In This Issue:
Rabbi Darren Blackstein
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
The Shul Rabbi, for me, has always been someone of great admiration for many reasons, not the least of which is being able to emotionally withstand the rollercoaster of a
day's Rabbinical obligations. In a given day he may have to attend and even speak at a Brit, a Bar Mitzvah, a graduation, a wedding, and heaven forbid, a funeral. To experience this range of emotions in such a short amount of time is not unusual for a shul Rabbi. This must be very draining! How does he cope with this? Though fulfilling his obligations should lead to personal and spiritual growth, how can this growth take place under such stressful and demanding circumstances?
I believe the answer can be found at the end of our Parsha. In Chapter 6, Verse 6 the Torah writes that Hashem was saddened and pained in His heart at having made mankind now that the wickedness of
Noach's generation had come to full bloom. At this time, Hashem was prepared to erase mankind from the Earth. As we all know, Noach found favor in
Hashem's eyes and this, in effect, prevented the destruction of all of mankind. Rashi, quoting the Midrash Rabbah, tells us of a fascinating exchange between an Apikores and Rabi Yehoshua Ben Karcha. The Apikores tells
R' Yehoshua that this episode proves that Hashem is not all-knowing because it makes no sense for Hashem to regret something about mankind that Hashem must have known all along: namely, that man would reach such depths. If Hashem knows the future, how could he be saddened and, so to say,
'taken by surprise' by these events? Rabi Yehoshua responds by providing an analogy. He asks the Apikores if he has any children. If he did, he celebrated their births? The Apikores responds in the affirmative. Rabi Yehoshua then asks him why he celebrated a birth while fully knowing that some day the child will die as all people do. The Apikores responded, very naturally, saying that on a happy day one rejoices and that on a sad day one mourns. Rabi Yehoshua says that this is also the way of Hashem. Hashem, using human language, celebrates when we act in a noble fashion, and mourns and is saddened when we stray. Hashem did not avoid creating mankind despite the fact that Hashem knew that mankind would sin. What is the true message here? (At this point I would like to acknowledge that Rabbi
Pruzansky's Yom Tov shiur on Kohelet and my discussion with my Jewish Philosophy class at TABC have both helped me to formulate the following
The true message seems to be that when one considers the future, while its events are inevitable, his knowledge cannot create his experience! Surely, we may know what circumstances are ahead based on what is before us, but this in no way diminishes the magic of the moment. At a happy time we exhibit happiness, and at a sad time we exhibit sadness. We go with the flow. We celebrate a birth knowing full well that parents of newborns are sleep deprived and we mourn the passing of loved ones even though we believe that they have ascended.
Perhaps we can understand Simchat Yom Tov this way as well. Some are troubled as to how the Torah can command Simcha, joy, on Yom Tov. Maybe it is this simple. It's a happy time for our people
"" be happy! Reading Kohelet so close to Parshat Bereishit is not coincidental. In Chapter 3, Kohelet teaches the celebrated idea that there is a reserved time for everything. We can now see that this can imply that when a given incident occurs, we should pay attention to it in the present and not have our minds wander to other thoughts. In Chapter 7, Kohelet tells us that on a good day we should be absorbed in its goodness, and on a bad day we should reflect. Isn't this telling us to rejoice in the good and to examine ourselves for teshuvah when things go worse? Towards the end of the chapter, Kohelet tells us that a Cheshbon, a reckoning, is found by having one thing lead to the next. This can mean
that our lives can be accounted for only by living each day to the fullest. This brings to mind Hillel's famous statement of,
"If not now, then when?" This is normally taken as a recommendation against procrastination. Now we can also understand it as a message of daily guidance. If we don't focus on the present and use it to the fullest, when else will we get the chance?
The Maharal, in Gur Aryeh, takes this one step further. He says that not only does the story in the Midrash tell us that Hashem created us while knowing that we will sin, but that our sinning is actually part of the natural scheme of things. You cannot have good without its counterpart of bad. Having good, indeed, mandates the existence of bad.
With these ideas we are now equipped to understand the praise of the Shul Rabbi.
The Shul Rabbi can pull off this delicate balancing act and survive the rollercoaster of emotions by focusing on the Mitzvah at hand. At the happy event he rejoices in the happiness of the event; at the sad event he joins in the sadness. All of these times, he knows, are ultimately brought about by Hashem. Additionally, there is no need to be concerned that he will feel frustrated and conflicted by these often opposing events because the Shul Rabbi knows that this wide range of human activity and experiences is part of the scheme of life that Hashem has designed for us.
We may not all be Shul Rabbis, but we can certainly learn from that which fuels their fire for religious service, and we should make an effort to let their fire kindle ours.
In describing the episode of the Nachash persuading Chava to sin by eating from the Eitz HaDaat, the Pasuk states,
"VaYomer HaNachash El HaIshah Lo Mot Temutun," "The snake said to the woman,
'You will not die.'" The Midrash provides a background to this Pasuk:
"The snake pushed Chava at the tree until she touched it and said to her,
'Just as you are not dying through touching, so too you will not die through eating.'"
This Midrash seems difficult to understand. The Nachash seems to be making a Kal VaChomer that if for touching Chavah was not punished, she certainly would not be punished for mere eating. Why should touching the tree be considered more of an offense than eating from the tree? The Pasuk (2:17) says specifically,
"Ki Beyom Achulcha Mimenu Mot Tamut," "On the day that you eat from it you will die," thus rendering only eating as a crime punishable by death. Why, then, does the Midrash consider touching a worse crime than eating, which is the sole prohibited action mentioned in the Pasuk?
The Bnei Levi (cited by the Panim Yekarim in Maayanah Shel Torah) says that the Nachash said to Chavah that because eating is a requirement and a necessity for every human being, but touching is just a sense which is not essential to humankind, eating should be a worse offense than touching. The Nachash continued that if touching receives a death penalty, then surely eating cannot do any harm, for a human cannot die twice. If touching would not necessitate Chavah's death, then eating surely could not do anything worse than touching. This logic is obviously flawed, for the Pasuk specifically prohibited eating whereas Hashem never explicitly forbade touching. The Midrash did not consider touching a higher-ranked offense than eating, but was instead pointing out part of the Nachash's trickery.
The Nachash is representative of the Yeitzer HaRa which resides internally in all humans (see Seforno to Breishit 3:1). The Yeitzer HaRa is incredibly powerful and has many tricks to turn someone off the path of Torah. Just as the Nachash cleverly tricked Chavah, who subsequently caused Adam to transgress, so too can the Yeitzer HaRa trick us into sinning. We must always stay strong in our Avodat Hashem and be on guard against the Nachash within us.
After Hashem decreed that Kayin would be a wanderer, he left his abode and went east. The Torah tells us that Kayin subsequently had a son, whom he named Chanoch. Kayin then built a city and named Chanoch, after his son. What is the significance of the name Chanoch, and why did Kayin give the city the same name as his son?
The Kahallat Yitzchak (quoted in Itturei Torah) explains that after Kayin murdered his brother, he regretted his evil deed. He looked into himself, wondering what had led him to murder. Kayin found that he lacked a background in the trait of mercy and therefore had no any compunction in taking a life. In order to ensure that his son would not suffer the same fate as he had, Kayin named him Chanoch, from the root Chinuch (to educate or train). Kayin wanted to emphasize, to himself and to his son, that training in proper Middot (character traits) is of the utmost importance. But simply naming his son Chanoch was not enough. Kayin realized that despite upbringing, surroundings also play a key role in determining a person's actions. He, therefore, named the entire city Chanoch in order to create a wholesome environment that would remind his son of the need to be trained in proper Middot.
We can glean several important lessons from Kayin's actions. When we do any Aveirah, we must always look inside to see what caused us to sin. Once we have done so, we can figure out what to do so that we don't fall into the same trap again. In addition to taking concrete actions ourselves, we must also try to create an environment conducive to our goals. And, once we have accomplished that, we can have some hope of success in the all-important mission of educating our children and setting them on the proper path.
Right after Simchat Torah, we begin Parshat Bereishit, which begins with,
"Bereishit Barah Elokim Eit HaShamayim VeEit HaAretz," "In the beginning, Hashem created the heavens and the earth." In a famous comment, Rashi quotes Rabi Yitzchak's celebrated question: why does the Torah begin with the story of creation? If the Torah is primarily a book of laws, why doesn't it begin with the first Mitzvah, that of
"HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem," the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh?
Rashi offers an interesting answer. He says that the Torah begins with creation because if the nations of the world question Bnei Yisrael's right to possess Eretz Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael will respond that Hashem created everything and He can therefore give the land to whomever He pleases. In addition we may suggest that perhaps we are not ready to accept the Mitzvot until we recognize that everything around us comes from Hashem and that we are therefore obligated to serve Him.
The word Bereishit begins with the letter Bet. A Bet is closed on one side and has an opening on the other. We can learn from this that we may never turn back in our observance of Torah and Mitzvot. We must always look ahead at Hashem's greatness and move forward in our Torah learning.
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