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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Va'etchanan

Parshat Va'etchanan

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Va'etchanan                                                           Print Version
15th of Av, 5781 | July 24, 2021

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Yaakov Rahimi
You Can Be It

The Torah commands of us to “You shall be holy” in Parshat Kedoshim. Now what does this mean? There are many great, righteous sages who we would categorize as holy. But how can Hashem expect of every man, woman and child to be holy?

The Ohr Hachaim explains that being holy does not mean that one is either one hundred percent holy or zero percent holy. Each time a person has a test which comes your way and, that one time, you refrain from sinning, you fulfill the verse to be holy. When the Torah tells us to be holy, it does not mean that we are meant to turn into the Chofetz Chaim overnight. Living with holiness is composed of each time we act that way, even if it is a small act. It is not all or nothing. Every time you control yourself and choose not to do an aveirah, you full the mitzvah of being holy.

Sometimes we look at ourselves and say, “I failed on Sunday, I will probably fail on Tuesday, so why should I control myself on Monday? I’m anyway not a holy person!” That is the wrong mindset. Right now, you have a mitzvah from the Torah to be holy. Yes, you fell yesterday and you might fall tomorrow, but right now you have a commandment to control yourself and you have that choice and can do it. Whatever happened or will happen does not make a difference. Now you have a mitzvah to be holy, and you can succeed.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Be Great

Since 2003, I’ve taken trips around the world where Yiddishkeit has flourished. I’ve been to Poland several times with others, where together we visit many of the holy sites, including grave sites of many tzaddikim and, of course, the concentration camps. But there is one place which changes the whole essence of the trip.

I take the group to Warsaw, where there is a location called the Umschlagplatz, which refers to the holding area, or meeting place, next to the trains stations in Poland where Jews were gathered together from ghettos for the purpose of being deported to the death camps. From the train station in Warsaw, 300,000 Jews were deported daily and deported to the camp in Treblinka.

Today, the Polish government doesn’t want that train station to be around, so they’ve placed a memorial there instead. When I go there, I gather the group around this memorial and tell them the following.

When I wrote my first book for Artscroll about Bris Milah, one of the most moving parts was the section about names. When you give your child a name, that is one of the most important decisions you make. The Gemara (Berachos 7b) tells us that sh’ma garim, a person’s name influences their life. This is why we only give names to our children after good people. We don’t name our children Eisav or Korach.

I tell the group that when I was writing this section about names, I saw something which Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk says. Your neshama is forever connected to the neshama of the person you are named after. If you were named after a grandfather, grandmother, uncle or tzaddik, you are connected forever to that person. This is why it is important to give your child a name after a good person.

When I was writing this in the 1908s, I didn’t have a computer, but only a typewriter. I took out the page to write down the word neshama, and when I wrote it down, I couldn’t believe it. The two middle letters of the word neshama are shem (shin and mem), the word for name. Reb Elimelech’s point that a person’s name connects their neshama to the neshama of the person they are named after is all explained within the very word of neshama itself.

The nun and hei at the beginning and end of the word refer to the words Nishmas Hashem, in reference to the Pasuk, “Ner Hashem nishmas adam – The spark of Hashem is the soul of a person” (Mishlei 20:27).

The memorial made in Warsaw where the train station used to be is a long wall. The Germans, who were so exact, kept impeccable records of the Jews and what they did with each of them. And on that memorial wall is the name of every person who was on that train. (While there may have been many people with the same name, that name is written on the memorial only once). The wall expands from A to Z, and is comprised of just names. Endless names.

I ask each person on the trip to look through the wall and find their name on the wall. Every single person who has ever been there, except one or two, have found their name, whether it be their Yiddish or Hebrew name. I ask everyone, “What gives you the right to be here as a tourist, alive here today, and they’re on the wall!” We are connected to them, because our neshamos are connected to those who carry the same name.

And then I tell them one more story. Reb Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt”l lost his wife and five children during the war. He came to America, to Mount Kisco, following the war and remarried and had five children. At the bris of his fifth child, he said something, which brought tears to the Satmar Rav when he heard it.

“I had five children,” he said, “and they died al kiddush Hashem. I hope that these five children who I have here will live al kiddush Hashem.”

“Now,” he continued, “I have a new understanding of the words we in Kedusha. We say, ‘Nekadesh et shimcha ba’olam k’shem she’makdishim oto bish’mei marom – We sanctify Your Name in this world, just like they (those who gave up their life for Hashem) sanctify Your name in the Heavens.’ Those who gave up their life because they were Jewish are called Kedoshim, and they are in the Heavens. “V’kara zeh el zeh v’amar ¬– And this one calls out to that one and says…” This means that while we call those who gave up their lives and are now in Heaven kedoshim, those same kedoshim look at us and also call us kedoshim, because we live our lives in that way, sanctifying G-d’s name.”

We call them holy, and they call us holy.

How do we become people of holiness? The Torah tells us, “And you shall build for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them” (Shemos 25:8). What does it mean ‘I will dwell in them?’ The Malbim explains that Hashem will dwell in the people. “Everyone is supposed to build a Beis Hamikdash in the chambers of his heart. You should be a sanctuary for Hashem, so Hashem can live in you. Your head has a brain, which encapsulates your intelligence and mind. The holy Aron, which housed the Luchos, was the greatest embodiment of wisdom. Just as the Aron housed the Torah, our minds hold the wisdom of Torah within.

Our heart which gives us life mirrors the Lechem Hapanim, which gives us food and sustenance, without which we would be unable to survive. And our stomach mirrors the Mizbeach, which consumed the sacrifices placed upon it.”

When we look at it this way, we realize that our body is a walking, talking Beis Hamikdash. Our head is the Aron, where our minds study and retain words of Torah. We must be holy in the way we think, talk, eat, act and do for others. Imagine you are standing right next to the Aron Kodesh; would you be able to talk badly about someone? You are walking with an Aron in your head, attached to your body. If your heart is the holy Lechem Hapanim, would you harbor hatred in your heart for someone? To the contrary, your heart will be caring and thoughtful of others. Think about ways you can live al kiddush Hashem. When you daven, have an index card where you list the people you know he need a Refuah Sheleimah and mention each name. Be the caring, thoughtful person you can be.

Rav Shimon Schwab quotes the Zohar which states that the remedy for a person in this world is reading Shema properly. This is especially true during difficult times. Rav Schwab adds that the Pasuk of Shema has six words – Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Baruch Shem, the next verse recited right after, also contains six words. In the land of Israel, there were six Arei Miklat, cities of refuge, where an accidental murder could run to and seek refuge. This is what Rav Schwab means. When you say Shem Yisroel, you can feel secure.
Let me add to this.

My father z”l passed away when I was 21 years old. My father learned at Ner Yisroel in Baltimore and studied under Rav Schwab. When my father got sick, my brother and I asked Rav Schwab if we could stay with him over Shabbos, as he lived close to the hospital where my father was in Washington Heights.

After we davened Mussaf, my brother and I went to visit our father, after which we returned to have the Shabbos meal with Rav Schwab and his Rebbetzin. Rav Schwab knew how sick my father was, and he asked me how he was doing. “I have bitachon that he’ll be well,” I said. Rav Schwab grew stern and strict and said to me, “Bitachon does not mean that your father is going to get well.” I was frightened by Rav Schwab’s tone and words, but it taught me a lesson for life. “Bitachon means that Hashem has a master plan,” he said, “and hopefully one day you will understand it.”

This sometimes does happen. A person loses a job and wonders how they will ever manage. A few weeks later they have an interview and get a job that is better than they had before. Or someone is going out with another for a shidduch and thinks that if they don’t get married, they never will, and then they find someone else later that is far better for them.

Rav Schwab explains, in light of the above, how to read the Shema. We know that Hashem has many names, each of which has a different meaning. Hashem’s four-letter name is His name of kindness. Every one of us has so much goodness in life. Some of us have wonderful spouses, wonderful jobs, beautiful grandchildren, nachas from children, comfortable homes. When we close our eyes and say Shema Yisroel, we are emphasizing that each of us has goodness in our lives and we are the beneficiaries of kindness – mirroring the name of Hashem, His name of kindness. But then we come to the next word, Elokeinu, which is the Name of Hashem which refers to His attribute of judgment. But both the chesed and din, the kindness and judgment, come from Hashem – Hashem echad.

Someone told me that this is what the Gemara means when it says that R’ Akiva’s soul left his body with the words, “Echad.” The simple meaning is that the Romans killed him as he was saying the Shema, and he concluded his life with these words. But it also means that R’ Akiva realized at that point, as his soul was leaving his body, that it all came from Hashem. There was a reason why Hashem was doing what he was doing and R’ Akiva accepted that wholeheartedly.

When you read Shema, don’t be broken. Know that Shema Yisroel Hashem – Hashem does a lot of good for you. Elokeinu, there are a lot of difficulties. But Hashem Echad, at the end, it will all make sense. Hang in there. Don’t give up. We can make, and we will make it.

There is a fabulous Midrash in Eicha (introduction to chapter 24). The Midrash says that at the time the Beis Hamikdash was burning, Hashem was crying and saying, “Woe is to My home! My children, where are you? Where are My kohanim? My beloved, where are you? What should I do? I warned you, I sent you the prophets and told them to give them mussar, but you didn’t listen.” Hashem sent Yirmiyahu HaNavi to call out to our great ancestors on behalf of the Jewish people. Avraham Avinu called out, “Please, Hashem, stop burning the Beis Hamikdash. I was ready to give up my son at the Akeidah, isn’t that good enough to stop the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? Hashem replied that it is not good enough. Yitzchak then says, “What about me, I myself was ready to give up my life!” but that too was not good enough. Yaakov’s plea that he had so many problems with his children and Eisav and Lavan, and that he gave up his life to build the future of Klal Yisroel was neither good enough. Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer that he gave up everything he had to lead the Jewish people was neither accepted.

Until the Yiddishe Mama, Rachel Imeinu, told Hashem, “Hashem, how could you be jealous and angry that the Jewish people are serving idols? I wasn’t jealous of my sister. I was supposed to marry Yaakov Avinu, and I handed over the signs to my sister Leah and I wasn’t jealous.” Immediately, Hashem’s compassion turned over, and He said, “Because of you, I am going to bring the Jewish people back to Israel and return to them the Beis Hamikdash.” What Rachel did that was so special was that she was the giver.

In reflecting on Tisha B’av, we must take to heart that we live as kedoshim, and walk and talk as a Beis Hamikdash. And also, let us be like Rachel. Let us be giving people and show care and concern for others.

If we can do this, we are paving the way for redemption.

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