endure a life of Torah and Mitzvot observance. Therefore, let me at least die innocent and not guilty.”

The venerated sage replied, “G-d-forbid, I will not do this! However, you should know, there was someone in history who requested the same thing as you have. The wicked Bilam stated, ‘Let my soul die the death of the straight and let my end be like his,’ Bilam knew that he could not live the ‘life of the straight’ so he asked only to die as they do!”

“We, on the other hand,” continued the saintly Ohr Ha’Chaim, “are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov and Hashem promised us that if we open for Him an opening the size of a needle’s head, He shall open for us an opening the size of a banquet hall. Did you realize how much Heavenly assistance is provided to one who wishes to repent? The Sages said, ‘One who comes to purify himself shall be aided by Heaven!’ You are only being asked to make an opening the size of a needle’s head, that’s all. Go study Torah; rise from strength to strength and I will be with you!” The individual took the holy Rav’s advice, repented fully, married a G-d-fearing woman, and raised a wonderful Jewish family.

We must realize that those individuals who were very far from Hashem and His Torah and have since merited to repent fully are extremely beloved by Hashem. For instance, the great Rav Uri Zohar Shlit”a, once steeped in the materialistic world being at the helm of non-religious Israeli culture several decades ago, put forth much effort for a period of time to perform authentic Teshuva. Heaven saw his tremendous self-sacrifice in this area and he was granted the merit of growing tremendously in Torah and fear of G-d amid immense joy and he eventually became one of the greatest symbols of Torah study and service of Hashem in our times. There were many other similar individuals in our times and in previous generations. This is certainly true regarding those individuals who are not completely removed from the Torah and Mitzvot and merely need to correct their ways in that they are guaranteed that if they open an opening the size of a needle’s head, Hashem shall open for them an opening the size of a banquet hall.

We at “Netzari Emunah” would like to wish our members, readership, and the entire Jewish nation a good, sweet, and blessed new year, from the depth of our hearts. May you all merit growing higher and higher in Torah and fear of Heaven and may you be blessed with all of the blessings written in the Torah. May Hashem fulfill all of your hearts’ wishes for the good in order to be able to excel in the service of Hashem.

LESSON NINE: 1&2 CORINTHIANS

Let all that you do be done with love.
1 Corinthians 16:14

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am HaShem… The stranger [ger] who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am HaShem your G-d.
Leviticus 19:17-18, 34

Introduction

  • Romans set the stage for the epistles which we will look at. It laid out the continuing theme of redemption in an organized way. It also expounded on the 2 major conflicts addressed in the Apostolic Scriptures:
  • The Kingdom of Light vs the Kingdom of Darkness
  • Gentile inclusion into Israel without ritual conversion vs Gentiles included only by ritual conversion.

1Corinthians, Rebuke – 2Corinthians, Instruction and Encouragement

  • Serious problems existed in the congregation in Corinth. Paul’s first letter to them was a somewhat harsh rebuke. They had gotten some very important things completely wrong – and their actions proved their immaturity.
  • The second letter was written to respond to their obedient response to his first letter. His second letter is meant as an encouragement.
  • The biggest issues addressed can be understood by understanding the redemption message. They were acting like they did not know this about redemption:
  • The Problem (sin in the Garden and following)
  • The Solution (a Redeemer leading us back in righteousness)
  • The Purpose (to be restored to the Presence of G-d, for praise, fellowship, and glory)

1Corinthians – What Are You Doing !!!?

  • The congregation in Corinth were quite confused about redemption. Some acted like they had joined a club, instead of becoming followers of the Righteous Messiah.
  • Confused About Identity.
  • Did not understand the Solution (a Righteous Redeemer to lead us back) (1Cor 1:11-13)
  • Our identity is not in a “club membership” (1Cor 7:17-24)
  • Passover is not a pagan party – it is about our identity as the Redeemed (1Cor 11:20-31)
  • Confused About the Problem.
  • Immorality promoted (1Cor 5:1-2; 6:9-10, 15-18)
  • Love obscured by false love. Love is the summation of the righteous life-style of the Torah. Love considers a brother (meat, wine in the market) (1Cor 8, 10).
  • Confused About the Purpose.
  • The supernatural – instead of love and service to G-d. (1Cor 12, 13, 14)
  • As mere “club members” they were content with “supernatural” gifts, false love, unrighteous living, and did not consider the goal – to return to the “Garden” – what is the point if there is no resurrection of the Dead?  (1Cor 15:12-17). This lack of trusting G-d had led them to immorality, false identity, and lack of true love.

2Corinthians – Keep On Doing

  • Following the instructions of Lev 19:17, and 1Cor 5, the assembly in Corinth showed true love and rebuked the immoral among them (2Cor 2:3-8).
  • You are a letter written on our hearts (2Cor 3:1-2)
  • We are being transformed into Messiah’s likeness (2Cor 3:6-18) Note: not pejorative of the Torah or Moses, instead using it as an encouragement – use of Hebrew kal v’chomer (light to heavy).
  • Fellowship with believers… but not with unbelievers (2Cor 6:11-18)
  • The correct response to rebuke – godly sorrow and repentance (2Cor 7:1-13)
  • Be generous (2Cor 9)

Summary

  • The congregation in Corinth had begun to separate themselves from the root. Their practices revealed that they had not understood completely what they were redeemed from, and for what purpose. Their lack of righteous living was the result of their assimilation and lack of trusting G-d regarding the resurrection… from that came all manner of weird teaching and practice.
  • Stay attached to the root – avoid pagan assimilation. Remember Who redeemed you, and for what purpose!

Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation

Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation
The foundation of the study and exposition of Scripture, both in rabbinic literature and New Testament, is rooted in the Second Temple Period and the multi-faceted methods of interpretation developed by the Jewish people. Hillel the Elder developed seven distinct techniques for exposition that could be used to understand and apply the Torah in everyday life. These are rules of exegesis.


The Seven Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Principle
1
Kal vechamer (“light and heavy”): The argument from a minor premise to
a major one
Principle
2
Gezerah Shavah (“cut equally”): The teaching based upon an analogy or
inference from one verse to another
Principle
3
Binyan av mikatuv echad (“building a teaching principle based upon one
verse”): The main proposition is derived from one verse
Principle
4
Binyan av mishnai katuvim (“building a teaching principle based upon
two verses”): The main proposition is derived from two verses
Principle
5
Kelal uferat-perat vekelal (“general and specific–specific and general”):
Teaching from a general principle to a specific one, or from a specific
principle to a general one
Principle
6
Keyotza bo bamakom acher (“as comes from it in another place”): A
teaching based upon what is similar in another passage
Principle
7
Devar halamed meinyano (“a word that is learned from its own issue”): A
matter that is learned from its own subject
These seven principles may be seen in different passages of midrash–which seeks the
deeper meaning and practical application of the Bible by using highly developed exegetical
techniques. Jesus Himself used a method of interpretation which intensified the deeper
meaning of Torah. He quoted from the Ten Commandments and then made application
through practical interpretation. Later, Rabbi Ishmael expanded Hillel’s seven principles to
thirteen; then Rabbi Eleazer enlarged the scope of hermeneutical principles to include
thirty-two applications.

The many anecdotes according to which Hillel made proselytes, correspond to the third part of his maxim: “Bring men to the Law.” A later source (Avot de Rabbi Nathan) gives the following explanation of the sentence: Hillel stood in the gate of Jerusalem one day and saw the people on their way to work. “How much,” he asked, “will you earn to-day?” One said: “A denarius“; the second: “Two denarii.” “What will you do with the money?” he inquired. “We will provide for the necessities of life.” Then said he to them: “Would you not rather come and make the Torah your possession, that you may possess both this and the future world?”

This narrative has the same points as the epigrammatic group of Hillel’s sayings (Avot. 2:7) commencing: “The more flesh, the more worms,” and closing with the words: “Whoever has acquired the words of the Law has acquired the life of the world to come.” In an Aramaic saying Hillel sounds a warning against neglect of study or its abuse for selfish purposes: “Whoever would make a name (i.e. glory) loses the name; he who increases not [his knowledge] decreases; whoever learns not [in Ab. R. N. xii.: “who does not serve the wise and learn”] is worthy of death; whoever exploits for his own use the crown (of Torah) perishes” (Avot. 1:13).

LESSON EIGHT: ROMANS

For I am not ashamed of the good news of Messiah, for it is the power of G-d unto redemption for everyone who trusts, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For in the good news, the righteousness of G-d is revealed by trusting Him, and in trusting Him; as it is written, “The righteous ones will live by their trust [future tense] in G-d.”
Romans 1:16-17 (my paraphrase)

Introduction

  1. We have seen that the battleground issues of the Apostolic Scriptures are:
  2. Kingdom of Light vs Kingdom of Darkness
  3. Gentles included by faith in Messiah vs Gentiles must go through ritual conversion
  4. The Epistle to the Congregation in Rome (Romans) deals with both of these issues.

Romans – Focus on Redemption

  • Romans magnificently lays out the entire plan of redemption. It painstakingly follows the progressive style of the Torah in making the case for redemption. Out outlines redemption like this:
  • Sin has separated us from HaShem.
  • That our disobedience to HaShem’s instructions is the definition for sin.
  • That a renewed relationship with G-d is what matters – not adherence to a religious system. The goal is to be “back in the Garden with Him” – thus it is through that faith that we are led back to the Presence of G-d.
  • The “Law’s” purpose was never to lead us back itself –  but to define the problem – and to reveal HaShem’s righteousness to us. Only Messiah can take us back.
  • G-d’s faithful promises to Israel are proof of His faithfulness to all called by Him.
  • To respond to our redemption with loving service [avodah] to HaShem.

The Problem and Solution

  • 1:16-22ff: The “Good News” reveals G-d’s righteousness. G-d’s righteous standard is lived out in faith. Trusting HaShem is the way to be restored to Him.
  • Our disobedience to G-d’s righteous standard is what drove us from His Presence. Our disobedience in the Garden revealed our lack of trusting of Him.
  • All men know that G-d has a righteous standard. All know that they have been removed from His Presence because rebellion revealed a lack of trusting of Him.
  • 2:1-9: Man’s rebellion continues. In it, man reveals his lack of trusting of HaShem. Rebellion/Sin keeps man from G-d.
  • 2:10-16: Disobedience to the written instructions, and the instructions that all know reveal that both Jew and Gentile still rebel against G-d.
  • 2:25-29: Gentile inclusion point: Being Jewish does not automatically restore one to HaShem’s Presence. One must be more than “ritually Jewish” – one must be in relationship with HaShem, which comes by His work on our behalf.
  • 3:1-4: G-d’s faithfulness to Israel reveals His faithfulness to all He has called.
  • 3:20-31: G-d’s work on our behalf is what restores our trusting of Him. He calls us into relationship and our trusting Him deals with our sin.
  • Our trusting of G-d is evidenced by outward righteousness – we cease rebellion and obey His instructions.
  • 4:1-4: Remember, it is not outward righteousness that restores us to HaShem’s Presence, we must trust Him to restore the relationship – Abraham is an example of this.
  • 6:1-7: Being redeemed and restored to G-d is not evidenced by rebellion. Continued rebellion is only evidence of a lack of trusting of G-d.
  • Don’t blame G-d’s instructions. Our disobedience to them is the problem.
  • 7:1-5: Our disobedience to G-d’s instructions reveals our lack of trusting of Him. Without a relationship with Him, we are dead. As rebellious people, when we knew what G-d instructed us to do, we rebelled against Him. Our trusting Messiah “resurrects us.”
  • 7:6-11: G-d’s instructions, which were meant for my good; because of my rebellion only brought me death. The commandment was not the problem. The problem was me.
  1. 7:12-16: G-d’s instructions continue to help see where I am not trusting Him. G-d uses them in spiritual work on my behalf.

G-d’s Faithfulness to Israel Reveals He is Trustworthy

  • 9:30-10:13: The Torah does not by itself produce righteousness. It points to Messiah. Messiah leads us back. He is the point.
  • 10:17: Do you want to trust G-d? Submit to Him. His Word brings trusting. He reveals His faithfulness to Israel.
  • 11:1-2: If HaShem has cast off Israel, then He will certainly cast off everyone… because we all sin.
  • 11:11-13: To Paul, the revelation of Gentile inclusion is the avenue for redemption not only for Gentiles… but for all Israel.
  • 11:25-29: The gifts and calling of G-d are irrevocable. Beware, those who damn the descendants of Jacob.

Result of Redemption? Loving Avodah

  • 12:1-2: Temple language. The language of redemption. We are redeemed in order to serve Him. Avodah is the service of love and relationship. One cannot say he loves G-d and still live in rebellion to His instructions.

Summary

  • Romans encapsulates the redemption message. It does so in terms of the two main conflicts of the Apostolic Scriptures: Leaving the Kingdom of Darkness, entering the Kingdom of Light; and both Jew and Gentile have been called to the Kingdom of Light.

THE RITUAL BATH

THE RITUAL BATH WITHIN A CAVE
BENEATH THE SYNAGOGUE FLOOR AT
SUSIYA
The subterranean system has two parts: a large hall
with benches along three of its walls, and the ritual bath
at the end of the main hall, connected to it by a quarried
passageway. The roof of the passageway contains a rock-
cut shaft that originates from the floor of the southern
room of the synagogue.
The study of the archaeological finds from the
excavations of the central hall reveals three primary phases
of use, dating from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE. We
believe that this represents the period during which the
synagogue was in use.
There are two possible explanations for the function of
the subterranean complex associated with the synagogue:
the hall may have been used for religious studies, which
would have required purification; alternatively, it may
have served as a banquet hall for religious feasting, a
function that would likewise require ritual purification.

(pp. 82–91)
Archaeological aspects of Jewish ritual baths (miqwaoot)
have been recently examined and summarized by R.
Reich in a catalogue documenting 550 such installations.
Of these, 85% may be securely dated to the Second
Temple period. The remaining miqwaoot belong to the
period subsequent to the destruction of the Second
Temple.
One third of the latter, 25 in number, were uncovered
at Susiya in the southern Hebron Hills, indicating the
unique nature of that site. Most of the installations are
reached via a stepped passage leading to a subterranean
system. These subsurface caves often extend beneath
dwellings, several of which have been excavated. All
but one were found to date to the 4th-7th centuries CE,
the primary period of settlement at the Jewish village of
Susiya. The single miqweh that does not belong to this
period was found at the northern edge of the settlement
and dates to the Second Temple period. The miqwaoot
appear to have been utilized on a daily basis.
A single miqweh located beneath the synagogue is
unique. It lies at the end of a large subterranean network
beneath a courtyard south of the synagogue and beneath
the synagogue itself. An elaborate entrance joining the
structure to the courtyard to the south attests to an asso-
ciation between synagogue, miqweh and several build-
ings surrounding the courtyard.