Parashat Va’etchanan / Tish'a B'av
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Yvette Cohen, A’H, by her children and grandchildren.
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Yitzchak ben Farida - Irving Gindi, A’H.
Parashat Va'etchanan / Tisha B'Av
Va’etchanan is a continuation of Moshe’s speech to B’nei Yisrael that began in Parashat Devarim. Moshe began this speech by giving rebuke, though the Ramban explains that the intention was not to put the people down, but rather to show them that even though they deserved the rebuke, Hashem had still blessed them throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert. They were provided with maan, water, guiding pillars of cloud and fire, and constant Divine protection. In this way, Hashem showed love for His people.
The Torah brings us the familiar words, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad—Hear, O Israel, Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only (6:4)!” which we recite three times a day.
Rambam comments that the importance of reciting the Shema every morning and every night is indicated by the fact that the Torah places it immediately after the Ten Commandments. According to Rav Chasman, as cited in Rabbi Twerski’s book, the Shema is more than just a statement of our personal faith. It is our acceptance of the responsibility to live our lives in a manner that will convince others that Hashem is the One and only G-d. We must be a living example by emulating His middot of chessed. We must sanctify Hashem’s name to the nations and make a kiddush Hashem.
Pirke Avot writes about each Rabbi “Hu haya omer… — he used to say…,” and then writes a quote that is the essence of his teachings. The literal translation of “hu haya omer” is “he was said.” In other words, the Rabbi was what he said, he personified his teachings, and he taught by who he was. Our obligation is not just limited to saying the words of “Shema Yisrael” for ourselves. Rather, we must spread them to our Jewish brethren and be a light among the nations. We must continue doing this — as we have throughout history — until we eventually see the coming of the Mashiach, when the world will recognize Hashem as the One and only G-d! In the Torah, the ayin in the word Shema and the daled in the word Echad are written large. These two letters spell ed—witness. By reciting the Shema, the Jew is a witness to Hashem’s Oneness and to His creation of the world!
With All Your Possessions
The Shema goes on to say, “Veahavta et Hashem elokecha be’chol levavcha u’bechol nafshecha u’bechol me’odecha — You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all me’odecha.”
What does me’odecha mean? The word is hard to translate. The closest root is me’od, or “very;” hence, “with all your might” is a common translation. But the word can also refer to possessions. This means that we must acknowledge that everything we possess comes from Hashem.
We have to thank Hashem for everything He has done for us throughout our lives! Just look back at your life and see the parents and family that Hashem gave you, the opportunities, the house, the business that He gifted you, and the community He put you into. Your health, your appearance — all that you possess is from Hashem. And this includes the adversities and the tests that He sent your way to challenge you and help you grow. Also, look at the rabbis who helped guide you, and the mentors who inspired you throughout your life. They are from Hashem.
Lo Tachmod – Don’t Covet
In this week’s parasha, Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments. Rabbi Frand reflects on jealousy and its antidote in his book, Rabbi Frand on the Parasha 3. “And you shall not covet your fellow’s wife, you shall not desire your fellow’s house, his field, his slave, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your fellow (5:18).” Perhaps one of the hardest commandments to understand — let alone fulfill — is Lo Tachmod—Don’t Covet. As Ibn Ezra asks, how can the Torah command us not to feel an emotion that comes naturally when someone has something that we would like to have? When the neighbor renovates his house and builds a pool, how can a person be expected not to want to have a pool as well?
Ibn Ezra answers this question through a parable. Imagine a commoner who visits the royal palace. As he is viewing the beautiful grounds, he sees the princess step outside in her royal garments. Though struck by her beauty, does he think for a moment, I want to marry her? Most people wouldn’t entertain that thought for a second. They realize that the king’s daughter is out of their league. People desire something that they can conceivably have, not something that is totally out of reach.
The same should hold true for someone else’s possessions. We should train ourselves to realize that since Hashem gave the pool to the neighbor, it is something that He wants the neighbor to have, not us. As such, it should not be within the realm of our desires.
Rav Simchah Zissel explains another antidote to jealousy. Did you ever hear a father or mother wish that their children would have fewer material possessions just because they had less when they were at the same stage in life? No. Parents are thrilled when their children have more than they did. Why? Because they love their children more than themselves, they are happy when their children can afford anything they want. If we would truly fulfill ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha and love every Jew as we love ourselves, we wouldn’t feel jealous of them for owning possessions that we cannot afford. We would be happy for them, just as we are happy when our own children have more than we do.
Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, is the anniversary of many terrible tragedies in our history. It all began with the spies, who spoke negatively about the land of Israel when they were about to enter it. They were worried about losing their high positions, and they complained about the giants and other “dangers” of the land.
From then on, we’ve seen so much pain on the 9th day of Av, including the destruction of the first and second Batei Hamikdash, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and many other sad days in between. Tisha B’Av is the original 9/11 — it is the 9th day of the 11th month in the Hebrew calendar. And what a monumental loss we’ve had on 9/11/2001.
The Gemara clearly states that the second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. Why would anyone hate another person for no reason at all, whether in the days of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash or today?
Rabbi David Yosef gave a shiur on the topic of sinat chinam. He explained that a person may hate his friend for different reasons, like if he did something bad to him, maybe he embarrassed him, or he spoke badly about him, or perhaps he even stole money from him. But sinat chinam means hatred for NO reason. When there’s a reason, that reason can end or stop at some point, and the hatred will disappear as well. Sinat chinam does not have a reason other than jealousy. But jealousy, whether of health, money, shidduch, or children, is not substantial and it is illogical. The person didn’t do something bad or take anything from the friend who is jealous.
Masechet Yomah discusses the destruction of Betar, which occurred 50 years after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. The fall of Betar was worse than the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, because there was a holocaust where over four million Jewish people died. Why? The Talmud talks about how the people of Betar were jealous of the smart, successful people in Yerushalayim. And when the Bet Hamikdash was burning, the religious Jews of Betar, blinded by jealousy, were celebrating the downfall. We can learn from this how terrible and toxic it is to hate people for no reason. It is so much more powerful to love one another and celebrate each other’s happiness and success.
In the afternoon of Tisha B’Av the mourning starts to subside, even though that was the time of day when the Bet Hamikdash started to really burn. The halacha states that we can sit on chairs and sing Nakdishach in minha. Mishnah Berurah explains that this is so we don’t fall into despair and lose hope, because losing hope is worse than anything. As Jews, we must always have hope, because Hashem is always watching and protecting us, even when it seems that He’s hidden.
Rabbi Mansour wrote that the key to redemption is unity and peace, being kind and loving to one another, even to those with whom we disagree and of whose actions we disapprove.
There was once a man who was praying in Shaare Zion and objected to the fact that somebody else, who was known to be far less than strictly Torah observant, received an aliyah. The man expressed his objection to Chacham Baruch Ben-Haim, who assured the man that this other fellow was allowed to receive an aliyah. When the man continued to voice his disapproval, Chacham Baruch said, “Many years ago, there was a man here in this synagogue who was known not to be particularly observant, but Chacham Yaakov Kassin allowed him to receive an aliyah. Rather than rejecting him, Chacham Yaakov decided it was best to welcome the man with love and friendship.”
Chacham Baruch continued, “That man was your father. You are observant today because your father was warmly welcomed and respected when he was not yet strictly religious.”
This period, when we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, is the time especially suited for increasing our level of tolerance and love for those with whom we disagree. We need to work together and show one another respect and friendship even if we follow different lifestyles and have different views about important matters. Nothing positive can possibly result from arrogantly and condescendingly criticizing people for what we perceive as their religious laxity. If we want to precipitate change, then to the contrary, this can be achieved only through warmth, friendship, and love.
If we succeed in building and maintaining peaceful relationships within our community and between the various communities in Am Yisrael, then our prayers for redemption will be answered, and Tisha B’Av will then be transformed into a day of great joy and festivity. Amen!
Light Unto the Nations
In the parasha, Moshe said, “See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances…. You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation (4:5–6)!’” Rashi comments on this, “Only if you remember the laws and perform them perfectly will you be respected by the nations, but if you permit forgetfulness to pervert your proper performance of the commandments, you will be regarded as fools.” It’s our responsibility, as Am Yisrael, to follow the mitzvot and to be a source of light for the world to follow, even as it’s shrouded in darkness and immorality.
Rabbi Yoel Gold told a few stories in his video presentation, Illumination, that remind and inspire us to follow in Hashem’s ways and be a light unto the nations. The first story in the video was about the Mensch of Malden Mills.
In December 1995, a boiler exploded in the largest textile factory in the country, the Malden Mills. The entire factory was burned to the ground in a fire so large, that it took an entire week to put out. At the most festive time of the year for thousands of Mr. Feuerstein’s largely Christian workforce, they faced the stress of unemployment, the anxiety over providing for their families, and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Mr. Aaron Feuerstein ZT’L, the CEO of the company, a third-generation owner, was about to collect half a billion dollars in insurance for the overnight destruction of his factory. He was faced with a decision: either pocket the money and retire or rebuild the company overseas, saving money on labor, and then pocketing most of the insurance money. Both were great and reasonable options. At 70 years-old, it was commonly assumed he would retire.
The next day, Mr. Feuerstein called a press conference to publicly declare his plans. It was televised and many important political figures attended along with the factory employees. Mr. Feuerstein stood up and announced that he would rebuild the factory where it originally stood. Everyone waited in shock, and he continued with an even more stunning proclamation. “All our employees will be paid their full salaries while the factory is rebuilt.” The entire place erupted in applause filled with intense emotion.
Mr. Feuerstein paid tens of millions of dollars in employees’ salaries during this uncertain time. It was covered on the national news. When he was interviewed and asked why he did such an inspiring act of kindness, he quoted Pirke Avot in Hebrew, “Bimkom she’en anashim, hishtadel lehiyot ish—In a place where there’s no humanity, strive to be a human being.”
Mr. Feuerstein was a man of Torah who treated his workers as human beings, not a pair of hands. He did plenty for his employees, as well as the Orthodox community in Boston. Sadly, he passed away after Rabbi Yoel Gold’s interview, but he will be remembered for many years as an anav and a man of integrity and chessed.
May we celebrate the joyous and hopeful day of Shabbat Nachamu. May we accept upon ourselves to use the Shema Yisrael as a reminder of our responsibility to always look to make a kiddush Hashem. May we continue to be a light unto other nations and bring kedushah to the world by following the ways of our holy Torah so that we may sanctify Hashem’s great name forever until the coming of the Mashiach! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
· Do we make a conscious effort not to be jealous of our neighbor since all of our possessions are from Hashem?
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