Friday, July 22, 2016




The Avodas Yissachar asks what is hinted at by the mesora that traditionally the letter vav in the word shalom (25:12) is to be split in half. The word shalom is of course read as usual; there is no discernible difference in the traditional way we read shalom – the keri remains the same as always. Yet the kesiv, the written word shalom here, is traditionally different, as the vav is split. What does this teach us?

The split symbolizes the internal conflict we all face when serving Hashem. We all know the truth: we have sinned at times, sometimes we fail and falter, and many times we have not served Hashem properly, transgressing against Him and His laws of our holy Torah. So we feel broken, ashamed, and lowly. We know that humility leads to true yiras shamayim (fear of Hashem). However, teaches the Avodas Yissachar, we would do well at lowly times such as these to remember the teaching of the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk on the maamar Chazal, Pesachim 64, that ein maavirin al hamitzvos, which means literally that we don't pass over mitzvos. But the Tiferes Shlomo understands this to mean that when a mitzva comes to hand not only should you not let the opportunity pass you by; you should also not remember your aveiros. Rather, push those thoughts aside; focus not on past mistakes but on future accomplishments and achievements! This is what the broken vav symbolizes; it is our brokenheartedness due to past misdeeds.

The Avodas Yissachar also cites the holy Kozhnitzer Maggid that teaches us that the pasuk in Bamidbar 19:2 – asher ein bo mum asher lo ala aleha ol – "that has no blemish and has born no burden," can be read to mean that whoever does not recognize that he has blemishes and has made mistakes, cannot become elevated and his tefillos and mitzvos do not ascend to Hashem.

We need a balance. This is the balance of the keri and kesiv of shalom. On the inside, the kesiv, we are broken like the vav; on the outside we never give up, continuing to serve Hashem with joy. This is true shalom and shleimus!

The Nesivos Shalom says that one of the explanations of the sin of Klal Yisrael at this time was that they all stood mourning and crying outside the tent. He cites the Sabba Kadisha of Slonim who explains that this grave sin of the klal was yeush – hopelessness and despair! They had given up; they thought their sins were so bad, that they had sunk so low, that there was no way back, heaven forbid. This is when the yetzer hara is strongest: when a Yid chas veshalom falls into despair and says, "I give up – there is no hope!" Then he falls even lower to worse sins!

The Sabba Kadisha of Slonim taught the meaning of the pasuk: mussar Hashem beni al timas, which literally means "My son, do not hate or disparage the mussar of your father." The Sabba Kaddisha read this as: "The best mussar lesson from Hashem is – you are my son; I shall never disparage or hate you!" Even after the worst of sins, says Hashem, you will always be My child.

With such a message of hope we will overcome the evil yetzer and rise up to serve Hashem with joy, Amen.



There was once a soldier in the king's army who had a secret weapon. The king had granted him a precious weapon of such power and might that he alone was entrusted to safeguard and wield it in battle. What did the soldier do? He went to war; but once he had crossed over into enemy territory all his best-laid plans were foiled.

There he was ambushed by the enemy. The enemy was cunning, crafty and…beautiful and enticing. The enemy had sent a female soldier to lure and capture the king's soldier. The soldier was ensnared and betrayed the king. He handed over his secret weapon – the king's prized treasure, into the hands of the enemy! Although he was captured and held as a prisoner of war, he was eventually redeemed and brought back from captivity. Yet his judgment was not only to be court-martialed, he was sentenced to death for his betrayal, for handing over the king's secrets to the enemy!

The Slonimer Rebbe, in Nesivos Shalom, asks why Klal Yisrael were collectively blamed and punished for the actions of an individual (Zimri). He answers that their collective sin was the failure of hakaras chet – the failure to recognize the calamity and gravity of the sin in their midst. Which grave sin was this? Licentious behavior by a leader of the generation with a non-Jewish woman. What is so grave about this sin as opposed to others? Why does this crime outweigh others in its weight so that it brings about collective punishment as harsh as a plague that killed so many? The Nesivos Shalom explains that relations with a gentile woman are tantamount to taking the king's secret weapon, the sparks of holiness, and handing them over to the enemy. The penalty is death for such a grave crime, a betrayal of the King Himself.

Thursday, July 21, 2016



LeOzni Mishpachas Ho'Ozni – To Ozni, the Oznite family (26:16).

Rashi – this is Etzbon (mentioned in Bereishis 46:16).

The Shela HaKodosh learns a moshol from these words. He asks why Rashi equates Ozni with Etzbon. What's the connection? He teaches us a mussar lesson based on a play on words. Chazal teach (Kesubos 5b) that man's fingers were created shaped so that they fit perfectly in our ears. Why? So that he can place them in his ears and prevent himself from hearing anything negative. Rashi therefore compares Ozni to Etzbon: Ozen means "ear" and Etzba "finger". Thus, the pasuk, based on Rashi, is seen as a moshol telling us to team up the Ozen with the Etzba: if you wish to prevent yourself from hearing something ossur, stick your fingers in your ears!


LeYetzer Mishpachas HaYitzri, LeShillem Mishpachas HaShillemi – To Yetzer, the Yitzrite family, to Shillem, the Shillemite family (26:49).

The Chofetz Chaim used to say that this pasuk teaches us mussar by way of a moshol. Yetzer refers to the Yetzer Hora, the evil inclination to sin, and Shillem refers to the acquisition of shleimus, perfection, righteousness and good. The pasuk warns us that LeYetzer – whoever chooses to listen to his Yetzer HoraMishpachas HaYitzri –will have no problem finding a large family to take him in, a family of sinners, and others who chase after their passions and desires to do evil. The opposite, however, is also true: LeShillem – whoever decides to pursue the path of righteousness and straightforwardness and become whole and pure – Mishpachas HaShillemi – he is welcomed to the family of Tzaddikim, righteous people who all share the same desire to grow in Avodas Hashem. As Chazal tell us: BeDerech She'Odom Rotzeh Leylech Molichin Oso – a person is led upon whichever path he chooses.




Rav Elimelech Biderman tells a story:

"Rebbe, I am worthless," complained a dejected, despondent bachur before the Steipler Gaon, "I have no connection left to Torah or Avodas Hashem. The evil one has ensnared me in his net and I cannot fight anymore." The poor talmid sat there deflated and and explained why he felt this way: "I am constantly fighting my yetzer hora and I am defeated again and again; I never win!" "Never?" wondered the Steipler. "Do you honestly never succeed? Can you truly say you never win at all?" "Well, maybe just sometimes – once in a while," admitted the bachur. "Well," concluded the Steipler, "if so, your way is clear; don't look back at your failures at all – instead focus only on your victories. This will console you, and this is how you will slowly rise back up." The Steipler bolstered his words by pointing out how many seforim illustrate the process of teshuva by prescribing various methods to atone for past misdeeds. "However, the greatest tikkun one can effect," asserted the Steipler, "is to say to yourself, 'AD KAN – stop! Till here did I stumble – but no further. From this point on, I will get up and strengthen myself.' This is the greatest tikkun you can do!"



The Arizal teaches us that in the scheme of the head, the months of Tammuz and Av correspond to the eyes. This is the secret of the pasuk in Eicha (1:16), Eini Eini Yorda Mayim – "My eye runs constantly with water", referring to the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. It is no coincidence that in the summer months of Tammuz and Av we have a special obligation to safeguard and sanctify our eyes more than at any other time of year.

A bachur once came to the Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisrael, and complained that he had visited a Mekubal who had told him terrible things. "The Mekubal told me," he said, "that I have a lot of Ayin Horas that I must rid myself of!" The Rebbe calmed him and answered him thus: "Let me explain to you the Gemara's statement (Bava Metzia 107b), that 'ninety-nine out of a hundred die because of Ayin Hora (the evil eye) and one of natural causes'. What Chazal meant by Ayin Hora is that they died because they did not sufficiently protect and safeguard their eyes!" Concluded the Rebbe.

The Zlotshuver Maggid once observed that no other organ in the human body is as delicate as the eye. Take one single grain of sand and place it on any organ, nothing negative will happen. However, place just one single grain of sand in the eye…! The reason for the exalted position of the eyes is because the Shechina Herself rests on our eyes and, because they are a vehicle or dwelling place for Her, just one grain of sand or dirt can injure them!

The Biala Rebbe, author of Chelkas Yehoshua, had very poor eyesight in his later years. Eventually, during the last six years of his life, his right eye ceased to function, and his left eye saw only very dimly. His grandson related how, one Shabbos morning, the Rebbe awoke before dawn, as was his custom, and asked for a Siddur so as to recite the morning blessings of Birkas HaTorah and Keriyas Shema. When his grandson said it was still too dark to see, he went into the next room with his grandfather's Siddur, and, by the last light of the guttering candles, turned pages till he reached the Berachos in the Siddur. He asked the Rebbe if he would like to sit by the candles, yet the Rebbe demurred, saying it was unnecessary. After saying the Berachos, the Rebbe turned a few pages, recited the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith and began reciting Shema – all from the Siddur, as his minhag was to daven only from a Siddur. His grandson, however, couldn't help but notice that as he gazed at the Siddur, it was so dark that he couldn't make out a single word. He wondered if his holy grandfather was simply gazing at the Siddur, because it was his minhag to daven only from a Siddur, yet not actually reading anything, being that his eyesight was so poor. Afterward, he took the Siddur and checked by the remaining candlelight and – lo and behold – the Siddur was turned to the correct page for Shema. He approached the Chelkas Yehoshua and asked him, "Zeida, how can you see? I am younger than you and my eyesight is better, yet I cannot read in this darkness! How do you do it?!" The Rebbe took his einikel's hands in his holy ones and said to him, "When you guard your eyes all your life, all the Devorim She'bikedusha shine!" (Kedushas Einayim Chap. 15, #126)

The Modzitzer Rebbe writes in Divrei Yisrael (Klalei Oraisa #Hay): The pasuk says in Sefer Shmuel Aleph (16:7): HaAdam Yireh La'Einayim Va'Hashem Yireh LaLevov ("Man sees with the eyes but Hashem sees into the heart"). The word Levov is an acronym whose Roshei Teivos (initial letters) spell: Lechem, Beged and Bayis (Bread, Clothing and Home). These items symbolize all the needs of a person. If a person takes care guarding his eyes, Hashem will take care of providing for all his physical needs, seeing to it that he lacks nothing, has bread to eat, clothing to wear and a place to live.

The Ra'avad writes in Ba'alei HaNefesh (Sha'ar HaKedusha) that the first protective fence that a person must erect around himself is to safeguard the eyes. Whoever protects his eyes protects his heart as well.

The Yerushalmi (Berachos 1:5) promises us that HaKodosh Boruch Hu declares: "If you give Me your heart and your eyes, I know that you are Mine!"


In honor of the Ohr haChaim HaKadosh's Yohrzeit we are re-issuing last year's parsha vort: ZYA


"The name of the Ish Yisrael who was slain, who was slain with the Midianite woman" (25:14).

The Ohr HaChaim HaKodosh is bothered by the seemingly repetitive mention of the word "slain" or "struck (down)" in our pasuk, as opposed to the single occurrence of the word in the following pasuk referring to the Midianite princess, Kozbi. He tells us, therefore, that this pasuk can be read in one of two ways: either as "The name [and soul] of the Ish Yisrael was struck down [because] he was struck by the Midianite woman [spiritually]", or as "The name of the Ish Yisrael who was struck down [physically by Pinchas], he was struck by the Midianite woman [spiritually, through his relationship with her]".

The Ohr HaChaim points out that Zimri was struck twice: physically, his body was struck down and slain by Pinchas who, in a zealous act of righteousness, killed him; and his soul was also struck down by his relationship with Kozbi, the Midianite princess, which defiled his name and his inner essence, the Jewish soul. The Ohr HaChaim says that this is why the pasuk points out the name of the Ish Yisrael – because we know that a person's name influences and expresses his soul's nature (Berachos 7b, Yoma 83b). When Zimri sinned with Kozbi, he fatally wounded his own name, together with his Jewish soul, dealing himself a lethal blow even before Pinchas slew him.

Nonetheless, the Ohr HaChaim concludes in the name of the Mekubolim that "Lo Yidach Mimenu Nidach" – no one is ever left behind; there is hope and a tikkun (rectification) for every Jew, no matter what. All the sparks of kedusha will eventually be ingathered and uplifted. No matter how far a Jew might stray and – Heaven forbid – blemish or defile his soul, Hashem guarantees that it will be rectified and will return to its root source in the end.

Therefore, says the Ohr HaChaim, the pasuk still calls Zimri an Ish Yisrael – an Israelite, a Jew. The pasuk testifies that although his act was sinful, and, since he was killed in the midst of sin he surely did not have time to do teshuva, nonetheless he is still called Yisrael – he still achieved his tikkun. How? Pinchas did that for him. Pinchas' act was not a random act of vigilante justice or murder; it was a zealous act of righteousness LiSh'ma – for the honor and glory of Hashem, with pure motivations. Thus, by killing Zimri, Pinchas did him the ultimate favor and was mesaken him, thereby atoning for his sin and elevating his soul.