Rosh Hashana

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ראש השנה

ROSH HASHANAH: HASHEM IS OUR KING

When we come to Rosh Hashanah, we note what the sefer Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah states.  Achai verayai, he says, “My Brothers, my friends; you know that in the tefilos of the yamin nora’im, the chief theme is kavod shamayim.  ותמלוך אתה השם לבדך על כל מעשיך, that’s our prayer of the day.  “Hashem should reign alone over all of His works.” That is the crux of the day. The avodah of Rosh Hashanah is “Hashem Melech.” “Hashem is King” is the mercaz, the core, the ikar of this day.

Now the truth is that the Torah does not explain the reason for this important day. About Rosh Hashanah all it says is: ויום תרועה יהיה לכם – “It should be a Day of Teruah for you” (Bamidbar 29:1). But what’s this teruah all about? That the Torah doesn’t tell us here. We’ll soon see however that there is a peirush on this word teruah elsewhere in the Torah. We’ll come back to that soon.

Now even though it might not be so evident in the words of the Torah what Rosh Hashanah is all about, and what teruah is meant to teach us, but when you look in the seder ha’tefillah you see that it’s all malchiyos. There are other things too, but even the zichronos and shofros are all connected with the first element, the element of Hashem Melech. So before we even begin, we’ll explain the word melech. Lashon hakodesh has different ideas about language, about words, than the umos haolam have. The nations when they say “King” they mean “the person who acquired power.” Other good qualities, he may have, and he may not have; all it means is that he has taken the reigns of a kingdom. But when you look at the word melech in lashon hakodesh, it means more than power, much more than that.

MELECH IS CONNECTED TO MILKAH

Now if you remember, one of the daughters of Tzelofchod was named Milkah. It was an old Hebrew name, way back. Now it doesn’t say Malkah which would mean queen or princess. It says Milkah. What does milkah mean? When you turn to Aramis (see Daniel 4:24) you see that it means, counsel, wisdom.  Like we say in the gemara, nimlach, he thought it over. Nimlach is translated as nisya’eitz, to take counsel.

So the word melech means “the One who has eitzah, who has wisdom.” Not merely that He has the power to rule the world, but He knows how to rule the world. The chochmas Hashem is the most outstanding form of His malchus. השם בחכמה יסד ארץ – “Hashem founded the world with chochma, with wisdom” (Mishlei 3:19). Now of course He founded it with power, no question about that. But chochma is the real explanation of the whole briyah.  קונה שמים בתבונה – He established the heavens with understanding. Every detail in the briyah is filled with infinite wisdom, and therefore wisdom is the hallmark, the defining trait of Creation. And therefore, when we say Hashem Melech, it means much much more  – infinitely more – than the word “king” used by the umos haolam. Our king is not one who gains power but rather one who deserves power because of His ability to rule with wisdom. The Creator is indeed All-Powerful, but His endless wisdom in the management of the world is the reason for His title of King.

SO WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?

When you go back to the beginning of the history of our nation, when the Am Yisroel stood at the Yam Suf, they made a great declaration. They said a number of things, but we’re going to listen to the last thing they said. You know when you write a shtar so you have to be chozer, to repeat,  the content of the shtar on the last line, beshitah achronah.  Like they say in America: “What’s the bottom line,” the shitah achronah. And what’s the bottom line, lehavdil, of the shiras hayam?  The last thing they said was השם ימלך לעולם ועד“Hashem will reign supreme forever and ever.”

GIVING A MISHEBEIRACH TO HASHEM

Now, we also say that every morning. Every day in davening we say: “Hashem will be King forever and ever.” And we’re happy to say that. Why not? It doesn’t cost us any money.  Maybe you even read in a sefer that saying Az Yashir b’simcha will bring you good things. Good, very good. But what does it mean? What does it mean that we’re saying that “Hashem should reign forever?” He needs us to say that? He needs our haskamah like I need a hole in my shoe. Hashem is a melech without our saying it.  We have to say “He should reign”?! We have to give a “mi shebeirach” that He should be a king forever?! What’s that about?

And it’s not only there; it’s all over. Whatever tefilos we say this great day, and we say many, we’re always mentioning His malchus. מלוך על כל העולם כולו בכבודך – “Reign over all the world in Your glory.” You hear that?  We’re falling on our faces, and we’re begging Him, we’re entreating Him with tears, “Please Hashem, reign over the world.” Doesn’t that sound silly? Don’t worry about Him!  He’s in charge of the world.  He needs us?! To us it seems superfluous.  We have to ask Him to reign over His works?  Is that our bakashah?!

HASHEM NEEDS OUR SUCCESS

And the answer is Hakadosh Baruch Hu made the world for the purpose that there should be man who would recognize that He reigns over him. And why did He do that?  Because He needed men to give Him recognition?!  No.  Hashem needs men to bestow upon them the great benefit, the greatest success that they could possibly achieve and that is the understanding that Hashem Melech, that Hashem reigns.  That’s our success in this world – Awareness of Hashem as the Melech, the only one with true power, wisdom and kindliness. And if we’ll come into this world and we’ll understand that theme, if we’ll just get into our thick heads that Hashem is the King, then we have lived successfully. And then, when our time is up, we will go to eternal happiness as a result of having achieved the purpose of our existence.

And therefore, when we say ותמלך אתה, we’re asking that Hashem should reign in the minds of men, that He should reign in our minds. We pray that we should recognize that there is one Designer for the universe, and He has one design, and the design stretches from the beginning of creation to the end of history with a plan. That’s called malchus.  That’s a kingdom.  It’s done with a plan, it’s altz g’cheshbont.  It’s all arranged with a perfect seder, and everything was made for that purpose, that mankind should arrive at this understanding that He’s in charge.

STOP LOOKING AROUND… WHAT ABOUT YOU?

And so when we stand in the shul tomorrow and we say ותמלך אתה השם לבדך על כל מעשיך – “Hashem, You should reign alone on all of Your creations,” you yourself are the most important creation you’re talking about. What we’re actually saying is that we ourselves are most in need of this bakashah.  We’re asking You, Hashem, to give us success in understanding that. It’s not an altruism, that you’re really worried about the savages in the interior of South America, “Hashem please rule over them.” You’re a big tzadik, standing there all day on Rosh Hashanah, and you’re thinking ותמלוך…על כל מעשיך – You should rule over everyone. And you’re thinking about the Mexicans and the Scandinavians and the Israelis – you’re thinking about everyone except yourself !

Now, of course, we wouldn’t begrudge them if they also said Hashem Melech. We’d be happy if the savages and the Mohammedans and the Notzrim would also be mamlich Hashem Elokei Yisroel- and one day they will,  no question about it – but what about you?! You have to be worried most about the interior of yourself.  The most important question is, is He in charge of you?  Are you aware of it?  That’s number one! Charity begins at home. You have to know that Hashem is King; that’s your biggest concern, yourself. That’s what life in this world is about.

THE SHEVUAH IN SHIRAS HAYAM

And that’s why the Am Yisroel made that commitment to Hakodosh Boruch Hu at the Yam Suf: Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed. It was a commitment; a neder. It was a shevuah they were taking: We’re proclaiming now that Hashem is our king forever. Not a king in the sense of a mashal, some vague idea, a word in the siddur that means nothing at all; but He’s actually our King now, they said, and we take our orders only from Him. That was the shevuah.  We are going to announce always, all our lives, Hashem is Melech. 

And that’s our job in this world, to continue that commitment that our fathers and mothers made at the Yam Suf; to proclaim Hashem as King over ourselves all the days of our lives, and all day long. You want a glass of water?  ברוך אתה  השם מלך העולם.  Every time you say a bracha mention that; melech haolam, melech haolam. It’s not an accident; it’s not just there to be poetic. כל ברכה שאין בה מלכות אינה ברכה – “Any bracha  you say without mentioning the kingship of Hashem is not a bracha” (Brachos 12a). That’s what you have to be getting into your head all the time. Whatever you do you have to say malchus. 

MOHAMMEDANS HAVE THE WRONG ADDRESS

All our lives, Hashem is considered our melech.  There’s no nation in the world that does that.  Nobody is mamlich Hakadosh Baruch Hu anywhere near to what Am Yisrael does. And besides, they have different ideas.  They’re talking in the wrong direction altogether. Muhammadans are not talking to the real Hashem.  They’re talking to a false borei, an imaginary borei, who has “chosen” this fellow from the desert – that’s Muhammad – as his navi.  That’s not Hashem; no such thing.  It’s the wrong address ingantzen.  So when a Mohammedan gets down on his knees and he’s praying with such devotion; “Ahh,” you think, “that’s a frum goy.”  No; he’s praying in the opposite direction; his back is to Hashem.  And when the Notzrim pray, they’re praying to I don’t want to say what.  A mamzer.  A basar vedam. So all the umas haolam are praying to their false gods, and there’s only one nation in the world that is proclaiming Hashem Melech – we’re the only ones with the right address!

That’s why it says משה ואהרן בכהניו ושמואל בקראי שמו – “Moshe and Aharon were among His kohanim, and Shmuel was among those who called out in His name, קראים אל השם והוא יענם – they would call out to Hashem and He would answer them” (Tehillim 99:7) What does that mean?  Why mention Moshe, Aharon and Shmuel Hanavi?  What’s the connection between them? So we’ll explain as follows:  You know, when the bnei  yisroel saw what happened to Mitzrayim, so Moshe Rabeinu said  השם ילחם לכם, from now on Hashem is going to fight for you. It’s not merely a figure of speech; He is your King! From now on all their battles were waged by Hashem.  They said “Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed”- they actually made Him king and He answered them. That’s how it was from the time of Moshe and Aharon; they recognized Hashem as the king, and they called out to Him, ויענם, and He answered them. And that continued through the entire period of the shoftim, down to Shaul Hamelech.  They cried out to Hashem.  והוא יענם, He answered them. Shmuel Hanavi was the end of that period. After that, things changed. After Shmuel, that great era of “And He answered them,” came to an end. What happened during this great period of our history? And what changed?

WHO NEEDS A HUMAN KING?

Up until the time of Shmuel Hanavi the bnei yisroel didn’t even dream of a human king.  A human king?! Hashem is our king!  Hashem is our king! And everybody lived with that truth. Everyone said “Hashem is our king.”  You remember when they came to Gideon who was the war hero, who saved the Bnei Yisroel from their enemies, and they said we want to make you a leader, a king. So Gideon said “You can’t make me king – Hashem is your king.” Did you ever hear such words?  Now, to us it sounds like just words. It sounds good: “No, Hashem is your king.” It sounds very frum to us. But Gideon actually meant it; that’s how people thought in the good old days of our nation. Hashem Melech! Hashem is our King!

But years later, they asked for a king in the days of Shmuel Hanavi at the end of his life, the people asked for a king. עתה שימה לנו מלך לשפטנו ככל הגוים (Shmuel I 8:5). Ooooh, you’re asking for a human king now. So now you lost Hashem as your king. Of course Hashem is still there, but now He’s hiding.  He’s behind the scenes.  It’s behester panim.  He doesn’t show Himself. If you don’t recognize that He’s the king, if you’re asking for a king, then something is very wrong. Of course, they said , “We know Hashem is our king, but we want a human king, someone who sits on a throne,” but what it really meant is that they didn’t know that Hashem Melech. And for the Am Yisroel, that was a tragedy. Because the purpose of life is to know that Hashem is our King.

HASHEM DOESN’T BECOME KING UNTIL THE SIXTH DAY

In mesechta Rosh Hashanah the gemara states, בשישי היו אומרים, on the sixth day of the week, the Levi’im sang in the Beis Hamikdash, השם מלך גאות לבש. That’s that kepitel that begins “Hashem reigns and He is clothed in majesty.” Now why did they choose that for the sixth day? That’s the question the gemara asks. And the gemara says על שם שגמר מלאכתו, because on the sixth day Hashem completed His work of creating the universe,  ומלך עליהן, and He ruled over them.  “Over them” means over all the things that He created. So when He created all these things, that’s when השם מלך גאות לבש, that’s when He began His reign. We see from this gemara that from when did the malchus Hashem, the reign of Hakadosh Baruch Hu begin? Only on the sixth day, when man was created and the creation of the universe was completed.

Now we know that’s not true – absolutely not. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is  השם מלך עולם  ועד, He’s the king forever, אבדו גוים מארצו, even though all the nations would disappear from His world, He’s still the King because He doesn’t need anyone to make Him the King. A human king becomes a ruler if somebody, let’s say, one of the chief barons approaches him in the name of all of the nobility, and he bestows upon the king a belt of royalty, a scepter or some other sign of royalty. A human king, if he doesn’t have a people, so he’s not a king. But Hakadosh Baruch Hu is essentially melech, He’s intrinsically a King.  And that’s what’s stated actually stated in that possuk. השם מלך, Hashem reigned, גאות לבש, He is clothed in majesty. But not any majesty that people put on him,  לבש השם עז התאזר. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is clothed with a strength התאזר, that He girded Himself. התאזר is reflexive.  It means He girded Himself with strength. He didn’t need anyone to make Him a king.  So we must understand therefore what the gemara means by telling us that when He finished the creation of the universe on the sixth day then השם מלך, that’s when He became the King. What does that mean?

WE’RE NO MORE THAN THE BACTERIA IN THIS RUG

From this gemara in Rosh Hashanah, we see that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is not interested merely in being a King, because for that He didn’t need to create the world. He was the king before He created the world, and He’ll be King forever, even if the world would be destroyed. Hakadosh Baruch Hu, however, is very much interested in being king over us. How much is He interested? It’s impossible for us to express how greatly interested He is that there should be someone to see, to realize, to recognize that He is a king.

Now don’t make a mistake. That’s not because Hakadosh Baruch Hu is interested in the applause, in the acclaim of humanity.  As mentioned a number of times here,  all of humanity to Hakadosh Baruch Hu is no more than all the bacteria in this rug right here.  If the bacteria in this rug would all applaud one of us, that man wouldn’t be tickled at all. It wouldn’t mean a thing to him. So why does Hakadosh Baruch Hu seek to have mankind recognize His kingship?

IS HASHEM GOOD OR SELFISH?

We’ll explain by something which was explained once here but it’s an important principle. We say in our tefilah טוב יצר כבוד לשמו, the Good One created all this glory for His name.  Hashem is called the Good One, and He is said to have created all this glory for His name.  All of the kindliness we see in this world, the Good One created for His name – to glorify Himself. The question is if He created for the glory of His name, so it’s no sign that He’s a good one.  When a man does things for somebody’s benefit but not to be recognized then you can say he’s a good one, but when someone performs deeds of kindliness but his motive is to be recognized, so how could you call him the good one?  And yet, it says טוב, the Good One, יצר כבוד, created all this glory, לשמו, for the purpose of His name.  It’s a contradiction.  If He did this because He is good, if He made this universe because He is kind and benevolent, if He bestowed all this happiness on us because He is good – it’s a lot of fun to walk out in the street and breathe in air and be able to walk and to look and to enjoy life – if He gives us all this from benevolence, because He is good, then He didn’t do it because of His name, to glorify Himself.  But if it states that He created all of this glory for His name, that people should recognize His name; so why do we call Him good?

But there is no paradox, and both principles are true. And that’s because the greatest good which can be bestowed on anybody, the greatest benevolence which can be bestowed on any man, is if you make him Aware of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  That’s the greatest perfection of a man.  The more he is aware, the more he feels Hashem, the more he believes in the Creator, the more he feels His imminence, the more he feels he’s standing in the presence of the Creator, then the greater that man is and the more perfection that man has acquired.  There’s nothing higher in life. ראשית חכמה יראת השם – The greatest and the highest of wisdom, is for a man to feel the presence of Hashem. He certainly is bestowing millions of benefits on mankind because in the world there are all kinds of benefits, all kinds of happiness, all kinds of good things we’re enjoying, but all of them have one common purpose and that is to bring us to recognize the Creator and that is the highest good of all.

And that’s what it means when it says that Hakadosh Baruch Hu completed the creation of the world, ומלך עליהן, and He ruled over them. Because the kingship of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is demonstrated to us by the things of the world.  The purpose of all the things in the world is to announce to us that there is a Creator.  Now let’s get that into our heads.  The fundamental purpose of all the things in the world is to demonstrate that Somebody made them.  That’s important, because that’s the foundation of understanding all of reality.  Whatever you see in this world has that purpose to make you Aware of the Creator. All day long, wherever you turn, whatever you see, you should be seeing and saying Hashem Melech.

CARS ARE BICYCLES FOR GROWNUPS

Only that it’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s difficult sometimes to recognize Hashem in this world because there are so many things that distract us. גם את העולם נתן בלבם, Hashem put the love of the world into men’s hearts, מבלי אשר לא ימצא האדם את המעשה,  so that people shouldn’t discover the work of creation, אשר עשה האלקים מראש ועד סוף, that He made from beginning to end. Hashem didn’t want us to see that He’s alone in this world.  That’s too easy.  It wouldn’t be a test for us.  So He puts into this world bicycles for children.  He puts automobiles for grownups.  He puts good times and He puts food. He puts marriage and children and money. All the things, some of them big mitzvos, some that are not mitzvos. Whatever it is, people are busy all the time, parnasah, ambition, making a living, this and that, streets and cities and newspapers and bungalows. Everything in the world is working  in order that people should get their minds off Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  גם את העולם נתן בלבם, He put the world into their hearts, מבלי אשר לא ימצא, that man shouldn’t discover, את המעשה, the work, אשר עשה האלקים, that Hashem did מראש ועד סוף.  It’s all His, but it takes some effort to see Him.

Now I’ll explain that a little more, a little more deeply.  When Hashem created the world, He said yehi ohr, let there be light. And there was light. ויהי ערב ויהי בקר – And as the earth revolved, there was night and day. Now where did that light come from?  Did it come from the sun?  There was no sun yet.  So where did it come from?  It had to be coming from somewhere if the earth’s revolution was causing day and night. So what was the source of this light?  Mei’ayin, it came from nothing. It came from Hashem, yesh meiayin. Light is energy, you know. It came from Hashem’s energy.  Alef lamed, א-ל, means energy.  Hashem said let light start pouring out to this world, and light poured forth. It was light emanating, streaming forth from a certain point, but without a source; no sun!

Now had we been around at that time, we would have been impressed by that great lesson.  Light comes from Hashem! If we could have been there at that time before the sun existed, we would have become Aware of Hashem like nobody’s business. “Look, the light comes directly from Hashem.  There’s nothing else except Hashem.  He’s the power of the world.  Alef lamed, He is kel, He is energy.  He is the source of all energy.” That would have been a tremendous Awareness of Hashem Melech; that would have been a Rosh Hashanah to remember.

And then, four days later, Hashem created the sun.  Now the sun seems to us a great gift because it illuminates the world. The sun pours millions of tons of horsepower, of energy, every day in the form of light on this earth that keeps things going here. And we can only see because of the sun.

THE SUN DARKENS THE WORLD

But the truth is the sun darkens the world.  The sun constantly conceals the truth because now you look at the sun, and you think the sun is the one that gives us the light. And that’s the great deception, the great sheker, of the sun. The sun has no light. It’s only Hakadosh Baruch Hu using the sun as a lantern.  It’s still His energy, only now, instead of seeing energy coming from space without any cause except Hashem Himself, now we’re deceived into thinking it comes from the sun.  And what happens as a result?  As a result, millions of people worshiped the sun instead of worshipping Hashem.  And even we, lehavdil, we don’t worship the sun, but when we see the sun, we think it’s the sun that produces the light.  We know that the sun has thermonuclear processes. We know all about it.  It’s like an atom bomb exploding constantly, a hydrogen bomb exploding constantly, producing energy on the sun and that causes it to come down here in the form of light energy. We know all about it! We think we know, but it’s all a deception.  It’s only an excuse not to see the truth.  The real truth was before the sun.

“HAVE MERCY” SEEMS OUT OF PLACE

And that’s why we say  in the bracha of yotzer ohr, when we praise Hashem for creating the luminaries, מה רבו מעשיך השם, and then right in the middle we interrupt with something that seems lo k’inyano, something out of place. We’re talking about the great creation of the luminaries, we’re thanking Him for creating the sun, yotzer ohr, and then all of a sudden we’re asking Him to have pity on us. אלקי עולם ברחמיך הרבים רחם עלינו – “Hashem the eternal One, with Your abundant compassion, have compassion upon us.” While we’re thanking for the sun and the moon and for the light, why in the middle do we say רחם עלינו, have pity on us? It’s a big kasha.  If we were talking about tefilos where we’re asking for our benefit, all right, רחם עלינו.  But this is a hoda’ah.  We’re thanking Hashem for the meoros. When you’re praising Hashem for giving us luminaries, that’s no place, square in the middle to ask for rachmanus, for pity!

So the peirush is like this: אלקי עולם, while we’re recognizing the greatness of the sun, we’re appreciating the light of the sun. “Ah! What a beautiful sun it is. ומתוק האור, how sweet is the light, וטוב לעיניים לראות את השמש, how good it is for the eyes to see the sun.  Ah, a pleasure to see the sun; it’s a pleasure to see all of Hashem’s creation.” But still there’s a great sakanah there. Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re seeing nothing except for Hashem.

And therefore we say to Hashem, אלקי עולם ברחמיך הרבים, we are thanking You for the sun.  We’re looking at nature, we’re thanking you for the sun, and for everything we can see, but please help us that we shouldn’t be deceived.  We shouldn’t think that nature does it.  You created the sun.  We give You credit, we say it with our mouths during davening, but then we go outside and the sun is shining away, warming us all by itself. Oh no! That’s a terrible thing to think. That’s the greatest contradiction to Hashem Melech. The sun has no power to do anything by itself. The light of the sun is nothing at all.  כי הוא לבדו, He Himself does all these things. Not nature. Not the wonderful things we see.  And as miraculous as all these things seem to be; it seems to be so perfectly constructed that these things can give you life, and  give you all the things you need, it’s a pitoy, it’s a nisayon, it’s a darkness and a deception.  Only You, Hashem, ברחמיך הרבים רחם עלינו, You should have pity on us.  You should help us.  Not the sun.  The sun doesn’t help us at all.  You are constantly warming us.  You are constantly giving us light.  We beg of You, we should not make that mistake. We’re asking that You should give us light.  You should give us warmth, not the sun, and as the sun is warming us and giving us light, we’re asking that Hashem give us light.

WHAT ARE WE DOING AT KIDDUSH LEVANAH?

So we say “Ribono Shel Olam have pity on us.” We live in such a world with such great manifestations of Your presence, where we can learn to recognize You and Your great kindness but we walk through life like we’re asleep, like dumbbells. And we don’t want to be dumbbells, so we say אלקי עולם ברחמיך הרבים רחם עלינו, have pity on us.  Please Hashem, see that we don’t waste our lives.  We should recognize the sun.  And the moon.  It’s so great when you come out and see the new moon.  You say in kiddush levanah “even if this is the only thing we did, it’s worthwhile.” Once a month to see the new moon! People when they say kiddush levanah, they think they’re doing a mitzvah and that’s all.  But really you’re thanking Hakadosh Baruch Hu that there’s a moon! You have to think into that.  And therefore, please Hashem, ברחמיך הרבים רחם עלינו, have pity on us that we shouldn’t waste our lives. Help us because we’re being deceived into thinking that you’re not the melech.

And therefore, it’s so important while you’re studying the world to be able to look through the world and not be deceived by it and recognize the truth of the world.  יושב בסתר עליון, the most high, He dwells in secret.  Everything seems to be working on its own.  אשר ברא אלקים לעשות, Hashem created things that they should do.  From now on it seems that they are all doing.  Nothing doing! They’re doing nothing at all. It’s only a dream.  It’s imagination.  Hashem is doing everything! Hashem Melech!

And don’t think Hashem stopped, and He gave it over to nature, and He retired from the field.  He is in there all the time.  Only instead of seeing Him openly, you’re being deceived by nature, and our job is to open our eyes. The malachim -their eyes are open right now and they say מלא כל הארץ כבודו, because they see right now the truth; but we don’t.  We’re deceived by nature, and therefore we say וימלא כל הארץ כבודו, the time should come when His glory will fill the world, and then everybody will see that You’re the One who is in the world.  Nothing else.  אין עוד מלבדו.  There’s nothing else except Hashem. Hashem Melech and nothing else is anything.

ROSH HASHANAH IS THE RECHARGING STATION

And now we come back to Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the opportunity to review and to renew in our minds this important principle.  So every time you say השם מלך, you’re not merely repeating a pizmon from the machzor.  You’re saying the yesod hayesodos.  Every השם מלך is a new opportunity to implant in your mind the conviction that Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Hashem, yud kay vav kay, He is the wisdom of the world, He is the kindliness of the world, and the entire world is nothing but the word that came out of His mouth. בדבר השם שמים נעשו . There’s no world.  The world is nothing but the dvar Hashem. He said yehi.  That’s why yud kay vav kay is used.  He’s the One who said yehi, it should be, and it came out of nothing.  The entire world is nothing but the word of Hashem, and therefore on Rosh Hashanah all we speak about is the most important fact in the world, the yesod ha’yesodos, that Hashem is the King, and that there is no other force, no other power beside for Him.

And now we can understand the answer to a big question that has bothered many people. Why is it that Yom Kippur comes after Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is a Yom Hadin, we’re being judged. It’s a time when Hakadosh Baruch Hu inscribes lechaim or whatever else there is. It’s a great sakanah, Rosh Hashanah. People are not ready to be judged, and they’re judged according to what they are.

WHERE’S THE TESHUVA ON ROSH HASHANAH?

So wouldn’t it be worthwhile if we spent Rosh Hashanah instead of talking about malchus Hashem, we would spend Rosh Hashanah saying forgive us for this sin, forgive us for that sin.  At least you’re taking one sin off the scale.  And as the side of chovos becomes lighter, the side of zechuyos becomes greater.  You could save your life on Rosh Hashanah! So how could I waste time on Rosh Hashanah on talking about malchus Hashem, talking about Hashem Melech, Hashem Melech all day long, when we’re in the greatest danger?  If chas v’shalom the scale on Rosh Hashanah on the side of chovah, of accusation, is heavier, then nobody gets a second chance.  So we should spend time on Rosh Hashanah saying על חטא שחטאנו לפניך. That seems to us a sensible way.  In a time of danger, you have to throw overboard all the ballasts so the ship shouldn’t sink.  We have to save ourselves.

Or we should have Yom Kippur before Rosh Hashanah to do teshuvah; we should say viduy, have aseres yemei teshuvah, and so when Rosh Hashanah comes, we will be cleansed of all our sins.   So Yom Kippur should come earlier than Rosh Hashanah! But no, we postpone teshuvah until later, until Yom Kippur.  And what do we find? Instead of saying על חטא, on Rosh Hashanah, we’re saying ותמלך אתה השם לבדך.  We’re praying that You, Hashem, become our King. It’s a big kasha.

THE BIGGEST AVEIRAH!

And the answer is that proclaiming Hashem as King is the biggest teshuva you can make! On Rosh Hashanah you have to do teshuvah! And what’s the greatest teshuvah?  We don’t say על חטא שחטאנו לפניך. We don’t say it on Rosh Hashanah.  We don’t enumerate this chet and that chet.  Because there’s one big chet.  There’s one overall failure of mankind that they have to be misaken on Rosh Hashanah, and that’s the failure to recognize that Hashem yimloch l’olam va’ed. That’s our big job on Rosh Hashanah. And it’s very important because it’s the Yom Hadin. It’s the day of very great sakanah. Some are nichtav v’nechtam, their fate is sealed on Rosh Hashanah. And yet, instead of saying al cheit all day long, we say Hashem Melech all day long. Which means that saying Hashem Melech is the most important form of teshuva and that’s what Hakodosh Boruch Hu will consider most when He thinks about our fate for the year to come.

There’s nothing in the world.  It’s all a deception.  Money, cars, houses, even children, everything in this world is a deception.  Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the only entity that exists in the world, and therefore on this day we remind ourselves, we engrave into our minds that He is everything. And that is the greatest zechus we can accomplish on Rosh Hashanah; to become aware that He’s our King.  That’s the most necessary, the most essential form of repentance, and that’s why we forgo all other forms of atonement and asking for forgiveness and we concentrate only on this alone.

BLOWING SHOFAR MAKES HASHEM GREAT

Now when we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is saying עורו ישנים, wake up you sleepers.  Wake up for what?  Now we could say wake up and remember this, wake up and think about that, but fundamentally the shofar says wake up and think about what we spoke about here tonight. That’s why we blow the shofar.  עלה אלקים בתרועה, “Hashem ascends in the sound of the trumpet.” He ascends.  How does He ascend?  We make Him greater?! Man below takes a horn and saws it off of a ram, and he stands below in a little synagogue, and he gives a blow, and Hashem becomes elevated thereby?! The Creator of the universe with billions of star worlds in which this earth is a speck of dust and because one human being or a thousand or even a million human beings blow on the shofar so Hashem is exalted?!

Now, I said in the beginning of the lecture tonight that we would find a fundamental peirush on why Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Teruah somewhere else in the Torah. Now I know the mefarshim say many kavanos and in the machzor I’m sure you’ll find a number of explanations for shofar, but the yesod of shofar is what Bilam said, ותרועת מלך בו.  And it is actually Bilam who came and explained the possuk  of יום תרועה יהיה לכם. Bilam said ותרועת מלך בו.  What is the teruah that we have?  It’s a תרועת מלך.

 So what is meant when we say עלה אלוקים בתרועה? The answer is Hashem wants to be exalted in our minds.  It’s for us. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is elevated in the minds of mankind when they announce His kingship by blowing the shofar. That was the practice in the olden days; when a king began his reign it was announced by a blowing of trumpets. And on Rosh Hashanah Hakodosh Boruch Hu is announced as the Melech by the blowing of the shofar. And the purpose is to remind ourselves that Hashem is the King.

WAKE UP YOU SLEEPY HEADS

And so the shofar comes along on Rosh Hashanah and blows tooooo tooooo toooooo.  Wake up you sleepers.  Wake up, it’s Rosh Hashanah.  What should we wake up about?  Al cheit?  No, the big chet! Not this little cheit; worry about later, the aseres yimei teshuva, Yom Kippur. All our little chataim are minor things.  They are all toldos.  They’re all results of the big one. And today we’re dealing with the big cheit; and that’s forgetting Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that’s He’s the King. And so all day long we stand on our feet and shout ד’ מלך ד’ מלך ד’ ימלך לעולם ועד.  He’ll forever be the King no matter how many things are in the world. And therefore the more a person gets into his blood the spirit of ד’ ימלך לעולם ועד, the more he deserves to live.  That’s the sod of life on Rosh Hashanah.  The secret of life is get השם מלך into your blood.  Because Hashem wishes us to continue this career of proclaiming His Kingship. That’s what life is for.

Rosh Hashanah comes to recharge the batteries every year and to give us the penimiyus that we ourselves should labor to think about Hakadosh Baruch Hu as a מלך העולם. So as you stand in shul on Rosh Hashanah and the ba’al tokea is blowing, think number one Hashem Melech.  We’re announcing the reign of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That’s what has to get into our heads.

Now isn’t it a pity? A lot of people come on Rosh Hashanah to the synagogue and never once think of this principle which Rosh Hashanah represents. A thousand other things you’ll think about, but not the ikar. And it’s such an important principle, it’s so essential that we think about this, because a man’s judgment depends on his realization of this principle.

SHOFAR BLOW IS A CRY FOR HELP

Now it says in the Torah  כי תבאו מלחמה בארצכם, when there comes a war in your land and you have to fight against the invaders, so you should blow shofar and Hashem will hear.  Then it also says וביום שמחתכם ובמועדיכם, on the days when you come together to rejoice you’ll also blow shofar.  What is this that has two different purposes, crying out for help and rejoicing?

We’re saying two things here and both are one.  When we call out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for help all day long, we say refaeinu Hashem, please Hashem save us.  Heal us from our illnesses.  Barech aleinu, help us have parnasah so we should have something to eat.   We’re crying out to Him.  So by crying out to Hashem, we are declaring Him our melech. The shofar that you use in a time of tzarah chalilah to cry out for help, that shofar means we don’t go to anyone else. Even though we have an army, even though we have weapons; no, it’s nothing.  It’s only You, Hashem, You’re the one who leads us into battle. So therefore when we cry out with a shofar against our enemies, we are declaring that we have no outlook for any kind of help except from You alone, אין לנו מלך אלא אתה.

And that’s why when the Jews were in the concentration camps when some were going to their deaths, the good ones didn’t forget.  The stupid ones, the ones who were not frum before or who were not frum enough, they saw Nazis, they saw fires, they saw a concentration camp, they saw tortures, but they didn’t see Hashem.  But the frummeh, the good ones always say “Hashem Melech”. “All this is bluff,” they said.  It doesn’t cause us for a moment to forget the truth. And the truth is Hashem is in control of everything.  And out of this darkness will come our success because in the midst of all this darkness we recognize the truth of Hashem. And that’s the only thing that’s important in this world.

SHOFAR BLOW IS CRY OF HAPPINESS

Now suppose we’re successful in our lives. You took in your crops.  You harvested your field.  You have wine.  You have oil.  You have plenty of tevuah.  You’re happy.  So now you come together on yontif to celebrate, chag ha’asif, chag habikurim.  You have to blow the shofar. ביום שמחתכם ומועדיכם. Why blow then?  Same thing. To show that it comes from You.  It comes from You. We blow the shofar to say “You’re the king!” Here you have a farmer who worked all summer.  He plowed the field.  He planted.  He worked really hard.  He harvested.  He threshed the grain.  He winnowed it.  He ground it.  And now after it’s all over, he has a piece of bread, and he says ברוך אתה השם אלוקנו מלך העולם המוציא לחם מן הארץ. You’re the One who did it.  I didn’t do anything.  All our labor is nothing.  It’s all you.  So ביום שמחתכם, when you announce in your happiness that all your success comes only from Hashem, that’s included in תרועת מלך, announcing Hashem as king.

And even when a man goes to his wedding, ah sason vesimchah, he’s drunk with happiness.  Everybody’s dancing and singing.  The orchestra is playing.  It’s all nothing.  ד’ מלך.  Don’t forget Hashem for one moment.  He is right there next to you, between you and the kallah.  He’s there.  Don’t forget about Him. Nothing in the world should make you forget Hashem.

CHUMASH IS A SHULCHAN ARUCH

So that’s what Bilam said.  ותרועת מלך, it’s a nation that is always talking about Hashem their king. Now you understand that frum Jews live by the Shulchan Aruch.  But you have to know that the higher Shulchan Aruch is written in the chumash; the Shulchan Aruch is only a peirush on the chumash. So the first of all of our obligations is to think about what it says in the chumash. Bereishis barah Elokim. Tru’as melech bo. That’s number one.

Now that’s so important, it cannot be overemphasized because people fall into the habit of forgetting.  They’re thinking about this halachah, this sugya.  After a while they forget.  The gemara tries to remind you.  It says amar rachmana.  It doesn’t say shenemar. It  wants to remind you that the Rachmana is saying this.  But we forget.  We have to continue to keep in mind Hakadosh Baruch Hu even when you’re learning.  At all times.

THE #1 REQUIREMENT

We have to understand that.  It’s really good to be frum.  Wear your tzitzis out.  Wear black hats.  Wear payos.  Be mekayem mitzvos.  But you have to know the number one requirement of a yehudi is he’s thinking about Hashem.  So try it once in a while.  Seriously.  Once in a while think about Hashem.  Little by little you might think a little more about it.  Get in the habit of keeping your mind as much as possible on Hashem.  You start with a minute or two. You have to exercise your thinking muscles with one minute or two minutes.  It’s not easy but that’s one form of endeavor that we are expected to achieve in this life.

That’s the first Shulchan Aruch of all, and Bilam said that’s the power of this nation.  השם אלקיו עמו – “Hashem their G-d is with them.”  Do you know why?  Because ותרועת מלך בו, it’s only because they are “always proclaiming Him king.”

NOW THAT’S A BRACHA!

We read in the story of Dovid Hamelech that a certain wise woman once said to him that you should be בצרור החיים עם ד’ אלקיך, you should be in the bind of life together with Hashem. What does that mean “bound with Hashem?” It has two meanings.  One is when a person is bonded to Hashem, he thinks about Hashem in his day, in his lifetime, in the streets, when he’s at work, in the yeshivah where he’s learning, at home, when he gets up and he goes to sleep he’s thinking about Hashem.  The more he does it so he’s bonded in the bundle together with Hashem.  Hashem is going to continue and you’ll continue.  That’s how she gave him a brachah.  With Hashem Elokecha, your nefesh, your soul, your life, should be bound up together with Hashem.  And just like you’re loyal and devoted to Hashem, Hashem wants you to continue.  He’ll protect you again and again.

And so when people look forward to the ensuing year and they are thinking what program, what resolution, should I adopt that would cause me to find favor in the eyes of Hashem and make me deserving of another chance.  Every year we ask for another chance.  So we’ll understand that if we look forward to a career of deveikus, of thinking about Hashem, keeping Hashem in your mind as much as possible, then we have a certain bargaining card with Hashem.  We could tell Him, look Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we are going to be an eved that recognizes Your malchus.  We’re going to declare to ourselves constantly Hashem Melech throughout the year, not merely by saying the words, but by living in consonance with that principle by being in constant deveikus with Hashem. And then you’ll be living for a purpose. That’s a life worth living.

TIED UP IN THE NEXT WORLD

There’s another meaning of tzror hachaim, however.  A much more important meaning.  Nobody lives forever, and in the World to Come this blessing is of upmost importance.  The gemara says העולם הבא אין בו לא אכילה ולא שתיה, there’s no eating or drinking.  What is the happiness, the great ecstasy that Hashem promises to those who are loyal to Him?  So Rav says אלא צדיקים יושבין ועטרותיהם בראשיהם, they have the crowns on their heads.  The Rambam says the crowns are the da’as, the Awareness of Hashem that they gained in this world.  You hear that?  You’ll have crowns on your head.  That’s the da’as that you gained by thinking about Hashem in this world.  ונהנים מזיו השכינה, you will enjoy the splendor of the shechinah.  So to be together with Hashem and to enjoy the ecstasy of that closeness, that’s a happiness that’s forever and ever and there’s nothing, even Hashem Himself cannot make a greater happiness because Hashem cannot make anything greater than He is.  And therefore that was part of her blessing, that you should be צרור בצרור החיים עם ד’ אלקיך, the bond of life.

So Rosh Hashanah is not only for the following year.  Many times Rosh Hashanah has something to do with one’s whole life.  But not only life.  It has to do with the next world too. And when we blow shofar and you’re thinking ותרועת מלך בו, this is a proclamation that Hashem is our melech.  All our hopes are on Him.  All our loyalty is to Him.  And if you say that,  then Hashem says “If so, then you’re going to be with Me forever and ever.  אני ד’ לא שניתי, I Hashem, I never changed, ואתם בני ישראל לא כליתם, you’ll never come to an end. You make Me your king in this world and I’ll be with you forever, in this world and the World to Come.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

 

Yom Kippur – Asking For Life

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Asking for Life

Transcribed from tape #803

Bruchim habaim, welcome everyone.
We are about to begin be’ezras Hashem number 803.

THE KEDUSHA OF KOL NIDREI NIGHT

On Kol nidrei night, besides for all the other aspects of kedushah that it has, there is something special that makes it even more kadosh. The Torah (Bereishis 45) relates that when Yosef finally was reunited with his brothers, so Yosef said הוציאו כל איש מעלי, “Send out everyone except for my brothers.” And he stood there in the palace alone with the brothers. ולא עמד איש אתו, “Nobody was standing with him, בהתודע יוסף אל אחיו, when Yosef made himself known to his brothers.” Now, it’s a question: Why did Yosef insist that nobody should witness this reunion of the brothers? Why were all the Mitzriyim sent away?

And the answer is that it was a holy occasion. The shechinah came down at that time! When brothers come together after having been disunited, it causes hashra’as hashechinah. In general, when Jews unite, even just ten Jews, that’s what happens: כל בי עשרה שכינתה שריא – Wherever ten Jews unite for the purpose of doing a mitzvah, the shechinah comes down (Sanhedrin 39a). But there, there’s no halachah that a gentile shouldn’t be standing there. In this case however, when the brothers reunited, it was even more special than that, and that’s why Yosef sent everyone out. It was similar to the Mikdash and similar to Shabbos.

SHABBOS AND BEIS HAMIKDASH: NO GOYIM ALLOWED

The Beis Hamikdash, or the Mishkan, and Shabbos have something in common. The gemara derives the halachah of the lamed tes melachos, the 39 labors that you cannot do on Shabbos from the 39 kinds of labor that went into the erecting of the mishkan. What’s the comparison? So we see that Shabbos is also a form of a mikdash. It’s a sanctuary. And just as that sanctuary was created by 39 forms of work, craftsmanship, melachos, so also the Shabbos, the Shabbos mind, is created by refraining from 39 forms of work. Each one that we refrain from is a form of creating the Shabbos Mind.

Now the Shabbos becomes a mikdash; like it states that no ערלים, no goyim are able to come into the Shabbos. לא ישכנו ערלים it says in the tefillah. The uncircumcised cannot come in to Shabbos. What does that mean? נכרי ששבת חייב מיתה, a gentile should not keep Shabbos. He’s chayav misa if he does (Sanhedrin 58b). Once a man came to me, and he said he’s contemplating becoming a ger, and he’s been keeping Shabbos a long time. So I said, “Stop! It’s dangerous; don’t do that!” “Every Shabbos switch on the light at least once,” I told him. Because it’s not for them. Shabbos is not for them.

And the same is in the mikdash; if a non-Jew came intop the mikdash, he was put to death. There was a sign hanging outside of the Beis Hamikdash in Latin, “If a non-Jew enters these precincts he’ll be put to death.” It was written in Latin because it was a warning for the goyim. The Shabbos and the mikdash are not for strangers. לא ישכנו ערלים.  No goyim allowed!

KOL NIDREI NIGHT: NO GOYIM ALLOWED

And so too, when Yosef made himself known to his brothers, and they became reconciled, it was also a moment of great kedushah. A very great holiness came down. It was a nachas ruach to Hakadosh Baruch Hu – “My children have made up” and therefore He was present. It’s not just a form of speech, some poetic words. He was present! When the Am Yisroel reconciles, it’s much more than ten Jews gathering together- it’s so holy that goyim can’t even be present. No goyim allowed!

And kol nidrei night is a time when people have reconciled; they’ve made up with each other. Al pi halachah that’s what they have to do because Yom Kippur is not mechaper for aveiros shebein adam lechaveiro ad sheyifayis es chavero. Yom Kippur won’t help you for sins against your fellow Jew unless you appease him first. You have to appease your fellow man. You have to be reconciled with him. Every married man before he leaves the house to go to the beis haknesses on Yom Kippur night should ask his wife to forgive him and she should ask him to forgive her. Everyone, every man, every woman, must reconcile before Yom Kippur. Then they all come together to the beis haknesses with the kedushah of piyus. Piyus means everybody now is reconciled. And just that alone is why there’s a very great kedushah kol nidrei night, in addition to all the other reasons why it’s such a holy night. Hashem’s chosen people have reconciled!

HASHEM CHOSE US BECAUSE OF OUR BEAUTY

Now we must know that Hakadosh Baruch Hu did not choose us out of caprice, because of a whim. In Shir Hashirim (4:1) Hakadosh Baruch Hu declares יפה את רעיתי, “You are beautiful, my mate.” It means, there’s a reason why I chose you – You are beautiful. עיניך יונים, “Your eyes are beautiful,” Hashem says to the Am Yisroel. What does that mean? When we say to Hakadosh Baruch Hu in Shir Hashirim, יפה את רעיתי, “You are beautiful My beloved” so we’re praising Hashem because we have a reason to praise Him. Hakadosh Baruch Hu has all the virtues. He’s Perfection itself; there’s a lot to praise! But Hashem said don’t think it’s merely because of Me, because you associate with Me, that you’re beautiful. There’s no question once you receive the Torah it benefits you. It improves your character. In every detail of your life you become better because of the Torah. But why did I give you the Torah in the first place? Why did I give you that benefit of becoming close to Me? And the reason is because you were beautiful beforehand. Your forefathers so shaped the nature of their families that they became perfect in character.

We have to know the old-time Jew was a beautiful personality. רחמנים ביישנים וגומלי חסדים, (Yevamos 78a) and these three are just headings of chapters under which there are many other qualities. The truth is that we still possess these qualities, only they’re buried under mountains of externalities which we learned and picked up from the umos haolam. But the old-time Jews didn’t have literature, they didn’t have any gentile attitudes to contend with. They lived by themselves. הן עם לבדד ישכון, “Behold a nation that dwells alone.” Avraham Avinu did not consort with anybody. Even his own sons, he sent away so they shouldn’t be an influence on Yitzchak. He had fine sons, beautiful sons, but he sent them away. He wanted to be alone with Yitzchak. And Sarah didn’t even want Yishmael to be around. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu agreed with her. So our forefathers didn’t have this encumbrance of gentile influence, and therefore their characters were what you call pure Jewish characters, yiddishe middos.

HASHEM IS STILL WITH US SINCE HAR SINAI

In the song of Moshe Rabeinu, in Parshas Ha’azinu, we read, השם מסיני בא –Hashem came to us from Sinai” (Devarim 33:2). What does that mean that “He came to the Am Yisroel from Sinai?” It means this: From Sinai He comes to us in every generation. Because of what happened at Har Sinai, because we accepted His Torah, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu comes to us from that historic moment, that momentous occasion at Sinai always, in every generation. He won’t forsake us just because of that.

But now he tells an additional reason for coming to us forever: וזרח משעיר למו – “Hakadosh Baruch Hu appeared to us from Se’ir.” What is Se’ir? Se’ir is where Eisav‘s descendants live, in Edom. הופיע מהר פארן – “And He shines forth from the mountain of Paran.” That’s where Yishmael is, like it says “Yishmael dwelt in Paran” (Bereishis 21:21). But we have to understand- what does it mean? What was Hashem doing in Se’ir and in Paran?

WE’RE MUCH GREATER THAN THE BEST NATIONS

And the answer is as follows. In order to emphasize the perfection of His beloved people, Hashem said, let’s take a look at Edom. Now Edom is a pretty good nation compared to other nations. Compared to the Englishmen, compared to the Huns and the Persians, Edom was pretty good. Because Edom was from Eisav, and Eisav you have to know had a good father and mother. Eisav was blamed only in comparison to what he should have been, what he could have become. But there’s no question Eisav was a very fine gentleman. ויאהב יצחק את עשו – Yitzchok loved Eisav (Bereishis 25:28). And it wasn’t for nothing that he loved him; Eisav had a lot of good qualities. And still, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu looked at Eisav, when he looked at Se’ir, he fell more in love with Am Yisrael. He saw the difference. No matter how good Edom is, they cannot compare to the children of Yaakov ish tam, the perfect man.

And then Hakadosh Baruch Hu made a detour to Paran, to Yishmael. Yishmael had very many good qualities. He was a good man, Yishmael. He was a tzaddik all his life, and he taught his people to be very modest. That’s why all the Arabian women were veiled in ancient times down to today. The gemara tells us that Arabian women wore veils. And it was Yishmael who started that. And everyone knows that the Arabs practice hachnasas orchim, hospitality to wayfarers.

Yishmael gave over all the things he heard from his father, Avraham Avinu, who was a big machnis orach. There’s no question that Yishmael passed down good qualities to his descendants. Of course, in the course of time it became watered down with other qualities that they learned from other nations; but at that time, Paran was a model of very good behavior. And yet, when Hakadosh Baruch Hu looked at Paran, at Yishmael, He saw so many more reasons why He should choose Am Yisroel. And so when Hakodosh Boruch Hu came from His “detour” to Se’ir and Paran, and He came to the Am Yisroel at Har Sinai, He came to us with even more of a love for us! (See “He Came Shining” Chol Hamoed Sukkos)

WE’RE MORE IMPORTANT THAN MALOCHIM

And it wasn’t only the umos ha’olam that Hakodosh Boruch Hu forsook for the Am Yisroel: ואתא מרבבות קדש – “And Hashem came from his tens of thousands of kedoshim” (Devarim 33:2). Hakadosh Baruch Hu didn’t lack company; He didn’t need the Am Yisroel. He had tens of thousands of malachim around Him. But he said, “Malachim, that’s not My people.” ואתא, He went away מרבבות קדש, from His retinue of malachim and He came to Am Yisroel. The Am Yisroel are what’s important in this world, said Hashem, not the malachim.

Do you remember when Yaakov Avinu was leaving Padan Aram and on the way into Eretz Yisroel he saw a מחנה אלקים, a camp of malachim. So the question is why all of a sudden are malachim here? And who was there first? Were the malachim there already, and Yaakov Avinu was zocheh to be together with the malachim? Or no, maybe Yaakov’s family came first and because of them the malachim came? The truth is that the second answer is true. The machaneh of malachim was there only because of the machaneh of Yaakov Avinu. Malachim are only incidental to Am Yisroel. Am Yisroel is more important than malachim. And so, אתא מרבבות קדש, He came from the ten thousands of the holy ones around Him, and He came to the Am Yisroel. מימינו אש דת למו, and He gave them a fiery Torah.

So we see that Hakadosh Baruch Hu chose our nation because of good middos, good character and good practices, decency. יפה את רעיתי, You are beautiful, My mate. And it was because of our beauty in the eyes of Hashem that He chose us to be His nation forever. We were greater than all the nations of the world, much better than even the good nations, and we were more beautiful than even the malachim, and that’s why Hashem said to us, “You’re mine forever.”

HOW TO FIND FAVOR IN HASHEM’S EYES

So we’re learning now, that this is the foundation of our relationship with Hashem, that fact that we are a nation that Hashem found to be a perfect people. In the days of old, Hashem fell in love with us and because of our fathers that’s why He loves us. And so, when we stand tomorrow night before Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and we say כתבנו בספר החיים, inscribe us in the book of life, it is our duty to learn what is necessary for us to deserve that. How can we continue to find favor in the eyes of Hashem, the way our forefathers did?

So we should look in our old archives and see what is said there about the ways and means of gaining the gift of life. And we read as follows: מי האיש החפץ חיים – “Who is the man who wants to live?” Oh, that’s what we were looking for! Now our ears and mouth are at full attention. Who doesn’t want to live?! אוהב ימים לראות טוב, “to love days to see happiness.” That’s what we want. Oh, Hakadosh Baruch Hu give all of us a year of happiness. That’s what we’re begging for.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: ASK FORGIVENESS

So what does He require of us? And Dovid tells us: סור מרע ועשה טוב. Two things. סור מרע, turn away from evil. That’s number one. And that’s the first thing that Hakadosh Baruch Hu saw in us. That’s all the good qualities, of keeping away, far away, from sin. And even when we do something wrong, we repent. That’s the first of the middos tovos for which He chose us. And so, Yom Kippur night we say to our fellow man, “Forgive me for any wrong I did. Whether you know about it or not, forgive me.” And he asks you to forgive him, and now everybody is reconciled and the past, all the wrongs are erased. And you make up your mind you won’t repeat it any more. From now on you’ll be polite to your wife and she’ll be polite to you. You ask Hashem to forgive you, to wipe your slate clean. From now on you’re going to change – at least you want to change. סור מרע – On Yom Kippur, or before Yom Kippur if you prepared properly, you turn away from all the bad. And it’s a great kedusha. The shechina comes down just because of that.

THE REAL WORK IS: DO GOOD

But there’s something else that’s required and that’s עשה טוב, you must do good. It’s not enough to turn away from evil. It’s not enough to repent for all the misdeeds of the past. Of course, that’s very important. Absolutely you must wipe them off the slate. If you can wipe them off with “a wet sponge,” with some tears, even better. Wipe them off. Get rid of them. Old time Jews wept on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They wept and wept. And they were wiping the slate clean.

And Hakadosh Baruch Hu pays attention to that: לא ננעלו שערי דמעות – The gates of tears are never locked up (Bava Metzia 59a). But still, Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants more than tears. סור מרע is important, but עשה טוב, do good! You finished crying, you wiped the slate clean – at least something you wiped off – but now the real work begins. עשה טוב – Make something out of yourself! That’s really what Yom Kippur is for – to wipe the slate clean so that you can begin the real avodah of asei tov, of living life successfully.

Now there are so many things under the heading of “do good” that we don’t even know where to start. A young man asked me last night, “What do I start from? From where do I begin?” It’s a good question. And in order to have a successful Yom Kippur we’ll have to answer that question.

AM YISRAEL FOREVER!

So we’ll go back to the beginning. When Moshe Rabeinu came to the palace with the proposal that Pharaoh should send forth the Bnei Yisrael, he gave Pharaoh a reason. נלכה נא ונזבחה להשם אלקינו, We want to go bring offerings to Hashem (Shemos 9:1). The purpose of leaving Mitzrayim was to serve Hashem. That’s what Hashem said.שלח עמי ויעבדני, “Send forth My people so they should serve Me.” (ibid.)

Now that’s a very important statement. It wasn’t said only for Pharaoh. It was said for us to learn and to remember forever; why did Hashem take us out of Mitzrayim? We are a nation now; we’re free from bondage. And we are given eternal existence in this world. Other nations have disappeared one after the other, but Am Yisrael continues to function. All the old nations have been forgotten. Some names are not even remembered, and those that we do remember are all underground. They’re covered with the dust of ages.

HOW DID WE LAST?

Persia, Bavel, Shinar, Aram, Ashur, old Mitzrayim, Tarshish, old Greece, all forgotten, all gone. So why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu give us the right to continue? What is it that sets us apart from all the nations of the world that eventually fall into the dustbin of history? It’s because we went forth from Egypt for one purpose, ויעבדני, to serve Hashem. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu expressed it like this; that we are His army: והוצאתי את צבאותי את עמי – “I’ll bring forth My hosts, My army, My people” (Ibid 7:4). So it means we are not private people, free to do as we please. We are all enlisted in Hashem’s army. A Jew cannot just feel that he is a man of leisure, a free person. No. He is in the army; the army of Hashem.

Now the question is what is meant by korbanos? Does it actually mean only offerings? We understand that the offerings are symbols. The korbanos that they intended to offer in the midbar were merely a symbol of their entire career; it was a mashal for the career of the Am Yisroel forever. In all the ages, the thousands of years since then, the function of the Am Yisrael was to bring korbanos to Hashem.  And what do the korbanos symbolize? What is the heart of our service to Hashem?

So for that we turn to Yeshayah Hanavi and we read his famous words: עם זו יצרתי לי – “This nation I have created for Me, תהילתי יספרו – they should speak My praises.” (Yeshaya 43:21). You hear that?! That’s what we’re a nation for. That’s what we were created for. Yatzarti, I created you, says Hashem. And for what? תהילתי יספרו, we have to talk about Hashem. We have to praise Hashem.

WHAT WE ARE REALLY HERE FOR

Now Hashem could have said, “I created you to do mitzvos, to learn Torah” which is absolutely true. But He’s telling us something here that is a generalization, an idea that includes everything else. The navi is telling us the heart of the mitzvos, the heart of Torah, what it’s all about. תהילתי יספרו, to speak the praises of Hashem! That’s what it’s all about.

Now if people learn Torah but they don’t think about Hashem, they’re not fulfilling the purpose. If people do mitzvos, let’s say he goes into the sukkah and doesn’t think about what the sukkah symbolizes, he’s not a real oived Hashem. Of course, he’s better than nothing. You get reward for that too. But it states in the Torah (Vayikra 23:43) למען ידעו דורותיכם, “in order that your generations should know, כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל, that I’m the one who settled you in sukkos when you went out of Mitzrayim.” You had no walled cities to protect you. You didn’t have any fortification; just flimsy little sukkos. So the sukkah is a symbol of our gratitude and our appreciation that only Hashem protected us, and He protected us more than people who have fortified walls around their cities. So when you sit in the sukkah, you’re praising Hashem, you’re thanking Hashem. That’s the heart of the mitzvah. תהילתי יספרו, My nation relates my praises – by sitting in the Sukkah.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO DO MITZVOS

So it’s not enough just to do mitzvos. It’s a very great thing certainly. We’re not going to belittle people who do mitzvos, chas v’shalom. If someone wants to do mitzvos we’ll accept him with open arms. But it’s not enough to do mitzvos. It’s not enough to learn Torah. Because Yeravam ben Nevat was a very big lamdan, he was a very great Torah scholar. And so was Achisophel and so was Doeg Ha’edomi. And look what happened to them. They lost their cheilek in Olam Habah. So we see it’s possible to be a big talmid chacham and to miss the entire point of doing mitzvos. And the point of doing mitzvos is, like we’re learning here, אתם עדי נאום השם. Yeshayah said, “You are My witnesses” (43:10). What do witnesses do? Witnesses come and keep their mouths closed?! No. אם לא יגיד ונשא עונו. A witness has to speak up. If not he’ll be punished for not fulfilling his duty.

And that’s our purpose – we have to speak up about Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the world. That’s our job, to talk about Hashem. Not only in shul. You have to talk about Him with your family. At the dinner table you must speak about Hashem. And if nobody wants to listen, they say, “we heard it already”, then talk to yourself; but you must talk. Print up fliers and spread it in the world. I have beautiful fliers if anybody wants. Anybody who wants fliers about Hashem, I’ll give them to you for five cents apiece. That’s how much I paid for them. Print a thousand of them as you wish and distribute them. Why not? אתם עדי, you’re My witnesses. You have to speak about Hashem!

LEAH PROPHESIED ABOUT DOVID HAMELECH

Now, when our mother Leah gave birth to her son Yehudah, she said “הפעם, This time, אודה את השם, I’m going to praise Hashem.” (Bereishis 29:35). Now she was saying something more than we think she meant. We think she meant she’s praising Hashem because she had one more son. Oh no, it was much more than that! From this son Yehudah there would come forth Dovid Hamelech who praised Hashem. He was the singer to Hashem par excellence. The שירי דוד עבדך, songs of Dovid Your servant, that’s what she meant. הפעם, now, אודה את השם, somebody will be coming into the world who will live a life of singing songs to Hashem. And the gentile world understand this also. They used to sing the psalms, the shirei Dovid, in all their gentile places; and lehavdil elef havdalos, the Jew always sang. To this day all our tefillos are mostly the songs of Dovid, the שירי דוד עבדך.

But even more than that, more than just song, the word Yehudah means “he shall praise.” Today we’re no longer called Yisroel. We’re called yehudim. We all come from Leah except a little admixture left from Rochel, yes, but most of us are shevet Yehuda. And Yehudah means the one whose function is ומשירי אהודנו, he praises Hashem. That’s who he is, a yehuda – someone who sings to Hashem all the time.

Now this has to be taken seriously. We say in davening on shabbos morning כי כן חובת כל היצורים, “so is the duty of all those who have been created.” It doesn’t say kol ha’yehudim. It’s the חובת כל היצורים, it’s the obligation of all those who were created, that’s everyone, to praise Hashem. What we’re learning now is that everybody in the world has to praise Hashem. Black people have to spend time praising Hashem. Eskimos must get together and praise Hashem. South Sea Islanders, Chinese, must praise Hashem. If not, they’re guilty.

CONSTANT PRAISING AND THANKING

But we especially; for us, it’s our purpose in life, it’s what we were created to do. הללו את השם כל גוים, all nations have to praise Hashem. But we, כי גבר עלינו חסדו, we are chosen especially. The Jew has to be busy all day long thinking about Hashem. That’s not an exaggeration. טוב להודות להשם, do you know what’s good in this world? To praise Hashem. להגיד בבוקר חסדך, start in the morning, ואמונתך בלילות and finish at night, and all day long in between. That’s our job. Now that is the core and the heart of the service of Hashem. And therefore before we proceed, we’ll have to analyze the word להודות. L’hodos means to praise, but it really means to thank. Todah means thanks. So why do we say praise

In Ashrei there’s a passuk that goes like this. זכר רב טובך יביעו, the remembrance of Your great goodness, יביעו. Now we translate יביעו as “they will utter.” That’s not the right translation though. They will utter the remembrance of Your great goodness. No. יביעו comes from נובע, to flow, like a fountain, מעין נובע. It means they will overflow. Why will tuvcha, Your goodness, overflow?

YOUR TWO CUPS

Let’s say you’re sitting with a cup at a party and somebody pours some wine into your cup. Now another person comes and pours in some more wine. And another pours in some more wine. What happens? The cup overflows. When it’s too full, it overflows. It’s נובע. Now every man has a cup. This “kup” up here (the Rav pointed at his head) and a cup down here in the heart. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu starts putting His kindness in the cups. So if your kup has a hole in it, it leaks out, and no matter how much gets poured in, it will never overflow. But suppose you have a good kup, if your cup does not have a hole in it, you’ll become a happy man. Your cup will always be overflowing with happiness.

If you have a good kup and you don’t forget, zecher rav tuvcha, you remember all of Hashem’s good that he’s done for you, that’s the man Hashem loves. You remember once upon a time you were crossing the street and you almost got hit. It was mamash a neis. He missed you by almost a hair. You shouldn’t forget that. You should remember that always; don’t let it leak out of the cup. Remember that cold you had? Weeks and weeks, you thought you’d never get rid of it. You couldn’t sleep at night. Finally, you came out in the clear – and you forgot all about it. Forgot all about it?! Zecher, remember, the great goodness! And you keep on pouring the kindness in our cup until finally the cup overflows. Dovid said “My cup is overflowing.” כוסי רויה – My cup overflows with chesed Hashem because I don’t let anything leak out from the bottom.

YOU’LL OVERFLOW INTO OTHERS

Now when your cup overflows, what do you do? It’s a waste just to let that wine go lost. So you ask the people around you, please take a little bit of this wine. Help me drink this cup. And therefore the person whose cup is overflowing with happiness, he loves Hashem with such great gratitude that he tries to get other people to drink from his cup too. There’s plenty left for everybody.

And he starts speaking to the world like it says: לישרים נאוה תהילה, if you’re a person who is yashar, you’re a right-minded man, then it’s only proper that you should praise Hashem. A yashar appreciates what’s being done to him, and therefore he cannot keep it to himself anymore. He starts saying הריעו להשם כל הארץ – “Everybody, sing along with me.” Here you have this man and he is telling the whole world they should shout to Hashem. You’re telling the whole world to shout? What for? What’s it to you?! It’s because you’re so full of gratitude that you know that you yourself cannot do the job. You can’t thank Him enough. So you’re asking everybody to help you thank Hashem. הריעו להשם כל הארץ – All of you, let’s sing to Hashem. עבדו את השם – How should you serve Hashem? בשמחה, with a joy, with happiness.

AVODAH = SERVING OUT OF GRATITUDE

And that’s the fundamental teaching of the whole Sefer Chovos Halevavos. He says that this is the beginning of avodas Hashem – the first step of service of Hashem is to be grateful to Hashem. But you can’t just be grateful. What are you being grateful for? In order to be grateful, something has to come first, and that is to appreciate what’s being done for you. You can’t be grateful if you don’t think it’s something good for you. If you always think Hakadosh Baruch Hu is still missing, He’s not doing His job, that He should have done more for you, you’ll never be grateful. Your cup has a big hole in it! You’ll never be grateful.

But suppose you’re the kind of person who has eyes to see what happens to other people. Here’s a man who has a bump in his side. You know what that bump is? That bump is a lid. When he wants to move his bowels, he unscrews the lid. He has a colostomy, far keinem gedacht, in his side. The good old days when he had a hole in the right place are gone forever. Ahh, he looks back on that. Those were the good days. “If I had any sense,” he says,” I would have thanked Hashem when I was normal. I had a pi hatabaas. Ah! It was greased , it was wonderful to be natural. Now I live with colostomy supplies. I go to the drug store and buy various things in order to mop up the mess.” Ooooh, is that a tragedy! Now we look at a man like that and we shouldn’t let the opportunity go lost. You have to say rofeh chol basar. A visit to the bathroom is a time for hallel. Oh yes, we should be very happy, full of joy!

Here’s another man who forgot what it means to urinate. For years and years, three times a week he’s linked up to a kidney machine. He’s a wealthy man so he has a kidney machine in his own house. Three times a week he has to spend a couple of hours on the kidney machine. He cannot cleanse his body of the waste otherwise. Without the machine, he’s a dead man. And you’re carrying around a little miniature kidney machine! And not only one, you have two. One for spare. You have a spare too! If he could get just one, he’d be delirious with happiness. He looks at you with great envy as you walk down the street.

APPRECIATION LEADS TO HAPPINESS

And so we have to spend our lives understanding what Hashem is doing for us. Now that’s only one out of tens of thousands, אלף אלפי אלפים ורבי רבבות פעמים שעשית, that You did with us. So we see our lives have to be spent in studying what Hashem did for us.

Now, a byproduct of this pursuit is going to be happiness. No question about it. A man who thinks about these things, he puts thought into it, becomes happy in this life. You become a sameiach b’chelko. You’ll be the happiest man in all society. You’re living a life of the greatest joy, and this is what Hakadosh Baruch Hu expects of us. And so, if you’re interested in teshuva, in coming back to the genuine service of Hashem, you’ll get busy this Yom Kippur with asei tov of being grateful to Hashem. And while the chazan is singing his tra-la-la, instead of looking at the clock and thinking about what food might be waiting for you in the refrigerator at home, you’ll begin to think about how to become a sameiach b’chelko by becoming grateful to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

WE THINK HASHEM OWES US

Now when we talk about serving Hashem, this is fundamental. Otherwise, when you do mitzvos, you feel that Hashem is obligated to you. “Look what I’m doing for You, Hashem.” That’s what you’re thinking. But when a person realizes that Hakadosh Baruch Hu already paid him in advance and that whatever he will do for Hashem is only pennies in return for the millions that he already is indebted for, then he feels מה אשיב – “What can I pay back to You?!” And that man is a real oived Hashem.

Now, I’ll explain that once more because it’s so fundamental. The Chovos Halevavos is explaining what is meant by avodas Hashem. When you serve Hashem, are you doing any benefit to Him? When a servant serves his master, the servant is doing a benefit to the master. When you serve Hashem, what are you doing to Him?

THE REASON WE DO MITZVOS

So we’ll say like this: The gemara says האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך משתקין אותו. Here’s a man who composes a beautiful prayer. He says “Hashem in Your Torah You tell us to have pity on a bird’s nest.” When you see the mother bird sitting on the little birds or the eggs, you cannot take the mother bird. You have to send her away free; she shouldn’t be penalized because of her loyalty to her offspring. You have to have pity on her. She allows herself to be caught because she doesn’t want to forsake her children. So you’ll grab her because she was loyal? No, that’s not right. So don’t touch her. You have to send away the mother bird if you want to take the eggs or the little goslings. And so a man once was in a synagogue, and he composed a beautiful poem. He said “Hashem, don’t You have pity on a mother bird? So have pity on the Jewish people, on us too.” And the sages who were present said, “Keep quiet.” משתקין אותו, we tell him to keep quiet. That’s a wrong prayer to ask. But it’s a beautiful prayer. What’s so wrong about it?

So the gemara says like this: מפני שעושה מדותיו של הקב”ה רחמים, it makes Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s ways into ways of mercy. Hashem didn’t say this halacha because He had mercy on the bird. No, that’s not the reason we have to do that. If He wanted to set free the mother bird, He’d do it without us. He doesn’t need us to set free the mother bird. So then why did He tell us to do it? ואינן אלא גזירות, it’s a decree. Rashi explains what it means “a decree.” We set free the mother bird for one reason, to demonstrate that we are ovdei Hashem, we are servants of Hashem. Hashem decreed, and we listen; that’s all. That’s why we do it!

HUMBLED FROM ALL OUR BENEFITS

It’s a very important lesson you’re hearing now. We do mitzvos only because we are serving Hashem. Now why do we express the mitzvos in a form of serving Hashem? Because the word eved the Chovos Halevavos explains means you are humbled, like a slave before his master. We are humbled to Hashem. We are bent over before Him. Why are we bent over? Because we are loaded down by all the benefits He bestowed upon us. We think about the thousand things He did for us, and we cannot pay back.

Let’s say you come to somebody, your benefactor, and you ask him for another favor. That’s what’s happening here. We come on Yom Kippur, and we’re asking Hashem for another year. Another year of eyes that can see. Another year of a functioning kidney. And a heart that doesn’t stop pumping. And tens of thousands of other things. You know, life is not one thing. Life is made up of millions of details. And so, we’re asking for all those things to continue. And so we bow down on the floor because we know Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we ask You so many times for another advanced loan and every year You lend us another loan hoping that this time You’ll get something out of us. So we fall down on the floor and we say, “Look, we have no more capital. We’re up to our ears in debt.” We lay on the floor and say, “Please Hashem have pity on us. Give us another year. Advance us one more loan.” And so we are avadim because we are all loaded down with debts. All of our service of Hashem should be done with a feeling of gratitude. “How can I ever pay You back Hashem? At least accept my mitzvos, my learning torah, accept all my avodas Hashem, as if I was paying up some debt.”

DIFFERENT BOWS FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS

Now the gemara says that at the beginning of shemonah esrei we have to bend our knees and bow down. Why do we bend down? To show gratitude to Hashem. We thank You Hashem for so many things. Baruch atah, we thank You Hashem, so we bow down. But the gemara says a kohen gadol doesn’t bow down only at the beginning and the end of shemonah esrei . He bows down at the beginning and end of each brachah. Magen Avraham, he bows down. Mechayeh hameisim, he bows down. At the beginning and end of each blessing, the kohen gadol, the high priest, must bow down. And a melech, a king? When he bows down at the beginning, he doesn’t straighten up at all. He remains bowed down the entire shemonah esrei, the entire Amidah! What’s the reason for that?

The answer is this. We bow down according to the load of privileges that Hashem has given us. So ordinary people, we make a bow at the beginning, the first brachah, and a bow at the end of the first brachah and then at מודים אנחנו לך and then at the end. But a kohen gadol has upon his head the crown of the service of Hashem. It’s a very great privilege to be a high priest. So he can’t get by with merely bowing down once at the beginning and the end. He has to bow down at the beginning and end of each brachah. Now a king has a golden crown on his head. It’s very heavy to have a golden crown on his head. He has to bow down all the time in gratitude to Hashem. Like Dovid said, “Who am I? You made me a king over Your people.” And therefore the king can never straighten up. He’s bowed down all the time.

MITZVOS ALSO PERFECT OUR CHARACTER

So now we’re learning what eved means. Avodas Hashem means to show we’re avadim. Now it’s true that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave us the mitzvos for our benefit. There’s no question. To send away the mother bird causes you to feel compassionate, and you become a better person because of that. לא נתנו המצות אלא לצרף בהן את הבריות, the mitzvos purify our character. There’s no question mitzvos make us better. But that’s not why we do it. That’s why Hashem commanded us to do it, so we should become better. But we do the mitzvos only for one purpose – the purpose of expressing to Hashem our great gratitude to Him.

So now we know what it means שלח עמי ויעבדני. What’s the function of the Jewish nation? Forever and ever they’re going to function as singers to Hashem. It’s a song that will never come to an end, and the song speaks about all the chasdei Hashem that He did for them in the many generations of our history and that He did for each individual throughout the years of his life. That’s what’s called avodas Hashem.

WE NEED LIFE TO SPEAK HASHEM’S PRAISES

Dovid Hamelech prayed to Hashem that he should be allowed to live. And we have to listen to his arguments because we need those arguments for ourselves tomorrow night. Dovid said מה בצע בדמי ברדתי אל שחת, what benefit Hashem will You get out of my blood if I go down to the grave? What benefit will You get out of me? היודך עפר, will the dust praise You? היגיד אמתך, will the dust relate Your truth? You have to listen to these words. Dovid is bargaining with Hashem. He says, “Hashem what will You get out of putting me to death? If you let me live, I’ll speak Your praises.” Now, Hashem does not need our praises, He doesn’t need us at all, but Hashem wants us to speak His praises because that’s our accomplishment in this life. That’s our purpose in this world. The more we are aware of Hashem, then the more successful we are in our lives. And Hashem wants us to succeed. And therefore the purpose of being alive is היודך, to praise Hashem and to relate His truthfulness.

I’ll repeat now the argument that Dovid Hamelech gave because it’s the same one that we should use when we ask Hashem that He should allow us another year of life. מה בצע בדמי ברדתי אל שחת, what profit will You have if I go down into the grave? היודך עפר, will the dust praise You? היגיד אמתך, will I be able to express the truth of your chesed from the grave? Let me live Hashem, so that I can praise you.

YOU’RE CONSTANTLY BEING REMINDED

Now that’s an obligation. Once we get a loan from Hashem for another year because of this motivation of singing to Him, so then you have to think about fulfilling it; which means we have to embark on a career of thinking about everything that Hashem does for us. That’s serious business. The outside world is full of leitzanus, jesting and mockery, so they’ll make fun of this idea. But we have to be serious and understand that not everybody has what we have.

I saw a beautiful frum girl tapping her way down the street with a stick. It was a tragedy to look at her. My heart broke when I saw her. We have to learn from the unfortunate people to see how much Hakadosh Baruch Hu blessed us with happiness. So many people are put away in institutions for the insane. אתה חונן לאדם דעת, we have to thank Hashem for the great gift of sanity. Don’t take it for granted. And those who are suffering from deep depression, it’s also a form of insanity, chas v’shalom. ברוך אתה השם החונן לאדם דעת. You have to keep that in mind, not merely say the words like automatons. Even when you walk in the street and you see people sitting in wheelchairs or some with walkers and some with canes, and you are striding down the avenue in the exuberance of full health, you have to be aware of the message that needs to be gained from these people whom you encounter on the street. They’re there to remind you how happy you should be.

So Dovid said to Hashem, I’m asking for life למען יזמרך כבוד in order that my glory, that’s my soul, should sing to you, ולא ידום, and never be silent. It means, I’ll never stop this song of gratitude to You. השם אלוקי לעולם אודך, Hashem my G-d, forever I shall praise You.

PRAISE, PRAISE AND PRAISE SOME MORE

And that’s the argument, the fundamental argument, that everyone should use on Yom Kippur, only he must be aware of the obligation that this entails for him. לא המתים יהללוי-ה, the dead will not praise Hashem, ולא כל ירדי דומה, and not those who go down into silence. Death is called silence. Why is that? Death is a lot of things, but is silence the one that is most important? And the answer is yes, absolutely. Because the dead are not without life. Dead have eternal life, they’re still living. But they have lost the opportunity to utilize their free will for this great function of singing praises to Hashem. They have gone down into silence, they’ve lost the gift of speech, a glorious gift.

When you see people on the street talking to each other with their hands, is it interesting? Is that what it is, interesting? No. It’s a message to you, to remind you of the gift you have. The ability to talk is very, very important and the most necessary purpose of that gift is תהילת השם ידבר פי, my mouth should speak the praise of Hashem. As you walk in the street, praise Hashem that you can talk! Praise Him that you can walk! Praise Him that you can see! Praise Him that you’re normal!

The function of אברכה את השם, of praising Hashem is בכל עת, at all times. תמיד תהילתו בפי, “His praises are always in my mouth.” Now that’s not merely a form of speech. It actually is a fundamental function of the Jew. In addition to even what the nations of the world are required to do, the Jew is especially obligated to keep in mind that the happiness that fills his cup should overflow, and he should speak about it and try to spread the glory of Hashem in the world.

KORACH VE’ADOSO WERE GREAT PEOPLE

And now we’ll consider another function of our ability to speak, another important commitment we should make when we stand before Hashem on Yom Kippur. The gemara tells a story that once Raba Bar Bar Chanah was traveling in the wilderness. And an Arabian who was in the desert at that time said to him, “You want me to show you the entrance to Gehinom?” And Raba Bar Bar Chana said, yes. So he took him to a place where there’s a big hole. Inside the hole there was a cauldron, a boiling cauldron. The hole went down deep into the earth, and it was boiling. And he saw bodies boiling in that cauldron. And like a cauldron of boiling food, sometimes some of the pieces come to the top and then later they go to the bottom. The bottom piece comes to the top, then to the bottom again. He waited, and then he saw some faces peering out in agony from this boiling cauldron. And these faces were opening their mouths, and they were shouting. And he listened; and they were shouting משה אמת ותורתו אמת. Again and again with such an expression of agony, of despair: “Moshe emes v’soraso emes,” they were crying. It tore his heart, and he recognized who they were. They were Korach v’adaso, who were swallowed up by the earth. He had this vision. He saw an opening of Gehinom and they were suffering the most terrible pains, and they were trying to say these words in order to relieve themselves of this torture.

Now I have to explain that. Korach and his congregation made the great error of attempting to knock down the authority of Moshe Rabeinu. Of course, they believed in Hashem. Korach and his congregation stood at the foot of Har Sinai when the Torah was given and together with whole Klal Yisrael they shouted נעשה ונשמע with the greatest enthusiasm. Only tzaddikim left Egypt. Remember אילו היה שם, if the rasha had been in Mitzrayim, לא היה נגאל, he wouldn’t have been redeemed. So they were tzaddikim. These tzaddikim came out of Egypt, and they received the Torah with everybody else. And they said כל העדה כולם קדושים, the whole congregation is holy, ובתוכם השם, and Hashem is among them.

KORACH IS A LITTLE TOO LATE

So what happened? Korach became snagged on jealousy. Even the biggest tzaddikim have to beware of jealousy; and that was his downfall. He became jealous and began knocking down the authority of Moshe Rabeinu. So Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, “People who are knocking down the authority of Moshe Rabeinu, I don’t need in this world.” And because they opened up their big mouths, so ותפתח הארץ את פיה , the earth opened up a big mouth too, מידה כנגד מידה, and they fell down into the hole. And ויאבדו מתוך הקהל.  They went lost forever.

But now Korach realizes the tragic error he had committed, and he’s trying to remedy it. So in Gehinom, as he’s suffering the torture of the netherworld, he’s shouting with all his koach, משה אמת ותורתו אמת. Now he’s trying to make up for his mistake. But it’s too late. Too late. Ay yah yay, it’s too late! Ahh, the pity of it. Suppose when the earth opened up its mouth and Korach began falling, but before he fell in he would have shouted משה אמת ותורתו אמת. While he was still alive, even while he was falling, if he would have screamed out משה אמת ותורתו אמת he would have been saved from Gehinom. He might have visited Gehinom for a short time but he wouldn’t have remained there, however.

THE IDENTITY OF KORACH IN OUR GENERATION

How important it is for all of us to say in this lifetime משה אמת ותורתו אמת. Because then, in the cemetery, it’s too late. You’ll realize it then. Absolutely you’ll realize it, but it will be too late. So people who speak against Gedolei Yisrael, who speak against tzaddikim, have to realize it’s very dangerous business. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants us to speak in honor of the Torah, in honor of the Torah leaders. And we have to be praising all our lives; not only do we praise Hashem but part of the function of תהילת השם is to praise Hashem’s Torah and to praise the teachers of Torah.

When people get together in synagogues before the prayer begins and they talk among themselves, it’s a moshev leitzim. Instead of opening a sefer, or at least keeping their mouths shut, they criticize the rabbi, they criticize talmidei chachamim. That’s Korach!  Just like Korach in his generation, they’re Korach in this generation, and they have to be aware of a terrible fate that is waiting for them. Hashem says you want another year from Me? I want a promise from you that this year is going to be a year of speaking up in My honor, in honor of talmidei chachomim, in honor of the frum Jews – and the more frum, the more praises. You have to speak in praise of Hashem and His people.

YOU’RE A SECRET PROPAGANDIST

Now how important is that function? I’m going to quote to you Rabeinu Yonah in Sha’arei Teshuvah. Rabeinu Yonah says in Sha’arei Teshuvah: הברואים כולם לא נבראו אלא, all of the creatures were created only for one purpose, for  כבוד שמים, to give honor to Hashem. Our purpose is to give honor to Hashem. That’s what our job in this world is. And therefore whenever you’re going to meet people or you’ll be in the company of your family or among your friends, think beforehand: What can I do at that time to increase the honor of Hashem?  What can I say in honor of Hashem or in honor of His Torah, in honor of avodas Hashem, or in honor of the people who study Torah? And then utilize the opportunity. When you’re among other people, make sure to open up your mouth to sing the praise of Hashem and His people.

You hear that function? Let’s say you’re going to a party some place, to a kiddush, a simcha. So imagine you’re a propagandist. You were hired by the communist party to speak the praises of communism. As you go there, you’re not going just to eat the food there. You’re going to sneak in some propaganda for your party. So you also should think, I’m a propagandist. That’s my job. I’m going to that kiddush or that bar mitzvah or that wedding, and whenever I’m able, I’ll get in a word to speak in honor of learning Torah, in honor of doing mitzvos, in honor of serving Hashem, in honor of yeshivos, in honor of roshei yeshivos. I’m going to utilize the opportunity. I’m a propagandist for Hakodosh Boruch Hu!

EASY  WORK AND BIG SALARY

Now listen to what Rabeinu Yonah says. “By doing this,” he says, “you’re going to earn without any labor, בלי טורח ופועל ידים, without doing any labor with your hands, you’re going to earn זכות גדולה עד לשמים, a great merit up to heaven.” That’s how great the merit is. Speak in honor of frum Jews. Speak in honor of chassidim. Speak in honor of Lakewood. Speak in honor of Meah Shearim. Speak in honor of all the ovdei Hashem wherever they are. The rabbanim, talmidei chachamim. Speak how good it is to be a medakdeik in mitzvos. Inspire people. When people listen to you, the message will get across. You’re a man who is an emissary, an ambassador, of Hakadosh Baruch Hu in this world. Like I said before, even if you stand on the street and hand out fliers about avodas Hashem, that’s also fulfilling your function. Whatever it is, you must feel that you have a function in this world. משה אמת ותורתו אמת is not merely something Korach should have said. Everybody in the world has to feel that it’s his job to praise Hashem. כי כן חובת כל היצורים, it’s the obligation of all the creations, but the Am Yisrael has an especial obligation because we were created as the nation with that purpose. עם זו יצרתי, I made that nation for that purpose. You must feel that your mouth is created for the purpose of being a propagandist for Hashem.

Now when we ask Hakadosh Baruch Hu to restore us to Eretz Yisrael in the days of Moshiach, pay attention to the motivation that we add. ואמרו, And say this . ואמרו means “Say this. Everybody should say this.” הושיענו אלוקי ישעינו – Save us Hashem of our salvation, וקבצנו והצילנו מן הגוים, collect us and rescue us from the nations. For what purpose? For what purpose do we want to be rescued? להודות לשם קדשך, in order to give praise to Your holy name. That’s the purpose. We’ll come together to praise Hashem’s name. That’s the purpose?! That’s all Moshiach is for?! Yes, that’s the chief purpose. When Hakadosh Baruch Hu created the universe, כל מה שברא הקב”ה בעולמו לא ברא אלא לכבודו, the whole universe is made to praise Hashem. You’re supposed to look at the light in the morning and praise Hashem. You don’t do it, I’m sorry to say. Look at the light. Say ברוך אתה השם יוצר המאורות – Thank You Hashem for creating the sun, and the moon and the stars. And think about what you’re saying.

WHAT ARE THE MALACHIM DOING?

And the malachim spend their time on that. Once a yeshivah bachur came to the Mir Yeshivah in Europe, and Rav Yerucham zichrono levrachah asked him, “What are the malachim doing?” The bachur didn’t know what to answer. So Rav Yerucham said, “It says תמיד מספרים כבוד א-ל, that’s what malachim are doing. תמיד מספרים כבוד א-ל. What are they doing? Always talking about the glory of Hashem.

And the malachim are our model. So what should we talk about? When we see the sunlight in the morning, על מאורי אור שעשית יפארוך סלה, we have to glorify Hashem for the sunlight. Did you ever do it? Every morning you do it; you do it without thinking what you’re doing though. You have to glorify Hashem for the sunlight. It’s the longest brachah in the whole siddur. Yotzer ohr, we praise You for the light. Get excited about the light. קול רעש גדול, the malachim are very excited about the light. We should surely be excited. At least when we’re saying that brachah we should be doing it in the right way.

FIND VIRTUES OF YOUR BENEFACTOR

Now once a person learns to be full of gratitude to Hashem, that’s called hoda’ah, then he comes to the second function of appreciating the greatness of Hashem. I’ll explain that. Here’s a man sitting right here. I never saw him before. I’m sure he’s a fine man. He’s sitting here; he must be a nice man if he comes here! But I’m not going to take time now to speak about him. I could investigate, I could find out about all his beautiful qualities, the good things he’s done, but I have other things to do.

But suppose that man did some benefit to me. Let’s say he helped me out. Then it becomes my duty to find out about him and to praise his virtues. Once he’s my benefactor then I have to find out his virtues and speak about them. He has virtues, no question about it. He has a tzelem Elokim, the image of Hashem. No question he has the image of Hashem on the face. No question about that. It’s the image of Hashem. Also, he’s from the Am Kadosh; a Yisroel is holy. A Jew is very holy. You know how holy he is? Listen to this Sifri: קדושים תהיו, Hashem said, you’re a holy nation. That’s what the possuk says. So the Sifri says, יכול כקדושתי, I might think you’re equal to My holiness. You hear that? יכול, I might think you’re holiness is like Mine; there’s a hava aminah. So the possuk had to come and tell us תלמוד לומר כי קדוש אני, Hashem says, “I am more holy than you are.”  It’s a queer kind of statement. You hear that statement of the Sifra?! The Sifra says I might think that a Jew is just as holy as Hashem! So it says כי קדוש אני, I am holier than you are. It’s a יכול, a hava aminah, I might have thought that the Jews are holy like Hashem!

And therefore, he is a tzelem Elokim, image of Hashem and he’s holy, very holy. Holier than angels. A Jew is more holy than angels. So I have to stop and talk about this man now because he’s a benefactor of mine. If someone does good to you, you have to look for his good qualities and praise them. That’s why you have to look for good qualities in your parents. You have to praise your parents, k’gdolei eretz, as if they’re aristocrats, noble people, lords and ladies, dukes. Important people, your parents are. What they did for you! They are your benefactors and that puts you in the red.

NOW YOU COULD ASK FOR ANOTHER YEAR

Now, if that’s the case so we see now that hoda’ah, thanking, requires hoda’ah, praising. It comes from the world yada; yadah means to throw. ידו אבן בי, they threw stones at me. And therefore when we spend our lives in understanding what Hashem is doing for us, if we put thought into it, then we have the reaction of praising Hashem, studying the g’dulas Hashem. And that’s why in Ashrei you have both elements. You have זכר רב טובך יביעו, the remembrance of Your great goodness flows forth from my mind, and וגדולתך אספרנה, I’ll speak about Your greatness. I’m constantly remembering all of the chesed You’re doing for me, and all of the chesed that You’ve done for me in the past, and I’m praising You all the time. And therefore, the Jew knows what’s his function in life is. Once you become aware of your function in this world, you can turn to Hashem on Yom Kippur and ask for life – because now you have a plan for life. You know what you’ll do with the gift of life!

WHAT’S THE SECRET OF KETORES?

We recall an incident in the Torah when the wrath of Hashem was kindled against the people. And the Am Yisroel was dying in a plague. So Moshe told Aharon Hakohen to take the ketores and to hurry amidst the people to stop the magaifeh from spreading. ויתן את הקטורת ויכפר על העם, he put the ketores, the incense, and he atoned for the people. It says ויעמוד בין המתים ובין החיים, he stood between the living and the dead. The ketores stopped the mageifah. Now it states there that the malach hameves gave to Moshe Rabeinu the secret that ketores rescues from death. Now a secret like that is good for us because we’re looking for life on Yom Kippur.

We’d like to know the secret of the ketores. Because we want to know what kind of ketores can we bring? Unfortunately, we don’t have it anymore. It’s forbidden to make ketores today. But we have to understand what was the secret of the ketores that was brought at that time that atoned in the mageifah, and that was able to make a wall between the living and the dead?

KETORES GIVES HONOR TO HASHEM

Now the Torah says, ובמתכונתו לא תעשו כמוהו, it’s forbidden to make any ketores for yourself with the same formula as the ketores that was used in the Beis Hamikdash. And the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim a reason for that. The ketores had a peculiarly alluring fragrance; it was something especially beautiful, out of the ordinary. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted that this fragrance should be felt only in connection with the shechinah. Nobody in the world should have that same perfume. Now what’s the purpose of fragrance in the Beis Hamikdash? So the Rambam explains that it gives honor to Hashem. When you walk by and that bouquet fragrance is wafted out to you, you feel a certain inspiration, an admiration and a love for that place where you experienced that rare fragrance. It was a delightful aroma, and it created in your mind a love, an honor, for the house of Hashem.

So we see that ketores is an expression of honor of Hashem, of appreciation for Hashem. That’s what ketores really is. And therefore the malach hameves told him the secret. Kevod shamayim, honor of Hashem, that’s the great method of rescuing from death! If you give honor to Hashem, you’re living for a purpose, and that is matzil m’maves. You’re accomplishing, you’re achieving, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu will keep you around even longer so that you could continue to accomplish.

We have to pay attention to that. That’s what kiddush Hashem means; to cause glory to the name of Hashem. ותעצר המגפה. You remember when Pinchas came and he made a kiddush Hashem, he glorified the name of Hashem by taking action for His honor, and the plague was stopped in its tracks. And so we see that in order to gain life, to deserve the opportunity to continue to function in life, it is important that we should be agents in the honor of Hashem.

EVERY MEAL SHOULD LEAD TO MORE LOVE FOR HASHEM

And therefore, when we start viewing the entire panorama of the service of Hashem, there are so many things we must do as part of this great function. Let’s say you’re saying birkas hamazon after eating. It’s a law in the Torah. ואכלת ושבעת, if you eat bread and you’re satiated, וברכת, then mideoreisa you must bentch. But let’s pay attention to the words that we say. We say הזן את העולם כולו, He feeds the entire world, בטובו בחן בחסד וברחמים, He doesn’t merely give us colorless, tasteless pills that will enable us to continue living. No; He does it with colors and with tastes and with flavors and aromas. Food smells good, and it looks good too. It’s בחן בחסד וברחמים. Why are You doing all this? It’s not a secret! It says בעבור שמו הגדול, for the sake of His great name. He wants something in return. Because you’re enjoying the food, you should learn to thank Hashem, and the more the food is delicious, the greater should be your thanks to Hashem. The purpose of food in this world is to bring honor to Hashem! You didn’t think about that, did you? בעבור שמו הגדול – that’s the purpose of all food.

You have to train yourself for that. So if your wife makes a nice supper for you, of course you should remember to thank your wife too. You praise her too. But the purpose of this meal is you should learn to love Hashem more than before. Every experience at the dinner table should result in a greater enthusiasm for the honor of Hashem. That’s the way the Jew has to eat; בעבור שמו הגדול, for the sake of His great name. After you finish eating, so you have to stop and think. You have to say, “What is going to be the result of this meal that I just ate? I’ll wipe my lips and just mumble the birkas hamazon and go away?!” No! You have to generate a love for Hakadosh Baruch Hu as a result of the pleasurable experience.

HAVE ANOTHER YEAR AND USE IT WELL

And so we understand that all the happy experiences in life – all of them – require some reaction on our part, and the reaction is what we call avodah. And so, tomorrow night we will stand before Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the final inscription will be made in the sefer hachaim. And so we say “Ribono Shel Olam, give us another chance. This time we received the message.” Whether we’ll succeed on a big scale or a small scale, but something will be done this year in order to fulfill our function of living for the purpose of תהילת השם ידבר פי ויברך כל בשר שם קדשו לעולם ועד. And then we say ואנחנו, as far we’re concerned – we don’t care what other people are saying, we don’t care if others don’t understand this truth, ואנחנו נברך י-ה מעתה ועד עולם, we’ll bless Hashem forever. הללויה , we’ll go wild with excitement over Hakodosh Boruch Hu. I’ll speak in honor of Hashem, in honor of His Torah, in honor of the Torah leaders of the generation, in honor of the frum Jews. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu will say, Since you’re saying משה אמת ותורתו אמת, and because you’re going to use your mouth to sing My praises, you’re living for a purpose; you’re living for Me. And therefore you’ll be consigned to the living at least for one more year to continue to fulfill your purpose in this world!

GEMAR CHASIMA TOVA!

Parshas Netzavim – The purpose of worldly reward

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פרשת נצבים

THE GREAT TRANSITION

In this week’s parsha, Hashem warns the Am Yisroel about the terrible consequences of having been brought into the land of Eretz Yisroel, and then turning away from Hashem to walk in the materialistic ways of the nations inhabiting the land. פן יש בכם איש או אשה או משפחה או שבט אשר לבבו פונה היום מעם השם אלקינו ללכת לעבד את אלהי הגוים ההם – “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman, a family or a tribe, whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem our G-d, to go and serve the gods of those nations” (D’varim 29:17).

After having lived for forty years in the wilderness, with the bare necessities needed to survive, the Am Yisroel was now about to enter a land that would stand in sharp contrast to these forty years. It was a land that flowed with milk and honey, a land filled with all good things, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu was warning them to beware of making use of the tuv ha’aretz in the wrong way.

THE STERN WARNING

And Hashem, knowing the subconscious thoughts of men, warns us that even when we will hear these words of warning, there will be some who will imagine in their hearts that all the good of the land will continue forever – what’s going to change after all – and that the curses of Hashem will not reach them. “Nothing’s going to happen; we’re not doing anything wrong. Is it a sin to enjoy the gift of Eretz Yisroel that was promised to us?” והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לי – “The sinner will think in his heart a blessing of peace to himself, saying, ‘These curses will not come upon me; rather I will continue to enjoy the good land in peace’ ” (ibid. 29:18, and Rashi there).

And so Hashem delivers a striking warning and tells us that just the opposite is true. Not only will I not forgive the materialist for misusing My gifts; but I will bring the most terrible destruction and desolation upon the land of My people if they become like the mishpechos ha’adamah, the nations of the world who live for the pleasures of the earth. “I’ll destroy you,” Hashem warns, “The same way I wiped out those who lived here before you.” כמהפכת סדום ועמורה אדמה וצבוים אשר הפך השם באפו ובחמתו – “Like the overturning of Sedom and Amorrah, Admah and Tzivoyim, which Hashem overturned in His wrath and in His anger” (ibid. 22).

SEDOM IS OUR MODEL?!

Hakodosh Boruch Hu here uses the model of the destruction of Sedom, as a warning forever to the Am Yisroel, “Don’t misuse My world or you’ll suffer the same fate as the wicked cities of Sedom.” And that needs an explanation – why is Sedom, of all places, chosen as the model forever for the Am Yisroel?

Now, you know that the מהפכת סדום ועמורה, the overturning of Sedom and Amorah, was quite a remarkable event, and one that is still visible today, thousands of years later. Today, if you visit Eretz Yisroel, you can still see one of the most desolate places in the world; the plain where these cities formerly existed. Now, there was a time when the Bible critics denied there ever were any such cities, and they said the stories were invented to explain the desolation. Unfortunately for them, it has recently been discovered from the unearthed archives of Ebla – Ebla was a thriving city in ancient times – that the traders of Ebla were doing big business with the cities of Sedom. They found tablets, letters written on clay tablets, back and forth from Sedom to Ebla, negotiations about merchandise and trade. They were big thriving centers, these cities of Sedom.

GAN EDEN IS FOSSILIZED

And so, contrary to the fairy tales of the shakranim, we see a remarkable phenomenon, that what today is a wasteland, one of the most desolate places on earth, was once one of the most flourishing places in the world. It was k’gan Hashem, like the Garden of Hashem, which means that it was gan eden in this world. Now whether it was exactly like Gan Eden, probably not. But it was certainly something extraordinary. It certainly was as close to Gan Eden as you’ll find in this world. And to go from one extreme to the other, this remarkable change from a flourishing garden to a place of desolation, needs explanation.

And it was no accident; it was planned that way by Hakodosh Boruch Hu, it was intended to be a shocking sight, one that would always be remembered. The Torah explains that it was vayahafoch, Hashem overturned these cities – it didn’t happen gradually. It wasn’t due to a slow erosion of the soil, or some other gradual process; it took place instantaneously. The Torah describes a hail of chemicals, ignited sulfur together with salts, that rained down in enormous abundance, and everything became mineralized. You know that fossils are the results of the exchange of minerals for proteins. If something is in a place, let’s say, where there is a flow of water, so the water will gradually carry away the proteins and in its place minerals are deposited; and in the course of time the object becomes petrified or fossilized. Sometimes this can happen quite quickly, if there’s a sufficient supply of minerals, and as the proteins are carried away, they are thoroughly replenished by minerals over a short period of time.

And that’s exactly what happened to Sedom. That’s really what happened to the wife of Lot. She was immediately paralyzed by this hail of chemicals. She was petrified in her tracks, and in a short time, perhaps in the course of some few hours, she became petrified and changed into stone. Netziv melach means a pillar of chemicals. Lot’s wife became a monument for posterity – just like Sedom – a monument of horrible destruction.

THE BEAUTY OF ERETZ YISROEL

Now, the land of Eretz Yisroel is a land that is praised for its beauty and abundance of material wealth, and it is the last place we would expect to find the desolation of Sedom. Luscious and productive fields, beautiful orchards of various fruit, flowing streams of fresh water, and actual rivers of sweet date honey, mixed with fresh goat milk dotted the beautiful land. ארץ זבת חלב ודבש, a land flowing with milk and honey, was not only a literal description of the land, but a symbol for a land that was filled with all forms of good.

כי השם אלקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה, ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר. ארץ חטה ושעורה וגפן ותאינה ורימון ארץ זית שמן ודבש. ארץ אשר לא במסכנות תאכל בה לחם, לא תחסר כל בה, ארץ אשר אבניה ברזל ומהרריה תחצב נחושת – “For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land: a land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in the valley and mountain. A land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate; a land of oil-olives and honey. A land where you will eat bread without poverty, you will lack nothing there; a land whose  stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper” (ibid. 8: 7-9). And Chazal tell us (Sukkah 35a) that Eretz Yisroel “lacked nothing” in the most literal sense. Any good of this world – the gashmiyus – was available for the Am Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel.

GROUND ZERO IN ERETZ YISROEL

And yet, paradoxically, in the midst of this most beautiful land, is found one of the most desolate and seemingly G-d forsaken places on the earth. And this terrible sight of desolation, still today, marrs Eretz Yisroel and it stands in sharp contrast to the beautiful land. And that’s not an accident. It was planned that way by Hashem to be the place that Hashem points at when he wants to warn the Am Yisroel about what could be coming to them as well, chas v’shalom. “And Hashem will separate you to do bad to you…like the overturning of Sedom…which He overturned in His wrath and His anger” (ibid. 29: 20-22).

And the nevi’im as well spoke about Sedom. Later in our history, when the navi wanted to warn of a destruction that the Am Yisroel would bring on themselves, a total ruin, he quoted the example of Sedom: הנה זה היה עון סדום אחותך גאון שבעת לחם ושלות השקט היה לה ולבנותיה ויד עני ואביון לא החזיקה – “Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease was there and in her daughter-towns, and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Yechezkel 16:49). This meant, if you follow their ways, you’ll also suffer their fate. The image of the smoldering Sedom was engraved forever on the minds of the Am Yisroel.

THE UNIQUENESS OF SEDOM

Now, this needs an explanation. Why Sedom of all places? There were many nations who lived lives of sin and immorality. There’s no shortage of gentile nations who rebelled against Hashem. What was it about Sedom that it was to remain the model of destruction forever in our minds ? Many towns, cities and even countries have been destroyed by war, famine and natural disasters in the history of the world. And yet, the cities and countries are not left desolate forever. Time passes and new nations, new cultures, and new cities arise from the ashes of the destruction. Time and rebuilding heals the wounds of destruction, and life flourishes again.

And yet, the destruction of Sedom, Amorah and their sister-cities are a queer exception to this rule. They were destroyed in such a manner as to preclude any rebuilding. The sulphur and fire were meant to desolate the area in the center of Eretz Yisroel so that it should remain a permanent monument of destruction. גפרית ומלח שריפה כל ארצה לא תזרע ולא תצמיח ולא יעלה בה כל עשב – “Sulphur and salt, a conflagration of its entire land; it cannot be sown and it cannot sprout, and no grass shall rise up on it again” (ibid 29:22).

Why would Hashem bring forth a destruction of such permanence,such horrible permanence, especially in the land that “lacked nothing,” the good land set aside for His beloved children? Why would Hashem choose Eretz Yisroel, as the place to establish this wasteland?

WHAT IS ERETZ YISROEL?

Now, in order to understand the answer to this question, we will first have to understand the significance altogether of Hashem giving us a land of luscious goodness, a land that flowed with milk and honey. The pesukim tell us that Hashem promised the land of Eretz Yisroel to our Avos because of their perfection in their service to Him. As a reward for their virtuous living and their superhuman efforts in establishing the foundation for the greatest nation the world ever beheld, Hashem rewarded them with the greatest land that the world ever beheld. The most perfect land for the most perfect people! It was a land above all others, not only in a spiritual sense, but in a most material, in the most gashmiyus sense as well. The nation of ovdei Hashem were rewarded with the greatest material benefits.

However, if you think a little bit, you’ll see that this answer is not so simple. The one nation in the world, the children of Hashem, who were created to live on a completely spiritual plane, should be far removed from the pleasures of flowing milk and honey, and a land that is described with the words לא תחסר כל בה, with lacking nothing at all. The nation that lives a life of virtuous dedication to Hashem and His Torah, the Nation that desires closeness to Hashem as its highest desire, won’t be satisfied by a reward of a fruitful land and flowing rivers. For the nation that called out רצוננו לראות את מלכינו, milk and honey, representative of all the material pleasures of life, are a cheap substitute for the reward of Olam Habah.

VODKA FOR THE BUM?

Now, for the גויי הארצות ומשפחות האדמה, “nations of the land and families of the earth” who live for the base pleasures of the earth, the land of Eretz Yisroel would be the perfect reward. For the Russian bum, wonderful! What could be better for a Russian or Lithuanian goy than another bottle of vodka? If you would tell a Lithuanian goy that he will have an ארץ זבת חלב ודבש, luscious barley and wheat fields for producing vodka and beer, he would be a happy man forever. He’d be in Olam Habah in this world!

For the mishpechos ha’adamah another bottle of whiskey is Gan Eden. That’s what a goy is, a man of the earth, a man who lives for the pleasures of this world. And therefore material pleasures are the perfect reward for the nations of the world. But for the Avos and their descendants, the only reward possible would be the closeness to Hashem in the Next World. What does a land of material pleasures have to do with the nation that desires to be close to Hashem?

WE DONT WANT RAIN; WE WANT OLAM HABAH

And actually this is a question that is pertinent to more than just the reward of Eretz Yisroel given to the Avos and their descendants. The Rambam in his Hilchos Teshuva (9:1) asks a question that is important for all of us sitting right here. We the Am Yisroel are of clear belief that all of our toil in the service of Hashem in this world, will be rewarded by Hashem in the only world where it will be possible for us to receive our true and befitting reward – the World to Come. It is only after our deaths, that we will receive our eternal reward. And yet, when the Torah promises us reward for our proper service of Hashem, we are guaranteed physical rewards in this world. והיה אם שמוע תשמעו אל מצוותי… ונתתי מטר ארצכם. Plentiful food, and peace in the land. Good health and long happy lives. Wealth, nice homes, and many children. No troubles from the gentile nations and control of our own land. All rewards in this world!

But we know that שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא, even one solitary mitzvah is too big, too valuable, to be rewarded in this world (39b). The coin of this world is too small to pay for the endless merit of serving the infinite Hashem. And yet, the Torah only mentions rewards in this world, with no mention of the true rewards which we know will come in the World to Come?! And therefore, the Rambam asks, “What is meant by this promise “If you listen…I shall give you rain”?

SCHAR MITZVAH, MITZVAH

And the Rambam answers as follows. There is no question that the reward of this world is nothing. Nothing at all! Our reward can only be the reward of Olam Habah. And therefore, all these promises of reward, although they will come true for the servant of Hashem, are not given as reward but merely as aid and encouragement to continue and to succeed in His service. Our place in Olam Habah depends solely on our ability to live in olam hazeh and do mitzvos. And if one can not dedicate himself fully to the service of Hashem because of famine, sickness, war, or any other distractions, then those troubles become the worst problem for him, because they impede his service of Hashem. The troubles that he is busy with, make the full-hearted dedication to Hashem difficult. And therefore, for the person who wants to serve Hashem with every fiber of his being, these rewards that Hashem promises us in this world, are the most precious gifts.

And therefore, Hashem promises us that if we do the razon Hashem, He will provide us with the reward of long healthy lives, peaceful circumstances, and abundance of parnasa. And the purpose of all these benefits is to provide us with the opportunity for greater service of Him. Chazal tell us that שכר מצוה מצוה – “The reward for a mitzvah is the opportunity to do another mitzvah” (Avos 4:2). That’s our greatest reward in this world – the opportunities that Hashem provides us to continue serving Him. The prosperity and good times in this world facilitate one’s progress in his service of Hashem and in acquiring perfection, in order to be so much more worthy of the true reward in the World to Come.

THIS WORLD IS ONE BIG WATER COOLER

I’ll tell you a mashal that I’ve told you many times before, but it’s important, so I’ll repeat it again. Here you have a boss who installs a water cooler in the office for all of his employees. Do you think his intention is to reward you for the work you’re doing with cold spring water? No, you can’t see the reward, that’s somewhere in an envelope, maybe on Friday you’ll see the envelope. But the water is certainly not the reward; what he wants from the water is better workers. He made a calculation that everyone would be more productive if they had refreshing water to drink during the day. A refreshed worker, a person in a good mood, is a better worker. And instead of running out to the corner grocery to buy a bottle of water, in the middle of work, now the employees have more time to accomplish. And that’s what all of the good in this world is meant for. It’s the water cooler in the office, that Hashem is providing, to encourage you in your avodas Hashem. He’ll give a paycheck too of course, a big fat paycheck is awaiting those who are loyal and dedicated to the service of Hashem, but meanwhile, all we see is the water cooler.

And now you understand why the land of milk and honey, the land that lacks nothing, is the reward that Hashem promised the Avos for their dedication to serving Him. Eretz Yisroel is a land of the greatest opportunity because if used properly, it is the key to attaining more and more olam haboh. And that is the greatest gift possible in this world, a land that provides His nation with all the physical amenities needed to grow in His service. Dovid Hamelech told us ויתן להם ארצות גוים ועמל לאומים יירשו – Hashem gave to the בני ישראל the lands of the nations, and they inherited the efforts that the nations had put in to building up Eretz Yisroel. And why? Why the gift of Eretz Yisroel? בעבור ישמרו חקיו ותורתיו ינצרו – In order that the Bnei Yisroel should find a land of endless opportunities to keep His Torah and serve Him.

THEY DIDN’T LEARN RAMBAM IN SEDOM

And so we come back to Sedom. The Torah is not interested in telling us mere history, and yet the lessons of the destruction of Sedom are not only being taught to us, but they’re being emphasized. Not only emphasized but used as a model, as the model, to warn us against materialism. However, even though the Torah tell us ואנשי סדם רעים וחטאים להשם מאד, they were wicked and very sinful to Hashem, we still need some details to fill in the picture. What was the reason that the punishment was so severe? What was the underlying cause that earned Sedom such a fate?

Although the affluence of Sedom was well-known in the ancient world, it didn’t last too long. And that’s because the people of Sedom never learned this principle of the Rambam. They didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, the purpose of all of their success. The wealth they enjoyed, brought them to selfishness, decadence, and eventually destruction. The Sodomites practiced various forms of wicked behavior and abominations, with the purpose of discouraging any help to wayfarers and those in need, only because they lost sight of the purpose of the abundance. They didn’t understand that the purpose of all their abundance was for the purpose of becoming better people.

YOUR SISTER HAD BREAD

If we look through the kisvei hakodesh, we’re going to come across one passuk that stands out prominently, and it answers the question. זה היה עוון סדום אחותך. Yechezkel Hanavi says this was the sin of Sedom, your sister. He’s saying that to the aseres hashevatim. He said this was the sin of Sedom, your sister. It means if you continue your ways, so you’ll have the same fate as your sister, Sedom. Again, this was the sin of Sedom. Now let’s pay attention to the next words. גאון שבעת לחם, the arrogance of being satiated with bread. That’s the reason for the destruction of Sedom. They were arrogant because they had enough to eat.

In Eretz Canaan, we have to know that the abundance was a source of corruption for the people. These seven nations were running wild and becoming more and more wicked. However, we’re going back now to the beginning. Long before the people of Canaan had become corrupt, in one corner the corruption had already set in with full force. That was in the gan Hashem, in that garden. In the garden where the five cities, Sedom, Amorah, Admah, Tzvayim and Tzoar, were situated, there the corruption already had begun long before the rest of Canaan. And the reason they were the first ones where the rot set in is because they had the most to eat. Now that’s what the Navi Yechezkel said: זה היה עוון סדום אחותך, this was the sin of Sedom your sister. גאון שבעת לחם, the arrogance of being satiated with bread. The arrogance of having enough bread. Now that’s the words of Yechezkel Hanavi. Hashem is speaking, and we have to listen to that. Filling yourself up on bread – even without a shmeer of cream cheese causes arrogance.

Now that’s not such a simple statement, and we’ll have to put some thought to it. What the Navi is telling us here is that if you see a ragged fellow in jeans walking in the streets, looking for good times, looking for trouble, you have to know he’s arrogant because he’s not hungry. The fact that he’s eaten so much, that he already had breakfast and has money in his pocket for lunch, he is surfeited with food and also with nosherei, and he is already tired of eating and now he’s looking for other things. He’s looking for wicked lusts, for unnatural things to do.

A DIVORCE OF WICKEDNESS

I read a story recently. Somebody sent me a story; people send me these things. A man was married to a beautiful young wife, and she was a good cook too, but he was tired of her. He said I have nothing against you, but I’m just tired of you. That’s how the story goes. And he threw her away, and he divorced her. It’s one of the most wicked stories you can imagine. There’s nothing immoral there, just a wicked man. A man who has just too much in this world. He says: “To come home every night just to good wife, a nice home and a good supper. I don’t like it. I want more.”

What kind of wickedness is that?! A man like that should come home to a prison. He should have to work on the rocks like the good old days in America. These type of  people worked on the rock pile all day long. Oh yes, then he’d learn to enjoy life. At night he comes home to his prison cell, and he rests his aching bones, and he’d enjoy life. He appreciates a bed to rest his tired body. He is grateful for a baked potato for supper. To have a wife, a home, that would be out of the question – he would go meshugah with happiness. But the problem is that this man has everything, he has breakfast and supper, and he even has a wonderful wife. And he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. That’s a wickedness of wickedness, and that’s what’s happening today. That’s why they’re thinking of unnatural lusts, because they just have too much.

EATING UP OLAM HABOH

And that’s what happened in Sedom. Sedom also did these wicked things because they had too much. Now that’s a great problem, and we’re going to study a little more to understand actually how deep, how profound, is this wickedness. And it’s much more, much worse than we imagined, because misusing the good of this world, using the pleasures of this world as a reward instead of as encouragement means that you’re eating up your Olam Habah while still in this world. And there is no bigger tragedy than exchanging your Olam Habah for a bowl of lentils, or for that matter, a bowl of cereal and a cup of milk.

Now we begin to understand the great crime of גאון שבעת לחם. They should have been the greatest servants of Hashem because He let them live in His garden. They had everything for which to be grateful, and as a result they should have become more and more pious. And yet despite the fact that they lived in a gan Hashem, didn’t use their material benefits to be submissive to Hashem and to serve Him. And that’s why Hakadosh Baruch Hu decided that they have no place on this earth anymore, and that’s why Sedom was destroyed.

ENJOY LIFE BUT WATCH YOUR STEP

I’m not saying you don’t have the right to enjoy life. A Jew has a right to enjoy this world. In this place we always speak about enjoying life – no reason why a Jew shouldn’t live happily in this world. But you always must be on guard; are you taking too much from this world just for the sake of this world? Do you need such an expensive home, with furniture and drapes that cost so much money? I don’t want to make judgements about anyone, but you have to think about it all the time, because it’s a very dangerous mistake.

The gemara says: לא נברא יין בעולם הזה – “Why was wine created in this world?” You hear such a question?! We wouldn’t even bother to ask such a question, but the gemara understood that there’s a purpose for everything in this world – and if you’re not aware of the purpose then you’ll pass through life in this world misusing what you have and failing at your purpose. If you’re living in this world, you’d better be sure to know how to use it. Now when we say wine, anywhere wine is mentioned, it’s only a figure of speech. Wine doesn’t mean merely that. Wine means any form of material happiness in this world. And so now we can rephrase the question in the gemara: Why was happiness in this world – we’re talking physical happiness, gashmiyus, material fun – why was it created?

WHY HASHEM CREATED BARS

So the gemara tells us that wine, the pleasures of this world, have two separate purposes. And although they seem to be as wide apart as could be, we’ll see now that it’s merely two sides of the same coin. The first reason given that wine was created לנחם אבלים, to cheer up sad people. The primary purpose of good times in this world is to give encouragement to people. People call me up sometimes – I received a call yesterday, a long distance call, he’s tense, upset, he’s having a hard time concentrating in davening, and in learning in the kollel. “What should I do,” he wants to know. He wanted a quicky because it costs good money to speak long distance from England on the telephone. So I said, “Go out for a long walk, and enjoy the good weather. Don’t think about anything; just enjoy the world.” “You have ice-cream in the house,” I asked him. Yes, he has a lot of ice cream in the house he tells me. So I told him, “Sit down, eat a lot of ice cream, enjoy it to no end, and then get into your comfortable bed and get a good nights sleep.” For one day forget about the poundage, because you need a lift.

And the truth is that we are all sad. All of us, we need something to cheer us up, to keep us moving forward. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives us the wine of Olam Hazeh, all kinds of wine to console us. That’s the principle we’re being taught in this gemara: לא נברא יין אלא לנחם אבלים. The function of good times in this world is to cheer up mourners. And that’s all of us! Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to give people strength and encouragement. We want people to accomplish here in this world, and for that, life can’t be morose and morbid. You need good times to be a successful eved Hashem. Only that some people, those who are wise,have sense enough to get along with a little sip of wine. A little bit of happiness is enough; they cheer up and get back to work, back to avodas Hashem. And they live a happy life that way. There are a lot of kosher ways to enjoy life; you just have to know how and when.

WE NEED ROOFERS AND FIREMEN

That’s one purpose of wine in this world.  And the second purpose? The gemara says that the second purpose of good times is לשלם שכר לרשעים. The pleasures of this world are for the purpose of paying off the reward of the wicked in this world. You know that wicked do some good things in this world; and it’s a problem. Even that wicked fellow, a rasha, as he drives by in his truck. He’s a roofer, let’s say, and he throws a stone at you as he drives by, so you think the world would be better off without him. You think how good it would be if he would crash into a telegraph pole down the block. But you’re making a mistake. It would be good for him but not for you. We need Italian roofers in the world. For you it’s better he should continue to put on roofs because the fact that he’s around causes  competition, it causes the price to go down. The Jewish roofers would make a lot of money if the Italians weren’t around. We need everybody in the roofing profession. Now for him, it might be the best thing if there would be a crash up next block. There’s no question for him that if he would stop existing, it’s the best prescription you could give for his happiness. But not for us. Italian roofers do us good in this world.

So you see that these people, you understand that they certainly fulfill a purpose in this world. Look, he’s putting on roofs on people’s homes. He can sometimes be a fireman too. This same bum who was a bully when you were in your school years, and he bothered you on the street so much that you wished he had disintegrated long ago; but the time may come when he becomes a fireman and you need him. And here comes Tony speeding through the streets with the siren screaming; Tony is coming to the rescue. He’s coming to rescue you! Now, who is this fireman after all? Where did he come from? A yeshivah?! No! He’s a bum. But now he puts on a uniform and he is now the moshia. He’s coming to rescue you. Certainly you need him! We need the goyim. We need roofers and firemen and policeman. They’re doing a great service for the Am Yisroel.

And so, there’s a second purpose of wine, and that is to pay off all of the wicked. For whatever small virtues they achieved in this world, you have to pay them off too. After all the firemen, they need some reward. When a fireman is running through the streets, he’s risking his life, and don’t say “it’s merely his job. He must do it.” No. It’s a fact mentioned here before more than once that when they put on a uniform of duty that awakens within them a certain sense of duty  ע’י תורת אביגדור פרשת ויקרא. It’s a fact. He sincerely wants to save you. When he takes off his uniform and he goes home to his neighborhood at night and he’s full of wine and you’re passing by, it could be that he’ll treat you differently. But when he’s wearing his uniform, it brings forth from him the better elements of mankind. He’s responsible and he’s even willing to risk his life for you to some extent.

TONY MALPERGI IN OLAM HABAH WITH RAV MILLER

Policemen too. I don’t know how it is nowadays, but in the good old days, a policeman used to rush in with his club swinging to save somebody. Even though he knew he might get a black eye, but he tried it anyhow. There’s a lot of good in policeman. I was in a police station many years ago. They asked me to come in and testify against some boys who broke into our synagogue in the old place. When I came into the hall where the police station was, the policeman, Tony Malpergi, asked me to stand on the side so those boys, the bums, shouldn’t see me. They shouldn’t see who their accuser is. The policeman was nice enough to lead me aside because when the door opens where the boys were sitting, they might see who was accusing them. I’ll always remember him with gratitude, this Italian policeman. I remember him to this day. His name starts with an M and ends with an I. In between I invented. A good-looking young Italian policeman. I’ll never forget him. He took the trouble of leading me aside. He said the door might open up, and they might see you. A gang of boys from that neighborhood. The neighborhood was deteriorating and they were bums. He didn’t want them to see me. Certainly, there’s kindliness in the nations! There’s virtue in a lot of them. Every man has something in him. No question about that. A human being is great. And therefore what are you going to do with him? אין הקדוש ברוך מקפח שכר כל בריה – Anybody who does any good in this world will be rewarded sooner or later (Bava Kama 38b).

And that means that if I’ll ever get to Olam Habah he’ll be coming along with me. It’s going to be a big embarrassment if Tony Malpergi comes along. Police officer Tony Malpergi comes along, and he says “Look here Rabbi. Remember what I did for you? I asked you to press charges. I was making sure to have them taken care of. I wanted that they should end up in prison. And I protected you when you walked in. I told you to stand aside so they shouldn’t see you.”  Whatever it is, it’s a big embarrassment when Tony Malpergi comes along. It will be embarrassing for the malachei hasheres. “Tony in Olam Habah?! It says כל ישראל יש להם חלק, so you, Miller, maybe you could come in, but what’s he doing here? What did he do?”

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR OWN VINO

So let me tell you what they’re going to tell this Tony. They’re going to say to him, “Look; didn’t we give you good health? We gave you a wife. You had a home. You had a little bank account. You had a little car. You ate suppers. You drank wine. So what do you want? We paid you off. You want to be paid more, forever? There’s no promise to mankind to be paid forever. Hakadosh Baruch Hu owes nobody anything. Happiness is in this world. You had health for a certain time; you were paid off already.”

So we can’t let this man get out of the world without getting some reward for the good he did in this world. So Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, “I have to get busy paying him in this world. I don’t want to have to deal with him in the Next World – Olam Habah is for My people, not for the Tonys and Ginos.” So Hakadosh Baruch Hu puts on every two blocks big liquor stores where you can get wine. Or a lot of fruit stores where there are baskets of grapes, and he goes and buys baskets of grapes and puts them in his basement. He knows how to make vino, and in the evenings he gets drunk, and he’s sitting around the house, and he’s “living” a little bit. That’s his payment!  Hashem is paying off Tony in this world so that He won’t have to see him in the Next.

So Hakadosh Baruch Hu created wine for the purpose of giving some measure of reward for those people whom he doesn’t want to reward in the world to come. After all if Tony would come to the next world, and “Look here,” he says, “I put a roof on synagogues too. I put a roof on the yeshivah. I did this and I did that. I put out the fire when they called me in this and this yeshivah.” So he deserves something. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu will be very much embarrassed kaviyachol because he doesn’t want him around that place. And so He pays him off in this world. It’s a pity. For him it’s a pity to be paid off in this world, but that’s the purpose of wine; that’s the purpose of good times, roller coasters and expensive cars, and steak and a good piece of herring. Hashem is cashing in people’s paychecks all the time in this world.

So Hakadosh Baruch Hu has found a way of handling that so wine was created to pay them off in this world. That’s the purpose of wine. That’s the purpose of happiness in this world. That’s why you have cars, and that’s why you have televisions, and that’s why you have big pastry shops in Italian neighborhoods. You see twenty three kinds of bread in the windows. Not just one kind, twenty three kinds of bread! That’s an understatement by the way. I once stopped and counted. It’s fun. You never get tired of eating. Every day you can have different kinds of bread and everything else. That’s what it’s for. They deserve it. They’re doing good things in this world. It doesn’t mean they only do good things. Maybe they’re doing more things that are not good too, could be, but they have to be paid off for the things they’re doing; trucking, bus driving, policing. They’re fighting in the army. That’s also something, to fight in the American army, to defend our country. They’ve done a lot of things. Street cleaning, garbage collecting. Do you want to do that yourself?!

And therefore they deserve something so Hakadosh Baruch Hu sees to it that they get. You see fat garbage men wobbling around. A big fat man. Fat doesn’t come from breathing air. Their wives are also big and fat women waddling with great big bags from the supermarkets. Kol tuv, all good things they eat, and that’s what it’s for. To pay them off in this world.

WHERE IS SEDOM TODAY?

And now we come to the big problem that we are facing today. Because we have it too good. We have too much to eat! And chas v’shalom, chas v’shalom, we should find out that we were also wobbling around like the garbage man, and taking all of our reward in this world. And that’s why Hashem warns us in the beginning of our parsha: Be careful not to end up like Sedom ended up: the model of Sedom must always remain before our eyes. That’s an example of people who failed in their purpose in this world. Instead of taking the gifts of Hashem and using them to improve, they made a churban. And that’s why it’s in Eretz Yisroel. Why is this most desolate place, the area of the Dead Sea, in Eretz Yisroel? So that the holy nation, the nation that matters most to Hashem should look at it all the time, and see what happens when people make the big mistake of how to use the gashmiyus of this world. Because many people are failing in their career in this world. Your purpose is not merely to use this world. You came here to use the gifts of Hashem in order achieve greater and greater perfection in avodas Hashem.

And many people have lost sight of why they’re here, what their purpose in this world is. Even the frummeh, the Orthodox, are eating and eating and enjoying and enjoying, and they’re losing out. They’re selling out their reward in Olam Habah almost nothing. And that’s why the story of Sedom is inscribed nowhere other than in our Torah. Because we are the people that matter most to Hashem, and we are the sole beneficiaries of the lesson of Sedom. The most important purpose of the destruction was to provide a lesson for the Am Yisroel forever and ever. And that is the vital importance of utilizing Hashem’s gifts of life and peace and parnasa and family and so many other endless gifts, for the sole purpose of serving the Benefactor, and not chas v’shalom eating up your zechusim in this world.

ROSH HASHANA PREP

And now we come to Rosh Hashanah. In the coming days we will put a lot of time into asking Hashem to decree upon us health, peace, and all the comforts that we so desperately need and desire. But what do we desire it for? What are you going to use it for? We ask Hashem זכרנו לחיים… וכתבנו בספר החיים – “Hashem, please remember us for life, and write us in the Book of Life.” And for what purpose? למענך אלקים חיים – “Do it for Your sake Hashem.” Give us all that we need, not for our sake, but so that we will have all the opportunities needed to grow more perfect in our service of You.

Like a soldier who is inducted into the army, and on his first day he is given a new uniform, strong boots, a rifle and a hearty breakfast. And he thanks his commander for the wonderful gifts. But the commander tells him, “No, no. You’re misunderstanding what’s going on here. These aren’t gifts. These are simply tools for you to serve us. We’re giving you these tools so that you will have the best opportunity to be a loyal and successful soldier. And if you don’t use what we’re giving you to be a an accomplished soldier, then you’re misusing the gifts, and they don’t belong to you.”

You’re sitting down to eat supper. Your wife is not putting down a plate with some dry bread, a cup of water. You’re eating good food, and a lot of it, just like Tony the fireman, the policeman, the sanitation man. And therefore, you’d better decide on which side you’re on. It’s a big question! Are you eating up your reward in this world like Sedom did, like  all the Tonys of this world? Are you being paid off for your mitzvos in this world? Or for you is it s’char mitzvah b’hai almah leikah, and you using the pleasures of this world to serve Hashem and you’ll take your s’char mitzvah in the Next World. It’s a big question, and I’ll have to leave that to individuals to resolve that puzzle.

BEING MAMLICH HASHEM

And therefore, when you stand before Hashem during these Yomim Nora’im asking for life – and don’t think it’s so simple; many people who asked last year are now in the cemetery. When you beg Hashem for life, and for all of your needs – peace in the home, shidduchim, parnasa, health, good children – beg למענך השם. “I want everything that I need to serve You, Hashem.” You’re not merely asking for good times. And you’re not just asking for what you need to survive another year – just to pay the bills and have some peace and quiet for another year. Everything you ask for is because you want the tools to serve Hashem better. And if you’re asking Hashem for everything in order to serve Him better, if you mean it sincerely, then that’s how you’re being mamlich Hashem on Rosh Hashana. “Hashem, You are my King, and I want to dedicate everything that You give me for serving You.”

Now, do you mean it? No, absolutely not. But say it anyhow. Say it anyhow! Hakodosh Boruch Hu, I want to use everything that I have in Your service. And don’t only say these words on Rosh Hashanah. Practice up all year long. As much as you can, keep in mind that your career in this world is a preparation for the World to Come. And all the good times in this world are being given to you for one purpose only.

And when we spend our lives using the benefits of this world to serve ourselves instead of to serve Hashem, what we are doing is taking these opportunities for gaining Olam Habah, and using them as our compensation for our good deeds. We are exchanging our deserved reward of the Next World for the cheap thrills and pleasures of this world. And there is nothing more sad and pathetic than exchanging your eternal reward in the Next World for a bowl of lentils in this world.

And therefore, when you ask Hashem for another year of prosperity and health for the purpose of serving Him and not yourself, then you have used the lesson of Sedom for the purpose that Hashem intended. Hashem intended that you should keep before your eyes always that vision of the smoldering cities of Sedom, the fire, sulphur and salt that rained down upon the people that didn’t learn the lesson of how to use the gifts of Hashem. And with that vision, and that understanding in your mind, you should call out to Hashem in truth, telling Him with sincerity that this coming year you want to use the gifts that He will provide – and what better gift is there than life itself – only to grow greater and greater in His service, by using all the details of your happiness only to facilitate your avodas Hashem.

HAVE A WONDERFUL SHABBOS

Parshas Ki Savo – Magnitude of Gratitude

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פרשת כי תבא

FOLLOW THE OX

In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to the mitzvah of bikkurim, the bringing of the first fruits of your field to Yerushalayim, and presenting them to the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash. The farmer is commanded to bring his fruit-laden baskets to Hashem and speak out words of praise and gratitude. It has been many months of long hours of difficult and tiring work in the field, harvesting the various fruits and grains. And the time of harvest has come to an end, and now the home is filled with all good things. A long year of hard work has paid off with enough food for the family to live happily for another year. But before the farmer and his family has the chance to settle down to enjoy the fruits of his labor they are expected to pause their lives in order to take part in the ceremony of bringing bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.

All the field owners of the local towns and villages would gather together in the closest city to begin the joyous procession towards Yerushalayim. They carried gold, silver and wicker baskets filled with the bikkurim, and the baskets themselves were beautifully adorned and decorated with other fruit. An ox, specially decorated for the occasion, with his horns plated with gold would lead the procession. When the signal was given, the large group of men, women and children would begin the parade toward the Ir Hakodesh.

HOMELESS FOR A FEW WEEKS

And what a sight it was! There was joyous music, dancing, and singing words of gratitude to Hashem as more and more people from the towns along the way joined the already large group. The farmer and his family were pulled along in a wave of fellow Jews, and they all were singing and dancing to the sweet sound of the flute, as they made their way to Yerushalayim. And it wasn’t a simple trip at all. People gathered their families and had to travel for days, and sometimes weeks. And they slept in the streets and town squares at night.

And upon arrival at the outskirts of Yerushalayim, the dignitaries of the city would come out to greet them and escort them into the Holy City. And as they carried their bikkurim through the streets of Yerushalayim toward the Beis Hamikdash, all the craftsmen and merchants lining the streets and marketplaces would stand up in honor of these מביאי ביכורים.

A HUGE THANK YOU PARTY!

Now, my little words won’t even begin to do justice to the pomp and panoply of how this mitzvah of bikkurim was performed. ושמחת בכל הטוב – “And you should rejoice in all the good that I have given you” (ibid. 26:11), and the Am Yisroel went all out in joyous celebration of this mitzvah. It was an experience that one would expect to be once in a life-time – but for the lucky farmers it was one that was repeated every year. And for what? What was the purpose of all of these glorious festivities? Why all the traveling, all the time and effort, for this one mitzvah?

And the answer is that it was all for the purpose of saying thank you to Hashem. It’s remarkable! A nation should stop everything to say thank you!? Yes; in the throes of busy life, whether in the field or in the city, we often forget to take the time, and more importantly, the mental stamina, to appreciate the overwhelming benefits that are showered upon us daily. And so the mitzvah of bikkurim provided the Nation with the opportunity to take a pause – a long pause – in their lives, and dedicate it to the recognition of the chasdei Hashem. The entire mitzvah of bikkurim, thanking Hashem for a successful harvest, is rooted in the obligation to be continuously thanking Hashem for the endless chasodim that He is continuously bestowing upon us. And so, the joyous festivities surrounding the mitzvah of Bikkurim, was purposefully planned that way so that the Am Yisroel should recognize that they have no more important purpose in life, no better career, than the joyous expression of gratitude to Hashem.

THE BIKKURIM DAY PARADE

In those glory days of our Nation, they weren’t making cross-country trips with the families to see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. No, they trekked across the country for the real purpose in life – to give thanks to Hashem. To take part in such a procession, a parade of thousands dancing in the streets, making their way to say thank you to Hashem, was a life changing event. You can’t imagine what that did for a person to participate in such an experience. It went into their blood; that they were alive for one purpose and one purpose only- to gain a tangible Awareness of the endless kindnesses of Hakodosh Boruch Hu and living lives of gratitude to Him.

And we are expected to learn this lesson of bikkurim, and do the same in our lives. The obligation to thank Hashem for the numerous benefits that He heaps upon us daily is not merely one of our many obligations in this world. It is actually the most pressing of all obligations, and the sin of ingratitude towards Hashem is actually the sin of all sins.

Of course, the best thing would be if we would stop our lives, and dance and sing in wild enthusiasm, as the ones who brought the bikkurim did. And if you would realize how many endless benefits Hashem is providing you with always, you would be dancing always in delirious joy.

And that’s what Dovid Hamelech tells us in Tehillim: What is the good that one should seek in this world, asked Dovid? What is the best of all careers that a young man, even a young man of sixty, should choose for his stay in this world? And he answers : טוב להודות לשם – “It is good to give thanks to Hashem” (Tehillim 92:2). Now, what is Dovid telling us here? That giving thanks to Hashem is also a good thing?! Like ice-cream is good and watermelon is good, saying thank you to Hashem is also good? No, for that we don’t need Dovid Hamelech. What he’s saying is that many things might be good; but to give thanks to Hashem is the good in this world, the greatest good for a man.

WHAT’S THE REAL SHIVISI HASHEM?

You have to know that you’re in this world for one reason only – to become more and more Aware of Hashem. That’s why you’re alive right now! And that’s why l’hodos is the best good in this world – because enjoying the gifts of Hashem is the best way of living a life infused with Awareness of Him. A person who trains himself to recognize the endless benefits bestowed upon him every second of his life is living Awareness of Hashem. That’s the real shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid. Don’t tell me stories about a tzadik who keeps the letters of Hashem’s name before his eyes. We’re talking now about something much better, about keeping Hashem Himself before your eyes! That’s our purpose in this world – to train ourselves as much as possible to live with a tangible Awareness of Hashem. And when you take the time to appreciate your eyes, and your lungs, and your home, and your teeth, and your feet and your fingers, and the thousands of other gifts from Hashem, then you’ve chosen the best career in life.

That is the Awareness that Hashem is demanding of you. Hashem is calling out to you, “Look at what I’m giving you all day long. I’m giving you eyes. Think about Me. And thank Me. Isn’t it fun to walk around with two cameras on your face?” The eyes are such wonderful cameras. All the scientists admit there is no camera in the world that can compare to the eye. It’s so efficient it functions automatically. It focuses for near objects and in one second you can change the focus for a distant object. It changes in the dark to allow more light to come in. When there’s more light it closes up a little so too much light shouldn’t come in. It’s wonders of wonders how this camera functions. And if you are a wise man, a man who wants to succeed in his purpose in life, you’ll call out to Hashem in gratitude all day long. The more you say thank you, the more you bow down in gratitude, the more you stop in the middle of the day for a few seconds to think and to thank, the more you appreciate the details of all the simple pleasures of your life, you are becoming more Aware of Hashem. You’ll begin to see Hashem, to actually see Him, all day long, in all the benefits He is gifting to you. Every sincere thank you to Hashem, is another degree of Awareness, another degree of perfection in the eyes of Hashem. And there are infinite degrees of this Awareness that man can achieve during his life.

And do you want to know a secret? Hashem is providing you with His benefits all day long, all night long, just for that purpose, so that you should thank Him and become more Aware of Him! Why do you think you have lungs? Just to breathe, to oxygenate your cells?! Your legs are just for walking?! No, your lungs are for thanking, and your legs are for thanking, and your teeth and your fingers, your house and your children, your everything is to bring you to more and more Awareness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu! The sole reason why you enjoy a slice of bread and a drink of water; why you enjoy your ability to use your eyes and move around without a wheelchair; why you enjoy a soft breeze and a clear blue sky; and the thousands of other kindnesses you enjoy every single day, is all for one purpose only- so that you’ll have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate your Creator and become Aware of Him. The endless benefits that we receive are intended as reminders of the One bestowing the benefits.

THE KEY WORD

Once we understand that all of the chasdei Hashem are a tool for us to achieve our purpose in this world, we can understand a possuk in our parsha that at first glance seems quite perplexing. Hashem warns us of the many troubles and travails that will befall our Nation throughout our history when we fail to live up to the standards He demands of us. And although there are many reasons why Hashem might deem it necessary to bring troubles upon us, the only one that He deems important enough to mention specifically is the following: תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרוב כל – “And all this will befall you because you did not serve Hashem your G-d, with joy and with a merry heart, from an abundance of everything” (ibid. 28:47).

Because we didn’t serve Hashem with happiness, with a merry heart, is that a reason to suffer the terrible punishments?! So we weren’t happy, so what? We put on tefillin, we kept Shabbos and learned Torah. Everything we did!

So when we look at the possuk we see a very interesting word. It says תחת אשר לא עבדת. The word תחת in the possuk actually implies something more than “because.” Translated properly, תחת means “instead of.” And therefore the possuk actually reads as follows: “And all this will befall you, instead of you serving Hashem in joy and with a merry heart.” Hashem is telling us here that the choice is ours: We can choose to serve Hashem with a joyful and merry heart, in appreciation of an abundance of everything; That’s one way of becoming Aware of Him. But if we don’t choose that option, Hashem won’t allow us to fail. He will prod us toward Awareness of Him in other ways. And that by means of all of the troubles of the תוכחה – the method of תחת. Instead of becoming Aware of Hashem by calling out to Him in happiness and joy, it will now be the troubles that you face, that will prod you to Awareness of Him. Instead of calling out to Him מרוב כל, in happiness, you will be calling out to Him בעירום וחוסר כל, because of what you need from Him. It’s not a punishment. It’s just either-or. Hashem wants you to succeed at what He created you for – Awareness of Him – and it’s your choice how you’re going to get there.

HIS FIRST HEADACHE IN 65 YEARS!

Here’s a man who for sixty-five years he woke up every morning with no headache. Every day for sixty-five years! You know how many days that is?! It’s more than twenty-thousand days. Twenty thousand mornings that were headache free! And now he wakes up one morning and he can’t even think, he can’t walk. A true story; a man called me up and told me this. So I was thinking “Did you ever wake up in the morning and thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu for not having a headache?” No, it never even crossed his mind to thank Hashem. Do you know what a miracle the brain is? How could it be that your brain is functioning so smoothly?! There are so many circuits, so many electric circuits that are working in your brain every second, and you don’t get a headache. Every second there are more electrical circuits working in your brain than in the main headquarters of the telephone company of Greater New York. And you don’t have any pain! It’s nissei nissim! And therefore you’re a millionaire. And you should be crying out in joy. And so Hashem waits. And waits. But He won’t wait forever.

HASHEM KNOWS HOW TO GET YOUR ATTENTION

And then finally the morning comes when Hashem says תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב. Instead of giving you the opportunity to become aware of Me because of the quiet mornings with no pain, the happiness of waking up with no migraines, so tachas, instead of that, Hakodosh Boruch Hu uses a different method of getting your attention, and giving you the opportunity for perfection in Awareness of Him.

And so, the following morning you wake up with a painful headache. And in desperation you call out to Hashem for His help. And it is this calling out to Him, this newfound awareness of Hashem, what you were created for. The next davening, you’re saying the bracha of רפאינו with more kavanah, with a more sincere heart than anyone else in the shul. Trust me, Hashem knows how to get your attention. He knows exactly how to get you to call out to Him. And because you chose to achieve awareness through רפאינו instead of through מודים, Hashem looks down at you with mercy and says, “Why did you wait so long? Why couldn’t you have just called out to Me in gratitude during מודים and then you wouldn’t have to call out to me in pain during רפאינו?”

YOUR ROLLS ROYCES

And that’s one the very great problems we face today; the desire for luxuries and “good times” and people forgetting the chasdei Hashem in our normal day to day lives.. How can people so obtuse, so ungrateful? And don’t be thick skinned and say, “I’m different. I’m born with a mazal. I’m supposed to have good luck and nothing but good luck all my life. “Ohhh,” Hakadosh Baruch Hu says. “I might have to remind you.” And if your good luck stops, chalilah, for a little while so you look back at the good old days. “Ay yah yay! Where was my head? What was I thinking? I didn’t enjoy life when I had it. I didn’t thank Hashem when I had my kidneys and was still able to urinate normally. I didn’t say thank you when my head didn’t hurt, and when my eyes were healthy.” Because what happens? Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives and He gives more to people, and תוך כדי דיבור they forget the One who is giving.

We’re given so many pleasures, and unfortunately we fail to appreciate any of them. So let’s stop now and think about those great benefits. Do you know how happy, how full of gratitudes a person can become just from walking?! When you walk, you’re exercising your whole body. Your limbs, your organs are all working together to keep you going. It stimulates the blood circulation, and your respiratory system. And of course the air is delicious. The Brooklyn air is really good, a pleasure. Breathe in deeply and take some of that wonderful cocktail of different gases into your lungs. Walking out on the street is from the great pleasures of life. Ahh! The ability to walk; to be among the living, to be free. You’re not secluded in a house or jail. You’re not imprisoned in a wheelchair. You have two Rolls Royces underneath you; greater than any automobile. It’s your own feet! It’s the biggest happiness that you can walk; it’s ניסי ניסים!

Do you know when you walk what the muscles are doing? Every muscle has a reflex. One is pulling and one is shoving; and they’re pulling and shoving, pulling and shoving back and forth every second in perfect coordination. It’s a miracle. How you walk is one of the most wonderful arrangements that you’ll find in the world! By the way, when you’re walking, you know that your thighs are moving in a socket. The thigh moves in the socket of the body. So why isn’t there a feeling of friction? Your thigh is moving in the socket so why don’t you feel any friction? There’s no noise as you move your legs. Is one bone scraping against the other? No; because in between there’s lubrication. Wonders of wonders. As you walk you should hear scraping, moving. There’s no noise because there’s lubrication; no friction. It’s constantly lubricated with a kind of jelly, and the jelly is always being refreshed by additional materials. It’s a wonder of wonders how you bend your knee back and forth and you don’t feel anything. You hear any noise? Try it. Bend your knee right now. You hear any noise? Scraping one bone against another? No, there’s nothing. It’s so smooth that you never even think about it. And that’s the great tragedy of life, that we never think about it. And therefore we say to Hakadosh Baruch Hu: ברוך אתה השם המכין מצעדי גבר, You established the footsteps of a man. How wonderful it is to be able to walk!

GAN EDEN ON OCEAN PARKWAY

Now, all of you here are listening respectfully; maybe you even agree with me. Probably not, but it could be. However that’s not enough. It takes work to acquire da’as, understanding , and you have to have da’as to be a samei’ach b’chelko. Now, pay attention to this story. Once upon a time in one of my previous kehillos – I’m in this business a long time – there was a wealthy man. Now, he never learned how to be happy with walking in Brooklyn. He had to travel to Paris, let’s say. Not let’s say. That’s what he did! He wants to walk to walk the streets of Paris; he thinks that that’s where he he’ll enjoy walking. Or maybe he has to walk the paths in the shadow of the Alps. He did that as well. Otherwise he won’t enjoy life. To be happy walking down the street right here on Ocean Parkway?! He thought I was meshugah. And so he traveled to Paris.

Not long afterwards he became ill. For a couple of years he was lying in bed. And I went to visit him in the hospital. He’s lying in his bed and he can’t even walk to the bathroom. Now he looks back, ”Oh, the good old days when I could walk to the bathroom. It was fun to walk! Oh what a happiness it would be for me if I could just walk to the bathroom. To walk in the street? That would be mamash Gan Eden!” That’s what he told me while he was lying in the hospital bed! And it is Gan Eden to walk in the street!

TORTURED IN THE HOSPITAL

Now, I’m not the person to judge anybody. I was very sorry for him. After all, he was a loyal shomer mitzvos. But now we begin to understand what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants from us in our lifetime. He wants us to appreciate what He’s giving you. Here’s a man in a nursing home. He can’t afford a room by himself so he shares it with one more person. Now suppose he has gas. But he’s not able to walk to the bathroom. He has to wait for the nurse to come in to put a pan under him. But now he has gas and he would like to relieve himself; but the other person, his roommate is a bad-tempered neighbor and he can’t . He has to suffer torture. In the good old days he was able to get up and walk to the bathroom. Now he looks back and sees how happy he was then. Now he’s gaining da’as, understanding what it’s means to be able to walk. תחת אשר לא עבדת את השם אלוקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב – “You could have served Me in happiness,” says Hashem. “If you would have applied your mind to it, you would have been delirious with happiness right here walking on Kings Highway.” And now Hashem is reminding you: ובאו עליך כל הקללות האלה – “And all of these curses will come upon you” (ibid. 45). He lost the happiness of walking and now he remembers Hashem.

Now don’t think I’m making excessive demands upon you. This avodah is required of every person! To appreciate the ability to walk is a chiyuv gamur. And if you won’t enjoy walking on the Brooklyn street then what will it help you now to walk on the avenues of Paris or to wander the paths of the Swiss Alps. All these things are missing the point – the point of gratitude to Hashem for the ability to walk. And that’s a big crime. It’s a major crime of our existence.

Our primary obligation in this world is to thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That’s what avodas Hashem really means, to express constantly our gratitude. Don’t tell me you’re a servant because you do this or that, you shake. No. And even if you do mitzvos; mitzvos you have to do anyhow. But the most important mitzvah is to thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu from the morning till the evening. And it’s not being done; it’s not being done!

THANK HASHEM FOR YOUR BUTTONS AND ZIPPERS

You have to get busy thanking. For what? For everything. For tens of thousands of benefits. In the morning some people rattle off all the brachos. It’s a pity to live life that way, a waste. You have to take your time. מלביש ערמים, He clothes the naked. You can’t just say that one thing. There are many kinds of clothing. You have to thank Hashem for buttons and for zippers and for pockets and for lining and for seams and buttonholes. I have pants with pockets in them. And sometime I even have money in my pocket. I have buttons on my coats, and a lining too. I have a hat and a necktie, and a belt. A belt! You make a bracha on a belt, אוזר ישראל הגבורה. Did you ever stop to think about your belt? A nechtigeh tug! You’re saying the words and you’re not even thinking one bit about the belt. And it’s not enough just to think about the belt. You have to think about the details. It’s made out of leather, genuine leather. Where did that leather come from? You think it grew in the backyard of the clothing store? You have a metal buckle; it lasts a long time that metal buckle. You have to think about the holes. All kinds of holes. You need a hole for before lunch, a hole after lunch. Don’t laugh; you need it. That’s how to think about your belt.

THEY’RE WORKING FOR YOU IN ALABAMA

And you have to think about your shoes. You have rubber heels, and leather tops, and hard heels, different kinds of leather. And it’s dyed different colors. And you have shoe strings with metal tips, plastic tips. If you didn’t have metal tips you wouldn’t be able to stick it through the holes. You’d have to spit on it and twist it to get it through. This is serious. Suppose you didn’t have shoe strings. You’d walk in the street, plop plop, plop plop. And now a car is coming, you can’t run; you’ll lose your shoes. So you have to stop right now and say boruch Hashem for shoelaces. The cotton comes from Alabama. If you have metal tips it comes from Montana, from the iron mines.

Each item deserves to be considered separately. You have to thank Hashem for everything. I’m not exaggerating at all. This I have as a kabbalah for my rebbe, zichrono levracha. You have to thank Hashem for all the details of your clothing. “Oh,” you say, “that’s already too extreme what you’re demanding of us.” The answer is that this is what Hashem is demanding. Absolutely! That’s how you have to live.

MITZVAH GEDOLA LEHIYOS B’SIMCHA TAMID

Now rabosei, don’t imagine that I’m tying you down to a life of obligations. I’m introducing you to a life of happiness because as a result of this avodah you’re going to live lives of simcha. Because once you begin to understand that our function in life is to express gratitude, we’re going to see that it’s not burdensome at all. I’ll tell you why it’s not burdensome. I’m telling you that you have a chiyuv, and you’re worried about it. No, I’m telling you how to become a happy man because the more you spend time understanding what Hashem is doing for you, the more you’ll begin appreciating how lucky you are. And in the course of time you’ll become a man full of joy. Instead of just talking about being a samei’ach b’chelko, you’ll actually do it. You’re going to rejoice in every function of life. You’ll rejoice in every function of your body. You’ll rejoice with your food, whatever it is. You’ll rejoice with the fact you have a roof over your head. You’ll rejoice that you have a warm house in winter. You’ll rejoice that you have water in your house, cold water flowing in your house. Cold water is a big thing. Most houses in the world don’t have any water in the house. They have to go to the wells outside. Rejoice that you have hot water in your house; it’s a luxury. Rejoice that you have bathrooms in your house. When I was in Europe, there no bathrooms. Bathrooms were outside. In the wintertime you had to go out in the cold in the freezing winter. I had to put on my overcoat and go to the outhouse. And the odor was so bad, I would walk around for a half hour before going back into the house, in order not to disturb anyone. And we have indoor plumbing! And therefore, we have to always be saying Modim anachnu luch to Hashem all day long.

FALLING DOWN BECAUSE OF ALL THE CHESED

And so now we can turn back to Bikkurim to learn an important lesson in how to succeed at this avodah. The Torah tells us that after the farmer loudly declares his gratitude, he must place the basket of fruit before the mizbei’ach, and bow down before Hashem. והנחתו לפני השם אלקיך והשתחוית לפני השם אלקיך – “And you shall place the basket down before Hashem your G-d, and you should prostrate yourself before Hashem your G-d” (ibid. 10). The farmer would throw himself in complete prostration on the floor in humbled gratitude before the One who had given him life and all the chasodim of life.

The word והשתחוית derives from the word שח, low, as in the verse ושח רום אנשים – “The pride of men will become low” (Yeshaiah 2:11). One “makes himself low” down to the earth in humility, before Hashem his Provider. Sensing himself overburdened with benefits, and standing before the Benefactor Himself, the farmer would throw himself on the floor in humble gratitude. How could he stand straight before Hashem, Who is providing him with endless benefits?! And in genuine humility, the farmer would lower himself to the ground, knowing that he could do nothing to repay Hashem for the benefits except to be humbled in gratitude before Him.

And even the farmer who wasn’t aroused with these strong feelings, would also prostrate himself before his Benefactor, and by doing so awaken these latent feelings of submissive thankfulness. “I am overwhelmed by Your kindness,” he would think as his body and face lay flush with the cold floor. The bowing down before the palpable presence of Hakodosh Boruch Hu was an awesome thrill that stayed with this man forever.

BRINGING BIKKURIM TO SHUL

We look back in longing at our fathers who were zoche to such an opportunity. To actually stand before Hakodosh Boruch Hu in His home and throw yourself down before Him. But in our own lives, we have our own opportunity for this greatness as well. Only that we don’t realize it, and we therefore remain bereft of this opportunity for greatness.

Every day, when you bow down during Modim you are reenacting that great moment of והשתחוית. As you bow down, you should be aware of Who you are bowing down to. Instead of the reflexive jerk forward of your body as you say מודים אנחנו לך, you should say these words, at least these words, slowly. You’re not meant to be a robot that is programmed to bow automatically, without thought, at the sight of the words מודים אנחנו לך in your siddur. You’ve been qbowing down for so many years, that it’s just a reflexive action on your part. Some people wouldn’t even know that they had said the words of Modim if they hadn’t been startled awake as their heads jerk forward. But you’ll have to change that if you want to be a success.

You have to actually feel like you’re bowing down in front of Hashem. It takes practice. As you bow down slowly, you should imagine that Hashem is right before you. You’re actually bowing down to Him in gratitude, just like the farmer bowed down to Hashem, and tangibly experienced the Presence of Hashem. Even though you’re not carrying a basket of bikkurim, and even without the Beis Hamikdash, you’re still bowing down to the same Hashem, Who is standing before you just as He stood before the farmer.

BOWING WITH A FULL STOMACH

And the best way to use Modim is to prepare beforehand. Make it your business to choose one thing to thank Hashem for by each Modim. Thank Hashem for the fact that you have food in the house. You were able to eat breakfast this morning, no? Eating breakfast is a pleasure. You’re not bowing down to Hashem with an empty stomach. Even by Shachris, you’re still somewhat full from last night’s supper. So when you bow down, think “I’m thanking you Hashem for the bowl of cereal,” “I’m thanking You Hashem for last night’s supper.”

There are so many things to thank for. Bow down slowly – there’s no rush – and thank Hashem that you woke up without a headache today. That when you went to the bathroom in the morning everything worked. I know that you said Asher Yatzar already, but this time you’ll bow down in sincere gratitude. It’s a pleasure to be able to relieve yourself without needing doctors to use a tube to help you out. Now that’s something to say Modim about! We had a man here in the shul who suffered terribly from this. He couldn’t relieve himself, and finally they had to take him to the hospital to help him. And the doctors had to use a tube and vaseline to get the urine out of his body. And it hurt. It hurt like the dickens. He was screaming. Screaming from pain. And yet, when they finished emptying his bladder, he was so happy to have finally relieved himself. And you?! For you it’s so simple, so painless. You could bend over by Modim and never straighten up, and it wouldn’t be enough bowing just for that.

Did you ever bow down in Modim in thanks for your children? Never?! Well, you’re going to have to start sometime. And not one Modim for all your children! One Modim during Shachris for this child, and another during mincha for the next child. And at ma’ariv you will bow down for the next one. And when you finish getting through all your children, you can start again.

A SHOPPING CART FOR A HOME

You slept in a home last night? You didn’t have to find a park bench to sleep on?! You’re a lucky man. You’re not sleeping on some bench, with all your belongings next to you in a shopping cart. You’re a wealthy man! Sometimes you see these women walking in the streets. They’re pushing a shopping wagon. All their worldly belongings are in the shopping wagon. They have nothing else, no place to sleep. They sit down on the park bench and they try to doze off. They’re afraid to lie down. If they’ll lie down on a bench, a woman in New York City, it’s a sakanah. So she sits on the bench and tries to sleep. It’s a rachmanus. A rachmanus! She has no place to go. She’s worn out. She can’t take a bath and she’s full of vermin. She’s not well. Every bit of food is a miracle, if she can get something to eat. And you’re leaving here and going to a home tonight. Thank Hashem!

And if you forgot to plan ahead, all hope is not lost. You can stop after המחזיר שכינתו לציון and collect your thoughts. So stop for a few moments, like the מביאי ביכורים did, and prepare yourself to thank Hashem. You can’t just say a general Modim and think that you freed yourself from your obligation. A thank you without any thoughts, without any details is worthless. It’s a blank check that you’re writing to Hashem, and it’s almost worthless.Think of a חסד right there, before Modim, and bow down to Hashem in gratitude for that chesed. Try it one time. Don’t simply bow down. Bow down before Hashem. You’ll be a changed man.

RAV MILLER’S ILLNESS LIST

Every time you say it, prepare something. There are so many things available. Look at all the illnesses. I once made a list of about fifty illnesses. Illnesses and unfortunate circumstances. And I look at it. All the things that Hashem saved me from. You can make such a list for yourself. And it’s a good idea to read that from time to time. Make such a list. So many people are sick. This man has that, this woman has this. Make a list and think, “Boruch Hashem I don’t have that. Boruch Hashem I don’t have that.”

When I walk in the streets with chaveirim, younger chaveirim, we stop in front of medical buildings where the doctors put out their signs and we read them. We stop and read them. Eye doctor; I don’t need him. Stomach specialist; I don’t need him. Internist; I don’t need you either! By each one we say ‘Boruch Hashem I don’t need you.” Try training yourself to say that. Stop in front of a medical building or a drug store. They’re having a sale, all kinds of medicines. There’s a bargain, they’re cheap. Thank Hashem, I don’t need this. Thank Hashem, I don’t need that. Thank Hashem I don’t need that. You have to thank Hashem because there are plenty customers for them. Oh yes. Plenty of people need them.

BACK TO SCHOOL AGAIN

Now I’ll give you a little more homework. When you come to the Beis Knesses and you hear kaddish being said, so you say יהא שמה רבא;Let His great name be blessed.” Do you mind? It doesn’t cost you any money to say that. You’re thinking, let other people bless His name. That’s what! Others should bless His name. One day, in the far off future, His name will be blessed. So that’s what it means יהא שמה רבא מברך. You should do it right now. Don’t wait for the future. לעלם ולעלמי עלמיא. Start right now. No! You should bless His name. And you should do it right now. So let’s get busy with a plan.

And so when you say יהא שמה רבא it’s a good idea to prepare. As soon as the chazzan starts saying yisgadal, think what am I going to thank for this time? Think fast. It’s better if you thought beforehand and prepare at least one thing to thank. Thank Hashem that you have a wife. How many old bachurim waited too long and now nobody will marry them? Boruch Hashem that you have normal children. Ooooh, the tzaros. I knew a man who had three children one after the other. All idiots. All idiots, rachmana litzlan.A terrible rachmanus. If you have normal children, you have to thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu for that day and night, day and night, day and night, day and night for normal children. Some people have no children at all, and they pine away their lives and look at other people. They’re so jealous, and people who have children many times don’t stop to think. Every child is a matanah. A child is a very big gift. It’s a ta’anug. Of course מרבה נכסים מרבה דאגה, but we want to have more nechasim and have more worries! And therefore, how can a person who lives a normal life not be busy all of his days thanking Hashem?!

DARWIN ALMOST BECAME A MAA’MIN

Think of one specific thing when you say יהא שמה רבא. The more you appreciate the fact you have teeth. Ah, ah, ah, it’s a pleasure! I once spoke to a dentist. I had a problem with my teeth so I said maybe you should put other teeth in. No, he said. There’s nothing like your own teeth. You hear that? There’s nothing like your own teeth. Nothing like your own eyes. Eyes, what a benefit, what a happiness. Even the rasha Darwin said, “When I consider the subject of eyes, I admit it is very incredible to believe that it happened by accident.” He admits is very hard to believe it. “But”! He said, He butted his way through it. But, but, but.

So if you’re going to be a Darwin chas v’shalom and forget who gave you your eyes and who gave you your teeth, then Hakodosh Boruch Hu might remind you. Remember when your tooth was bothering you, and it hurt you even to eat? You couldn’t eat for three days. Your tooth was bothering you, and you thought you would have to take it out. Then all of a sudden, overnight the pain subsided and the tooth functioned well once more. Did you even say one Y’hei sh’mei rabbah for that?

And the list of things to thank for is endless. You’re in debt, very much in debt. You remember when you once made a dumb step. You stepped off the curb without looking just as a bus was making a turn? It happened to me. So the bus driver pulled the brakes and cursed me! “I almost hit you. You crazy dope! You walked in front of my bus!” Something like that happens to everybody. And what happens? You walk away like a dumbbell, not even thinking. Where’s the יהא שמה רבא for that?

RAV MILLER RESCUED FROM GUN VIOLENCE

When you were a little boy, you once found a bullet. It’s a true story – I once found a bullet when I was a little boy. I took the bullet and stuck it between the boards of a wooden fence to experiment. I took a hammer with a nail, and I banged it against the back of the bullet. It exploded in my face. My face was full of blood. Full of blood! I chalilah could have lost my eyes. יהא שמה רבא מברך – “Thank You Hashem for saving my eyes!”

When I was four years old I fell off a pile of wood. They were building something near my house, and I was playing. And I fell off a pile of wood. I fell on my face and I had to have stitches. But that piece of wood could have come into my eyes. What was I thinking? How could I ever forget such a thing?! Hashem saved me! יהא שמיה רבא מברך. All our lives are filled of such sakanas. We’ve been rescued again and again. ואל תשכחי, don’t forget, כל גמוליו, all of His kindnesses.

PREPARING FOR YOM HADIN

And this lesson of תחת אשר לא עבדת is even more important for us as we prepare for the Yom Hadin. A year ago we were also standing on the threshold of a new year, and we didn’t know what our g’zar din would be: מי יחיה ומי ימות, מי ישלו ומי יתיסר – “Who will live and who will die, who will enjoy tranquility, and who will suffer.” What the coming year had in store for us was a safek, a real doubt. And now it’s a year later and you’re still here. You made it. If you’re here, then you made it!

And now, everyone is preparing to ask for another year. But you missed the whole point. You’ve missed the point completely. Hashem gave you another year of life! And not just life, but a year of happiness. The complainers will always find what to complain about, no question about it. But it was a year of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of individual happinesses. Hashem was showering benefits on you all year long. And so, before you ask for another year, how could you not spend time appreciating what Hashem gave you already? And not just saying you appreciate it; really feeling gratitude.

LOOK BACK AT THE PAST YEAR

Rabbeinu Yonah, when he wants to give an example of what is one of the most important mitzvos asei, he quotes the following possuk: וזכרת את כל הדרך – “Remember the whole way that you traveled the forty years in the wilderness.” Which means that Hashem is telling the dor hamidbar to look back at these forty years in the midbar and remember what Hakodosh Boruch Hu did for them, the benefits He showered upon them. And Rabeinu Yonah says this is a mitzvas asei for us! He says that we see from there that it’s our duty to look back at all the happiness you had in the past, all the successes of your life. And it’s one of the most important of all mitzvos.

Now, let’s learn this, because now is the time, before the next year begins, to look back and see how good the past one was and to be grateful for it. Isn’t that an important idea? So we should begin to look back and וזכרת את כל הדרך, remember all the way you traveled from last Rosh Hashanah until today. And it’s such an important duty, this duty of gratitude. You had an entire year, a good year, and you’re here, you’re still around, to testify that it was good!

THE FIVE MINUTE PREP FOR ROSH HASHANAH

Even if you would put it into practice for only five minutes, you’re already superior to everyone else. If after sitting here for an hour and a half, you’ll go out and think for five minutes, you should know that you’re an exception. You’re a dagul mei’rivavah. There’s nobody like you. If you do this, even on a small scale, then you shoot up and your head is way above everybody else. Because the world doesn’t do it; they talk about it, but we’ll be the ones who do it. Who thinks for five whole minutes about gratitude for Hashem for the past year? People talk about it. But that’s all. אם לא עכשיו אימתי.

Many people, when the last day of the year approaches, they think, “Maybe we should fast; we should pray a lot.” Very good, very good; why not? You want to do more good deeds? Yes, why not? But among all the good things you do, the most important obligation is to be grateful for the year that is going out now. Tuf shin lamed vuv was a good year! You had an entire year, a good year, and you’re here, you’re still around, to testify that it was good! ! And in case you don’t think so, in case you feel it wasn’t a good year, then you have to know that you are remiss in your duty of gratitude and you’re not prepared at all for Rosh Hashanah.

Think of the almost 365 breakfasts that you ate this year. Did you enjoy breakfast? Now don’t tell me you didn’t. If you didn’t then you have to come here and take a course in living a normal life because everybody should enjoy breakfast. 365 times this year you ate breakfast and most of us ate 365 lunches as well. Not to mention what you did between meals.

HOW MANY STEPS DID YOU TAKE THIS YEAR?

Do you realize how many steps you took this year? Most people take more than five thousand steps a day. Five thousand steps! And for how many of those did you thank Hashem? So you see how much debt you’re in. How many times did you bend your elbow without any pain? How many times did you cross the street and make it to the other side alive? Was there even one time that you woke up this year without the ability to see? Every morning your eyes were functioning? And your liver and your kidneys and your heart! Every day!

Three hundred and sixty five nights of sleep! All of you slept this year. You know there are a lot of people who can’t sleep. And most of us slept through 365 nights. I don’t think you were doing too many all-night mishmaros. I think we were sleeping almost every night. Did you ever take a few minutes to thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu for all those sweet hours of sleep? So many nights, and each night it was at least a few hours!

RAV MILLER’S NEW YEARS RESOLUTION

Here you are worrying about making resolutions for the coming year, and worrying about your sins from last year, and that’s all well and good. It’s wonderful! But you’re forgetting about the biggest sin of all – the sin of ungratefulness. Remembering all the good that Hashem has showered upon you during this past year, is the first and most important preparation of all. You have to put a lot of work, a lot of thought into it. It’s a mitzvas asei! וזכרת את כל הדרך, to look back and do what the Am Yisroel did when they brought bikkurim to Yerushalayim. They went meshugah with happiness!

So there are two paths that lie before you. The two paths of coming to Awareness of Hashem in the פסוק of תחת are available to you, and you will have to make that choice. And don’t wait too long, because the Day of Hashem’s Judgement is coming. If you don’t choose to serve Hashem מרוב כל, then Hashem will not wait forever. And then you’ll have to serve Hashem מחוסר כל. So begin this year with a new career, a career of thanking Hashem.

And if you start thanking now, and you keep it up, then you’ve made that choice to serve Hashem בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרוב כל, to serve Him in happiness and with a merry heart for all of the good He has bestowed upon you. You’re living the lesson of the mitzvah of bikkurim and that’s the greatest career available to Mankind in this world. And then Hashem will continue to give you רוב כל so that you can continue to walk on the path you’ve chosen of עבדת את השם אלקיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב for another year of health and happiness.

HAVE A WONDERFUL SHABBOS