VOLUME 72 NUMBER 7 September 12, 2014 Elul 17, 5774
This week’s Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of TJE Board Member Bob Balaban’s son Dovid who got engaged this week to Rabbi Rosskamm’s daughter Frayda. Mazel Tov to both families!
Good Shabbos, Again!
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
Here it is, Shabbos again. I feel like I just digested last week’s cholent and it’s time to make another one already. More kiddush, more challah, more gefilte fish. Same foods, same order. Sometimes you just want to take a Shabbos off.
Better not be this one.
This week’s parsha is one of the scariest parhsas of the Torah. In it is found the “tochacha” or “klalos”—a long list of frightening, terrible consequences that Moshe warns the people may come to pass. Foe anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of our history, or even a slight appreciation of the precarious situation we find ourselves in today, these verses are nothing short of chilling.
Moshe also tells them why such terrible things might happen. “Tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha bsimcha uvtov laivov mairov kol.” Because [that] you didn’t serve G-d with joy, good-heartedly, in your abundance.
The Vilna Gaon identified that the particular short-coming that is referred to here is our failure to properly delight in the Sabbath. The Sabbath should be a pleasure. Good food, uplifting ruach, songs, merriment and enjoyment. It should be a day of joy.
There’s even a hint to this idea in the verse itself. The word tachas which is translated ‘because,’ literally means ‘under.’ The next word, asher, meaning ‘that,’ is spelled aleph, shin, reish. If you take the letter in the aleph-beis that immediately follows each of its three letters, you get beis, tov and shin, which spells Shabbos. Under asher is Shabbos. It’s because of a lack of enjoyment of the Sabbath day that these tragedies can occur. Conversely, writes the Vilna Gaon, one who takes pleasure in the Sabbath brings the future redemption and ultimate end to suffering closer.
A woman once remarked to my wife that to her Shabbos was a prison. My wife responded, “Are you kidding? Shabbos is a five-star hotel!”
Whether its special foods, relaxing time spent with the family, meditative time focusing on life’s bigger picture or a combination of all three, what’s important is that Shabbos be great. Good Shabbos!
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
There is a mitzvah in the Torah during the seven-year Sabbatical cycle to verbally declare that all the requirements pertaining to tithing have been meticulously attended to. The declaration also includes a prayer that Hashem gaze upon us favorably and treat us graciously. The Jerusalem Talmud expands this idea to include not only those involved in this particular mitzvah, but anyone engaged in any mitzvah.
It is noteworthy that this request is only made within the context of performance of mitzvos and not after Torah study. In general, Torah study far exceeds the performance of mitzvos in its importance. It would seem that if one is engrossed in studying the Torah, certainly he should be entitled to such a blessing!
The upshot is that there is an essential distinction between performing a mitzvoh and studying Torah. Although Torah study is the most important mitzvah in the Torah, however, it is our actions that ultimately define us.
It is truly insufficient to be ‘somewhat’ committed to serve Hashem. In other words, when there is an opportunity or need, then one will meet his obligations concerning Hashem. Such an approach demonstrates that the person is not really focused on how he ought to lead his life. However, when one’s commitment is such that at any spare moment they would seize the opportunity to do a mitzvah, then it is evident that the essence of that person is to consistently and constantly serve Hashem.
The Mishnah records that when people trekked from their home towns to Jerusalem, they were greeted with great fanfare. They brought the first fruits from their fields to present them as gifts to the Kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash. Not only did the people along the way stand up for them in respect for their great deed, additionally, they blessed them to do this mitzvah again the following year. Maimonidies adds that when the assemblage reached Jerusalem all the dignitaries and officers of the Beis Hamikdash would also greet them. The large groups of people that were present announced to the entire area the arrival of this troupe and everyone would stand in awe and admiration at the sight of those performing this mitzvah. The dedication displayed by undertaking such a long trip to accomplish this mitzvah clearly indicated what those people valued, to serve Hashem whenever possible.
During the month of Elul we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. On that day when we ‘meet’ the Heavenly Court, we are being judged. Are we classified with those who are righteous, or at least the main strata of our nation, or are we Heaven forbid grouped with those who are reject the obligation of Torah and mitzvos? Everyone knows the famous principle of debate: the best defense is a good offense. Certainly, as in any court appearance, we want to come fully prepared.
S’fas Emes comments that the word ‘mitzvah’ is related to the word ‘tzavos’ which means a companion. When we are performing mitzvos, we are becoming closer and closer to Hashem. Indeed, this is the objective of every Jew; to intensely identify with Hashem and struggle to encompass Hashem’s will in all that we do. We may add that the mitzvah of tithing is to use our resources to that end, to give to those who are less fortunate.
When we are attentive to needs of other and attempt to lighten their load, we assume a mantel of nobility, which is exemplified by Hashem, who attends to all our needs and is considered the Father of all those who are underprivileged and downtrodden.
Joke of the Week
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
When we set aside the first fruits of the harvest to bring them to Jerusalem, we are actually preparing for Rosh Hashanah. Using the very first produce that grows in our field for this mitzvah demonstrates that we are searching for that which is the source and beginning of all.