SPARKS OF TORAH
VOLUME 63 NUMBER 1
October 19, 2012
3 Cheshvan, 5773
Candle-lighting Time: 5:57 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Rabbi Ken Spiro. Thank you for a great event Wednesday!
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The Greatness of the Insignificant
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
There are many stories told of Rabbi Eliyahu Dushnitzer, z”l, and the extreme regard that he showed for other people’s money that are beyond remarkable.
He was the mashgiach (spiritual overseer) of a yeshiva in Lomze inEurope, and his house was directly adjacent to the yeshiva building. It was a simple, unadorned house, and the electricity was supplied by the yeshiva. Whenever he would eat supper, he would turn off the electric light and burn an oil lamp to eat by—he didn’t want the yeshiva to have to pay for electricity used for his personal affairs.
In his later years, even when he would study Torah late at night at his home, he would use the oil lamp—for fear he might be overcome by sleep with the lights still on and waste the Yeshiva’s money.
It happened one time that his Shabbos coat became overly worn and he sent it to a tailor for some repairs. Friday afternoon he picked it up and paid for the work. As he prepared to put it on late that afternoon, he noticed that one button had been added that he had not requested. Having not yet paid for it, he didn’t wear the coat for that Shabbos.
On another occasion, a student came to him to say goodbye before a trip to Poland. He asked the student if he would be traveling to a certain city. When the student answered affirmatively, he asked him for a favor. Once when he had been in that city he had purchased a certain book from a lady bookseller. He had come to feel that the book was worth more than she had originally charged him. He wanted the student to ask her if she hadn’t made some mistake, and to pay her the difference which he would repay upon the student’s return. When the student arrived in the city and spoke to the lady, she said, “What does the Rabbi want already? He has sent several people to ask me about that book. Tell that tzaddik he paid me a fair and reasonable price.”
In this week’s parsha is the story of Noah’s flood. The Torah mentions several things that his generation had become habituated to do that earned them cataclysmic destruction. In the end, though, the verses indicate that the Divine verdict of destruction was issued because of hamas—something so terrible that it was the final reason that they were annihilated.
What is hamas? It’s a form of theft, but it’s not quite theft. The Medrish explains that hamas is stealing something so little that it’s below the minimum punishable quantity of theft. Someone would bring sunflower seeds to sell in the marketplace, and everyone would help themselves to just one.
In spiritual life, it’s the little things that really count.
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
Many of us have a preconceived notion that if we observe all the rigid religious obligations set down in the Torah, then all will be well. Putting on Tefillin everyday, studying Talmud, and affixing mezuzas to our doorposts is all that it takes to be an acceptably religious, observant Jew. Of course, those mitzvos are essential to our service of Hashem, however, there is a critically central ideology that is the bond that unites us all together.
Prior to the great Flood, Hashem condemned mankind to destruction due to their corrupt behavior. The language of the conviction is that the end of all flesh is here because the land is full of thievery and therefore I will destroy the land. The question that confronts us is that the land, in and of itself, is not guilty of transgression but rather its inhabitants. Why does the Torah assert that the land is guilty of misconduct and liable for obliteration?
Malbim notes a penetrating insight that the Torah is making regarding our rights as citizens of the world to exist. He comments that some aberrant behavior affects only the individual who personifies that type of misbehavior. For example, if someone fails to comply with Torah law, he has only perverted his own life but not the lives of others. However, when social norms are disrupted and society unravels, then civilization itself begins to disintegrate. The common bond that infuses a community with effervescence and vitality dissipates and what remains is a void where man does not dwell together but lives side by side in a chaotic vacuum.
In this manner the Torah describes the state of the world prior to the great catastrophe, the Flood, which obliterated any remnant of civilization from the face of the planet excluding Noach and his immediate family. The cause was neither a lack of reverence for Hashem nor a slothful approach to serving Him – just a fragmented community.
Malbim continues that this attitude which eventually destroyed man and his creations was on account of his focus on the physical and material values of life. Therefore, the Flood not only annihilated man and his trappings but additionally altered the very nature of the world and weakened the physical side of man and his existence. No longer would the body and its temptations wield such power over the intellect but rather it would be potentially more subservient to the reason of the mind – but not to the extent that it would eliminate one’s freedom of choice.
Therefore we find ourselves with a new understanding of the basics of life and our allegiance to the Torah. It is insufficient to simply live in a vacuum focused only on Hashem and the mitzvos. As important as they are to our lives, despite being the conduits through which the prism of Hashem’s will is translated into this world, there is also a fundamental need to assess our relationships with others and attend to their needs as human beings. When we live harmoniously, then we have truly fulfilled the will of Hashem accompanied with observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.
Byte For Shabbos
The Hebrew term for Noach’s ship is the same term used for ‘word,’ teivah. If one surrounds himself in the words of Torah, he is protected from the turbulent waters of the world that would drown him.
Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from www.partersintorah.org.
When one mentions the name of a deceased righteous person is one obligated to praise him or her? At the beginning of the parshah, the Torah mentions Noah, and before listing his descendants, the Torah notes that he was righteous. Rashi comments that “since he was mentioned, the Torah spoke of his praise, as the verse states (Proverbs 10:7) ‘The memory of the righteous is blessed.’” The Talmud (Yoma 38b) derives this obligation from the fact that G-d praised Abraham when mentioning him regarding the destruction of Sodom. The common custom is to append the phrase, “the memory of the righteous is blessed” (usually with the Hebrew acronym, zatzal) after mentioning the name of a deceased righteous person. When a person mentions the name of a deceased parent, the mitzvah to honor parents obligates the child to praise him or her just as he would praise a righteous person (Rabbi Betzalel Stern, Responsa Betzel Hachochmah 5:21).
Joke of the Week
Q: Why didn’t Noach do more fishing on the ark?
A: He only had two worms.