Parshas Ekev 5759
Dedicated by Avraham Huppert |
for the Refuah Sheleima of his father
Zvi ben Helena
who underwent complicated surgery this week in Australia.
May the One who brings healing to all souls,
grant him a complete and speedy recovery.
The Fear of Fear
"And now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you; only to fear (yirah) the L-rd your G-d, to walk in His ways and to love Him, to serve the L-rd your G-d, with all of your heart and all of your soul." (Devarim 10:12)
"Yirah" (fear or awe) is a difficult concept for Western minds to comprehend, and the common English translation, "fear", does not promote understanding. On the deepest level, "yirah" is rooted in loving-kindness. One needs to contemplate that the principle desire of the Creator is only to bestow unlimited loving-kindness on the Creation.
Creation took place in order that this loving-kindness be recognized and have a place in which to manifest itself. We in turn, are vessels that consciously control the quality and quantity of what we receive. G-d, from His side, is constantly pouring out the maximum amount of loving-kindness. Man, through his actions can actually prevent the G-dly flow of loving-kindness from the world, which consequently impedes the realization of Creation's purpose.
The arousal that follows this realization; that one's actions can inhibit G-d's desire, is called "Yirah".
The Natural Choice
"At that time Hashem selected the tribe of Levi to bear the Ark of the Covenant, to stand before Hashem, to minister unto Him, and to bless His name even until today. Therefore Levi has no portion in the inheritance of his brothers; Hashem is his inheritance as Hashem your G-d spoke to him." (Devarim 10:8-9)
Why didn't the tribe of Levi (including the Kohanim) get an inheritance?
The Rambam writes (Laws of the Shmita and Yovel, 13:12) that since the Levi'im were dedicated to the service of Hashem, they were released from the regular constraints of worldly existence. They didn't have to earn a living. They were expected to devote themselves exclusively to Hashem's service and He provided for them, as it is written, "May Hashem bless his wealth . . ." (Devarim 33:11) And Hashem takes care of them as it is written, "I will be your portion and your inheritance." (Bamidbar 18:20)
Then the Rambam continues (Chapter 13:13) to explain that this arrangement is applicable not only to the tribe of Levi. Any Jew who wishes to dedicate himself totally to Torah and to the service of Hashem, to become devoted to Him and to know His ways, must begin severing himself from worldly pursuits. He then becomes consecrated; Holy to Hashem. Hashem will provide for this person just as He provided for the Cohanim and Levi'im, as is written, "Hashem is my portion and my share, He guides my destiny." (Psalms 16:5) And as the Rambam points out, we are not absolved from responsibility, the community is also obligated to help support these Torah scholars.
"R' Nachunya ben Hakana said, When one accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah, he becomes exempt from the yoke of military service and the yoke of making a living. When one throws off the yoke of Torah, the yoke of military service and the yoke of making a living are imposed upon him." (Avos 3:6)
The Rambam reiterates the idea. (Pirkei Avos 4:17 and Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:7) He explains that there are three crowns; the Crown of the Kahuna (priesthood), the Crown of Malchus (kingship), and the Crown of Torah. The Crown of Kahuna belongs to Aharon and his descendants, the Crown of Malchus belongs to David and his descendants. The Crown of Torah is different. The Crown of Torah awaits anybody who will come and put it on.
This provides us with insight into a troublesome passage in the Talmud. It is taught, ". . .and the words of this Torah shall not cease from your lips, but learn from it day and night. . ." (Yehoshua 1:8) Is this to be understood literally? Is it not also taught, "If you listen to my commandments and keep them. . . you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil." (Devarim 11:13-14) R' Yishmael says this teaches us that one must balance earning a living together with his Torah study. R' Shimon Bar Yochai says, If one were occupied with plowing in the plowing season, planting in the planting season, harvesting in the harvest season, and threshing in the threshing season, when would there be time for Torah study? . . .Abbaye concludes, "Many followed the advice of R' Yishmael and they succeeded. Many followed the advice of R' Shimon Bar Yochai and they didn't succeed." (Brochos 35b)
Yet now that we know that a certain percentage of Klal Yisroel, (the tribe of Levi together with those who desire to bear the Crown of Torah) must always be immersed in Torah study, we can better understand the words of Abbaye. "Many followed the advice of R' Shimon Bar Yochai and they didn't succeed." "Many"; the majority were not able to succeed, but a minority were able to succeed in making Torah study a full time pursuit. It has even been suggested that those Jews who are engaged in any type of Torah study today are such a small percentage of the sum total of the Jewish population, that they all have the right if not the obligation, to dedicate their full energies to Torah learning.
The Knowing Heart
"If you are careful to heed my commandments which I am commanding to you today to love the Lord your G-d, to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give the rains in their proper time . . ." (Devarim 11:13) This is in the text of the second Parsha in the Shema.)
". . .to love the L-rd your G-d, to serve Him with all your heart . . .", says Rashi zt"l, ". . . this is the service of the heart; it is prayer." (tefillah)
The Yismach Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Teitlebaum of Uhely asks some penetrating questions. Why is prayer called the service of the heart, and why is it more so than other types of "heartful" ways of service such as Love and Fear? Prayer must be uttered with the lips and heard by one's own ears, while the heart is associated with silent meditation. Isn't prayer really the service of the lips?
The answer is found in the root of the word for prayer itself; Tefillah. Tefillah means joining or connecting. (see the comment of Rashi on Bereishis 30:8 concerning the naming of Naftali) Tefillah requires the mouth, not just the meditations of the heart. Service is not only the sweet singing of praises to Hashem. The physical act of voicing prayer helps a person to arouse his intentions. That then is Tefillah; the combination of the external service with internal intention. Together they make a person a receptacle for receiving the goodness of the Creator. This service then becomes an offering before Hashem; focused intention combined with the sweetness of the melody and the song of prayers.
The internal intentions of the heart and the external movement of the lips work together in another way to activate our prayer. Sometimes the words don't come out. Then the inner intentions can be used to stimulate the mouth to pronounce the prayers. On the other hand, there are times that the heart feels empty. The verbal expression of the prayer can arouse the heart to come alive. (This also explains why sometimes people shuckle when they pray. The physical motion pulls out the intentions of the heart, giving them expression as if they were words.)
The Yismach Moshe also explains that this idea represents a solution to a well known controversy between the Rambam and a later sage, the Tola'as Ya'acov. The Rambam maintains that the primary duty of the Jew is to remember Hashem unceasingly and to believe in Him. On the other hand, the Tola'as Ya'acov disagrees with the Rambam, maintaining that the Jew must actively engage in Mitzvos in order to uphold the world. The intentions and the meditations of the heart (remembering Hashem, faith) work mutually with the active verbal expressions of the mouth. (dynamic performance of Mitzvos).
Tefillah truly is the Service of the Heart since it combines the mouth and the heart in unity of service to the Creator.
Straight from the Heart
R' Yisroel of Rizhin zt"l once stayed in a town called Sanek during one of his travels. Of course, everybody came out to greet him since the reputation of the Tzaddik preceded him wherever he went. Among those who came to greet R' Yisroel were some Jews who were not adherents of the Chassidic path. These Misnaggdim (opponents) decided to vent their hostility on R' Yisroel.
"Tell us", they challenged, "it is very difficult for us to understand. Our custom is to arise well before the break of dawn, to pray the morning prayer at sunrise according to the custom of the Vasikin. After we finish praying, we remain for some time in the Shul, still wrapped in Tallis and Tefillin and we learn Chumash and Mishna before we leave. Even as we put away the Tallis and Tefillin we learn chapters by memory from the Tanach. The rest of the day, we maintain fixed times when we gather for additional study in the Shul. For this behavior we are labeled Misnaggdim?!
You, (the Chassidim) your way is to pray the morning prayer long after the prescribed time for doing so, and immediately after the prayer, instead of dedicating time for study, you race to set the table. You bring out cake and brandy, and you sit together drinking, eating and singing. For this you are called Chassidim?! (pious) It seems to me to be quite the opposite."
Reb Leib, the attendant of the Rizhiner, after hearing these accusations could not hold himself back. "I'm not surprised," he imputed. "Your whole service is performed with so little heart, in such a calculated, chilly and lifeless manner, it is no wonder that you learn Mishnayos afterwards, for that is what one learns in memory of the dead! (Mishna has the same letters as the word for soul, neshama, N*Sh*M*H) Not so the service of the Chassidim. Whatever we do, no matter how much, or how little, we do with devotion, warmth and vitality. Doesn't a living man need a sip of brandy once in a while!?"
But before he could go on, the Rizhiner interrupted him. "I'm sure you realize that he is just joking. I will tell you the real reason for our way of praying and the secret of L'Chayim.
It is well know that since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash our prayer takes the place of the sacrifices which were offered there, as it is written, "The prayer of our lips shall replace the oxen of the sacrifice." (Hoshea 14:3) Our three daily prayers correspond to the daily burnt offerings. Just as a sacrifice was rendered invalid by undirected thoughts, so too is our prayer.
When a man stands in prayer before his Creator, the Yetzer Hara wants nothing more than to confuse him and introduce all manner of strange thoughts into his head. How is it possible to stand in prayer in face of that? In the end, it is unlikely that we succeeded in replacing the oxen of the sacrifices with our prayers. What did the Chassidim discover to remedy the problem, and to battle against the ploys of the Yetzer Hara?
After the Prayer, the Chassidim sit together, raise their glasses in L'Chayim, and pour out their hearts in blessing. "Yankele, you should find a proper shidduch for your daughter," exclaims one. "Beryl, your business should have customers like the eyes on a potato," exclaims another.
The Yetzer Hara, already regaling in his victory of having confounded the prayer of an entire congregation of Jews, and seeing them eating and drinking, concludes that for the meantime their prayer is indeed finished, and he joyfully retires for the morning.
Now, it is a Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that prayer can be said in any language that one understands. (Orach Chayim 62:2) Therefore, when Jews gather together to say L'Chayim, and in the absence of the Yetzer Hara they begin to bless one another from the depths of their hearts, it is the real Tefillah, and it goes straight to the heart of the Master of the World.
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