Parshas Re’eh – The Purpose of Food

פרשת ראה


In Parshas Re’eh Hashem commands the Am Yisroel to bring korbanos to the Beis Hamikdash: ואכלתם שם לפני ה’ אלקיכם ושמחתם בכל משלח ידכם, ”You shall eat there before Hashem your G-d and you shall rejoice” (12:6-7). To eat and rejoice! Although this may imply singing and even dancing, yet these activities are never explicitly mentioned in the Torah. And therefore, we understand that the eating of the korbanos in itself is the rejoicing that Hashem speaks about here. And Hakodosh Baruch Hu wants you to rejoice not merely by eating meat, but by eating meat lifnei Hashem Elokecha, in the Presence of Hashem.

Now, although we have read these words many times, we should stop for a moment and appreciate the significance of this lesson. It is remarkable that Hashem considers eating as the fulfillment of a person’s desire for happiness before Hashem. And if the Torah is letting us know that our joy “before Hashem” should be in the so-called simple pleasure of eating, it is only right that we study this sugya, the topic of “eating before Hashem,” as it is more common and perhaps even more crucial for your service of Hashem than many other sugyos you might study.

The opportunity to gain awareness of Hashem’s kindliness by means of eating is important enough to earn repetition in the Torah frequently. “Before Hashem your G-d you shall eat it… and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d” (D’varim 12:18). “And you shall eat before Hashem your G-d and you shall rejoice” (ibid. 14:26). “And you shall eat and be satiated and you shall bless Hashem” (ibid. 8:10).


The nation of Hashem can gain happiness and perfection through eating in the right way. You know that when the nations of the world wish to bring offerings to Hashem, they may do so; we accept their korbanos. But they are limited to burnt-offerings, korbanos that involve no eating. Unlike the Am Yisroel, the goyim are not allowed to eat of offerings, for the physical act of eating bestirs their bestiality, their most base animal instincts, and they are incapable of joining thoughts of Hashem to their eating. When a goy eats and drinks, it is often a source of trouble. I always tell you this joke: What do you call it when you see three ambulances racing down the street one after the other, with their sirens blaring? It’s the end of a Puerto Rican wedding! When goyim get together for eating there is no eating in the Presence of Hashem, and therefore there is usually trouble afoot. And they are therefore unfit for the function of serving Hashem at the dinner table. But we, the Holy Nation, can learn to eat in holiness and become great through the function of eating.


In sefer Emunas V’deios, Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon makes a remark that enlightens us about the nature of Olam Hazeh. He says that this world is a world that’s made for food. He doesn’t say it’s a world made for Olam Habah, and not for the Am Yisroel; this world is created entirely for the purpose of supplying food. It’s a very important observation that nobody pays attention to. But Rav Saadiah Gaon made note of this phenomenon. The entire Olam Hazeh is geared for the function of מכלכל חיים בחסד.

The first thing that we take note of is that the entire earth, with all its phenomena, is devoted to the purpose of creating and supporting life, through a wonderful system that supplies the food needs of all the living. The entire soil that blankets this earth is only for the purpose of supplying food. The winds, the sun, the rain, the atmosphere, many factors have the sole function of cooperating in supplying food for the living. The vast phenomena of the sun, the force of gravity, the winds, the rains, the snow and the atmospheric gases all cooperate in the mighty function of supplying you with your breakfast, lunch and supper – as well as all that snacking in between. And of course these systems are all cooperating with each other to feed the world. And if you open your eyes, if you open your mind, you see it all day long.


Even if you are a city-boy, and you don’t live out in the boondocks where you can see the cornfields and the cows. Keep your eyes open just a bit and all day long you’ll see the trucks driving back and forth. Some are loaded with fruits and vegetables. Others with milk and cheese. And poultry and meats. And loaves of every type of bread. And from early in the morning, before you’re even thinking about getting up, these trucks are on the road and unloading the cases of food. Even a man in the city – he never saw a cow, or a wheatfield in his life – he can see what Rav Saadiah is speaking about, all around him. There’s something here! The whole briyah, the creation of the whole world, the whole maaseh bereishis, is for what? For food!


Now this explains what the gemara says in Mesichta B’rachos. The gemara states if you say תהילה לדוד, that’s ashrei, every day, you’re a ben Olam Habah. The gemara asks why? What’s so important? Of course, it’s certainly a marvelous composition of ruach hakodesh and very deep wisdom, but what makes it distinguished from all the other chapters of Tehillim? Dovid said a lot of beautiful things. And the gemara concludes that it’s because of the possuk פותח את ידך, You open Your hand, ומשביע לכל חי רצון, and You satiate all the living with all their needs. That’s what makes ashrei so important. And not just important, but so important that by saying it everyday properly you’re becoming a ben Olam Habah. You’re impressing onto your neshama that Hashem is feeding the whole world.

Now the question arises why did the gemara quote that passuk? There’s a possuk right before that that says the same thing, so it seems: עיני כל אליך ישברו, the eyes of all hope to You, ואתה נותן להם את אכלם בעתו, You give them the food in its time. What’s wrong with that possuk?

And the answer is that the first possuk merely tells us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives food. He supplies the needs of the living. That’s all it says. But the next passuk tells us something else. פותח את ידך, You open up Your hand.” Hakodosh Boruch Hu doesn’t have any hand; “Your Hand” means all Your Power. You have nothing else that interests You except כי חפץ חסד הוא; all of Your power is for chesed. That’s what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants to show us in this world; His kindliness. He’s יושב וזן מביצי כינים ועד קרני ראמים – Hashem is sitting in heaven and feeding everyone, everything! הקב”ה יושב ברומו של עולם ומחלק מזונות לכל בריה, Hakodosh Baruch Hu sits on his throne and is distributing food to the entire world. That’s kaviyachol His main interest in the world, to feed every creature. And how great is the achievement of understanding this important principle that the entire briah is geared to supplying the needs of the living? So great that if you know it, if you really know it, you’re a ben Olam Habah.


We’ll give a mashal. Here’s a rich man. He has a big business. He has an office where he receives rabbanim, rosh yeshivos that come for their institutions. So he takes them into that room, and he sits with them, he talks to the them. And then he opens a drawer, pulls out a checkbook and he gives a fine donations. He’s running to his tzedaka office for meetings all day long. But that’s not his main business. He has a very big factory where he spends his day. That’s where his thoughts are. The tzedaka office is only a branch of his activities.

But suppose there’s a rich man who opens up in Manhattan an office only for giving tzedaka. It’s a big building, with many floors, and the whole building is only to give tzedakah. Different rooms and offices for tzedaka programs. This man is a specialist in tzedakah and chesed. That’s where he spends his days, running from room to room, giving tzedaka and supporting all the Torah institutions and all the nitzrachim, the needy.

That’s Hakodosh Baruch Hu! That’s what Rav Saadiah Gaon is saying. And that’s what פותח את ידיך ומשביע לכל חי רצון is telling us. Hakodosh Boruch Hu made this world only to feed. All of His powers are concentrated on kindliness. The whole world is one big tzedaka office, a food supply office for all of the briyos.


Hashem gives fish worms to eat, but you don’t like worms! So He gives you bread. Everybody gets what he likes. ומשביע לכל חי רצון, He satiates every creature with what he wants. Cows don’t like meat. They love grass. Lions don’t like grass so Hashem gives them meat. Everybody gets what he wants and you should know it’s a very special restaurant, this world. It’s customized. Each creature has its own menu and there are hundreds of thousands of different customers with hundreds of thousands of different menus. And Hakodosh Baruch Hu gives each customer exactly the menu that he likes. Little baby rhinoceroses like only rhinoceros milk from their mother. They don’t like milk from seals or from elephants. Rhinoceros milk has a specific prescription, much different from the milk that comes from cows. Little raccoons like only raccoon milk. Every animal gets their milk suited to each species, and Hakodosh Baruch Hu caters to everybody’s tastes.

In Birchas Hamazon, the first bracha we say, ברוך אתה השם הזן את היהודים. No, we don’t say that. We don’t say thank You Hashem for feeding me, for giving us food. We say הזן את הכל – You feed everybody, everything! Birds on the wing, earthworms in the interior of the soil, the cat in the backyard. Everybody is eating it’s not only once a year; every day new food. When you pass a bakery and see in the window all kinds of bread and rolls and cakes, they’re not the same ones that were there yesterday. Every day they bake new ones. You pass a fruit stand. It looks like the same apples that were there last week. No, those ones are gone. Everyday new piles of apples and new heaps of oranges and bananas. Every day Hakodosh Baruch Hu is supplying; הזן את הכל.


But you should be asking yourself: What is the purpose of all this? Such a wondrous and stupendous food system of interrelated subsystems, and for what?! Just to provide food? For what purpose did Hashem do this? Hashem, Who created the whole world and everything in it, didn’t have to create people with the need for food in order to live. But He did. And He created a most complicated system of feeding us. What do you think, that it was without a purpose?! Hashem had to create a food system only because He was stuck, because He made humans?! No, not at all. And even if Hashem wanted us to eat to live, did He have to create the marvels of the food supply? The nourishment could have been tasteless and colorless, and without aroma, and we would have been happy to ingest the life-giving materials which would supply us with energy.

So we’ll explain as follows: There are two kinds of knowledge that we have to gain in this world – and remember, we’re in this world to get knowledge. Whatever you’re doing in this world, it’s for da’as, for knowledge. Hakodosh Boruch Hu said that. וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך – You should know today and you should keep on putting into your mind – leiv means mind (see Toras Avigdor Parshas Va’eschanan), כי השם הוא האלוקים – that Hashem is our G-d.” We are commanded to know. And to know and to know and to know. That’s what והשבות means, to keep putting it into your mind more and more.


One form of knowledge is called chochma – learning facts. There is so much to learn in this world, so much Torah information that we have to absorb. And that’s called yedias ha’seichel, knowledge of the mind. To know with your mind is an accomplishment; but that’s not the chief accomplishment of life. Oh no! Many people understand and know, and nevertheless, they never have absorbed, they never took into their inner consciousness, the real truths of these great principles.

And people are not aware of that. They think we just have to learn seforim. Seforim are very important, but there are so many things to learn that are outside of the seforim – things that the seforim are only m’ramez to. The seforim give you the roshei perakim, of what you have to do, but it’s you who has to do the work. You must begin the process avodah of internalizing he chochma and making it part of your personality. That’s when you can begin actually living with Torah attitudes. It becomes part of who you are, not merely a superficial piece of information. That’s the real yediah; it’s called da’as.


I always give the same example. A mother is standing in the kitchen and her little boy comes in and starts fooling around. So the mother says, “Watch out – the stove is hot. It’s fire, it burns. Don’t touch the stove!” Now, he knows that his mother is an Encyclopedia Britannica. He knows that his mother knows everything. And he believes her b’emunah sh’leimah. A little boy believes his mother knows everything. He believes her that the stove burns. So what does he do? He puts his fingers on the hot stove and burns his finger. Oooh, it hurts. Now he shouts, “Ow, the stove burns.”

You know what happened here? The little boy just learned another form of wisdom. Before, it was intellectual wisdom. But now he knows sensory wisdom. Sensory wisdom is a whole new type of wisdom. His mother told him it burns, yes, he believed that. That’s called yedias haseichel. But now that his finger was burned by the fire, he felt it with his senses, that’s a whole different story. Now it’s yedias hachush. Yedias hachush is a new kind of knowledge, a new kind of knowledge entirely. And there’s no comparison.


So the first level is called chochma. Let’s say he would never have put his finger on the stove. He knows, fire burns. His mother told him! But he’s lacking yedias hachush. But once he goes through the experience, so he tells people, “You know, fire really burns.” So they say “Mai kamashma lun, we always knew that.” No, they don’t know it! But he knows it now!

I always tell the same stories but it’s important to know these stories. Once a bachur came late to yeshiva in the morning. I said, “Why are you late today?” He said, “Today I saw something; I saw a man die on the street.” He was agitated, discomposed, trembling ! A man died in front of him. I said, “What’s the big deal? Don’t you know people die?” He said, “Yes, but I never saw it before.” The knowledge that people die shook him up because before it was only a superficial kind of yediah. Now he saw it with his own eyes and he learned that it was really so.


Now, one of the most important yedios that we have to strive to acquire is the knowledge of the chesed and chochma of Hashem. So you’re going to say “I know that already.”We all know that Hashem created the world for one purpose, for chesed. You might even quote the passuk in Tehillim, עולם חסד יבנה – “The world is created for kindliness.” But look at what Dovid said: אני אמרתי – “I am the one who said, עולם חסד יבנה – that this world is built for kindliness” (ibid.) Now what are those extra words, Ani amarti, “I said”? What’s the introduction for? Just tell us, “Olam chesed yi’baneh.”

And the answer is this. Yes, of course, everyone could say “This world is a world of chesed.” Why not? It’s easy to say. But to actually understand that it is so, to feel that this world is a world of chesed, and more chesed and more chesed; that’s a big accomplishment that only a few people achieve.


When Dovid sat down to eat, he didn’t waste any time. He ate supper like an eved Hashem eats supper. He was Dovid avdi because he knew how to eat; he ate with thought. Dovid was sitting and eating and thinking. As he ate, he saw the chesed Hashem; better yet, he tasted the chesed Hashem. He felt on his taste buds, he felt it in his stomach, how kind Hashem is to us. And because he made a program out of it, because he did it day after day, he actually began to feel the chesed Hashem in his bones.

And now Dovid was saying these words again, while he was eating and allowing the yediah chushis of olam chesed yi’baneh to saturate his body and his mind. And so now, it was a different kind of words, a different kind of words altogether. Because when he ate, he was taking the superficial wisdom that everyone knows, and he became saturated with it. He became identified with that wisdom. It became part of him. He actually felt it so.

Ani amarti, said Dovid, after his breakast, after his supper. “I’m the one who can really say it, because I actually make it my business to experience, to appreciate, Hashem’s kindliness.” Ani amarti – “Listen to me because I know what I’m talking about. I’ve come to the conclusion that olam chesed yi’baneh, that Hashem truly made this world for kindliness.”

And so we see that experience of eating is a very important part of our progress that we make in this world. Eating food is a great opportunity to appreciate the great chesed of ani amarti, the understanding of what bri’as haolam, the creation of the world, really means. When you sit down to the table and you eat food, you’re taking the yedias hasechel and you’re transforming it into yedias hachush. And the more you enjoy the eating, the more you’re going to be grateful to Hashem and understand His kindliness.


In Mesichta Chullin (4b) we find a very interesting observation that Chazal make: “There is no persuasion unless by food and drink.” When you want to make that big sale to an important customer, you make sure to take him out to a good restaurant. Of course, you’ll be talking about how your prices can’t be matched, and about the quality of your goods – but you need that good steak to induce him into closing that deal.

Now, pay attention to this: The wide variety of foods and drinks in this world is Hashem persuading us. He is doing His best to persuade us to perfect ourselves in Awareness of His kindliness and wisdom. That is the reason that the world is a food making machine. All day long Hashem is trying to seduce you with the endless variety of good foods. He’s trying His hardest to get our attention. But we’re sleeping. Even when we’re eating our minds are fast asleep. We’re not thinking about it at all. But when a person is wise enough to think when he eats, he’s allowing himself to to be persuaded by Hashem to fall in love with Him.


The measure of the kindliness of Hashem is apparent not only in the abundant food supply and the intricate systems that are in place to feed us, but even more in the tastes and qualities of the food itself. The Creator made the eating function into a considerable pleasure by bestowing on our food a wide variety of tastes, colors and aromas specifically to induce us into recognizing Him through the kindness He bestows. The large amount of fruits, with each fruit itself coming in various flavors and shades of color. A variety of poultry and fish and meat. Varieties of grains and vegetables and fruit. And various spices and condiments. All for the purpose of inducing us to “rejoice before Hashem.” So that we should rejoice in this endless variety and appreciate the infinite kindness and wisdom of Hashem.


And now we know why Hashem gives food. We thought He gives food so we should continue just to live. No that’s not the real purpose. The real purpose is what we say in bentching. הזן את העולם כלו. He feeds the whole world, and not only He feeds us, but it’s בטובו בחן בחסד וברחמים, in His goodness, kindliness, grace and mercy. He could have given us white pills without any taste. And באין ברירה, with no other option, we would eat the white pills. It would keep us going like vitamins. They don’t have any taste. Sometimes they’re bitter. But we’d eat them because we have to.

But instead He gives us “pills” that taste good. Everything that’s good to eat has a good taste. Everything you taste that’s good to eat smells good. Hakodosh Baruch Hu made it naturally that way. And why? It’s בעבור שמו הגדול, for the sake of His great name. In order that you should appreciate His wisdom and greatness and kindliness. All of the kindliness inherent in this world full of food, is for that purpose only. To appreciate the gift of food for the purpose of recognizing and appreciating the Giver. That’s why we’re eating and enjoying these things.

And now we see how important the function of eating is in this world, because it’s the eating of food that is the occasion for the great service of Hashem, the service of actually believing that He is a Chofetz Chesed.


And therefore when you eat it’s a glorious opportunity. Every time you sit down at the table, you sit down with the intention I’m going to gain more love of Hashem. So here’s a man sitting down to a meal. First thing is you should tell your wife how good the food is. You give her a compliment. “Chanaleh, this chicken is excellent. It couldn’t have been any better.” You should say that! But when she walks out to the other room and she doesn’t hear, you should say, “This food tastes so good, Hashem. Thank you, You did a remarkable job on this chicken. I love You, Hashem.” That’s how to love Hashem. You’re eating in order to love Hashem. Although there are many ways of loving Hashem, but eating is one of the most fundamental means because it hits the spot. It’s yedias hachush. The whole body is employed in the function of eating, and therefore when a person eats that way, it’s ואכלתם… ושמחתם לפני השם – You’re actually eating in the Presence of Hashem.

Everytime you eat, add the thought, “I’m eating because I want to appreciate the kindness of Hashem. Hashem, You’re the One who makes food taste good.” You know, food doesn’t taste like turpentine. Food doesn’t taste like dirt. Food doesn’t taste like paper. Food tastes good! And He created all types of flavors and tastes. And all things to flavor it with. Onions! And salt! And sometimes pepper! “It’s so much fun to be eating. It’s delicious and filling. And, not only is it fun, but it’s refreshing and invigorating for my body and soul. I’m a new man after a good meal.” These are important thoughts. Think about them while you’re eating.


Say with your mouth, “You Hashem are זן את העולם כולו – You are feeding the whole world. And right now You’re feeding me בחן ובחסד וברחמים – with favor and with kindness and with mercy.” And it’s all miracles. It’s עמוק עמוק, it’s miracles deep beyond comprehension. The gemara says: קשין מזונותיו של אדם כקריעת ים סוף – The food of a person is as difficult as the splitting of the Yam Suf.” Now, what does that mean? Making a living can be difficult, but almost everybody is doing it. You’re making a living, but you can’t split the Yam Suf. And therefore we must understand that what the gemara is telling us is something of a demonstration of the greatness of Hakodosh Baruch Hu. Food is no less a neis than the miracles that took place at Kriyas Yam Suf. At the Yam Suf there were 250 makkos, so that means that there were at least 250 open miracles. And when you’re eating food, you’re expected to realize that every bite is at least 250 miracles.


The truth is we’re not utilizing the opportunities of seeing the miracles of Hashem. Let’s say you’re eating an orange right now. It’s a glorious opportunity. The first thing you look at is the color of the orange. Don’t pass that over. Look at the color of the orange. Why is it so beautifully colored? It could have been the color like a potato. No, a potato Hashem doesn’t want you to be too attracted to it. He doesn’t want you to bite into it. It still needs work; it has to be cooked or baked. But an orange? Why is it colored orange; a beautiful shining orange? Color is not an accident. Try to make color yourself. Take raw materials, dirt and water and try to make colors. Go out and try it. You could try for a thousand years and you wouldn’t be able to do a thing. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu told the orange tree to make colors from the dirt and water. Kashin k’kriyas Yam Suf. Hashem doesn’t do miracles for nothing. What’s it for? The color is there for a purpose; and that’s why when the orange is on the tree, it’s not colored. It’s green. Oranges hide among the leaves. Why is it green there and not orange colored? Because it wants to hide from you. You shouldn’t look at me yet. I’m too young. Don’t take me yet. When it’s ready to eat then it turns a beautiful golden color and it calls out to you, “Now you can take me, mein kind. Enjoy me.”

So now you’re ready to begin eating. But we’re not done yet. Hakodosh Boruch Hu still has more to show you! You begin removing the peel. Take a look at the peel. Don’t just discard the peel and that’s all. You’re missing the true purpose of the orange. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is giving a shiur klali in Chesed Hashem, in Chochmas Hashem, so you have to pay attention. The color of the skin is only on the outside. Why isn’t it on the inside of the skin? Because it’s a waste of color on the inside of the skin. You don’t need it anymore. You throw away the skin. The outside is what you see. Once you’re attracted to take the orange, you bought it and you’re ready to eat; now you already have it in your hand. So you open it up, and who cares if the skin underneath has no color? So we see color is being used economically, frugally, with chochma, it’s not being wasted.


And the color of the flesh of the orange inside is also beautiful. When you take off the peel, the fruit itself is an attractive orange. Why do you need the color inside? To help you enjoy it while you eat. It makes it more pleasurable; it adds to the fun of eating. There’s more hana’ah when you eat something that’s colored.

And therefore when you eat an orange properly, you become a ma’amin. You become not only a ma’amin in Hashem the Borei, but you see that Hakodosh Boruch Hu intended the world for kindliness! Because why did He make the orange taste good? It could have tasted unpleasant and still would have all the vitamins and all the nourishment. It’s because He wanted to make it taste pleasant. And why did He color the flesh inside? To complement the taste, so that we should enjoy it even more!


You want another thought? Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Adam Harishon הנה נתתי לכם – “Behold I have given you food” (Bereishis 1:29). Hashem was introducing to Mankind now the concept of eating for the first time. And He says, I’m giving you עשב זורע זרע … ואת כל העץ אשר בו פרי עץ זורע זרע – I’m giving you herbage that produces seeds and fruit that have seeds in them” (ibid.) So there’s a superfluous word there. He says “I have given you food; vegetables, grasses, and fruit.” But why mention זורע זרע, that it has seeds in it. Why mention that? When Hashem at the beginning said תוצא הארץ… עץ פרי… אשר זרעו בו – “The earth should produce trees with seeds in it” (Bereishis 1:11), so we understand why it was necessary to say it then. That was the command of Creation. And He wanted fruits should have the ability to continue to reproduce forever. But when He told Adam to eat, why was it necessary to mention that there are seeds in the fruit?


The answer is this. When Adam eats, he has to think about the seeds. While you’re eating it you have to realize that not only the pulp and the juice is beneficial to you, but your eyes, your mind, is going to gain a great benefit from looking at the seeds. Look at the seed. First of all, how did the seed get inside there? It’s a good question. Do you think you understand that? It’s a miracle how seeds get inside. Suppose you open an orange and found a quarter inside the orange. A quarter? A quarter has on it a date. It says in G-d we trust. Even a picture of George Washington! How did it happen inside an orange?! A quarter in an orange?! But that’s nothing compared to a seed. A seed is a million times more complicated than a quarter. A quarter is something dead; it’s a piece of metal. There’s very little information on a quarter – a few pictures, a date, some words. It’s dead, it’s nothing. An orange seed however has millions and millions of plans inscribed on the helix of the DNA molecule in the orange seed.

Let’s say you’re eating a tomato. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to utilize the opportunity. Notice the seeds in the tomato. The seeds are there. Each seed is a miracle of miracles. The seed of the tomato has in it millions of instructions. These are the words of the scientists today. Every seed has millions of instructions how create a tomato plant, millions of instructions. If they’re excited so why shouldn’t we be more excited- we know they’re understating it. There are trillions of instructions. It’s not the truth what they’re saying. But even millions of instructions we should get excited about it. You eat a tomato or an apple and you spit out the seeds. Look at the seed. I’ll tell you a good idea. Put a seed in your pocket. Carry it around with you from time to time. I do it. I carry seeds with me. And I take it out sometimes in the middle of the street and look at it. Ahh! Look at the miracle. People write to me that I should send them some of my seeds. I send the seeds by mail. I go to the post office and I mail my seeds to people. They are miracle seeds. And Hakodosh Baruch Hu wants you to notice that, הנה נתתי לכם … עשב זורע זרע.


And not only that, taste the orange seed for a change. Try it once in a while. It’s bitter. You’ll spit it out. Why is it bitter? Now let’s listen what the goyim say. In the Department of Agriculture in Washington, I once read a bulletin, and it said the orange pip is bitter in order to discourage people from eating it. You hear that? There’s plan and purpose here! So shouldn’t we be at least as wise as that goy and see the yad Hashem. He didn’t say Hashem, by the way. We add that. He’s dumb. He’s a goy; he’s too dumb to come to right conclusions. But we have to be better than that. We look at the seed, we taste the seed, and we know that Hashem has made the orange seed bitter in order to make sure that it’s not eaten. Animals don’t eat it either. They also don’t appreciate the taste of orange seeds. So they leave it alone, and it grows into an orange tree.

That’s how you have to eat all fruit. Every fruit is full of chesed Hashem, bursting with chochmas Hashem. And not only fruit. Vegetables and nuts and beans and bread and meat. Meat! How did meat come into being? You know how meat came into being? There was once a cow, and the cow was eating grass. The cow never ate meat in her life. It ate grass and water. Then it produced a calf. Where did the calf come from? The calf is nothing but grass and water that the cow ate. Absolutely, no other source. From grass and water a calf will emerge?! And that calf turned into an ox, and it was slaughtered in a kosher slaughterhouse. Now the butcher has part of it now. So the butcher is selling you something that’s nisei nisim! This meat was only grass and water. You go to the butcher and you pay him ten, twenty dollars, and you come home with nisei nissim in your bag.


Now suppose you’re sitting and eating a piece of meat with this preparation that we said here and you’re thinking about the meat. Meat is a miracle. Meat is a miracle. Grass and water. And where do grass and water come from? Where does grass come from? You know where grass comes from? Grass comes from the air. Grass is nothing but air. The sun shines on the chlorophyll and some water, and it produces grass. Grass is nothing but air and water. Air and water. The carbon dioxide in the air and water and sunshine together. Go outside and collect a pot of carbon dioxide and a pot of sunshine and a pot of water and try to make a meal out of it! But Hakodosh Baruch Hu makes starch out of these three elements. It’s a miracle. Just the grass itself is a miracle.

So how can you be eligible to eat that piece of meat unless you’re ready to understand that nes? An Am Ha’aretz will take it in his mouth and just destroy that wonderful material. A complete waste of a neis. That’s why the gemara says: עם הארץ אסור לאכול בשר – “An Am Haaretz is forbidden from eating meat” (Pesachim 49b). If you want to go to a butcher shop to buy meat, he says, “What do you want sir?” “I want some meat. I want a pound of meat.” So the butcher takes out a gemara. He says to you, “Read, read some gemara.” You can’t say a gemara?!” So you say, “Well, I never learned a gemara.”. So he tell you, “I’m sorry, but there’s a vegetable man next door. For meat you have to be a lamdan.” It says it openly in the gemara.

Why is that? Because you have to appreciate meat. You have to think about it while you eat it. How can you put a good piece of steak into your mouth, if you don’t know what to do with it. If you don’t use it to achieve da’as Hashem, then you’re wasting good material. It’s ossur l’echol. Keep away! But if you take that material and transform it into da’as, ooooh, look what I’m eating now. It’s a neis. I’m eating the dvar Hashem, Hashem’s word. Ohhh, that’s already a different story. Now the meat is transformed into daas Hashem. Only Hashem could cause grass and water to become meat. Think about that. If you’ll do that, then you’re justified in eating it.


And so it’s a good thing you came here tonight. Because you’re learning now how to serve Hashem at supper time. When you sit down at your table and you see bread, get excited over it! So you think that what I’m saying is silly. Get excited over bread?! Yes, bread. It’s kashin k’kriyas Yam Suf. It’s just as miraculous as when Hashem split the sea. It’s such a big accomplishment to produce that bread. Now if you learned a little bit of the natural sciences, you would see how true that is. Bread comes out of the air. In the air there is a very minute proportion of carbon dioxide. Three parts of carbon dioxide in 10,000 parts of air, and the seed that’s planted in the earth needs that carbon dioxide to produce food. It takes that carbon dioxide and with the aid of the sun it changes it into starches and that’s food. Nobody has yet learned that trick. No human being can imitate this process. And the food which comes from the carbon dioxide is not only a combination of the sun and the seeds. The soil is also responsible; המוציא לחם מן הארץ. The soil is full of nutrients that are needed for food to grow. But in addition, there’s the wind. Because if the wind didn’t keep the air moving, the plant would draw out all the carbon dioxide that’s nearby and then the plant would die for lack of carbon dioxide. So along comes the wind and it keeps the air moving past the plant so as the air passes by, the plant continues to suck the carbon dioxide out of the air. Like the gemara says, אי אפשר לעולם בלא רוחות, the world cannot live without the wind. It’s a gemara in taanis. So it’s משיב הרוח, Hashem makes the wind blow, ומוריד הגשם, and He brings water. Water is needed for almost all chemical transformations. And as a result of all these miracles, מכלכל חיים בחסד, He supplies the living with their needs.


Now that’s only the beginning. That’s the more superficial overview of this process. How can the sun when it shines on the green chlorophyll make it into starch? How can you take something that’s inanimate, minerals, inorganic materials and change it into organic things of food? And how can it be when you eat food it turns into life, into physical life? Because we are the result of what we eat. All these are miracles upon miracles and to this day nobody can explain it. They say the sun’s energy goes into the starch, goes into the food. When you eat the food, the energy is released inside of your body and therefore you’re able to walk, you’re able to talk. Even the thinking of your mind is like a computer. A computer has to have an input of electricity. You have to plug it in. Otherwise, it wouldn’t compute. The mind cannot think unless it has an energy supply. That’s the food. How can it be that energy from the sun, which is light energy, could combine with the starches and then that energy is stored up in the starches?! Absolutely not to be understood! The energy is stored up in the starches. And then, when you eat the food, energy is released within you and it remains ready within you. When the time comes, you gradually use up the energy by doing whatever you do. And then finally you have to eat again to recharge your battery. You understand that? Absolutely not! And you never will.

When eating, if only we would train ourselves to understand that this is the biggest of all earthly gifts, this is life itself. From air, carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen and sunlight, there is created such a product which is able to sustain life is one of the biggest miracles that we can find in all of creation. The creation of food is unequal. And therefore, when we partake of this miracle of food, it’s up to us to utilize the opportunity to gain that kedushah.


Isn’t it a pity that people let these opportunities go by? Why should you waste the opportunity? You’re sitting down to eat anyway. Why don’t you think, why is it that food tastes good? Why should it taste good? Does mud taste good? Does paper taste good? Does tinfoil taste good? Does plastic taste good? Why should food taste good? There’s something there. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle that food tastes good. Don’t think it just happens that we make it taste good. Everything that is not good for you doesn’t taste good. We find out right away that it’s not good for you. You taste it, it’s rotten. Your tongue warns you. Unless you maybe go to a restaurant where they disguise it with pepper and paprika and spices. They take rotten food and they make it taste good. That’s what they do in a restaurant sometimes. They make it taste good and at the moment you’re happy. But your stomach is not happy when you get home.


And that’s only the first bite. You know, the miracles only really begin when the food enters your mouth. That’s when the miracles begin. The entire eating process, the complicated system of digestion is miracles of miracles. You know, that when you begin to eat – actually before you even eat, merely from seeing the food, your entire body gets to work preparing itself for this great event, of food entering the body.

As soon as you start chewing, the bread tastes better. You know why bread when it’s baked more tastes better than bread that’s not baked well; or why the crust of a challah is always more delicious than the challah inside? You ever stopped to think about that? I’ll tell you. The challah is starch. When a starch comes in contact with heat it turns into sugars. The bland starches become sweet sugars. So, let’s say your wife takes the challah and bakes it once more a second time, the crust becomes harder, but it’s sweeter. Because when the sugars develop from the starches, it’s sweeter and sweeter.


Now when you put the bread into your mouth, in the saliva there’s a certain chemical called ptyalin. Ptyalin is an enzyme that acts on the starch and turns it into sugars. Now, I say “turns into” as if it’s a simple process. Just that itself, that while you’re chewing the bread the Ptyalin is changing the starch into sugar, is so complicated, so miraculous that books can be written just on that. And the scientists in the laboratories are only scratching the surface of the chochmas Hashem and the chesed Hashem. So while you’re chewing the starchy bread, it becomes sweeter and sweeter. So if you chew a piece of bread for a minute, it’ll taste sweeter than it was when you began. It’s a remarkable thing. If you chew a piece of bread for a minute, it’s sweeter than when you put it into your mouth. The longer you chew it, the sweeter it tastes. It’s a fact.

And not only does it taste sweeter, but the digestion of the food is beginning in your mouth. It’s being broken down into sugars in your mouth in preparation for it’s travels through the body. And another type of saliva helps digest the food in the mouth itself. And as the food is digested in your mouth, as it’s broken down, that’s the beginning of the great trip to your stomach.


Once you swallow, you forget about it; you’re only thinking about the next bite or about what’s going to be for dessert, pudding or ice-cream or chocolate cake. But that’s a big mistake. There’s still so much more thinking to do. The great miracles has just begun. As you swallow it, a wonderful system starts working. Peristalsis. Peristalsis means your gut starts compressing and relaxing, to squeeze the food ahead. It’s compressing the food downwards, downwards. It’s not gravity; it’s not rolling down your intestinal tract. It’s being maneuvered, pushed along by the muscles. Even if you would stand on your head, it will continue pressing, it will continue moving through your gut, only that now it’s being pushed upwards.

It presses and presses and when it presses, why shouldn’t it press backwards? Why does it press forward? Because all along the system of the intestinal tract there are certain little gates and these gates open only in one direction. They don’t open back. They open forwards only so when the food is pressed, it can only open ahead, not open backwards. That’s the system of peristalsis. It’s remarkable; it’s hard to even imagine. Any person who thinks even a little bit should think about this as he’s eating. Along the whole system of the intestinal tract, there are gates; and these gates are only opening in one direction and so when the food is squeezed by the muscles it make its way forward towards its goal.


Now as it moves ahead, changes are happening. People think the food is digested in the stomach. No. The stomach just breaks it up; it gets chewed up in the stomach. The stomach has an acid so strong if you put your finger in the stomach acid, it will burn your finger. It would burn your finger. Hydrochloric acid. It’s very strong. They’ve done it again and again. Put your finger in that acid and it will burn your finger, but it doesn’t burn your stomach! It’s a neis. That acid is in your stomach to burn up the food, but it doesn’t burn your stomach itself. So if you eat the stomach of an animal and put it inside of you, your hydrochloric acid will digest that stomach but it doesn’t digest your stomach. Isn’t that a neis? There’s a reason for it, it could be explained, but it’s a nes. And that’s the job of the stomach, to break up the food. But it only breaks it up; that’s only the beginning.

As it passes into the big intestines then something starts happening. The intestines are lined with villi, little hair-like projections all along. You can’t see it with the naked eye. It projects from the stomach lining, from the intestinal lining and these little villi start sucking out from the food all the nourishment, and it’s wonderful how they’re able to strain out only what’s necessary and useful for the body. There are nisei nissim there. Now, as it begins traveling to your stomach and through the intestines, the intestines begin extracting from the food all the necessary material. The unnecessary materials are not taken in. How could that happen that the interior of the intestinal tract has the ability and the knowledge to extract from the food only those materials that are necessary? Everything else remains outside and it’s waste, it’s finally expelled.


Now why is it expelled? Why doesn’t it remain there? What causes it to keep on moving? Peristalsis – it moves and moves and moves. Why is it moving? It moves and moves until it reaches the stomach and then it stops for a while and then it begins moving again and it goes slowly to give the intestines a chance to suck out all the nourishment and finally it keeps on moving again and pushing and pushing until it pushes out. And when it pushes out, it’s labeled, “Do not reuse.” That’s why it’s labeled that way. Not for reuse. It strains out all that the body needs, and it leaves over a waste which is expelled. It’s propelled to the exit.

So the nisim really begin once you start eating your food – there’s so much to think about while you’re eating, so much yediah chushis to gain, it’s a shame that we get full and have to stop.


And then when the stomach and the intestines have taken all the nourishment out of the food, the bloodstream flows along and picks it up. And the bloodstream carries thousands of different kinds of materials, all mixed together! And not only that, the bloodstream is carrying waste away from the cells, the broken down materials from the cells. All in the bloodstream. It carries it all together. Imagine a big pipe going from here to someplace in Manhattan. And it’s bringing to Manhattan milk. Let’s say we have cows and goats here in Brooklyn. So we put milk into the pipe. They also need gasoline in Manhattan, so we put gasoline into the pipe. And they need vinegar in Manhattan and turpentine. They need water to drink and water for bathing. So we’re pouring it all into the same pipe going into Manhattan. It’s all put together. And the pipe carries it and delivers to each address in Manhattan exactly what that address needs; and it arrives uncontaminated! Every separate element is delivered to the right place exactly. It delivers to the eyes what the eyes need. If it delivers the wrong thing, hair would grow in your eyes. Exactly what the eyes needs is dropped off at the eyes. It delivers to the scalp what the scalp needs. Hair grows on your scalp. It all comes from the bloodstream where it’s all mixed together. And it’s moving along together with the waste too. The waste is moving along together with the good material; and everything is functioning perfectly – miracles as great as kriyas yam suf are taking place inside your body, and don’t even feel it. And finally the waste moves to the kidney and the kidney gets rid of the waste separately.


Now everyone knows the Shulchan Aruch that says you have to eat in order to serve Hashem. Every time one eats, besides for brachos, there is a whole separate avodah, the function of eating for the sake of Hashem. When we eat it’s not a bad idea to fulfill what the Shulchan Aruch tells you. You sit down to eat and you’re thinking, “Why am I eating? Is it merely because I’m hungry? I’m eating the same reason a cow eats?! No, I’m eating to serve Hashem, in order to replenish my store of energy to be able to serve Hashem. Isn’t that a good thing to do? Does it cost money to think that way?

Now along comes the Rambam, and he says a different expression. He says you should eat למען דעת את השם, in order to know Hashem. Eating in order to know Hashem. Now that’s an avodah! We could have explained it as follows. You’re eating in order to have energy to learn a Rambam, to learn how to know Hashem by learning Torah. But the Rambam means something else besides that. You’re eating in order so that the eating itself should give you da’as Hashem. That’s how to eat.


You have to learn how to eat. You’ve been eating all your life and you still don’t know how to eat! It’s a pity. When you embark on the career of eating, you have to be prepared for it.

Now of course it needs practice. At first it’s hypocritical; you don’t really mean it. But after a while it begins to penetrate your consciousness and little by little you’ll be surprised. One day you’ll find yourself eating l’sheim shamayim. That’ll be a pleasant surprise. You’ll be a success.

Say it with your mouth; that’s the first step. When you sit down to eat tomorrow at breakfast, say aloud – nobody has to hear you, but say it with your mouth, “I’m eating in order to serve Hashem, in order to appreciate His chesed.” Now, you don’t mean it at all, but do it anyhow.

You never heard this before? It’s time you heard it; it’s pretty late. It’s been in the Shulchan Aruch and in the Rambam a long time. So the first thing tomorrow morning while you’re eating, “I’m eating l’sheim shamayim. I’m eating in order to recognize the great kindness of Hashem.” Keep on saying it, day after day, week after week, and I guarantee you that sooner or later, you’re going to mean it.


It’s a good idea to practice up thinking about Hashem while you eat watermelon this summer. It’s a wonderful idea. Whenever you eat watermelon, devote that time to thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The whole time; not merely when you make the bracha. And it’s a great preparation for Chodesh Elul as well. I always say that the best time to do teshuva is over a good piece of watermelon.

Instead of devouring your food with the same amount of thought as a cow grazing in the field, אל תהיו כסוס כפרד, don’t be like a horse; you must begin to practice eating with thought. If not, then forever you’ll remain in the same place as your Italian neighbor down the block. So many times we eat something and we finish it off before we even realize we were eating. If your mind is always in flux, and you don’t concentrate on the service of Hashem that you have before you, then you won’t succeed. Greatness in the service of Hashem is dependent to a great extent on your mind, on your thoughts. And therefore, whenever you eat something, it could be a delicious piece of steak, an apple or a simple hard-boiled egg, that’s your opportunity for greatness. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by what’s going on around you. Don’t lose the opportunity to grow great in this avodah. Don’t be the fool who is always telling others about the greatness he will achieve someday.When are you going to begin if not now?! אל תאמר לכשאפנה אשנה, שמא לא תפנה – “Don’t say, ‘When I have time I will study,’ for maybe you will never have that time” (Avos 2:4) One day I’ll do this and one day I’ll do that. A nechtiger tug! That one day is today. אם לא עכשיו אימתי. “If not now, then when?” And the opportunity is right there by your kitchen table.


As you’re preparing your food or eating your food, think about the kindness of Hashem. Put in all these thoughts that we spoke about tonight. And, if you do it, you’ll become a נחל נובע, a flowing fountain of your own ideas, your own chiddushim in this sugya of the chesed Hashem. When you drink that cup of water, you’ll imagine that it’s Hashem pouring that great elixir of life down your throat. And after a bit of practice, you’ll actually begin to believe it. You’ll actually feel a gratitude towards Hashem for the food that He provides you. And then you’ll be on your way to fulfilling the great lesson of ואכלתם שם לפני ד׳ אלוקיכם ושמחתם – the great lesson of being happy, being delirious with happiness, with the gift of food. And as you eat before Hashem, you’ll be growing in awareness of Hashem and gratitude to Him. And those who develop the genuine attitude of appreciating Hashem’s countless forms of kindness in food, will begin to enjoy themselves and find true happiness in their day-to-day life. And they will thereby gain excellence of mind and character. And that’s how you’ll become greater and greater in the eyes of Hashem, as you’re eating your meals at the dining room table.

Parshas Eikev -Becoming a Man of Prayer

פרשת עקב


In this week’s parsha, Moshe Rabeinu describes how he prayed to Hashem on behalf of Aharon his brother after the cheit ha’eigel:  ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא – And I prayed for Aharon at that time” (Eikev 9:20).   And a few pesukim later we find the word ואתפלל again; this time Moshe is begging Hashem to remove His wrath from the Am Yisroel: ואתפלל אל השם ואמר השם אלוקים אל תשחת עמך – ‘And I prayed to Hashem, ” Hashem O’ G-d, don’t destroy Your nation…” (Eikev 9:26).  And what a prayer it was! Although we read only four pesukim here (26-29)  it was actually a tefillah that was unequalled in history. Moshe threw himself down on the ground and davened for forty days and nights before Hakodosh Boruch Hu, begging with all kinds of entreaties on behalf of his beloved people. You know what it means to stand in front of Hashem for forty days?! It’s impossible to even imagine. If we daven for something for five minutes straight, we’ve already exhausted all the possibilities of speech. And here we have Moshe Rabeinu being mispallel for forty days and forty nights! And there’s no doubt that the Am Yisroel followed suit and also spent days beseeching Hashem for forgiveness.

I’ll tell you a secret now. This whole episode of the Golden Calf was foreseen and intended by Hashem for the purpose of eliciting this great outpouring of prayer from Moshe and the Am Yisroel. And for what purpose? To make them great. So that they would become more and more excellent by means of tefillah. By means of the davening itself, Moshe u’vnei Yisroel achieved pinnacles of perfection heretofore unimaginable. You know, it’s not for naught that the first time we find Moshe Rabeinu speaking to Hakodosh Boruch Hu panim el panim, face to face, was after he spent this extraordinary amount of time in tefillah before Hashem. Only because of his tefillos, and the change in Moshe that it caused, was this additional degree of greatness, panim el panim, bestowed upon him.


And so, it is abundantly clear that tefillah has the capacity to make one great and to become perfect in the eyes of Hashem. And therefore, before we embark on our subject for tonight, the subject of tefillah, we are going to ask a kashya, a question. Why is it in the Torah, there is no explicit commandment for tefillah? Yes, it is included in “Le’avdo b’chol l’vavchem,” to serve Him with all your heart; good, very good. But that could mean more than one thing, and such an important subject as tefillah, why shouldn’t it be specified?  I think it’s a good question. Among the obligations of a Jew, a loyal servant of Hashem, tefillah takes up a big part of our day! So why couldn’t it have been included in the Aseres Hadibros we read last week, or at least in taryag mitzvos openly? It’s a good question, I think.

And one answer, the most important answer, is that tefillah is not something that you do as a mitzvah one time or ten times. Tefilla is a way of life! Tefillah means a state of existence, a frame of mind of being always in contact with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  It means that as soon as you wake up in the morning you’re expected to be in contact with Hakadosh Baruch Hu; you thank Him: Modeh ani l’fanecho – “I thank you, Hashem.” And all day long until you drift off to sleep, you’re speaking with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That’s what you’re in this world for! To be a man of tefillah.


You know that our greatest men were always men of tefillah. Look at Dovid Hamelech. He was great in everything. He accomplished many great things. He did everything! He fought wars, he learned Torah and he was the King of the Am Yisroel. And yet, when we want to consider what was the central pillar of this man’s perfection, we turn to his own words: Ani Tefilla, said Dovid, “I am tefillah.” Now, we know that Dovid spent time on tefillah and that he was distinguished for that. He was well known for his communion with Hashem; that’s how we have our Tehillim. Dovid lay on the field and he spoke to Hakadosh Baruch Hu as long as he could, and even when he couldn’t speak to him he was thinking to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. So there’s no question that he davened well. But we’re saying much more than that here.

What is this declaration of Dovid, Va’ani Tefilla, “I am tefillah”? What does that mean, I am tefilla? Maybe you could say he davened well. Or he davened a lot. He had kavanah, maybe. But “I am tefillah”?!

And the answer is that Dovid Hamelech didn’t merely daven. He didn’t even merely daven a lot, and with kavanah. It was much more than that. His whole essence was tefillah. His entire life, he was thinking of Hashem and talking to Him.

L’hagid baboker chasdecha – He thanked Hashem in the morning and he kept it up all day along. That was what made Dovid great, and that’s why Hashem took to be the king. Because Dovid had spent all of his youth in constant contact with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that’s the reason he was chosen by Hakodosh Boruch Hu to lead the Am Yisroel.


And now we can answer our question about the missing mitzvah of tefillah. How can one say a “mitzvah of tefillah”? It’s not like a mitzvah, that you can say, I did it, I’m done. It’s your life!  It’s every second of your life. The life of a servant of Hashem is always to be talking to Hashem either in gratitude or in request.  Now, as you hear this, we are not blaming anybody; and certainly I cannot say it is a criterion for me; but at least let us learn a little bit from Dovid Hamelech and understand that this is the way to greatness. Va’ani Tefilla, I am a man of tefillah, is the way to perfection.

We all know what it means to daven. There is nothing that is more woven into the fabric of our lives than tefillah. We are a nation of מתפללים. In my first shul we had a gentile neighbor, an old man, right next door. And one afternoon, when we were gathering to daven Mincha, I heard him say to his daughter, “What is it with these Jews?! All day, back and forth, back and forth, to the synagogue. Don’t they ever finish praying?” And the answer is, no, we never finish praying. We are a people that are always davening. We learn from Moshe Rabeinu and Dovid, the Ish Tefillah, the Man of Prayer, and we are the Am Tefillah, the Nation of Prayer.

Now, if Moshe Rabeinu used the opportunity of ואתפלל so often, and Dovid Hamelech made himself into an ish tefillah, then we should surely try to better understand the function of davening to Hashem. That was the greatness of Dovid Hamelech. It was the perfection of Moshe Rabeinu. And it is most definitely an opportunity for us as well, to become great and perfect in the eyes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.


And so, in order to begin our subject for tonight, let’s learn a gemara which is often misunderstood. In Mesichta Yevamos (64a) the Gemara asks a question: Avraham Avinu, the tzadik Avraham, had very great trouble having children. Years and years passed, and he begged and he begged, but no results. And he was anguished about this. השם אלוקים מה תתן לי – “Hashem, what are you giving me already. All the things you’ve given me mean nothing to me without a child.” It was an expression of deep pain. Avraham was in his seventies when he said that, and Hashem still wouldn’t bend His will. He continued to deny Avraham his dearest wish.

And he prayed day in and day out, and he shed copious tears for many, many bitter years. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu didn’t let up. He was doing this to the one whom He loved most. Avraham had to wait many years before one son was born to him. And it’s a question. Now this question would not bother modern people. They would say, that’s how he was. He wasn’t capable of having children. But our Sages were bothered by this. What’s the cause for such a surprising phenomenon? Who else in the world deserves to be made happy if not Avraham and Sarah?


And it’s actually a recurring phenomenon that the Torah persistently makes note of, the difficulty of having children. Avraham and Sarah: “Sarai was barren, without a child” (Bereishis 11:30). Also, Yitzchok and Rivkah: “Isaac entreated G-d for his wife, for she was barren” (ibid. 25:19). And Rachel as well: “Rachel was barren” (ibid. 29:31). It is surely a noteworthy “coincidence” that the Avos and Imahos were harassed by such an adversity as childlessness.

Now listen to this answer of the gemara because it must have been a very important purpose if it was going to postpone the fulfillment of this great function of אעשך לגוי גדול, “I will make you a great nation.” As important as the Am Yisroel was, there was something more important than that. The Am Yisroel could wait; that could be postponed. Something had to come first. And what was that? So get ready to hear the great purpose: מפני שהקדוש ברוך הוא מתאוה לתפילתן של צדיקים – “Hakodosh Boruch Hu craves the prayers of the tzadikim.” He wants to hear the tefillah of the tzadikim. That comes first.

To pray for a child! For Avraham to pray to Hashem that he should have children! That was to Hashem more important than the creation of a great nation. It’s remarkable! That means that when Avraham Avinu prayed for children it was a bigger accomplishment than having children. Having children, that can wait. But praying for children, that comes first; that’s the prime achievement.


And that’s what all troubles that come upon a person in this world are for. Rashi says in one place, why is there illness in the world? That’s Rashi’s kashya. And Rashi says, illness comes in order to make people turn to Hashem and ask for help. It’s a remarkable statement. Troubles come upon a man to force him to turn to Hashem; to make him ask Hashem for help. Hashem brings upon you aches and pains and all types of difficulties because He is mis’aveh, He craves, your tefillos.

Now, why does Hashem “desire” the prayers of the righteous? Does Hashem have any needs or desires? He doesn’t need anything at all from you! The tefillos of the biggest tzadik don’t do anything for Hashem. And so, if He doesn’t need you, and He doesn’t need your tefillos, so what’s going on here? Why would Hashem, the tov u’meitiv, inflict pain upon us because of “His desires”? Hakodosh Boruch Hu holds back children from Avraham Avinu, from Sarah Imeinu, from Yitzchok and Rivka and Rochel, because He desires their tefillos?! He besets a man with sickness and trouble because of His desires? It’s very difficult to understand.


And the answer is this. We must say that when Hakodosh Boruch Hu desires something from the righteous men, it is for their benefit. When people are brought to tefillah, when they are induced to daven to Hashem, it is a benefit for them. It’s a stroke of great fortune! Not like people think that it is necessary to pray because of some problem. The truth is exactly the opposite – the problem is a gift from Hashem because it offers the occasion, the incentive, to pray to Him.

What Hashem desires is the perfection of a tzadik. By the way, when I say tzadik, I mean you. That’s what we’re all aiming for; to make ourselves into tzadikim by becoming as perfect as possible while we’re still in this world. And although there are many different ways that lead towards Hashem, there is no question that perfection is most easily achieved through constant tefillah. And that’s why Hashem craves the tefillos of the tzadikim – because He craves their perfection.


When you think about it for a minute, the entire concept of davening to Hashem is strange. Why are we davening altogether? When we pray to Hakodosh Boruch Hu it seems like an interference in His business. Do we have to tell Him what to do? We have to tell Him what we need or what we want?! Let’s say you pray for your health – you have a cold and you daven that He should heal you. He knows just well what to do. He needs you to tell Him?! And He’s the chofetz chesed. He wants to help you more than you want to help yourself. And He knows better than you what you need. So why are you sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong?!  It’s something we have to understand- why are we davening?

A common misconception is that tefillah is for the purpose of making our entreaties and wishes heard by Hashem. We want something, we need something or we are distressed by something, so we cry out to Hashem. We ask Him to answer our prayers by providing us with our wants and needs, or by removing the cause of distress. And we hope that by approaching Him with our entreaties, He will find us worthy of having our prayers answered. And while that is to a certain extent true, it is a simple-minded and superficial understanding of tefillah. It is important to understand that to have our prayers answered by Hashem, is not the primary purpose of tefillah.


You know, the Chovos Halevovos tells us that bitachon is one of the foundations of our lives. And he explains that if a person never works on bitachon then he is an oived avodah zarah; he’s an idolator. Yes, he says that if you’re not a ba’al bitachon, then you’re an idol worshipper! Because you think that without Hashem everything goes on anyhow, by itself. You go to the bathroom – it happens by itself. You’re balancing as you walk, by itself. Your eyes are constantly taking pictures, by itself. Your heart is pumping, all by itself. It rains, the wind blows, the food comes to the supermarket; everything is happening by itself.

So what is that man worshipping? He’s worshiping the false god called nature. Because what is nature after all? The word “nature” is a Greek invention, a word they invented to conceal the great fact of Hashem Who is actually behind everything. That’s why in the gemara, when it describes something as being natural, it don’t say the word natural. It says בידי שמים, “In the Hands of Hashem.” But if we don’t make progress in bitachon, in Awareness of Hashem, then we are also bowing to the false god of cause and effect that we live with all our lives.


Of course we must exert ourselves on behalf of our health and parnasa. And that’s what we’re busy with a very large portion of our lives. We’re busy all day long fooling ourselves, putting the attitude of kochi v’otzem yadi into our heads. “It’s my own efforts that are getting me through life.” And because of that, there is constant tension between the bitachon that we’re supposed to live with in our minds, and the hishtadlus that we’re living with in our lives.

As long as we strive to take care of ourselves, to provide for our needs, to guard our safety and health, and everything else that we’re doing for ourselves and our families, it is almost impossible to continue to actually believe, to feel, that it is Hashem who is doing everything. The truth that He alone is the One Who protects us and provides us with everything is very far from our minds. We might be able to say words of bitachon, we are very capable of saying the right words, but because our deeds constantly contradict the bitachon, so to actually believe so is a difficult avodah. It is a faint belief that we live with only superficially.


Even the way we speak is like oivdei avodah zarah! I’ll give you an example. We say in English “It’s raining,” or in Yiddish “ess regent.” What does that mean “It’s raining”? It doesn’t rain by itself! In shemonah esrei we say משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם – “He brings down the rain.” Hashem is the one bringing down the rain. Here’s a man walking down the street and he says “a vind blost”. “A wind blows”?! No, a wind doesn’t blow. We say משיב הרוח “Hashem is blowing the wind.” It’s all Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

And therefore it’s necessary to work on bitachon. When will you work on it? If you learn Sha’ar Habitachon, very good. But how many people do that? The Chovos Halevovos is not such an easy sefer to learn. And even if you do learn Sha’ar Habitachon, that’s not enough; you have to practice it every day.

And so what is the solution to this difficulty? How do we address this tension between hishtadlus and bitachon that we live with all the time? And the answer is: by means of tefillah.Tefillah is not about getting what you need, what you want in your pocket. It’s about getting bitachon into your head. I’ll explain that.


To better understand what tefilla really is, we’ll first take the word תפילה and analyze it.  The word pilleil means “to think,” as in ראה פניך לא פללתי. When Yaakov finally met up with Yosef, he said “I never thought I’d see your face” (Bereishis 48:11). And the reflexive form (התפעל) of the word, התפלל, therefore means “I caused myself to think.” When Moshe Rabeinu said ואתפלל אל השם, he was saying “And I made myself think when I turned to Hashem.” ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן, “And I made myself think when I approached Hashem on behalf of Aharon.”

You didn’t realize that, did you? You thought it meant davenen. But really, when you go to the beis knesses to be mispallel, that means that you’re going there to think. That’s a surprise to most people. To think?! To daven, of course; maybe even to shake, yes. And that’s good, it’s all very good. But that’s not what tefillah means. Because the true purpose of tefillah is so that you should think.


We turn to Hashem, not in order to make our needs heard, but primarily to impress upon ourselves, להתפלל, “to make ourselves think,” that Hashem is the sole source of all of our well-being. Everything you ever had, everything you have now, and everything you will ever have, comes only from Hakodosh Boruch. And don’t tell me you know it already. Because whatever you know is only a tiny drop in the bucket of the infinite Awareness that you are capable of achieving in this world. Every single time that you turn to Hashem in tefillah causes you to become more and more perfect in the eyes of Hashem.

An ish tefillah gradually becomes an ish bitachon. You might not notice the gradual change in your personality, but every tefillah – if said with thought – makes you greater and greater. When you persist in turning to Hakodosh Boruch Hu before everything you do, and requesting His help so that you should succeed in whatever it is that you’re doing – there’s no difference if it’s a heart surgery, looking for a place to park your car, or just crossing the street – you’ll become a ba’al bitachon. And that is the most important achievement of tefillah – to gain this bitachon that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is in charge; hakol bidei shamayim. And we can gain that by thinking about what we’re saying as much as possible. And that will convince us more and more of this great principle of life, that these requests can be granted only by Him! Tefillah results in emunah and bitachon. And that’s the true purpose of tefillah.


And whether or not Hashem has answered your request according to what you hoped, you have gained a much more valuable gift – the gift of bitachon, the genuine belief, the attitude of the mind, that Hashem is the only thing you have. And that gift, that success, will accompany you much further than anything you might have asked for!

And that’s why when you go through the tefillos, you’ll see many such statements, so many words that declare that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is in charge of every detail of our lives. And the wise man will make sure to utilize every opportunity to daven, because to recognize that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the One Who is doing things, the One who is doing everything, is the greatest achievement of life. And the more you turn to Hashem and ask Him for whatever you need, the more you “knock it into yourself” that only Hashem could help you.


By the way, if you’re interested in being a mispallel and causing yourself to think while you daven; I’ll give you a suggestion. It’s good advice – and it’s free too.  I won’t charge you anything for it. Choose one little area of davening, and decide that you’ll go slow in that one area. No matter how much those around you are rushing through davening, you make sure to spend three minutes on one little area. Let’s say, three minutes on one bracha. Let the people keep galloping, but you’re standing still, and you’re thinking in that one bracha. You’re thinking about the ideas in the bracha, or in the possuk. It sounds easy, but it won’t be in the beginning. But if you get busy working on this project, you’ll be a success.

You’re asking Hashem – Refa’ainu Hashem – Please Hashem, please give me good health. It makes you think – it makes you aware – that Hashem is the One who is giving you good health. The Gemara says לעולם יבקש אדם שלא יחלה –  “A person should always ask mercy – always, always he should ask Hashem that he shouldn’t become sick.” Always! You’re a healthy man. You’re not even thinking about getting sick. But keep on asking. “Please Hashem, please keep me healthy.” Keep on asking! L’olam! If you’re wise you’ll do it every day. Even on the street, stop for a minute and say, “I’m asking you Hashem, please keep me well.” If you’re married, “Keep my wife well. Keep my children well.”

Otherwise we will keep on thinking that כוחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה, that my own power – my own ability – gives me my good health. No! Your good health comes from Hashem. Three minutes on one subject and your mind will be changed forever. And if you get busy with this program, you’re on your way to being an ish tefillah, a man who thinks when he davens.


Here you have a person who is not feeling well; let’s say he woke up with a toothache. Of course, he’s a frum man, and so when he goes to davening he says in a formal way, “Refa’einu Hashem v’neirafei, heal me Hashem and I will be healed.” And he certainly means it; he certainly wants to get well. It’s impossible to live with a toothache. But the question is, does he really feel that he is speaking to the right address, that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the One who can make him well? If he does it half-heartedly – if he is thinking that in reality, he has to go to the dentist, and that davening to Hashem is merely a formality – an important formality, but still it’s not the real thing – then that’s not the tefillah of a ba’al bitachon.

A person must believe with all his heart that it’s the going to the dentist that is the formality. You have to go! And by the way, you should go to the very best dentist you could find. But at the same time you have to know that it’s only a formality. Bitachon requires that you understand that Hashem is the One who heals. And every tefillah can be a shiur in bitachon. The more you ask Hashem, the more you turn to Him, the more you realize that He is the only One. Not the doctor, not the dentist, only Hashem.


And therefore, every time you take a medication – not only for a serious ailment, but even just an aspirin for a headache – Chazal tell us (Brachos 60a; Orach Chaim 130) that we should say a prayer to Hashem, asking Him to make the medication be effective. יהי רצון מלפניך השם אלוקי שיהא עסק זה לי לרפואה. It is of utmost importance to ask Hashem for His help. Don’t just mumble the words. You’re turning to Hashem in tefillah in order to strengthen your awareness that only He is the One Who heals. Think about that. Don’t waste the golden opportunity.

Many years ago I had to visit a talmid of mine in the hospital. He was a patient there. And in the room where he was staying there was another patient – an elderly man who had just undergone surgery. And I remember, when his grandson, or a great-grandson, walked into the room to visit, he said, “Zaidy, was the surgery a success?” And I thought to myself, “However much of a success the surgery actually was – and boruch Hashem it was a success for that man – the primary purpose, the true purpose of that man’s heart failure and his need for surgery wasn’t because of the need for a new valve in his heart. The true purpose of his heart condition was so that he should call out to Hashem. Sometimes, Hashem does you a favor and gives you a big opportunity for gaining Awareness and perfection. And therefore, the primary purpose of this man’s sickness and hospital stay was to encourage him to call out to Hashem. Its true purpose was to give him an opportunity for greatness.

And by constantly beseeching Hashem for His help and His mercy, this man would make great strides forward in accomplishing the purpose for which he came into this world – to become more and more aware of the reality of Hashem. And even if, chas v’shalom, that man hadn’t lived, but if he had spent his last days, his last hours, asking Hashem for mercy, then it was a success! His sickness was a success because he squeezed out from that opportunity the great success of life


And I want you to know, that even when Hashem does answer your prayers in the way you had hoped for, it is not simply Hashem acceding to your request. It is much more than that. A tefillah that is answered is a form of encouragement that Hashem is sending to you, encouraging you to continue seeking Him out, through tefillah, in all areas of your life. Hashem is encouraging you as an incentive for you to continue your striving for awareness of Him. Hashem sees that you are impressing upon yourself the Awareness that He is the All-Powerful One and that He is the sole source of the things you need, and He wants you to persist. So he shows you He’s listening to you.

Now, although we have said that misfortune is sometimes brought upon a person in order to stimulate him towards prayer and greater awareness of Hashem, it would be terribly wrong to believe that it is only those difficult situations where one finds this opportunity. On the contrary, if you listen to what I will explain now, you will understand that it is the normal day-to-day needs and difficulties that are the greatest opportunities for accomplishing the greatness inherent in the word אתפלל – “I cause myself to think.”


Once we understand this primary objective of tefillah we can answer a very big question that we have about creation. Have you ever noticed that cows don’t seem to have any trouble making a decent living to support their family? It’s a large family, with many calves, and yet the cow and her family find a patch of grass and can munch away happily for hours on end. No worries.

No shalom bayis problems for the bull and cow either. Have you ever heard about lions needing dental work that they can’t afford? Or trouble raising the children? Do cats have to spend years under the care of their parents learning how to navigate life? How to get along with friends and neighbors?

Mankind however, created by Hashem as the pinnacle of the Universe and to be more advanced than all life forms in the world, is for some strange reason beset by day to day difficulties and complications that we don’t find by any of the other creations. Hashem, the Perfect One, Who created this world with His Perfect Wisdom, could have surely created man without the many obstacles that he faces.


Why is it that every person, wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, young or old, is always facing adversity and struggles – either big or small, and usually both? In the typical day there are, without exaggeration, tens of events that can irk a person. Maybe your boss is upset with you. Or you’re having trouble with the car. Your wife is upset with you. Your son is not adjusting to learning gemara. You can’t find the key. A neighbor who is very difficult. Bills to pay. A toothache. Running late for the bus. The rent is overdue.

Not only the more serious events in your life; chas v’shalom you got the dreaded news from the doctor, the word that I don’t want to say. Or you lost your job, chalilah. Not only those tragedies, but even the small things that you face every day, and all day. Running to catch a bus.  A night with no sleep. Struggling with a bad middah for many years. A  headache. You got bit by a spider. I don’t have to explain to you – it’s the life of every one of us. No one is immune to it. Hashem, who created such a perfect world, with unfathomable Wisdom, chose Mankind for some reason, to be the one aspect of Creation that is faced with ever-present difficulties. We’re not satisfied with life like our good friend the cow. It’s something that I think is a good question.

I was learning upstairs one afternoon this week. I was learning pretty geshmak. And then I got up to take some pens that I have put away behind the seforim. They were on a shelf behind the seforim in a dark corner. And I soon saw that I had a sharp pain in my finger and it turned black. All of a sudden my finger become black. And numb.

I was frightened; very frightened. It looked chas v’shalom like tetanus, like blood poisoning. Maybe I touched a sharp rusty nail. And I said, “Ribono Shel Olam, have pity on me. Anah Hashem hoshee’ah nah! Racheim alai v’kabeil tachanunai!”

And then I realized what had happened. Hiding in that dark space was a wise spider. And he saw that I was learning all afternoon and that I didn’t think about Hashem even once. So he said, “Miller! You’ll spend all afternoon learning and you won’t think about Hashem even once?!” So he gave me a good bite; it was a poison, but not fatal. And it turned black right away and I cried out to Hashem! I made a great achievement because of that spider. If I see him, I won’t squirt Attack or Combat on him. I’ll be grateful to him. Because of his bite, I cried out to Hashem! What could be better?!

TAPE #889


And so we’ll answer like this. Cows have a certain purpose in this world. They were created to eat grass and to miraculously turn that inexpensive green substance into milk and and meat and leather. And they do that job perfectly. They fulfill their purpose here in this world exactly as planned by Hashem, without the need for them to experience any of the tribulations that we face. And the same with all of the other creatures that Hashem created. Hakodosh Boruch Hu gives them what they need to succeed.

But we weren’t created to turn grass into meat. We were created to turn our brains into Torah minds. And all of these struggles, all of the complications and obstacles of life, are sent to us as an opportunity for to spur us along towards this greatness of the creation of a mind. These small struggles are all intended as goads to prod us towards the realization that we must turn to Hashem. Every small challenge that you face is actually challenging you to recognize that Hashem is everything, and that He’s your address for anything you want.


Did you ever wonder why the mann fell down from the sky every day in the Wilderness? Why didn’t it fall once a week? Hakodosh Boruch Hu could have just as well made enough mann for the whole week fall down at the beginning of every week? Or even better; once a year. Why the need to go collect the Mann every day. It was a neis in any case, so why not just make this whole business of collecting the mann an annual event.

Now, that’s not my question. That’s the question that the talmidim of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai asked of their Rebbi (Yoma 76a). And Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai didn’t think it was a foolish question and he answered with the following mashal:


There was a king who gave his son an allowance, an allowance for all of his day-to-day expenses. And he gave him the allowance once a year. In the beginning of every year he wrote him a big check. And what happened? The prince got busy spending the money. And he made sure, of course, to come back and visit his father. But only once a year. He came back once a year to pick up his check. Once a year! So what did the King do? He changed the allowance system. He told his son that from now on, he would have to come pick up his allowance once a day. Every morning, he would have to come back to pick up the day’s money. And what do you know, the prince found the time to come by and visit his father every day.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said that it was the same way in the midbar. A man had a family, with four or five little children. And children get hungry. Growing children eat a lot. And they complain when they get hungry. And every day the father of the house would worry: Will there be mann tomorrow? Will I have what to feed my family? Don’t think that the people were sure mann was coming the next day! Hashem was watching to see if they deserved it. So the father of the house would call out to Hashem. Every day! He would get busy pleading with Hashem, please give me mann to feed my children! Ah yay yay! And the same thing was going on in all the tents in the Wilderness encampment. Everyone was turning to Hashem in prayer Everyone was thinking about Hashem. And what was the result, asks Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. נמצאו כולן מכוונים את לבם לאביהן שבשמים. The Am Yisroel was gaining a deeper and deeper bitachon; the awareness that Hashem is the only One who provides them with their needs. Every day, every tefillah, was another perfection of the mind.


What we are being taught here is that every situation we face, no matter how minor, no matter how small, is an opportunity for greatness. Every situation is an opportunity for using tefillah to achieve greatness by creating the awareness in your mind that Hashem is your only hope. And that greatness can only be achieved through constant and consistent words and thoughts. Every time you are looking for that elusive parking spot, you should be talking to Hashem. “Hashem, please help me find the parking spot that I want.” And then say it again. Over and over again. And each time you say it, you are impressing even deeper into your mind that it is only Hashem who provides parking spots. And don’t laugh, because that is the truth. If you don’t daven for it you could very well be the oived avodah zarah that the Chovos Halevovos was referring to.

And if you daven for it, you’ll begin, little by little, to realize this truth that besides for everything else, Hashem is also the Hashem of parking spots. He’s not just a word in the siddur! And that’s how you become great while looking for parking. And all day long you’re becoming more and more aware that Hashem is Hashem Echad – that He is the sole provider of anything that we have or want. While you’re waiting in the doctor’s office you’re turning to Hashem, and when you’re running late for an appointment you’re turning to Hashem. When your child rides his bicycle you’re asking, “Hashem, please protect my son.” You’re talking to Him all day long; you’re an ish tefillah.


The tefillah of Refa’einu in shemonah esrei is not intended to be put on the side to be brought out only when someone gets sick. No; when you say רפאינו השם ונרפא, Heal me Hashem, you’re supposed to realize how many hundreds of thousands of complicated situations are taking place in your body this second. And every one of them is mamash a miracle that you’re surviving. Don’t you know that you have in your brain very thin capillaries where the blood flows through. They’re so thin that the blood has to flow through corpuscle by corpuscle. It’s so thin that they have to make their way through in a single file, one corpuscle at a time. Now, blood is a sticky business you know. If you ever came into contact with blood you know that it’s plasma, and it’s sticky. So why doesn’t it happen that in these very thin tubes the blood should get stuck. If it gets stuck and clogged, chas v’shalom, what would be! In the brain, it would be a stroke right away.

The blood doesn’t flow on its own. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is making the blood flow. Even in those very fine capillaries, Hashem keeps the blood liquid and it flows through. So you’re davening refaeinu; it doesn’t mean you, you think. It’s your neighbor on the hospital, maybe. Or the man is shul who had a stroke. No, it’s you. It’s you! But as you’re davening, sometimes a corpuscle almost gets stuck, it slows down in one of the bends; Oh no! And then the next one comes and nudges it and pushes it ahead; Ahh! It cleared it and you were just saved. Boruch atah Hashem rofei cholei amo Yisroel!


Now, that’s why we say ברוך אתה השם, You Hashem are the One who is רופא חולי עמו ישראל. You’re healing us! Not merely that we are not sick. You are healing us constantly! But if you’re not thinking about it, then the whole thing is a waste; all the nissim are being wasted on you.

So when you daven refa’einu you’re working on bitachon. Hashem is the One! Of course, when it’s necessary to take a refuah, so you have a mitzvah to take the medicine. Do whatever has to be done. But you have a bigger mitzvah to work on the emunah that only Hashem is the rofei cholei amo Yisroel. It’s You Hashem Who’s the One who heals us. Over and over again, you say those words, and every time it’s another layer of bitachon being laid in your mind. And before you know it, it will hit you like a tin of bricks – He really is the rofei cholei amo Yisroel!


 When you daven אתה חונן לאדם דעת, why do you say the words אתה חונן? You don’t start all the tefillos with the word atah. You say Shema Koleinu, and Refa’einu and Bareich Aleinu. Only when i comes to da’as, you say Atah Chonein. Why? Because people think, “Da’as? I have da’as. I have my own daas.” A working mind is so “natural” to your existence so you think it’s a davar poshut, it’s simple, that’s who you are. And so da’as needs a hakdamah: No, you don’t have any daas. And the preface is Atah, You! You Hashem are chonein l’adam daas.

And so every time you say אתה חונן, with some thought, you’re teaching yourself again and again that you’re only sane because of Him. Don’t think you just have sanity: “I’m sane. I was born sane. I have to be sane.” You don’t have to be anything! Why aren’t you roaming the street, shouting? Like this, you should be a raving lunatic!  But you’re walking like a decent civilized person; you’re not talking to yourself. That’s da’as! Hashem is giving you daas right now.The reason that you’re not chalilah in an insane asylum, in a padded cell, raging and knocking your head against a wall is because of Atah, You! It’s a gift that He’s giving you – it’s a big gift to have daas. Sanity is a tremendous gift. And therefore you’re learning bitachon.


Boruch atah Hashem m’vareich hashanim. You’re the one who gives parnasa. And if you think that way, even for just that moment, every little bit is a big achievement. You’re living for a purpose now. You’re a hardworking man. You’re a professional. You have a good parnasa. You have everything you need. Don’t give yourself credit at all. Ask Hashem. You must say, “Hashem, please give me parnasa.”  Thank Hashem because He is the one giving it to you. Because there are plenty of professionals that lose their jobs and are out of luck. And therefore, in order to become aware of Who is giving us our paycheck, we have to always be turning to Hashem in tefillah.


Every small degree of awareness of Hashem as the only One who gives you anything is a perfection of character. Moshe Rabeinu believed in Hashem. He believed in Hashem more than any of our great men. Hashem spoke with him פנים אל פנים. Of course he believed. But he also knew that every added degree of the True Knowledge of the Awareness of Hashem would be his biggest success. And therefore at every opportunity that he found, he was mispalleil to Hashem. He caused himself to think about Hashem and His omnipotence again and again and again. His brother, Aharon had incurred the wrath of Hashem, and Moshe Rabeinu used the opportunity to become great. ואתפלל אל השם בעת ההיא. “And I caused myself to think about Hashem at that time.” Another added level of Awareness of Hashem.

And when the בני ישראל sinned, the same thing. ואתנפל לפני השם את ארבעים היום ואת ארבעים הלילה. “And I fell before Hashem in prayer for forty days and forty nights” (ibid. 9:25). Forty days and forty nights of thinking about Hashem and His greatness! And that’s how Moshe Rabeinu became so great. Because he understood that every situation he faced, every big and small need, was an opportunity to be mispalleil to Hashem, to think about Hashem, and to become greater and greater by adding a deeper and deeper awareness that it is Hashem who is the only One you can ever turn to for anything.

And that greatness is accessible to all of us. Hashem has purposefully created us as the neediest creatures in the world, as an impetus so that we should feel the need to turn to Him and become aware of Him. And our greatness is assured as long as we walk the path trodden by Moshe Rabeinu: ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן בעת ההיא. Every עת, every moment, is the עת ההיא for you. It’s your great opportunity to be מתפלל אל השם – to cause yourself to think about Hashem. But you must think; it’s not the words but the thoughts behind the words that make a davening into a tefillah. And every עת therefore, every instance of need, is your personal opportunity for growing greater and greater in reliance on Hashem alone, and fulfilling your purpose in this world.


Parshas Va’eschanan -Thinking His Thoughts


פרשת ואתחנן


Among all of the great miracles during our forty year sojourn in the Wilderness, the day of the giving of the Torah towers above all. The exhilarating experience of hearing the Voice of Hashem speaking to us, and experiencing an Awareness of Him is something that has never been surpassed in history. And it is that which we constantly yearn for: והוא ישמיעינו ברחמיו שנית, Oh, how we wish we could hear that Voice again, and impress that Awareness of Hashem into our bones like that again.

Now, when describing Matan Torah the Rambam says גדליהו על כל גדולה, “You should exalt this event, this picture, higher than all other great things in history. You hear that. ”Exalt it; make it greater than anything else!” But this won’t happen by itself; you have to think about Matan Torah all the time! And when is it done? Never! Even on Shavuos, the frum Jews are at best learning Hilchos Shavuos. And not at best they’re discussing how to make the blintzes and the cheesecake. Whatever it is, they’re busy with Shavuos. But the ideas of Shavuos?! A picture of Matan Torah?! Never! And how could you? You never think about it! You’ve never created pictures of it in your mind – a mental picture! גדליהו על כל גדולה, make it greater in your mind than anything else that you might think is great!


Now, you know that here we like to speak on a practical level. We like to speak words and ideas that we can immediately translate into service of Hashem. So, let us ask, what is the purpose of remembering that great day of מעמד הר סיני? It’s not a secret; the possuk tells us: אתה הראת לדעת כי השם הוא האלוקים…וידעת היום והשבת אל לבבך כי הוא האלוקים. “You have been made to see (the ma’amad Har Sinai) in order to know that Hashem is G-d…And you should know today, and you should continue to take into your heart [i.e. mind] that Hashem is G-d” (ibid. 4: 35-39)

Before we begin – I’ve told you this many times already – that the word לב in lashon kodesh actually refers not to the heart but to the mind, to a person’s thoughts. So why is that? Why do we say “heart” if we mean thoughts? And the answer is this. The language of the Torah is not a bluff language. When a person thinks with his mind, but he’s not really interested in it; when his heart, his emotions, are not participating, that’s not the machshava that Hashem desires. Hashem wants you to be excited about your thoughts. That’s when it turns into a machshava. It’s through the heartbeat, the emotions, that you can find out if someone is really interested in the subject. And that’s why a man is judged by what he’s excited about. Because if your heart is into it, if it excites you and gets your heart beating, then that’s who you really are. That’s where your mind really is.


So for example when a whole mob of people get together in a stadium. All dumbbells, sitting there in the grandstand. And they’re excited because here goes their star champion pitcher onto the field. And they want him to pitch out the batter right away; he should knock him out right away! And the pitcher throws; “Strike one,” says the umpire. Everybody goes wild with excitement! Whooo-aahh! Very important information from the umpire! And then this fancy pitcher twirls his hand and he throws it again, in a fancy way on order to trick the man. “Strike two,” says the umpire. They go wild. They’re excited. All the animals are jumping up and down. And now he throws it again, and surprise, Whack!, he hits the ball and it goes flying way out in the bleachers! And everybody is standing up shouting like mad! What are they excited about? They’re excited about nothing at all. That’s a madhouse; in a madhouse people are excited about nothing.

Now let’s change the scene. After all these are the lower elements of society, the poorer fellows. How much does a baseball ticket cost already, twenty dollars, thirty dollars? But what about the higher class people? They must be excited about higher things. So we go to the grand opera or the theater on Broadway where it costs five hundred dollars a seat. And everybody well dressed, or well undressed, whatever it is. They’re sitting there grinning, wearing their jewels. And the photographers are taking pictures. It will be in the papers tomorrow: Who was present at this event of high culture? Who’s sitting in which seat? Who’s sitting in the most expensive seat? That’s why they came after all. And some of them come with their lorinetts, special glasses, to look at the actors on the stage.


And so, we can turn back to our possuk of והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים. Hashem is commanding us to impress deeply into our minds, אל לבבך, to actually live with the thoughts and emotions that there is no one else but Hashem. To be so attached to Him in our minds and our hearts, that He is the only One we are ever be thinking about. והשבות אל לבבך, you have to lay it onto your heart. And it has to be done not once, and not twice, and not three times, but continually, all the time, as implied by the word והשבות, which not only means you shall take but also you shall return. The fact that you heard it already, you know it already, doesn’t mean anything. You don’t know anything! The vague knowledge that you’ve already acquired, what your rebbi taught you in cheder, is not enough – it needs constant reminding and constant repetition.

And what that means is that you’re going to have to begin devoting time to the subject of Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim. You are going to have to think about Hakodosh Boruch Hu and devote your mind to this subject until it is the focus of all your thoughts. והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים – your mind through and through must become a mind of Hashem; filled with knowledge that Hashem is One; that He is everything in our lives, and nothing else matters. Nothing except for Hakodosh Boruch Hu.


And so, while a person is still in this world, he is going to have to learn how to plant thoughts of Hashem in his mind. Not only when you’re davening; of course, even that is a very big achievement. Most people don’t even have Hashem in their minds then. I’m sorry to say that Hashem is not even thought about during davening. It’s impossible! At the rate of the davening, you can’t think about anything, not even the meaning of the words. But what we’re saying here now, is much more than davening. You have to have Hashem in your mind as much as possible! והשבות.

There are so many mental pictures that you have to formulate in your mind. And you have to develop them and cherish them. You have to live with thought. Of course you have to know what to think about Him. If you don’t have models; if you didn’t hear from a good rebbi, if you didn’t learn the right seforim, so you don’t even have the seeds in your mind with which to work with. Your mind is an empty field. Nothing there to plow, nothing to water and grow. You’ll need models along which lines to think.


What do you think it means to have in your mind that “Hashem is the Elokim up in the heavens and below on this earth”? Just to think about Hashem in a vague superficial way?! Just to think about “His name”?! One man told me that he had the name of Hashem in his mind all the time. He keeps in front of his eyes the letters of Hashem’s name. No, it doesn’t mean that! Thinking yud-kei-vuv-kei is nothing! You have to be thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu – all the time.

So you’ll ask me, “Is it possible for a person to always be thinking about Hashem? After all, we are normal; and any normal person has many thoughts in his mind. How could we be saying that a person must devote all of his thinking to just one thought?

And the answer is that once a person gets busy using his mind and fulfilling והשבות אל לבבך by spending as much time as possible thinking about Hashem, he accustoms himself to a new way of thinking about this world. He begins to view the world through the eyes of Hashem’s thoughts. And he automatically keeps these thoughts in his mind, even without conscious effort.


I’ll give you a mashal. Suppose a person knows how good it is to have financial security. Maybe in the past he didn’t understand; but now he matured, he read a few books on the subject, he learned about life. So now he understands. He values having money in the bank, having insurance, participating in a pension plan. And once he gets it in his mind that to be financially secure is a good thing, once he’s meishiv el l’vavo the importance of financial security, he will never lose sight of that truth. It’s always there in his mind. No matter what he may be doing; looking for a job, planning a vacation, buying a washing machine, even just walking down the street, the thoughts of security are always on his mind. Financial security will be a factor that motivates him in any action he takes.

And that’s our job in this world- to make Hashem, and all of the Torah attitudes, so impressed into our psyche, that it becomes who we are and every step we take, is with Hashem in mind.


I’ll give you an example. It’s the first thought that Hashem tells us about. בראשית ברא אלוקים – Hashem made the world – everything – in the beginning. Before that, there was nothing at all. No elements, no chemicals, no energy, no space. It was ayin – nothing at all! And then, ויאמר אלוקים יהי, from the word yehi, let it be, the world came into being.

And if you would accustom yourself to the very first teaching of the Torah – if you would devote your mind to that teaching – then your life will be transformed completely. Because wherever you look, you see nothing but Hashem. מלא כל הארץ כבודו – “The whole world is full of his glory.”It’s not some mysterious glory, a special aura that we don’t see. It’s Hashem wherever you look because בדבר השם שמים נעשו וברוח פיו כל צבאם – everything, the sky, the sun, the stars, the earth, and everything in it is nothing but the word of Hashem.

And when you plant these Torah ideas in your mind, and when you water them with constant repetition of thought, your mind begins to fill with a perspective of the world that echoes loudly in your head – even more than the financial security we spoke about in the mashal.


I’m not telling you a middas chassidus now. I’m talking to you now about the most basic principle of yahadus. It’s the first of the aseres hadibros. When you’re thinking Hashem’s thoughts, you’re fulfilling אנכי השם אלוקיך. You didn’t know that. What do you think it means “I am Hashem your G-d”? It’s the first of the Aseres Hadibros – it’s first on the list, and it’s a very important list, so what does it mean? הוי דומה לו, Be like Me. “Think like Me! Think like I think.”

What is He thinking about? It’s not hidden away somewhere in the sifrei kaballah. Of course, כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם – our thoughts are not like Hashem’s thoughts; no matter how much we think. And yet Hakodosh Boruch Hu has revealed to us what He does think as far as concerns us, and that’s the Torah. He told us exactly what He’s thinking. The whole torah is filled with Hashem’s thoughts. And every time we think Torah ideals that the Torah teaches us, we’re being m’kayeim the mitzvah in this week’s parsha of Anochi Hashem Elokecha – think like Me.


I’ll give you another example. The mann! The Torah wants us to remember forever, to never forget the mann. The mann is supposed to be an object lesson for all generations that it is Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who feeds Mankind. Hashem commanded the Am Yisroel to take a jar of the mann and set it aside למשמרת לדורותיכם, so that we should always see it (Shemos 16:32-33). It says it in the possuk, למען יראו את הלחם אשר האכלתי אתכם במדבר, so that we should always remember Who is the real food giver. Hashem wants us to never forget the mann. It’s a constant reminder that it’s not the bread that’s feeding us; it’s His word. It’s למען הודיעך כי לא על הלחם לבדו יחיה האדם, כי על כל מוצא פי השם יחיה האדם – To let us know that we live by the word of Hashem, and not on the bread alone (D’varim 8:3).

So you’re telling me that you sit down at the table to eat and you don’t think about how it is really Hashem who is feeding you?! You mean to tell me that day after day can go by and you don’t spend at least one minute thinking about this idea of the mann?! You’re missing the whole point of food! The whole business of eating is one big neis.


And once you make the mann a part of your mind, your entire life is transformed! After all, it’s not Tisha B’av everyday. You’re eating all the time! And even when you’re not eating, you see food all around you. And if you are השב אל הלב, if through constant repetition of thought you engrave on your mind the lessons of the mann, then the whole world becomes a world filled with Awareness of Hashem. You see a world, a big world, that is being fed only by Hashem.

It takes work, it takes practice, but there’s no option. If you want to be a success in this world, like many people do, then you’re going to have to make it your business to create a Torah mind. And the one who is thinking about Hashem always, he is the one who is truly attached to Hashem. ואתם הדביקים בהשם אלוקיכם חיים כולכם היום.


Even now, as I’m telling it to you, for a lot of people sitting here, it doesn’t register with them at all. They didn’t come to hear this foolishness. They want to hear something solid, something substantial. If I told them a segulah, let’s say, that if your wife is pregnant and you want her to have an easy childbirth, so you should go to the aron kodesh and open it up. That’s a segula that she should give birth easily. People run to do that! That they’ll run to do! It’s something  practical! But what did you accomplish by opening the aron kodesh if your mind is closed?! You opened the aron kodesh but your mind is closed.

But I’m telling you something maybe it doesn’t seem as practical, but it’s the most important thing you can do, a thousand times more important than opening the aron kodesh. You’ll start opening your mind! One permanent thought, one attitude that you impress on your mind is infinitely more valuable than opening the Aron Kodesh.


And that’s exactly what Hashem wants! It’s a statement everybody knows, but nobody understands. The Gemara says רחמנא ליבא בעי – “Hashem wants the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b). So people think He wants “a good heart.” Of course, He also wants you to have a good heart, but that’s not the secret of this ma’amar. I explained before that in lashon kodesh “heart” means “mind.” Hashem wants your mind more than anything else! Like it says, תנה בני לבך לי – “My son, give Me your mind” (Mishlei 23:26). Fill your head with My thoughts. He wants not only the technicalities of the Torah but the ideas and ideals of the Torah.

The Chovos Halevavos has a sha’ar called Cheshbon Hanefesh – a sha’ar just about thinking. And he gives us thirty exercises what to think about. Now pay attention to exercise number one. Pay attention because you’ll be surprised. Number one: To think, “How grateful I am to You Hashem that I am not a piece of metal or piece of wood; You have made me a living person. You brought me ex-nihilo, out of nothing, into existence.” That’s the first thing to think about. I’m looking at you now and you’re all looking at me with blank faces. Do I hear any echo back there? Is there anything at all echoing in your brain? No reaction! That’s because you never practiced thinking at all. Practice up on it; practice makes perfect.


Practice thinking: Once upon a time I was nothing but minerals. That’s what you were. You were water in the cloud; you were snow on the ground. You’re a little bit of soil – not much – a little bit of soil, mostly air and water – you’re about eighty percent water – and some sunshine too. So think: “I’m so grateful to You Hashem. There’s so much sunshine in the world, but most of it is not people. You took some of that sunshine and some water, air and some soil, and You made me out of it! I’m grateful to You Hashem for that.” Next time there’s snow on the ground, look at the snow and know that there are future generations that will come from that snow. No question about it. You can’t believe it?! That’s because you never think about these important subjects. It takes work to השב.

Now, put that idea into your head. Nobody else is thinking about it. You have a monopoly on that; you’re unique if you start thinking that way. That’s the first of the thirty mind exercises of the Chovos Halevavos. He was a great man, a great teacher. Try it. Of course you’re thinking it’s silly. “I should be grateful for that?! If Hashem would send me, let’s say, a big sum of money, maybe. But for this I should be grateful?” So Hashem says, “Would you want to be transformed back again into the air and water and sunshine? No, you would like to remain the way you are right now!


You’re hearing now that Hashem made you out of sunshine that came from 83 million miles away. It traveled at the rate of 186,000 miles a second. In eight minutes it came from the sun to this earth. And it was transformed. We are sunshine. The sunshine hits the green plant, the chlorophyll, and it manufactures starch. And that starch becomes bread. And it becomes meat if animals eat it. And that becomes you. That’s what you are.

You walk in the street and you’re thinking “I thank You Hashem that I’m not chlorophyll, that I’m not starch, I’m not sunshine. You made me out of nothing and I can’t forget it. I’m thinking constantly about it.” If you do that, you’re one out of ten thousand, one out of a hundred thousand. You’re a great man already!

Another thing: You must think about Olam Habah! How can a Jew have an existence, a thinking existence, in which the Next World doesn’t occupy a big place?! You must think about Moshiach. צפית לישועה. Were you waiting for Moshiach? That’s one of the big questions they’re going to ask you (Shabbos 31a).


You also need to spend time thinking about Gehenim. That’s one of the big influences on a person’s life. You have to picture Gehenim in your mind. As much as possible think about it. It should be in your mind always. Gehenim! How many times do people think about Gehenim? It’s a tragedy; you must think about it frequently because when you make your way through this world with Gehenim engraved in your mind, your entire life is a different life. The picture of Gehenim in your mind is an achievement. And the more you think about it here, the less you’ll experience it there.

Yetzias Mitzrayim! Every day you have to be reminding yourself that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim so that we should serve Him. אני השם אלוקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלוקים – I took you out in order to be your Elokim. We’re not talking now about what you say during kriyas shema. That’s not thinking! That’s not והשבות אל לבבך כי השם הוא האלוקים – And you should impress into your mind, and impress it again and again and again. That’s what והשבות means. Again and again, you keep laying down more and more layers of thought in your mind.


Now, everything we’re speaking about here takes time. And that’s always the great excuse, the great snare of this world. Here’s a man who works all day long. At night he goes out to the beis medrash and learns a little gemara. And he’s happy; he’s a good Jew. He has no time for anything more, for והשב אל לבבך. You have to know that עד כאן דברי יצר הרע.

What does he really mean? He means that he has no time for Hashem. For the radio he has time! For his garden he has all the time in the world. For the newspapers he has time. They’re frum papers, frum magazines, frum novels. “It’s glatt glatt.” But he has to know, it’s treif, because the more interests you have, the more you’re preoccupied with everything else, the less room you have in your mind for Hashem. When a man is so busy with all of his things; with his business, and with his every pleasures, and with his family. If he has to every motzaei Shabbos go out to visit his relatives. And every Sunday he has to get behind the wheel of his car, and take the family out. And then every evening he has something else to do, then this man is committing the worst kind of suicide, because his mind is always occupied. Because all of these things, besides for the waste of precious time, create interests and attitudes in the mind keep the mind fettered to the things in this world that matter least. It’s impossible to think about Hakodosh Boruch Hu unless you make time for Him. Man’s most precious possession, his mind, is tied in bonds and imprisoned, and unless he cuts loose, he will never be able to succeed in making something from his mind – and your mind is your only key to success.


That’s what the gemara (Nedarim 81a) says: שלחו מתם, they sent a message from Eretz Yisroel, הזהרו בבני עניים, be careful with the children of the poor. When poor boys come to the Yeshiva, welcome them. Their fathers might not contribute much, but welcome them with open arms,  שמהם תצא תורה, Torah comes from poor boys. Why from the poor boys? So the Ran says:  שאין להם עסק אחר, they have nothing else to do but learn. The wealthy boys are busy with their cars, their fancy bikes, their new watches, – but the poor boy has none of this “baggage” on his mind. He has nothing to waste time with. So he sits in the yeshiva all day long. When I was a boy, my friends had bikes. But I didn’t; I didn’t have a bike. And so while my friends rode the streets, I stayed in the beis knesses and learned. And I’m none the worse for it! The one who has nothing else on his head, that’s the only one who will succeed at filling his mind with the thoughts of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Now, as much as we can, we have to follow the model of the בני עניים, the poor boys. As much as possible, even if you’re a wealthy man, the בני עניים are to be our model. It doesn’t mean you must be poor. Hakodosh Boruch may bless you with a great amount of money in your life. But nevertheless, in your house, and more importantly, in your mind, you should attempt to live like a poor man, with with the least amount of superfluities. You should get along with the minimum amount of baggage of the mind as you can.


Let’s say you have a man, a frum man, who has a special room, or even a shelf or a drawer with a coin collection. And when a visitor comes in, he’ll take it down and show it to him. This is a coin from England and here’s one from Guatemala. That’s extra cargo. You don’t need an extra thing like that on your head. There are plenty of things to worry about, plenty of ideas that you should be collecting in your head, besides for coins from Guatemala.

Some people have stamp collections. Some people love nature. Now, there’s nothing wrong with nature – on the contrary, we speak in this place about how nature can be used as a great form of perfecting the mind. But nature for nature’s sake, as a hobby, it’s a certain superfluous addition to your thoughts that you can well do without.


And therefore, when Hashem tells us בכל לבבך, that you must love Him with all of your thoughts, you must be dedicated to Him with all of your mind, it means that you’re going to have to leave as much space as possible in your mind for the important ideas. You can’t fill your time and your mind with foolishness. Otherwise, you’re creating an unwelcome competition. When you want to fulfill והשבות אל לבבך, when you begin the great career of moving the great concepts of the Torah into your mind, so these Torah ideals come in and they see that the place is already full. No room here! The mind is cluttered up with all kinds of thoughts about small things; unimportant issues like the Yankees, and the stamp collection, and your garden, and the news – what’s happening in the shul, what’s happening in Eretz Yisroel, so a competition begins, what’s going to fill your mind. And you’ll never be able to השב as long as your mind is filled with useless ideas and ideals.

And therefore, my friends, I have to tell you that the way to success is והשבות אל לבבך, you have to impress onto your mind all of these great ideals that are included in כי השם הוא האלוקים – that Hashem is everything in our lives. When Rabeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuva 3:17) discusses this mitzvah of והשבות אל לבבך he refers to it as “the high merit of thinking about the greatness of Hashem,” and he quotes from Tehillim (14:2): “Hashem looks down from the heavens upon the sons of men to see if there is some wise one that inquires concerning G-d.” Hashem is looking down at us right now – right now! – to see if we are thinking thoughts of  השם הוא האלוקים.


Now, of course you must raise a family! And you must study Torah; you must study gemara; you must study halachah – there’s no question that all of those are from the biggest things in life and it takes up most of your time. But this field of greatness in the mind is open to everybody – to mothers and fathers, to girls and boys, to bnei Torah and to the bal habus. There’s no difference if you’re a mother working in the kitchen, a father in the office, or a kollel man.

You don’t even have to find a quiet and secluded place to meditate on these important thoughts. Although that would be wonderful – you can reach the heights of greatness by being in seclusion with nobody but Hashem. But you could fulfill והשבות אל לבבך without changing your daily routine at all. A person’s thoughts are wandering all day long. While we eat, while we walk down the avenue, while we work and while we speak with others, we often forget about Hashem completely. So when you’re sitting and eating you can think of one thought. When you’re traveling in the subway you’ll be thinking another thought. A person can begin training himself to think thoughts of Hashem all day long, if he would be willing to put in some effort. And there are an endless amount of things to think about. The opportunities are endless.

You can train yourself systematically to a program of thinking thoughts of Hashem. While walking down this block, I’m going to take deep breaths, and appreciate the cocktail of gases that is keeping me alive. And from this telephone pole until the next corner I’m thinking about Gehenim. And as I pass by the big supermarket, I’m thinking about how all this food came down from the sky in the rain, the same way the mann came down. And that would be a fulfillment of והשבות אל לבבך. Every block, a new thought. Every block a new level of perfection in והשבת אל לבבך.


And if you want to succeed at this, it will take some preparation. Those of you who listen to the tapes – if you have nothing better – so that’s my humble contribution. Listen to them again, and again and again. Let them permeate your mind. They’ll sink in little by little and they’ll become part of your way of thinking. And you’ll see that your own thoughts will begin to develop, they’ll grow on their own, in accordance with how much thought you put into the models that are given to you here.

If you have access to better sources; if you’re able to read seforim, if you hear from greater teachers than I am, even better. You’ll train yourself to think thoughts of Hashem even more and more. Whatever it is, that’s the business of life – והשבות אל לבבך, developing our minds. It’s a great tragedy that so many people are not utilizing their lives because they don’t have the understanding of what life is for.

And so Hashem says, ”Don’t miss out on your purpose in life. I want your head!” רחמנא ליבא בעי – Hashem wants your mind more than anything else. תנה בני לבך – My son give Me your mind. That’s the fundamental requirement of Hashem. Make something out of your mind. Fill your head with the treasures of the Torah ideals and then you’ll belong to Me forever and ever.



Parshas Devarim – Learning to Love

פרשת דברים


At the end of the forty years in the midbar, when the Am Yisroel was passing near Edom, the land of the Bnei Eisav, Hakodosh Boruch Hu spoke to Moshe Rabeinu: אתם עוברים בגבול אחיכם בני עשיו – “You are now approaching the border of your brothers, the sons of Eisav” (D’varim 2:3). And in case you missed it, a few pesukim later (2:8) we read again, ונעבור מאת אחינו בני עשיו – “And we passed by our brothers, the sons of Eisav.” Hashem is referring to the nation of Edom as our brothers!

Now, when our people were encamped on the border of Edom, it was hundreds of years after Eisav had parted ways from the Bnei Yisroel..Two hundred and seventy years of no contact between the families! They had nothing in common anymore, except for a distant ancestor. And still, Hashem reminds us again and again that the Bnei Eisav are our brothers.

And in case you would want to think that it’s merely a form of speech, a sort of reminiscing of old ancestral ties, in Parshas Ki Seitzei  Hakodosh Boruch Hu tells us that He means it l’maisah. Hashem tells us that it’s halacha l’maisah! He commands us: לא תתעב אדומי כי אחיך הוא – “You should not abominate the Edomite – that’s the Bnei Eisav – because he is your brother.”(23:8)  “Be careful with אחיכם; with your brothers. Don’t antagonize them, don’t fight with them.”  Hashem doesn’t say that about other nations. And why shouldn’t you look down at Bnei Eisav, says Hashem? כי אחיך הוא – because he is your brother. “Your brother”?! As you remember, Eisav wasn’t such a good brother even when he was alive. He had been a peril, a danger, and Yaakov didn’t want to continue fraternizing with Eisav. He was happy to shake him off. When Eisav departed from Eretz Canaan, Yaakov breathed a sigh of relief. And now, after hundreds of years, he was already long dead, and his descendants in Edom were completely idolatrous. They didn’t identify at all with the family of Yaakov, the Bnei Yisroel. And they themselves had no brotherly feelings for the Bnei Yisroel. And yet, the Torah says about Eisav’s descendants, אחיך and אחיכם; Remember that they are your blood brothers. And you have to treat them like brothers!!


Now, it’s not easy to feel brotherly emotions to even good brothers if you haven’t lived with them for two hundred and seventy years. He’s only a fourth cousin of yours, you’ll say. You wouldn’t even invite him to your daughter’s wedding. Even if both of you are shomrei torah u’mitzvos, still it’s so far removed that we don’t feel anything. Even today when we find somebody who comes from the same distant ancestor, it might be interesting, it might be a curiosity, but it doesn’t even enter our minds that we’re blood brothers who must feel affection for one another.

Now, we should learn from this what it means to be “a brother.” And we should therefore begin to reconsider our attitude toward our Jewish brothers, our blood brothers – no matter how far away they live, and no matter how much we feel disconnected from them. Because the Torah is our model for how to think. And if such a brother, a brother that we were happy to get rid of, is still considered a brother after all these generations, then how much more so, a kal v’chomer ben b’no shel kal v’chomer, should we consider as our brothers our fellow Jews descended from Yaakov Avinu. There’s no question that we should be feeling the emotions of brotherhood for all of our fellow Jews.


And it’s not enough to merely have a superficial feeling of brotherhood. You remember when the prospective ger came to Hillel, and he requested that the entire Torah should be taught to him while standing on one foot? So Hillel said yes, “Pick up your foot, and let’s get going”. And Hillel told him the following words. מאי דעלך סאני לחברך לא תעביד – “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.” Loving your fellow Jew, זו כל התורה כולה – that is the whole Torah, ואידך פירושא – and the rest is an explanation, זיל גמור – so go learn the rest of the Torah. Because the whole Torah is founded on this yesod of loving your fellow Jew.

So when people hear this story, they think it was some sort of salesmanship; Hillel wanted to win the ger over, so he gave him some easy type of solution, an easy mitzvah. But of course we know it’s not so. Hillel wasn’t the rabbi of Temple Ahavat Israel where all you have to do is love everybody and pay membership. And he didn’t tell the ger what we would have said. He didn’t quote the first and most fundamental commandment אנכי השם אלוקיך – “I am Hashem, your G-d.” (Shmos 20:2) which certainly is most obligatory. No, he didn’t tell the ger about that one. Rather, Hillel was telling him that the foundation for greatness, the most important opportunity for perfection, is in the mitzvah ואהבת לרעך כמוך. One of our prime functions in life is to achieve love of the Am Yisroel despite all the various interactions and frictions that occur. To love your fellow is a great principle of the Torah – the Yerushalmi says that – it’s a klal gadol batorah, a great, all inclusive principle of the Torah.

It’s not just a nice thing, a good middah. Loving your fellow Jew is the foundation of your avodas Hashem because there is nothing more important in this world than a Yisroel. There is nothing Hashem loves more in the world than the offspring of Avraham Yitzchok and Yaakov. And therefore, any feeling of affection that you generate in your mind for a fellow Jew, is an emulation of how Hashem Himself is thinking. The more you love a Jew, and the more Jews you love, the more you are walking in the ways of Hashem.


And the first thing that we must consider when talking about loving Jews is that we’re not merely talking about the same kind of affection that people in an African country would have for each other. The Hutus are also obligated to have feelings of affection towards their fellow natives; they’re not exonerated from this. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is going to demand from every Eskimo that he should love every other Eskimo.

When you hear this, it might seem far fetched, but that’s because we’re not yet thinking along with the attitudes of the Torah. But that’s a problem because really we are obligated to love those of a common ancestry. And that’s the most basic form of affection, expected even from the Zulus and the Irish. All those who are called McDougal should love each other because they come from the same man. They’ll say it’s so far away, maybe five hundred years; but it makes no difference. He’s your brother.

But suppose now that we are not talking to this gentleman in the Congo who must love his fellow Kafiers, his fellow Hottentots. We are talking now to Jews, and we’re saying that you have brothers too; you also have your own people who are to be appreciated as brothers.


And when we talk about the Bnei Yisroel, a completely new dimension is added; a very big and huge new attitude is included  in the concept of אחיך, much more than by any other nation. Because it’s not a brother like Eisav who is merely connected to us by blood, by DNA.  A fellow Jew is a brother who is עמיתך, he’s עמך בתורה ובמצוות. Chazal tell us that אחיך means אחיך במצוות, “your brother in mitzvos.” It’s not merely a brother of the same ancestor; it’s a brother of the same mind! With the same ideals and attitudes; he’s your brother in arms.

Ohhh, now we’re talking! Because even though we all have our differences and our own lives, there always remains this glue of service of Hashem that binds us together in this kinship of brotherhood. More than a blood line, it’s a real bond, something that actually ties us together. Among ourselves, we have to be the best of friends. Because no matter where you are; you could be Jew in Australia, a Satmerer in Williamsburg, or a Jew in Tel-Aviv, we’re all in this world for one purpose, to serve Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Now, I’m not talking about the Israeli in Tel-Aviv who wears an earring. You know, that to be an Israeli today, you have to wear an earring. But we’re not talking about him. No, we’re talking about the oivdei Hashem, those who know their purpose in this world. When we feel that we’re all fighting together for one cause, to serve Hashem, we’re all marching together in the same regiment, so it’s much easier to have a love for your fellow men. How much more of an affection are you supposed to feel for such brothers who are of one mind with you!


All the kehillos, even the Modern Orthodox who are far away from our great ideals of avodas Hashem, are our brothers. Absolutely! If a Jew is a שומר מצוות, he tries to keep the mitzvos, then even though he doesn’t exactly do everything the way we do it, he’s still a brother. If he doesn’t do aveiros, if he’s a שומר מצוות, I don’t care what kind of yarmulke he wears. If he wears a knitted yarmulkeh or if he wears something else, he’s still my brother. Even a small little yarmulkeh, so he’s a modeh b’miktzas, but he’s still one of ours. A person who keeps טהרת המשפחה, family purity, he eats kosher, he sends his children to Yeshiva and not public school, he’s a shomer Shabbos, he has mezuzahs on his doors – a person like that is our brother, and don’t make any mistake about it. And you need to love him.

Now, don’t misquote me; I’m not saying that the Modern Orthodox man has to be your brother in the sense that you’ll move into the same house as him. It doesn’t mean that you should associate with him. That’s something else altogether. Over here, in this place, we say that we want to associate only with the best ones because we want to be the best. But when you see another frum Jew on the street, any frum Jew, he’s your brother in the most literal sense of the word. And you have a mitzvah of ואהבת לרעך כמוך – you have a mitzvah to love him. That’s how to think about your fellow Jew. And even though he follows a different Rebbi, or a different set of political objectives, nevertheless, don’t lose sight of the fact that fundamentally he belongs to your people and that therefore you’re מחויב, you’re obligated, to think well of him, to recognize him as your brother, and to love him.


I’ll give you a משל. Imagine a family, with many brothers. I’m speaking of the family of old, when people were still loyal to the concept of family. All the brothers – whatever they may do, wherever they may live – are dedicated to the needs and ideals of the family. And the members of the עם ישראל are similarly the members of one family, dedicated to the ideal of serving Hashem. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Syrian Jew or a Polish Jew. A Jew from Morocco or from Germany. You could be a Chossid from Williamsburg or a Litvak. It doesn’t matter which kehillah you belong to. Whatever the differences may be, the glue of avodas Hashem is a stronger bond than any of the superficial differences. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Satmerer kehillah or the Bobover kehillah or any other kehillah of the Am Yisroel.  What matters is that we share a common purpose, the service of Hashem We’re all one kehillah serving under the glorious banner of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We, the Bnei Yisroel, all live in this world, together, as a single unit, for one purpose only – to serve Hashem, our Father.

Think about it; Every Jew, wherever he may be, I don’t care if he’s Sefardi or Ashkenazi, he’s putting on Tefillin every day and preparing for Shabbos on Friday afternoon. On Sukkos we are all eating our meals in the Sukkah and we’re all eating matzah on Pesach night. Throughout the world, Menorahs are being lit on the nights of Chanukah. Three times a day, all over the world, we – men and boys – gather together in the Shuls to daven. And the examples are endless. How can one not feel the bond of the achvah knowing that around the world, his fellow Jews are all unified in serving Hashem? And that is what binds us together as אחים, brothers.


You can’t even imagine what an opportunity you’re missing by not making use of this feeling of achvah, of brotherly camaraderie, that is available to you. The next time you walk into shul and you see the Am Yisroel gathering to daven to Hashem, you should put your mind to work: “This is my nation! My brothers! And we all share the common purpose of serving Hashem.”  And when you’re shopping in the kosher supermarket and it’s crowded, and the lines are long – those are precious moments! You’re looking down the aisles and all you can see are your “brothers and sisters”. Women, men, children, all buying kosher food. That’s a nation dedicated with a singular heart to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. ישראל אין להם אלא לב אחד לאביהם שבשמים – “The whole Am Yisroel has but one heart devoted to their Father in Heaven” (Sukkah 45b). It’s not just poetry, it’s the greatness of the Am Yisroel that binds us  as brothers.

And in view of this lesson, the word אחיך, “your brother,” that is used everywhere in the Torah in reference to our fellow-Jews, acquires a much more powerful and realistic function. Because this bond of brotherhood that exists between us is infinitely stronger than the tenuous bond that existed between the בני ישראל and the בני עשיו.


The truest, the most profound understanding of the word אחיך, is a recognition of what it is that actually binds us together as brothers. And we are expected to feel this emotion of אחיך because we are all dedicated to the one, and only one, ideal of serving Hashem. We love all those who are shomrei mitzvos and maintain the ways of the Torah, and that is what binds us together with the bond of אחיך, a bond  than any other familial bond in the world. Because there is no stronger of a bond than the bond of a common purpose in life. And this is the reason why Hashem refers to our fellow-Jew as an אחיך repeatedly throughout the Torah. Because Hashem is teaching us how we should view another Jew – as a genuine brother, a thousand times, a million times more than the feelings of brotherhood that Hashem demanded from the Am Yisroel as they passed by their distant cousins, the Bnei Eisav. If towards an Edomite, the descendant of our ancestor’s brother, we must feel an emotion of brotherhood, then how much more, how many more thousands of degrees of brotherhood should we feel towards a fellow Jew, a fellow Jew who we are commanded to love!

When it says ואהבת לרעך כמוך, it doesn’t mean that you should tolerate him, or even that you should get along with him. It means that you should generate a ahavah, a love, a real love, for your fellow Jew. You have to understand how far away we really are from even beginning such an avodah. Of course, we’re willing to say that we agree with the idea. Maybe someday we’ll even come around to it. But we won’t. You won’t come around to it unless you start doing something about it.


Now some people are so ambitious that they feel it’s not important enough, it’s too small a task, to love only your fellow Orthodox Jews. So here’s a man who wants to go out and love the whole world. He loves the Hottentots and the Zulus too. And he even loves the whales. He loves everyone, everything!

But really, he doesn’t even begin to love his own brother. His blood brother he doesn’t love! He hates him and hasn’t spoken to him in ten years. Sometimes his mother and father too. He can’t get along with his neighbors. But the Zulus in Africa who would eat him for lunch if they were hungry, them he loves. Why not? It doesn’t cost any more money. And for the same price they can love the blacks and the browns and the whales and the trees. A nechtigeh tug! The truth is that he doesn’t love anyone.

If you start out by loving everybody, it means that you’ll end up loving no one at all. Because if you “love everybody” then it means you’re not serious about putting real effort into this avodah.

It’s like the liberals. They say they love everybody. Love, love, love. They put out stamps now, postage stamps, that say “LOVE”. What does ‘love’ mean? I don’t want to even say what the word love means according to them. I don’t want to say the teitch of love according to them. They love nobody at all except themselves. The liberals don’t love anybody – it’s sheker v’chazav.


But in this place, we mean business when we say love. When we say that we want to love our brothers, we mean it. We want to try at least. We’re going to actually try to love our fellow Jews!

And that little bit will be genuine, an ahavas Yisroel the way Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects from us. If we succeed in achieving even a little bit, that’s worth more than all the fakerei of the gentiles and the liberals.

And so it’s necessary to generate an attitude of love for your fellow Jews. It’s not easy, I know it’s not easy. Because there is always competition and rivalry and friction. It’s not a simple thing at all to really love your fellow Jews. Because people are interested only in themselves. And to train yourself to think about somebody else in terms of affection is a very difficult matter, something that is far away from people’s minds. That’s the plain truth. And therefore it’s a tremendous achievement if you would begin to actually concentrate on this function of learning how to love your fellow Jews, even those who are not relatives, and even those who are not our friends.


And so, we’re going to have to train ourselves; we’re going to have to work with a program for ahavas Yisroel. Because no matter how many Tish’ah B’Avs go by, and no matter how many times you’ve heard speakers extolling the virtue of loving your fellow Jew, nothing will help. It must be done with a step by step program that, if taken seriously, will lead to success. And so we have to study how to do that. So the question is, how do you start working on that? How do you start working on this klal gadol batorah of ואהבת?

Ahh! The difficult subject of learning to love your neighbors! But it’s the one subject on which it pays to concentrate. And the way to begin is by looking for things in people that will cause you to like them. It’s easy to say, “Get along with people, you should love people.” But there has to be some motivation to do it. And the motivation is that every person has something, some reason, that makes him deserving of being loved. You’re not going to be able to love somebody in a vacuum. You have to seek some motivation that will make it easier to like people. This is a very important subject – how to motivate yourself to like this man, and this man, and that man, and that man. You’re  going to have to think about some good thing that will motivate this love. And if you’ll be willing to donate a minute or two of your time to think about a person, you’ll discover good qualities that will make it easier to love him. Absolutely.


Now, of course, if he’s friendly to you, if he’s m’chabeid you, if you get hana’ah from him, so you already like him. At least a little bit, you like him. But even so, you don’t love him to the degree that Hashem wants you to love him. You’re just scratching the surface. And what are you going to do with the overwhelming majority of Jews that do not do anything for you? It could be there are even some who get on your nerves. Them also you have to love! ואהבת לרעך doesn’t mean you should love your best friend. רעך doesn’t mean this man right here who is a good friend of yours. לרעך means all of them. All the frum Jews are your brothers, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects you to have a certain attitude towards them, the attitude of ahavah, a genuine affection.

I was once speaking to one of my great teachers in Europe. And he said that the way to work on this is to pick one man. One man!. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת – “If you take hold of too much at once, you won’t be able to do it.”  You can’t do it to everybody. You have to start out with a system, one step at a time, because to love all people, all of a sudden, is not real love. And it’s impossible too. So what you’re going to do is pick one Jew. And make up your mind that you’ll specialize on him.

And it should be someone who is easier to love. It shouldn’t be the worst man in the whole beis hamedrash, in the yeshiva. Pick someone who’s easy to love. A nice looking frum Jew, someone who’s friendly to you and make him the object of your practice.  It’ll be less of a nisayon; and start working on him. He doesn’t have to know – Don’t tell him! Don’t tell him anything!


And therefore, we must get busy finding ways and means to make steps forward in this project of loving your fellow man. We have to look, to search, for opportunities to love our fellow man. Even if it’s merely chitzoniyus, exteriority, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants you to use it as a ladder toward being m’kayeim the mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew. I’ll explain that. You remember when Yaakov met Rochel for the first time? The Torah says ויאהב יעקב את רחל – “Yaakov loved Rochel” (Bereishis 29:18). Now to us it may seem queer. How does that fit in? Yaakov Avinu was a man advanced in years already. He was in his seventies. And Rochel was a young girl. So Yaakov had other ideas in his mind, how to serve Hashem, how to be close to Hashem. He was thinking about loving a young girl?! He had to get married; all right, he can’t help it, so he’ll get married and have children. But he loved her?!

Yes, he was very much in love with her! He was madly in love with her. He worked seven years for her, and then another seven years. ויעבוד יעקב ברחל שבע שנים ויהיו בעיניו כימים אחדים באהבתו אתה – “And Yaakov worked seven years for Rochel, and they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her” (Bereishis 29:20).

Now if the Torah tells us about this love, we have to study it. Do you think it was hevel v’rik that he loved Rochel? You think it was the love of the low filthy characters who sing about love on the radio?! You have to know that Yaakov Avinu was a great thinker, a philosopher, I’d call him. He had his own chochma, he was a gushing spring of wisdom, and he knew that it was the will of Hashem that he should love his wife. And therefore when he saw this girl whom he knew would be his wife, he made use of the fact of her great beauty to fall in love with her.


And I’ll explain that more. When you have a friend whom you like, and you see that this friend has a nice clean face, or he has nice looking eyes, that causes you to like him even more. So you shouldn’t say, “No, I’m going to ignore his beauty; I’ll going to love him only because Hashem wants me to love a fellow Jew.” No; you should make use of any gashmiyus’dige love that you can have for him – “I love him. He looks so nice, my friend. He dresses so nicely, he always looks good. He even has a nice pair of glasses.” Even his glasses you can use as a ladder to climb up to a love of a fellow Jew. And by doing that you’re getting closer and closer to the feeling of achicha that Hashem wants from you.

And that’s what we are learning from Yaakov. Yaakov utilized the love of the choson for the kallah in order to come closer to perfection in ahavas Yisroel. Eventually, after they were married, he took all that love that he generated when he saw her the first time and he loved her intensely for the rest of his life more and more because he was only using that as ladder to come closer and closer to ואהבת לרעך כמוך, to come closer to how Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants him to think.of Rochel – because who is more of a rei’acha than a man’s wife! And in order to gain that, Yaakov used the gashmiyus love, and he thereby taught us how we should learn to love our fellow man.


And you don’t have to be any frummer than Yaakov Avinu. As much as you can, you should be using whatever you can to generate respect and affection and even love for a fellow Jew. Here’s a man who’s always dressed well, he looks good. He’s a good looking fellow, with a nice smile. Try to love him because of that. It’s not silly what I’m telling you now; you can even like a man because of the way he looks. Let’s say you look at a man and you like his necktie – he has a nice necktie. Now, a necktie is nothing. You can change neckties, you can buy a new necktie – it’s nothing. But you look at him and yes, you like him because of his necktie. Don’t tell that to somebody outside; they’ll think you banged your head. Who knows what they’ll think! But here we’re willing to say the things that others think is silly, as long as it brings us closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. His necktie looks good on him? Maybe you like the color of his hair? Maybe his eyes or his smile? It doesn’t matter what it is – anything that will stimulate your feelings of affection toward him, grab it and use it to love him more. It should cause you, it should stimulate you, to be more friendly to him.  And little by little it’ll enter into your heart and you’ll gain a certain warmth for that person. And that warmth, as little as it is, is a tremendous achievement. That’s why we came into this world.


Now, smiles and eye colors are valuable stimulants for this avodah, but the truth is that if you’ll try to think about a person’s middos tovos, you’ll be surprised that there isn’t a person who doesn’t have some good in him, some exceptional good in him. Among the shomrei Torah everyone has some good qualities. One of my rebbehs once spoke b’rabim and he said that a person is not one middah – a person is a bundle of middos. And you cannot form an opinion in general about a person, because in this middah he can be excellent, while somebody else might be excellent in a different middah. A person is a big bundle of character traits; he’s not just one thing.

So in case you can’t love the person entirely, you can learn to love at least one aspect of his personality. Let’s say he davens well. So love him for that. Love that man because he davens well. There’s a man who davens in our shul and I can tell you that I love that man for twenty years already. Just because of the way he stands shemonah esrei! Just because of that, I fell in love with him. Another person learns well. He comes to the shul to learn and he doesn’t waste any time talking. He opens his seforim and gets to work on the sugya. He doesn’t know, but I’m watching him every day, and I love him. Another person gives tzedaka. And another one is quiet and polite. Find what you can in each person. You’ll be surprised, you’ll be surprised! People are full of good things.

Here you have a neighbor, a quiet fellow. He doesn’t bother you, he doesn’t call the Buildings Department on you, so you don’t even think about him. That’s called ahavas Yisroel? You don’t hate him; that’s called loving your fellow Jew?! How could you live next door to a man for years – for years! – and not love him. You can love him just for that that he’s a quiet neighbor! He lent you his drill once?! Even better! You can love a man with an intense love for being an ish chesed if only you would put your mind to it.


The shomrei Torah, no question that they’re full of good things. They’re raising up families of children who will be oivdei Hashem. They’re upholding the batei knesses and the yeshivos with their money and their participation. They themselves are mikayeim mitzvos every day. There are so many reasons why you should love these people. Here’s a man who smiles at people! I love him for that! And another man knows how to speak to his wife. I see him on the street, always treating his wife with the utmost respect. It’s easy to love a man like that. And I do! I do!

Even the most simple Jew has many beautiful middos that should encourage your ahavas Yisroel. We come into contact with all kinds of people, and the way to love them all is by ignoring the bothersome things and instead finding the good that makes him easy to love. And the wise man concentrates on a person’s beautiful character traits and ignores the middos that are less appealing.


Here’s a man, in our shul, a very nervous fellow. And he argues with people in the beis haknesses. He’s arguing with the people who sit on both sides of him. “You’re taking up too much space.” “You’re moving too close to me.” “Keep in your seat.” He pushes your siddur away; a very nervous fellow. And he looks like a nuisance, like a very big nuisance.

But if you would take a few minutes to think about him you’ll discover that he’s an idealist. The man comes every day on time to the beis haknesses. Every day! And he tries his best to support his family – it’s not easy making a living. And what’s he working for? He’s not lining his pockets. He’s working hard to pay schar limud, to raise his children b’derech hatorah and to support the yeshivos.

And if you talk to him privately you’ll see that there’s so much to love. I spoke with him and I was amazed to find out that this man was a fighter for yiddishkeit. He came from a home where there was no yiddishkeit and he forsook the ways of his family. He kept Torah and mitzvos all his life, by himself, against the wishes of his father and mother. It’s not easy to do such a thing. He was moired against his family to serve Hashem! I came to respect him greatly. I saw what a mistake I had made about him at first and I began to love this man.

It’s true, this fellow was a nuisance. He couldn’t get along with anybody on all sides of him. But when you come to know him, you see that he’s a very important personality. It’s easy to love him when you study the good in him. Just because he has a certain nature, he’s a fussy fellow, he doesn’t deserve to be loved?! That’s his nature; Hakodosh Boruch Hu made him that way. And despite those quirks, you have to recognize his ma’alos, and come to respect him. And after a while, if you’re willing to spend time on it, you’ll admire him; and then a certain love develops toward him. That’s a very big achievement! And you should know now that you’re living for a purpose if you train yourself to think that way.


Now, if you’ll pick a nuisance, and concentrate on him, little by little you’ll discover that he has a lot of things that are easy to love. You’ll see that he’s a somebody after all; he has ma’alos, and you love him for that! And midah k’neged midah, Hakodosh Boruch Hu will love you too, despite the fact that you’re a nuisance. Hakodosh Boruch Hu will see that you also have good things in you.

It’s laboratory work. It takes time. But as you generate some love for him, little by little you’ll come to love him. You’ll actually begin to love one Jew! Mazel Tov! You did it. You’re forty years old and you finally love somebody besides for yourself.

And the girls too. The girls among themselves also. When you go to your girls’ school tomorrow, you pick one girl – don’t tell her anything – just think, “I want to be m’kayeim ואהבת לרעך and I’m going to work on loving this one girl.” Say it with your mouth, quietly, “Chanaleh, I love you.” You’re not going to school tomorrow; so בשעת הדחק you can think about your own mother, if you have nobody else to work on. Your father is also good. Somebody! You have to start somewhere!

Pick one man and dedicate to him two minutes a week. For two minutes a week, work on it, think about him. Think about all the ma’alos you could think of and you’ll be amazed at what it will accomplish for you. And in case you won’t go ahead and do it further, so at least once in your life you loved a fellow Jew – thirty years from now you’ll be able to look back and boast, “When I was younger I tried once to work on ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Yes, I worked on it once and I loved my fellow Jew.” And you’ll be exceptional because nobody else did it. Nobody else except for you did such a thing. They said the words but it never entered into their minds at all. They never thought about how to do it. But you at least tried.


That’s how you get started. And once you love one Jew a little bit, it’ll spread to others too. Once you get started, you’ll learn how to do it, and you’ll be able to move on to loving the next one, and the next one and so and so on. But first you have to start with one, you have to work on one person. And don’t tire out. Don’t lose your grip on this avodah. Two minutes every week you can dedicate to this person. . And soon you’ll begin to understand what ahavas Yisroel really feels like.

And if you keep it up, then little by little, it will begin to spread. It’s contagious. Once you learn to love one Jew intensely, then maybe the other Jew also, why not? Once you’ve trained your mind to think lovingly towards another person besides yourself, you’ll see that it’ll spread. You’ll realize that you’re starting to look at people differently. And בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת מוליכין אותו, Hashem will provide you the opportunities to keep loving the Am Yisroel.


I did it once. Years ago when I used to work on mussar I did this. In Slabodka I was staying with a certain family, a simple Jew, a butcher. Plain ordinary people. I made it my business to fall in love with the family. Every day I would walk by myself in the woods thinking about how I could love the husband, how I could love the children, how I could love everybody in the family. I spent a lot of time thinking about them. And when I would walk into the home, I would say certain words to make them feel good, to make them happy. I would do whatever I could to help them. I davened for them every day! This was in the olden days, when I was in Slobodka and I still “had a shaychus” to mussar; so I worked diligently on the middah of loving them.

“He made a career out of Ahavas Yisroel He often related how he asked [his rebbi] Reb Isaac [Sher ztz”l] what one could do to develop a true love for all klal yisroel. His rebbi told him: Start with one ordinary Jew and dedicate yourself completely to his well being “until you develop a true love for him”. Then add a second person and a third, and so forth. Eventually, this will spread and create a true love for all Jews.

Rabbi Miller dedicated himself to a family in Slabodka – a butcher and his children. He said “in shamayim they will testify that I did everything possible to help them.” Forty years later, Rabbi Miller was still devoted to this family. He even donated a number of sets of Shas to the shul and other yeshivos in which he inscribed “L’iluy nishmas Yisrael ben Aryeh Eichenholz.” This was the butcher from Slabodka! He also dedicated his monumental work on Bereishis to [the butcher’s] memory.

From Rav Avigdor Miller: His Life and His Revolution [Rabbi Yaakov Hamburger, Judaica Press 2016]


And if you want to grow, to expand your program, you’ll also daven for the Jew that you’re working on. And as you’re saying shemonah esrei, when you say רפאינו השם, heal us Hashem, you’ll notice that it’s plural. Now some people think that “Heal us” means “Heal me.” Why do we say us? You think it’s the majestic plural; the royal “We”. Like the King of England would send out in his proclamations: “We, the King of England.”  No! It doesn’t mean that. רפאינו means heal all of the Jewish people. Now, to think of all the Jews, that’s too much to think about. We can’t think of all the Jews. But at least this Jew who you’re working on, that you can do. When you say רפאינו, think about him. He should be healthy; he shouldn’t catch any colds, his children should be healthy. And little by little you’re being machnis love for him into your heart. And you’re on your way to greatness!

And why stop by Refa’einu? Is that all you’re willing to give to the man you love? If you love him, or even if you want to love him, you should pray for him Bareich Aleinu. He should make a good parnasa! He should get along with his boss! He should get a raise and still not have to pay any more taxes! Think about that! Wouldn’t you want that for a person you love?!


And don’t ever stop loving that man! Smile at him when you can. Say a few kind words to him. I don’t mean just a good morning. Show him that you love him. Ask him about his day, or his family. And you could go out of your way to do some favor for him. Pick up a piece of trash from his garden. If you’re loving him, you’ll keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity to help him. And whatever you can do, do. You’re becoming great! Because the more you think about what you love about him, and the more you daven for him and do things for him, the greater you’re growing in the yesod ha’yesodos of loving your fellow Jew.

It’s not a small thing you’re hearing tonight. It’s a career! But you have to be serious, of course. You have to not only hear it, you have to practice it. Even if you only do it a little bit, it’s a tremendous achievement. If you’ll think about it once a week, once a week for two minutes, on that one person – and don’t change, stick to the same person – until finally you develop a certain respect for him. And then, if you won’t give up, you develop a certain warmth for him, and then a certain love for that person! And now you know that you came into this world for a purpose, and you’re fulfilling the purpose of your life.


And tonight, because we’re getting close to the end of the year, I want to offer you a second program to encourage ourselves to make a beginning on this great career of loving the Am Yisroel. Now, anyone who wishes can adopt this program for the coming year. Say “Bli neder, I’m going to join in this program” and you’re in. It costs no money to join and it’s easy to do once you get into the habit. And if you keep it up, you’re already on the road to greatness.

Every day spend one whole minute loving a certain Jew. For your first day, pick one person, and spend a full minute trying to generate, to stimulate, a feeling of love for him. Start with somebody who is easier to love and think about him for a full minute. Squeeze as much as you can into that minute. He’s a ish chesed. He’s raising a frum family. His wife cooked for your family when your wife had a baby. And so on and so on. And after that minute you should say, “I love him; I love Chaim Yankel.” Now, actually, you don’t love him yet, but say it anyhow. Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that you’re trying and that’s very important. And המחשבה נמשכת אחר הדיבור – the more you say it, the more you’ll actually feel it in your heart. You’ll actually begin feel a love for Chaim Yankel!


And once you begin to take these steps forward, your mind will open up to a new vista of opportunities. You won’t find enough time in the day to think about all of the fellow Jews that you love! When you walk into the shul and you see a Yeshiva man learning, you’ll love that man. He’s your fellow brother in arms being moser nefesh for the service of Hashem. A mother is pushing a carriage down the street with a whole brood running alongside her. Her whole life is one big service of Hashem! What isn’t she doing to raise a family of oivdei Hashem’?! How can you not feel a gush of appreciation and love for a woman giving her life for Hakodosh Boruch Hu?!

Women should think about other women. Men should choose men. Now who should you start with? Maybe your rebbeh, or the rav of your kehillah. Those are good examples of who to start with. Don’t forget your parents. You have to work on loving your father. And the next day your mother. Your children too. It’s not a waste of time to love each one of your children for a minute a day.


Now if you’ll think about a different Jew every day of the year for one minute, so by next Rosh Chodesh Elul, you’ll have 365 Jews who were loved by you. 365 Jews who you love! That’s an achievement! It’s not all of the Am Yisroel, but it’s a beginning. If you do it for only a month, that’s a perfection too, but the one who wants to be great in the eyes of Hashem will start and never stop.

And if you keep it up for two years, and then three – why not, it can’t hurt – you’ll actually begin to love, at least a little bit, the whole Am Yisroel.  One minute a day! Today my neighbor, Chaim Yankel. Tomorrow my wife, the next day my chavrusa in the Kollel. And on and on, day after day. If you keep to it you’ll become great, greater than you could ever imagine.


However, there is one more facet of this avodah that we should discuss before we finish. And that’s because there can be a very great error in this program of ahavas Yisroel. When you undertake this career of loving your fellow Jews – whether you’ll do it superficially or even more seriously – a very great error is lurking. Because what is a Jew after all? A Jew is nobody. He’s a human being; היום כאן ומחר בקבר, here today and gone tomorrow. He has to die someday; what’s so important about him? What are you loving after all?

And the answer is that there’s only one reason why a Jew is important. And that’s because Hashem loves him! You love him only because Hashem loves him! How much does Hashem love him? He loves him more than He loves the entire universe. The whole briyah is nothing compared to one Jew.


And therefore, when we say that you have to love your fellow Jew, it’s very different than the Zulus loving the Zulus and the Eskimos loving the Eskimos. It’s very different than the patriotic bond that Americans feel with their fellow countrymen. Loving a fellow Jew is a different story; a different love altogether! Because when we talk about loving your fellow Jew, we’re talking about loving somebody whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves. You’re emulating the אוהב עמו ישראל. Now, that’s already a different story, a different type of love.

How different?  To understand how different you have to recognize how much Hakodosh Boruch Hu love each individual of the Am Yisroel. If you would ever love anybody in your life, really love him, it would be nothing compared to how much Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves you. Let’s say you would have a beautiful son – I saw it the other day, a man came to shul with his son, a beautiful boy. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was beautiful. And he was bright and brilliant. We were learning a hard piece of gemara and that young boy was explaining it to his father – it was a pleasure to look at him. He picked up everything. His mouth was moving on greased hinges, explaining it so well. Such a son, how could you not love him? So nice looking he was. And well groomed too, by the way.


So let’s say you have such a son who you love with all your heart; you love nothing more in the world.And that is nothing compared to Hashem’s love for you. And who is “you”? You could be the most foolish fellow; a fellow with all faults. Ugly, slow-witted, nothing to love. No matter! Hashem loves that person with an intense and fiery love. מים רבים לא יוכלו לכבות את האהבה ונהרות לא ישטפוה – “Torrents of water will never extinguish that love that Hashem feels for our nation. That’s what Shir Hashirim says. The love of Hashem for a Jew is so intense that we can not even think of measuring the heat of that love that He has for each individual.

Now I’m far away from this myself. I’m saying this not for you; I’m listening to it myself as I’m saying it. Maybe a little bit will stick to me. But I let you listen along with me. Because at least we have to learn it. At least that. Because of the greatness of a fellow Jew, because of the overwhelming love that Hashem has for him, we are expected to realize that if we love a fellow Jew – even if you only love him a little bit – then we have acquired a merit that will give us reward and happiness in Olam Habah forever and ever.


Now, all this might seem little queer for those who don’t know their purpose in the world. So when go outside later and they’ll ask you, “What did Rabbi Miller speak about tonight?” So you’ll say, “He told us to love our fellow Jew.” They’ll laugh at you: “What’s the chiddush? Who doesn’t know that?!” But the truth is who does it?! Who thinks about it? If he loves, he loves; if not, what could he do already? He’s patur, he thinks. But no, we’re learning tonight that you have to work on loving the Am Yisroel, with an intense love. You have a big career ahead of you.

But once you do embark on this career, you are embarking on the most important commandment of the Torah, because when you love the Bnei Yisroel, you’re loving Hashem! Because that’s what He loves more than anything else in the world! Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves him a million times more than you do. And therefore, once you are trying to love the Am Yisroel you should know that you’re an oived Hashem. You’re a real oived Hashem!


Ahavas Yisroel is the big success of life. And that success is the biggest favor you can do for yourself. That’s the greatness of a man. You’re doing yourself the biggest favor when you learn to be an oheiv Yisroel because by loving your fellow Jews you’re really loving yourself. The biggest success is not what you do for other people; it’s what you achieve in the perfection of your own character. And the more you become an oheiv Yisroel, you’re gaining such perfection, such greatness, that you become tied up to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. You’re a partner with Him. Just like He loves the Am Yisroel, you’re standing at His side and together with Him you’re loving the Am Yisroel. And אין הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהב אלא מי שאוהב ישראל – Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “I love you because I love only those who love My people” (Mesillas Yesharim Perek 19).



Parshas Mattos Massai – The End of the Evildoers


פרשת מטות-מסעי


In this week’s parsha Hakodosh Boruch informs Moshe Rabeinu of his impending death: וידבר השם אל משה לאמר… תאסף אל עמיך – “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying…You will be gathered into your people” (Mattos 31:3). The successful life of Moshe is now drawing to a close and his last days on this earth were his final opportunity to achieve even more success and perfection.  And what is the last opportunity that we find Hashem presenting Moshe with? : נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים – “Take vengeance for the Bnei Yisroel from the Midianim, אחר תאסף אל עמך – and only afterward shall you be gathered into your peoples” (ibid.) The function of taking revenge from Midian was so eminently necessary that Hashem declared Moshe’s career as still incomplete without it.

Now for us, this should be a big question. We have been brought up with the idea that revenge is a contemptible attribute; it’s an undesirable middah. The Torah tells us, don’t seek vengeance. לא תקום ולא תיטור – “Don’t try to get even; and don’t even bear a grudge against someone” (Vayikra 19:18). Children, from the youngest age, are trained to be repelled by the word nekama, to see it as a trait of those who lack self-control. And yet, we read here that Moshe was commanded to take revenge against his enemies, and that it would be his final achievement of perfection in this world! It’s a question! How are we to understand this anomaly, that the vengeance that is so belittled by the Torah could be the final act of perfection in Moshe’s life?


To better understand this, we’ll listen to a gemara in Mesichta Brachos (33a). The gemara there explains how great is dei’ah. Dei’ah means knowledge, clarity of understanding of the great truths of the world. And the gemara brings an illustration of how great dei’ah is. גדולה דעה, the gemara says. “How great is dei’ah!” How great is it when one makes clear to himself the presence of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the awareness of His imminence. And the gemara says that we know this because the word dei’ah is ניתנה בין שתי אותיות, it’s found between the two names of Hashem. כי א-ל דעות השם it says. So on one side you have the word א-ל, on the other side you have the word השם, and in the middle you have the word dei’os.

As was explained once – if you see three people walking down 13th Avenue in Boro Park; on one side is the Satmerer Rav and on the other side is, let’s say, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And in the middle is an unknown fellow. So we understand that he is somebody. If he’s in the middle of these two great people, then he must be a somebody. Probably he’s moshiach! And so, if we see a word positioned between א-ל and השם, so that word signifies something very important. If you want to be close to א-ל, if you want to be close to השם, then be sure to acquire dei’ah, a real feeling of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.


So the gemara asks a kasha. If that was a criteria of greatness then nekama must also be great, because there’s another possuk that says: א-ל נקמות השם. On this side you have א-ל, and on the other side is השם, and in the middle you have the word נקמה, revenge. Is that possible?! Isn’t revenge a contemptible attribute? How could we say גדולה נקמה, that revenge is great?

So the gemara says אין, Yes! במילתיה, in its place, in the right place, revenge is very great. How great is it? Revenge is as great as dei’ah! Because revenge is a very important form of seeing the Presence of Hashem. It’s right between the two names of Hashem because revenge is how you get close to Hashem!

And so we see that it’s not only that Moshe was commanded here to take revenger . It’s actually a yesod for our emunah in Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And so, it’s something we’re going to have to study.


So we’ll begin like this. The principle of vengeance is essential for man’s understanding of Hashem. If the wicked remain unpunished, if the criminal act is not avenged, so men see injustice in the world and are therefore prone to think that the world is a chaotic and accidental place. Subconsciously, the sight of the wicked criminal walking free, cements in your mind that this world is a world of injustice.

If an African American hoodlum can stab Yankel Rosenbaum to death for no reason at all, and then be found not guilty because of the color of his skin – and that’s exactly what happened – then men will see this world as one of chaos, accident, and lawlessness. No matter how much you say you believe in Hashem, it’s a bitter pill for the neshama to swallow when it sees wickedness prevail.


And every time we read of a crime that is committed and a liberal judge who doesn’t inflict proper penalties, it’s like a dagger in our hearts. We become ruined in our souls; our souls become depressed more and more. Like that dumb judge, that dumb Irish judge, I told you about once. A boy, a yeshiva man, took out a bunch of boys for a חמשה עשר בשבט outing. They were young yeshiva students walking on the sidewalk and a group of Irish Catholic boys were ridiculing them. So this yeshiva man made a very great error and he answered them back. So you know what they did? They attacked him. And one of them took out a hammer from his car and smashed the head of this Jewish boy. He killed him. So what did the Catholic Irish judge say?  “The courtroom is no place for revenge,” and he gave him five years probation. That means for five years he has to come to the police station once a month, stick his head in the door, and say, “Hi Officer Jerry.” And the officer checks off that he came in. That’s the punishment for this sheigitz?!

And when we hear that the wicked governor, y’mach sh’mo v’zichro, the previous one, and the present one as well, that they vetoed the death penalty, a cold clammy depression settles upon Mankind. Humanity demands justice! It’s not merely a question of deterrent; certainly it’s a deterrent! Don’t believe the false statistics of the New York Times and the other liberals. They’re all liars! There’s no question that when criminals know that the electric chair is waiting for them, they’re going to think, not twice, they’ll think fifty times, before they do the crime. No question about it.


But more important than the deterrent is that we’re depressed, we’re depressed by the injustice. How can we have emunah in Hashem who runs the world, when the wicked are running roughshod over everything we believe in? It sees like there’s no shofeit, no one who is imposing righteousness in the world. And we stand by and feel helpless. We can’t do anything about it.

Here you have Hitler, y’mach sh’mo. A rasha m’rusha if there ever was one. In history of the world there was no bigger rotzei’ach than him. And then at the end, when his plans began to fall apart, how did he leave this world? He left on his own terms. He took a perfumed poison and left this world b’shalom. Is that justice?! Is that yashrus?  And so our neshamos are confused and depressed. לית דין ולית דיין. There’s no judge and there’s no justice being meted out.


And that’s why Dovid Hamelech says: הנשא שופט הארץ – “Be exalted O’ Judge of the world” (Tehillim 94:2).  How is Hashem exalted? So we think we know how to exalt Him. I know what I would say. I would say that we exalt Hashem by viewing all of His mighty deeds, all of the miracles in nature, in our lives, and in our history. You’d have to be a moron to not see the greatness of Hakodosh Boruch Hu in nature. And the evolutionists and the academicians, those who reject the idea of a Borei, are morons! Look around and you see Hashem; and the more you look, the more Hashem is exalted.

That’s what we would say, הנשא שופט הארץ, how do we exalt the shofet ha’aretz, שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה, lift your eyes up high, look around, and contemplate, Who made all of this?!’ But no, says Dovid. That’s not the way to uplift the glory of Hashem. Now, listen well to his words: הנשא שופט הארץ – When is Hashem exalted over the world? When does one acquire the most tangible feeling of the Presence of Hashem?  השב גמול על גאים – “When He brings recompense on the arrogant sinners.” When you witness with your own two eyes that the wicked are getting what they deserve, you are acquiring da’as Hashem. When the Hand of Hashem come down on the wicked, that makes the emunah enter into your bones. He’s reacting – yes, He’s reacting – to the ma’asim of man.


Because no matter how much you see of Hashem, if you don’t see Him as the shofet ha’aretz, then you don’t see Him as clearly as you should. You need to see the strong hand of Hashem, the punishment upon the wicked, in order be a real ma’amin. And you won’t see that in the trees, the apples, the squirrels, and in all the rest of the niflaos haborei. It’s only when a person sees the hasheiv g’mul al gei’im, the recompense upon the wicked that’s when he knows that Hashem is here.

We say every day in davening – more than once – that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is a א-ל חי וקיים, He’s a living G-d. Now what does that mean, “He’s a living G-d?” That He’s breathing like you and me?! No; alive means He’s a personal G-d; He’s watching, He’s reacting. And He’s rewarding and punishing Mankind. All of this sheker, all of this falsehood, of the hatzlachas ha’reshaim that appears so prevalent in the world, is really just that – sheker v’chazav. Because everything is under the direct control of the Keil Chai V’kayam. There are no accidents!


Anyone who knows a little bit about Tehillim, realizes that the dominant theme is praising the greatness of Hashem; the kindness, the power of Hashem, and so on. He is praising Hashem throughout the entire Tehillim. Take a look there, it’s all praises. But you’ll notice a remarkable phenomenon. As you turn page after page, you see that one word is missing. It’s a word that everybody knows and we think it belongs in many places, in most of the kepitilech. The word הללויה is missing. Nowhere to be found. It doesn’t appear until the end of kepitel 104. That’s the first time you will find the word הללויה.

And to sharpen this question even more, I’m going to show you how glaring this omission is. At the end of kepitel kuf-daled, 104, it says ברכי נפשי את השם הללויה – “My soul should bless Hashem, Halleluyah!” And at the end of the kepitel right before that we read ברכי נפשי את השם – “My soul should bless Hashem,” but the word הללויה is missing. It’s the same identical possuk, but without the word הללויה. And at the end of 104, ברכי נפשי את השם, it’s the same phrase again, but this time with the word הללויה at the end – and it’s the first time in Tehillim.

And the gemara noticed that. Listen to what the gemara says (Brachos 9b): ולא אמר דוד הללויה – “Dovid didn’t say halleluyah, עד שראה במפלתן של רשעים – until he foresaw the downfall of the wicked.” When Dovid viewed the downfall of the wicked; when he saw Hashem taking revenge, that’s when he said הללויה. He said יתמו חטאים מן הארץ – “The sinners will come to an end from the world, ורשעים עוד אינם – there will be no more evil men in the world, ברכי נפשי את השם – “My soul should praise Hashem.” And now , for the first time, he cried out with great excitement, הללויה!


You have to understand now, what the word hallel means. It says אמרתי להוללים אל תהולו – “I said to the wild ones, don’t be wild, don’t be too excited” (Tehillim 75:5). The word hallel doesn’t mean “praise”; it means to go wild with excitement! That’s what hallel means, wild. And hallelu-yah means to go wild with excitement about Hashem; to be excited about the true greatness of Hashem.

When you see a rasha getting what’s coming to him, that’s when you feel a rush of excitement. You see with your own eyes that there really is a א-ל חי וקיים. You see Hashem, you feel His Presence. He’s not just a distant G-d; He’s right here in front of you punishing the wicked. That’s when man can go wild with happiness. And that’s why when Dovid saw the downfall of the wicked he went wild and sang הללויה.

And that’s why Dovid gives us the following advice. He tells us רק בעיניך תביט – If you would only be sure to look with your eyes, ושלומת רשעים תראה – then you’ll see the retribution that comes upon the wicked. But you have to look for it, to look בעיניך, with your own eyes. If you’re looking for the shofeit ha’aretz, if you want to see the keil chai v’kayam, you’ll see the שלומת רשעים, the payback on the wicked, all around you.


I’ll give you one example. I like to tell the story of a man named Mike Todd. That wasn’t his real name. Goldbogen was his name. Avrom Hersh Goldbogen. He was a Jew from Chicago, or someplace like that. And he changed his name. Avrom Hersh became Mike Todd. Now he was a rich man, a big shot in the movie industry. He even married a famous actress, Elizabeth Taylor, a shiktzah. So Mike Todd  was married to one of the most beautiful women, and he was filled with money and glory and success – and he was young yet. He was on top of the world! And then suddenly we read in the newspapers that Mike Todd was flying his private plane – he had a private plane, so you understand how rich he was – so we read that Mike Todd  fell out of his plane. That’s all it said. He fell out of his plane!

Let me tell you something. He didn’t fall out of his plane – Hashem threw him out of his plane. If we had real Torah newspapers it would be big headlines. Front page headlines: “Hakodosh Boruch Hu Throws Mike Todd Out Of His Airplane.” You know, I never experienced it, but I don’t think it’s so geshmak falling out of an airplane! And when he smashed into the ground, it wasn’t a pleasant ending.  And  we’d read all the details again and again. Not one time; again and again we should be reading the story. רק בעיניך תביט. And you should never forget that story.


Of course, the newspapers won’t tell you that. They’ll tell you about engine trouble, maybe. Could be they won’t tell you anything at all. But whatever it is, they’re not looking at Mike Todd’s fall to the ground through the eyes of Dovid: רק בעיניך תביט ושלומת רשעים תראה.

You have to disregard the propaganda of the newspapers, and ignore the foolish ranting of people, and instead, pay attention to what you see and hear – with your own eyes and your own ears. Then you’re going to see the punishment that Hashem brings upon wicked. But you have to look! You won’t be able to take even the tiniest step forward if you’re looking through the eyes of the the New York Times or the New York Post. Even the frum newspapers aren’t going to help you when it comes to seeing the ways of Hashem in this world. You’re going to have to do the work with your own eyes, בעיניך תביט.

I do it myself. You know, I make it my business, year after year, to “keep the yartzeit” of Mike Todd. I tell everybody about the news. Maybe you don’t want to hear about Hashem showing His ways in the world, but I’m not going to forget. I’m going to look at the שלומת רשעים and grow in da’as Hashem.


Again and again we see things happening, only that most people are blind to what Hashem is doing. I’ll give you an example. Headlines!. I don’t buy the paper but just last week I saw it protruding from a garbage can on the corner. Headlines! “Hip Hop King Shot Dead!” It was a gang war, or maybe a competitor, something like that. The rest of the details were hidden in the garbage can, I couldn’t see.

Now, a “Hip Hop King” we understand, that’s what’s fitting for him, that he should be shot down! What else is Hakodosh Boruch Hu going to do with him? Of course, after he was shot down, so if you would stand in East Flatbush where the rappers live, so you’d see a big funeral hearse; it’s open in the back and it’s loaded with flowers. And many people are there, all of his relatives, including the fellow who shot him – it’s a cousin of his. Who else shoots him? It’s a cousin. They shoot each other, those cousins. And they all come to the funeral, and he has for himself a big ornate casket, carved oak wood, and they’re dropping flowers on it. A lot it’s going to help him now. There are no sweet smelling flowers in the place where he is now…


And John Lennon, another tzadik yesod olam. He made a pile of money. He was on top of the world; only good times he lived. A bum if there ever was one. Hundreds of thousands of children, boys and girls, were ruined because of him. He sang songs about LSD and seeing people in the sky with diamonds – that’s what LSD does by the way, it makes you see things in the sky. Only that this rasha made an art, a culture, out of it – and his “talmidim” followed in his ways. They took to dope, and very many of them walked out of windows and are six feet under; long before they reached even middle age. All because of him.

And then finally, the day of nekama came and he was shot down by a bullet. He was walking into his home and somebody came and chopped him down with a bullet. So what happened? In the city council they stood up for a moment of silence in honor of “his blessed memory.” Meshuga’im! It’s שלומת רשעים תראה, Hashem is taking His revenge, and they’re standing up for this rasha. And it affects us! A person has to learn how to look. רק בעיניך תביט.

Now, we have to think about this. Because how many roshei yeshivos have been cut down by bullets outside their home like this? It doesn’t happen. They should all live לאורך ימים טובים! And when was the last time you heard of a rosh yeshiva who fell out of an airplane?


And they don’t get shot in their cars either! Here you have an organizer of a union, a kashrus union, and he ridiculed the rabbonim who wanted to make a real hashgacha, a real kashrus. I remember when he ridiculed us and said, “I’ll never let the rabbonim do anything here. They should go back to the synagogues where they belong.” And he was rich and powerful. This was many years ago, when people didn’t have air conditioned cars – only gangsters had that. And they found him one day, sitting in his expense air conditioned car, in White Lake. And he was riddled with bullets.

So if you use your eyes, you’re going to see again and again what happens to the wicked in this world. I like to tell these stories because people forget them right away. I have clippings at home from the papers and I study them from time to time, so that I won’t forget them. You have to remember these stories, because the propaganda of this world is not going to let your eyes remain on them too long.


Today, if you look in the newspapers, nothing at all is mentioned about the very great retribution being visited upon the world. A tremendous plague, a makkah min hashamayim. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is “rewarding” the homosexuals by bringing upon them an incurable sickness. In New York City alone, eleven thousand deaths have been reported from AIDS. Eleven thousand deaths in New York City alone! And there are many thousands more that weren’t reported; they’re ashamed. At least six hundred thousand suffering from AIDS in this country. In a few years it will be a million, at least. The hospitals will be crowded – even today the hospitals are jammed with beds of AIDS patients. Billions of dollars – that’s our money, our hard earned money –  going just for that.

Here’s a man, a rabbi he calls himself, and he writes an article in the Jewish Week. That’s a newspaper for the people who are interested in a long stay in Gehenim. So he writes that Miller – he was speaking about me – Miller is an ignoramus for saying that AIDS is a punishment that G-d is bringing down upon the gays.  “But it’s well know to the medical community that AIDS is a certain virus that is spreading through certain forms of contact and that it has nothing to do with Miller’s G-d.” A lamdan this fellow is! Miller doesn’t know about viruses! And this lamdan, alav ha’shnubel, died a few months later – of AIDS!

Of course, nothing is said about this. Nobody wants to say the simple truth that it’s a retribution. They don’t believe in Hashem, so they “know” it has nothing to do with Him. They’re looking for ways and means of finding a cure, but they’re missing the whole point. No question about it, just like Pharoah when the makkos came, so he called the chartumim. “Come, get rid of the makkos,” he told them. “You know how to get rid of makkos. You’re smart men, you can find a cure.” So the government is looking for scientists and hospitals and laboratories, to do research, and to get rid of AIDS. Meanwhile they’re not getting rid of AIDS, but Hakodosh Boruch Hu is getting rid of the mishkav zacharniks. No question about it, they’re dying like flies. And it’s up to us to look. רק בעיניך תביט, we have to look with our eyes, ושלומת רשעים תראה , and we have to see the punishment of the wicked on all sides. It’s very important to see. It’s for our benefit and that’s His plan. He wants us to see it!


I could tell you stories, true stories, all night long. But the point is that you have to look. רק בעיניך תביט, You should look with your eyes and ignore the propaganda of the world, ושלומת רשעים תראה, and you should look and see what happens to the reshaim. We have to understand the principle that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is Chai. He is alive; He’s watching over everything and He’s reacting.

Sooner or later, the wicked get what’s coming their way. And that’s what Dovid Hamelech points out to us. Listen to his words (Tehillim 73:12). He’s talking about when he sees reshaim who seem to be successful. הנה אלה רשעים שלוי עולם השגו חיל – “Look at these reshaim,” Dovid says.” They seem to be forever in tranquility and they’ve acquired strength and wealth.” So I might think,” says Dovid, אך ריק זיכיתי לבבי – “Maybe I have purified my heart for nothing.” What’s it all worth? If I see that the reshaim are succeeding, then I feel like all my avodah was a waste. The success of the reshaim is a dagger in the heart of the ma’amin.

So Dovid continues: עד אבוא אל מקדשי א-ל – “Until I come to the sanctuaries of Hashem.” When I came to the mikdash of Hashem where the kohanim are teaching the truth of the Torah, and they told me, אבינה לאחריתם – “Take your time. Don’t rush to conclusions. Let us think into the end of these reshaim.” Right now they seem successful, but אבינה לאחריתם, let us ponder about what will be.


Here’s Abbie Hoffman, a waste of a Jewish soul. He was raising the sky with his tumult. Demonstrating against all the imaginary ills of society; he was getting a lot of publicity. Millions of dollars of publicity for his causes. He was demonstrating everywhere. All over the TV; he was everywhere! He was on top of the world! Ahh! That’s a successful rasha.

But now, the newspapers reported that at the age of fifty two he commited suicide. Ahh! אבינה לאחריתם. We had to bide our time.  Abbie Hoffman, a poor fellow, alone and depressed, killed himself in Chicago. It was probably the first mitzvah he did in his life! ובערת הרע בקרבך. That was the end of his שלוי עולם השגו חיל.

You could take a look at the New York Times obituary page. It’s the only page in that paper that is worth anything! Here’s a man, a big activist for the gays. And now I read in the obituaries that he died – at the young age of forty-two. Another one, his partner, at age forty-one; he was gone. So if you open your eyes, you’ll see on all sides that you have to be patient. While they’re marching, waving banners, winning in the courts, proud of who they are, we just bide the time. So what if they’re sitting on top of the world now?! אבינה לאחריתם – We’ll see what’s going to be the end of them.


That’s a very important question you have to think about always – what’s going to be the end of them? I want to read to you a little example that will elucidate the subject. In 1923 a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Attending this meeting were ten of the world’s most successful financiers. The president of the largest independent steel company, that’s one. The president of the National City Bank, that’s two. The president of the largest utility company in the United States, three. The president of the largest gas company, that’s four. The most successful wheat speculator, five. The president of the New York Stock Exchange, six. A member of the President’s cabinet. The greatest bear on Wall Street. The head of the world’s greatest monopoly. That’s seven, eight, nine. And the tenth, the president of The Bank of International Settlements. Now, these were ten successful people. At that time they were sitting on top of the world mamish. The wealthiest, most successful financiers.

But here we listen to the advice of Dovid Hamelech: אבינה לאחריתם. Let’s understand the end. Twenty five years later, let’s see where these men were. The president of the largest independent steel company, Charles M. Schwab, died bankrupt, and he lived on borrowed money for the last five years before his death. The president of the greatest utility company Samuel Insul, died a fugitive from justice and penniless in a foreign land. The president of the largest gas company, Howard Hopson, is now insane. The greatest wheat speculator, Arthur Cutton, died abroad, insolvent. That means he ran away because he couldn’t pay his debts and he died without any property at all. The president of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Whitney, was recently released from Sing-Sing Penitentiary. The member of the President’s cabinet, Albert Hall, was pardoned from prison so that he could die at home. The greatest bear on Wall Street, Jesse Livermore, died of suicide, after his Thanksgiving dinner. The head of the world’s greatest monopoly, Ivan Krueger, died of suicide. He shot himself in the head. The president of the Bank of International Settlements, Leon Fraser, died of suicide as well. That’s ten. Azah chaburah, it was!

Now at the time, when they were sitting on top of the world, everybody would have liked to be at that meeting with them. Ahh, that would be the best company in the world. But someone who comes to the מקדשי א-ל, he comes to a real talmid chochom who teaches him true Torah attitudes, he knows that what matters is the end, אבינה לאחריתם.


Now, in this world of darkness, the שילומת רשעים and their אחריתם is not something that you will always see so readily. The truth is that if you look, if you want to see the truth then you will see a lot. But even so, the true settling of accounts waits for the Next World.  The reshaim would be lucky if this world was the end for them. And so, our discussion of Hashem’s justice wouldn’t be complete without understanding the acharisom of the reshaim in the Next World.

Last year, the  Supreme Court in Israel, set free Ivan Demjanjuk, y’mach sh’mo. It was an avlah, a terrible injustice, a wickedness. That’s what the Supreme Court does, you know, it promotes wickedness in Eretz Yisroel. Here you have a Ukrainian rasha who was involved in the sadistic slaughter of thousands of the Am Yisroel. Not thousands – tens of thousands! And so, when we hear that such a person is a free man, walking the streets as if nothing ever happened, it’s a terrible blow to our neshamos. It depresses the soul; it makes a crack, a very big crack, in the yesod that is the foundation of our lives, the attitude that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is in full control.

And someone asked me about it. He asked why Hashem would do such a thing? Now, that’s a big order; he’s asking me to tell him what Hashem was thinking! But just like an ant that is looking up at a skyscraper and trying to guess what’s on top, so I’ll give my silly opinion.

You know, it’s the same question with Hitler. Even Hitler got away with it. What did he do at the end? He saw that he was going to lose the war, so he took a perfumed flavored poison and he painlessly left the world. Now, that’s not the way Hitler should be leaving this world. I have other ideas how to send him off. And if I do, then Hakodosh Boruch Hu has much better ideas than me. So what does it mean when Hitler and Demjanjuk, and other reshaim too, don’t get their just desserts?


It means, what it’s showing us, that it’s the beginning of a very big career in the Next World for them. The ”fun” for Hitler and Demjanjuk begins over there. And so, Hakodosh Boruch Hu lets the reshaim get away with it, in order that we should know there’s a Next World!

Look, do you think that there could have been any true nekama for these reshaim in this world, anyhow? Whatever the Supreme Court would have done to Demjanjuk, or whatever we would have done to Hitler; if they had hung him, if they had put him in the electric chair, even if they would have cut him up into little pieces, what would it mean anyway?! Is that a nekama for a man who spilled so much Jewish blood?! It’s nothing at all! And so Hashem says to us: “I’m going to let this rasha go free” – it was Hashem after all – “I’m going to set him free in order that you should train yourself to think about the real nekama, the nekama gedolah of Gehenim.” אבינה לאחריתם – You have to understand the end, the real end, of the reshaim. He’s not a free man at all.

And therefore, when we see a rasha like Hitler go out of this world painlessly, or a murderer like Demjanjuk be acquitted and go back to his normal life in Cleveland, we are reminded that there is waiting for them another world. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is reminding us that He’s waiting for these fellows in the Next World. They’ll get there, and they’ll get what’s coming to them!


It’s of utmost importance to know that there’s a Gehenim. And not in the superficial way that most people do. To actually feel in your bones that the reshaim are suffering in Gehenim right now. And in Gehenim, that’s where nobody gets away with anything! There’s Israeli Supreme Court in Gehenim to acquit the reshaim.

You have to imagine in your mind what Hitler is undergoing right now in Gehenim. He killed millions, millions of the Am Hashem. And so he’s in Gehenim right now and he’s putting on a performance every day. Every day they revive him. They make him alive again with his flesh. And his nerves. And every day they scrape the skin off him and they hang him up and they cut off pieces and pieces of him. And he screams and screams. He screams all the time!

And he’s not the only one. It’s very crowded there. Very crowded! And very hot. All the reshaim are in Gehenim right now! Pay attention. You hear that noise?! They’re getting it in Gehenim. There is a terrible outcry in Gehenim right now.


And the tzadikim are watching the show. One of the secret pleasures of Gan Eden is watching the suffering of these reshaim. The tzadikim are given “front row seats” in Gan Eden and they’re enjoying the sights. Now when we say the wicked in Gehenim, we’re not talking about Jews who made some errors, they made mistakes, they sinned a little bit, and they’re in Gehenim temporarily. We’re not happy about our fellow Jews’ suffering. We’re waiting for them to get out, we pray for them. They’re going to get out eventually and they’re going to sit together with all the tzadikim. We’re talking about the permanent residents of Gehenim, the real citizens of Gehenim who will be there forever and ever. And the fact that they are being terribly punished for what they did, and the sight of justice being served, that’s a great happiness in the World to Come. And the tzadikim are finally able to see the revenge, and they look on with happiness!

“The righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; He bathes his feet in the blood of the wicked” (Tehillim 58:11). Now, I know that for you Americans this sounds harsh. But this is Dovid Hamelech speaking! And he goes on and tells us why this sight brings rejoicing: ויאמר אדם אך פרי לצדיק – “And then men will say: ‘Truly, there is reward for the righteous’; אך יש אלוקים שופטים בארץ – “Truly, there is a G-d that judges the world” (Tehillim 58: 11-12). Because now, they see that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is righteous! Everything makes sense and all accounts are being settled.


And you must think about this nekama as much as possible because that knowledge, when engraved into your soul, will give you more da’as Hashem; more awareness of His perfect justice. And the more awareness you achieve in this avodah of emunah that there is a Just G-d and that no one gets away with anything, the more prepared you are for your reward in Olam Habah . And therefore, it’s a very important avodah to make yourself aware of Hashem’s justice, in this world and the next.

And it won’t come by itself. You have to think about it. Take a minute during the day to think about the great truth that right now, all accounts are being settled in the Next World. The reshaim are actually in Gehenim today. And they’re screaming. They’re screaming in pain.

And then, you too will have “front seats” and you’ll see Hitler being given all that he did to his victims, again and again. And it’s going to be an enjoyment without end! Not merely a sadistic joy, the immature and materialistic nekama of the fools. But it will be a great nechama, that nekama, because it will be the ultimate vision of seeing Hashem in full control, the true שופט הארץ.


We don’t commiserate with the wicked who are being punished. Not like some say, that at the Seder we sing to Hashem for his righteousness, but at the same time we commiserate with the Egyptians who were drowning, gargling, in the Yam Suf.  That’s not true. It may be all right to say that if, let’s say, you’re giving a speech about Pesach to the Sisterhood of Ahavas Chesed on Long Island just before the Bingo session. But when you’re saying da’as Torah you can’t hide the truth. Here we speak da’as Torah and the truth is that our job in life is to learn more about Hashem, and to realize His ways in this world. And His ways are ways of righteousness and justice, a process of calculated reward and punishment.

Hakodosh Boruch Hu is bringing revenge upon the wicked and there is no reason to commiserate with them. Seeing Hashem’s mishpat, to know in one’s bones that the wicked are getting their recompense is most vital for a person’s perfection of character. And therefore Moshe Rabeinu couldn’t leave this world without seeing the punishment upon the Midianim with his own eyes. And so too, whatever you achieve in the important avodah of רק בעיניך תביט ושלומת רשעים תראה is only a מעין עולם הבא, is your preparation for Olam Habah.  Enjoy that spectacle of Mike Todd falling out of his plane, of the resha’im dying of AIDS, of Abbie Hoffman killing himself, because you’re seeing the mishpat of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Now I’m not talking just about the fun of it. I don’t begrudge them their fun – Jews are allowed to have enjoyment in this world from their enemies downfall, why not? But that’s nothing compared to achievement of da’as, the perfection of knowledge and attitudes that a person acquires when he sees the strong Hand of Hashem taking retribution. And the more he studies it, the more dei’ah he achieves. And that’s why we came to this world, to learn from the phenomena that we see and that we hear about, to add on more and more da’as Hashem. And one of the important lessons that we are suppose to learn while still in this world, is that the falsehood and the wickedness of the reshaim is always being avenged, and that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is in full control. And it is that dei’ah that will equip us to enjoy the splendor of the Sh’chinah in the World to Come forever and ever.  

Parshas Pinchas – A Career of Seeing Hashem


פרשת פינחס


In this week’s parsha, at the end of Moshe Rabeinu’s life, we find him standing with the Am Yisroel outside the borders of Eretz Canaan. And although he was so close to the land which he had led his people for forty years, Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him that he was not going to join the Am Yisroel in the Promised Land. But he begged Hashem, he begged Him, אעברה נא ואראה – “Please, I want to see it. At least let me pass over and see the land before I die.”

And Hakodosh Boruch Hu did not even allow that. However, because of Moshe’s burning desire to see the land, Hakodosh Boruch Hu told him: עלה אל הר העברים הזה וראה את הארץ אשר נתתי לבני ישראל – “Go up this Mount of Avarim and see the land that I have given to the Bnei Yisroel” (Pinchas 27:12). And so, before Hashem took Moshe Rabeinu out of this world, He brought him up to a mountain peak facing the Land of Israel allowing him a clear view of the beautiful land.

Now, it could be that we’re not surprised when we read that Moshe Rabeinu wanted to see the land of Eretz Yisroel. For us it seems natural; certainly he wanted to see. For so many years he had heard about this land; Hashem had constantly told him about its beauty and about how it lacked nothing:  כי השם אלוקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה – “Hashem is bringing you to a good land,   ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר – A land with streams of water, and of springs and underground water coming forth in the valleys and the mountains… לא תחסר כל בה – You will lack nothing there” (Devarim 8: 7-9). And so, of course he desired to at least see this beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, a land of rushing springs and falls. Who doesn’t have a desire to see the Niagara Falls when he hears of their beauty?

We think it’s natural. Like all human beings; they want to see. Here’s a yeshiva bochur walking down the avenue. Now, he could be reviewing the sugya that he’s learning, but instead his eyes are wandering, darting here and there. Because he wants to see; it’s curiosity, a weakness of mankind. We want to see. And so, Moshe Rabeinu was curious as well. He wanted to see Eretz Yisroel.


But really we must ask ourselves: For a great man like Moshe Rabeinu, the ish ha’elokim, what difference does it really make?  Is that what Moshe Rabeinu was begging Hashem for, for a little excitement to placate his curiosity, a little tingling of the emotions, before leaving this world? So why did he want to see? And not only did he want it, he prayed for it! אעברה נא – Please let me pass through the borders to see the land. I want to see! Was that all it was, curiosity?!

Yes, that’s exactly what it was. Moshe Rabeinu’s desire to see the land was coming from his curiosity. But not like a man today who is curious, he wants to know what’s doing in Rwanda or even in Eretz Yisroel. He has to know who said what to whom. He looks at the newspaper, and turns on the radio.  He wants to know what’s doing – what did the President say to who, and why. He’s interested in the edifying details of who murdered a good for nothing shiktza in the Bronx. His eyes are wandering, his thoughts are wandering, he’s curious about every worthless thing.


However, this instinct to look, is not a flaw in a man’s character. It was Hakodosh Boruch Hu who planted it in a person. We know that there is such a thing as curiosity in human nature. Everyone has a tendency to look at interesting things. People travel all over the world because of this tendency – they think that someplace else, over there, it’s better, more interesting than here. And that’s what causes all the travel agencies to make money. And that’s why people have always made explorations. They could have remained home. Columbus didn’t have to travel; He could have been quite comfortable had he remained in Italy or in Spain.

But what could we do already?! Hashem did make people curious. And He did it for a very important purpose. Only that most people are completely unaware of the purpose. And that’s why their curiosity is usually directed at worthless things.


But Moshe Rabeinu was the kind of man who knew how to use his curiosity – he pointed his curiosity in the right direction. He didn’t want to look at Eretz Yisroel just to say “Oooh” and “Aaah”, and that’s all. Moshe Rabeinu knew how to use his curiosity because he knew why he was in this world. He understood that he was here for the purpose of seeing Hashem. And he wanted to see as much of Him as is humanly possible. Because the more you can see Hashem in this world, the more you’re fulfilling your purpose of life. That’s the summit of achievement. You’re in this world to gain an actual feeling that you’re standing in the Presence of Hashem. And the more you gain that feeling, the more successful you are with your life on this world. And all of his life, that’s how Moshe lived. He made his way through life yearning to see Hashem wherever and whenever he could. And that’s exactly why Hashem implanted in humans the instinct of curiosity – in order to fulfill our life purpose of searching for Hashem in this world.

And that’s why Moshe Rabeinu was curious, desirous, to see Eretz Yisroel. He wanted to see with his own eyes the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise. Of course, he knew that when Hashem promised, He would make good on His word. There was no doubt in Moshe’s mind that it was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that was לא תחסר כל בה (Devarim 8:9). And yet, he wanted to see the goodness of the land. ואראה את הארץ הטובה – “I want to see it with my own eyes.” (Devarim 3:25) And that’s because when he would see it with his own two eyes, the Awareness of Hashem’s kindness would  go into his bones. And that’s a big difference.

So Hashem said, “Oh, so you want to become more aware of Me? That’s what you came into this world for! OK; So עלה ראש הפסגה, climb up on this mountain and I’ll show you Eretz Canaan from a distance.”


Now, when Moshe asked to see the land in order to intensify his awareness of Hashem, it wasn’t the first time he used his curiosity for such a sublime purpose. Moshe’s career of becoming more and more aware of Hashem didn’t begin at the end of his life. When he asked Hashem, אעברה נא ואראה, “let me see the land” and become even more aware of You, it was actually the culmination of a lifetime career of looking for and seeing Hashem wherever he could.

Moshe Rabbeinu had already made sure to encounter Hashem from the testimony of the world. Nature speaks! השמים מספרים כבוד א-ל – “The heavens declare the glory of Hashem, ומעשה ידיו מגיד הרקיע – and the firmament relates the work of His hand.” Moshe Rabbeinu saw Hashem in the sky, on the earth, and in every part of nature. To us here hashamayim misaprim k’vod Keil and ma’aseh yadav magid harakiya are just words. They’re beautiful words, but they’re merely poetic prose. But for Moshe Rabbeinu they were instructions for how to live, for how to live successfully. And so, when he looked up into the sky and saw the clouds he didn’t waste the opportunity. He let his curiosity run wild. Not one time, but time and time again he would look at the clouds, he would watch as they would float across the sky, and he would ask himself the question: “How is it that these clouds drop sweet water on us?” You think it’s a small thing? Where did the clouds get that water from? It comes from the ocean; the sun evaporates the water from the ocean and the water vapor rises in the air and it becomes clouds.

But there are no corn fields or wheat fields in the ocean that need the rain, so Hashem brings the winds – I say Hashem brings the winds; just about the winds we could sit here all night and talk, but we have to get some sleep tonight – Hashem brings the winds and blows the clouds over the continents, and then it condenses because of the cool air, and it falls down as rain. That’s what Moshe Rabbeinu saw when he looked up into the sky. He didn’t see clouds; He saw Hashem blowing His clouds over our heads. המכסה שמים בעבים המכין לארץ מטר – Hashem, it is You who covers the sky with clouds; it is You who makes all these preparations for watering the earth.” (Tehillim 147:8)

And that’s not all. Moshe asked himself: The oceans are brine, impossible to drink. Sailors die of thirst on the open seas. But that’s the same water we drink all the time; it turns into rain and we drink it. That non potable water turns into the fresh water that makes all of our food grow. How could it be? How could water that is unfit to take into your mouth become sweet rain? Moshe was curious – he looked around him at Hashem’s creations and asked these questions.


The process of making rain is a very complicated procedure and it needs the help of a great source of energy which is 93 million miles away – the sun. And it continues always, twenty four hours a day, to evaporate the surfaces of the oceans. And this same marvelous system that evaporates the water, also serves as a purification plant. It leaves over all the salts, all the chemicals and dirt, in the sea. Only pure water comes up in the form of vapor.

And then a miracle happens! It’s lighter than air. Lighter than air?! Yes, it rises up higher than the air. That’s how you have clouds. If water vapor was any heavier, the world wouldn’t be able to exist. And why shouldn’t it be heavy? When water turns into ice it’s certainly heavy. So why is it that when the oceans turn into vapor it’s lighter than air? Because Hashem wants you to see Him in the clouds!

And the vapor goes all the way up. And when it gets to the top, the winds come. Moshe  saw that the winds are not an accident. Winds are large conveyor belts. They’re blowing in, inland from the sea, and they’re blowing the clouds in over the continents. The winds are large belt conveyors moving billions of tons of water. Moshe studied that.

And what help is it to have clouds overhead? It doesn’t do us any good; we need the water down here. So there’s a wonderful miracle called the force of gravity – you think you understand it just because you can say the word?! The earth pulls down the rain. Why shouldn’t the rain remain where it is? In outer space there’s no force of gravity. When the astronauts walk out of their spaceship they don’t fall down with the rain. So why down here is there gravity? You think you know all about it? You don’t know the least bit about it. It’s a mystery of mysteries. And because Moshe was curious about Hashem’s creations, he did whatever he could to see Hashem’s plan and purpose in nature.

Now, I’m not telling you this about Moshe Rabbeinu just so that you should recognize who he was. That’s also important, but I’m telling you this so that you should have a model of how you should be living life.


You remember when Moshe Rabbeinu was pasturing his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness: וירא – “And he took a look, והנה הסנה בוער באש – And behold the bush was burning with fire” (Shemos 3:3). It happens sometimes that in the hot wilderness that fires flare up spontaneously. But Moshe was curious to see Hashem, to see Hashem in nature. He was curious, a mivakeish, and was always looking to see Hashem.

And so, when Moshe saw something that aroused his curiosity, his interest, he didn’t let it go. “Maybe I can see over there something, another wonder of Hashem’s creations that I haven’t seen until now. Here’s a bush burning, and it’s not being consumed.” And it states וירא השם כי סר לראות – And when Hashem saw that he turned aside to see – that Moshe Rabeinu was a man who always turned aside to see Hashem – so Hashem said “That’s My man! He’s interested in using his eyes to see Me! So I’m going to let him see even more of Me now.”


And Moshe Rabeinu never stopped yearning to see more of Hashem. Many years later, it was after the cheit ha’eigel. Moshe had just succeeded in gaining forgiveness for the Am Yisroel. Hakodosh Boruch Hu had now demonstrated that Moshe had found favor in His eyes. So Moshe knew that it was an eis ratzon right now. He would be able to ask Hashem for almost anything.

So how did Moshe utilize this opportunity? He said to Hashem: הראיני נא את כבודך – “Show me Your glory” (Shemos 33:18). “Hakodosh Boruch Hu, please, I want to see Your glory.” What was Moshe saying here? “Show me”?! What should Hashem show him? He was with Hakodosh Boruch Hu all the time! What did he mean, “Show me Your glory, k’vodecha”?


Now pay attention to this word k’vodecha because it’s a very important word. If you look in the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim you’ll see that he explains what it means כבוד השם. You should learn this meaning now because if you understand what the word kavod means, you will have the key to unlock many pesukim in Tanach.

The Rambam says (Moreh Nevuchim 1:64) that כבוד השם, the honor of Hashem, is when people think about Him! That’s why any manifestation of Hashem’s Presence is called כבודו; because it is His glory when men are more aware of Him. Whatever reminds you about Hashem, whatever makes you think about Hashem, that’s what is giving honor to Hashem. Hashamayim misaprim k’vod Keil – the sky, and everything else in this world speak out the kavod of Hashem, by reminding you about Him.

You want to honor Hashem? You’re walking in the street, think about Him. That’s an honor for Hashem! It’ll make you important too. If you’re thinking about Hashem while you’re walking on the street, then you’re a personality already; you’re the most distinguished person on the street. You could very well be the most important person in the neighborhood. Do it right now. Think about Hashem – give Him some kavod.


And that’s why, of all things to ask for, of all things to request from Hashem at this eis ratzon, Moshe asked to see more of Hashem. He begged Hashem for more emunah in the form of more awareness. “Show me Yourself so that I can achieve even more awareness of You and succeed at my mission in life.” Because when you have that chance to ask Hashem, you ask for what’s most important.

And that’s why the world is filled with the creations of Hashem. מלא כל הארץ כבודו – “The earth is filled with His honor.” Everything that you see around you, the thousands and hundred of thousands of things you see, were all placed in front of you so that Hashem’s honor would be magnified by your seeing Him.


And you must realize that these objects around you, have been put there for that purpose. Hakodosh Boruch Hu created these phenomena for us to study them and gain da’as from them. Like it says: אלוקים עשה שיראו מלפניו – “Hashem made everything so that we should be aware of Him” (Koheles 3:14). Hashem didn’t make apples for you to eat. He made apples for us to eat so that we should become aware of the One who made those remarkable fruit. He didn’t make clouds for bringing us water. He made clouds to bring us water so that we should think about Who is moving those clouds over land. He didn’t make ears for us to hear. The ears were hung on the side of man’s head so that you would think about Hakodosh Boruch Hu every time you’re conversing with someone.

And that’s the meaning of what you say every Friday night at kiddush. ויכל אלוקים את כל מלאכתו אשר עשה – And Hashem finished all His work that He made. Now that’s queer. “All of His work”- what are the extra words “That He made”? If it’s His work, why say “that He made.” It’s superfluous. No, the words asher asah, that He made, are added as the most important words. It’s telling us why He made them. He finished all of His work that was made for the purpose of us seeing what was made and realizing Who made it! אשר עשה – “That He made it!” אלוקים עשה – “Why did Hashem make it?”, שיראו מלפניו – for the purpose that we should learn from His handiwork, from the phenomena of this world that He created, we should learn Who the Creator is.


But it’s not so easy; Hashem is not out in the open showing Himself to you. It will take effort to succeed at this most important achievement. And that’s one of the great lessons of the name Shabbos. You know that the name Shabbos is really an anomaly; it’s a problem: Why is it called Shabbos? Everybody knows that Shabbos is a zeicher l’maasei bereishis, it’s a memorial for the creation of the world. So instead of Shabbos it should’ve been called Briyah, Creation. Or maybe Assiyah. If Shabbos is a memorial for Hashem making the world, why is it called Shabbos, which means He stopped making the world? I think it’s a very big question.

So you’ll say, because He finished making the world, He stopped it, so that will remind us that He made it. But that’s a roundabout way! If we would have given the name, we would have chosen a good name. I would have chosen Bereishis – that’s a good name. Or Briyah.


And now we come to the secret of Shabbos. Shabbos was the great occasion when Hashem stopped showing His presence in the world. Had we been around in the first six days of Creation we would have seen things taking place that would have been marvelous! Hashem said “Let the earth bring forth living animals.” So let’s imagine we would be standing there and we’d see two horns coming out of the soil. Then we see the head of the ox coming out. We would’ve been dumbfounded. Our eyes would have popped out of our heads. You know, today when people are wasting their lives watching shows about a big gorilla that is walking through Manhattan picking up cars and crushing buildings, so anything is possible. You believe in this stupidity and that stupidity, so why not believe in another stupidity? But for a clear headed man to see an animal coming out of the ground, it would have been nothing but a miracle of miracles.

If Adam would’ve been around, let’s say he had not been put to sleep when Hashem took Chava off of his body. You know, he didn’t see it. If he had seen Chava being taken off his side, then he would’ve gone meshugah with shock: “How could you take a person out of my side?!” It’s unthinkable! Of course, even today it’s unthinkable. Here’s a little girl. Her mother ate bread and potatoes and meat, and now a little girl, a Chava, is born. You think that’s a small miracle?! It’s a miracle of miracles! You can’t explain that away. When a baby is born that’s a neis that demonstrates Hashem in the world. Reproduction is an accident?! You have to be insane to say that. And the evolutionists are insane!

Only that it is a result of constant procedures; everyone is born today, so you forget about it. You fall asleep at the wheel and you don’t notice it anymore. When you see a miracle being repeated all the time you stop noticing it.


But that first time, if Adam would have seen Chava being created from him, he would’ve been so excited, “I just saw Hashem!” If Adam would have been present when Hashem was making creation, he would have seen Hashem openly. That’s something that you can’t miss. But then his life would have been a waste. Because the purpose of this world is so that we should try with our own efforts to discover Hashem. That’s our greatness! But had it been given to us as a gift, if Hashem would’ve shown Himself to us, if you would see Hashem openly in the world all the time, then you wouldn’t get any reward for seeing Him. Even the browns and the blacks and the whites would see Him. It would be no big deal.

But Hashem is concealed, and everything seems to be cause and effect and laws of nature and physics. And everything seems to be so simple and so self explanatory. And that makes our job in this world that much more difficult. And now, our reward will be that much greater. לפום צערה אגרא – according to the difficulty, so is the reward.

That’s how we achieve in this world. But had we been present in the beginning, when everything was taking place then we’d get no credit for it. And therefore  Shabbos means the great opportunity for us to begin our career of recognizing Hashem in nature. Shavas! He stopped creation. And from now on, you get busy. From now on you get busy recognizing Hashem. “I’m going into hiding now,” Hashem says, “And you have to discover Me.”

And therefore, you have to get busy looking for Hashem. If you’re looking elsewhere, if your curiosity is being directed toward other interests besides Hashem, then it is impossible to fulfill your purpose in this world. If you’re not going to see the Presence of Hakodosh Boruch Hu from the wonders of nature, then למה לך חיים, for what are you living? You’re worse off than a cow. A cow at least is fulfilling its function, it’s giving us milk, and meat and leather. But what are you doing here?


Now, I’m not going to let you go home without any practical advice. You know that here we like to make progress. So let’s listen to what Iyov has to say: ומבשרי אחזה אלו-ה – “From my body I see Hashem” (19:26). Echezeh! I see! He looked at every organ, and he studied how wonderfully complicated and efficient everything in the body is. I’ll give you just a few examples of things we see everyday, hundreds of times, and nevertheless most people don’t see anything. You see, but you’re really blind, because you don’t see Hashem.

You have to practice being curious about Hashem’s creations. Did you notice that everybody you saw today had two ears sticking out from sides of their head? Isn’t it comical? A nice round head, with two earphones sticking out from the side. Is it an accident? Why don’t they come out at the foot? It could have happened that way; ears would come out of your feet. Or maybe on your rump; two ears on your rump. To have them right here, in the best place, right next to your brain. Earphones!

And they’re made with whirls, with curves and hollows, in order to gather in the sound waves and concentrate them. So the sound waves come in and hit the eardrum with more force. You know this little lobe down here sticking out of the bottom of your ear? You know what that’s for? It’s soft in order to absorb the vibrations of the ear. This part over here, the middle of the ear, vibrates because it’s made of a tougher material to absorb the sound. So the part down here is soft to swallow up the vibrations so that the sound should come in clear, not blurred by any of those vibrations. And inside there are bones, one connected to the other. And each bone pushes the next bone, in order to enhance, to make greater, the effect of the sound. So that finally when the sound comes to the brain it’s increased even more than the sound waves themselves are.


Just looking at a pair of ears will tell you that there’s a Borei in the world – if you know how to look. Anybody can become a ma’amin by looking at the ears if he’s a thinking man. When I was by the ear doctor I asked him how many ears he’s examined in his life. He told me more than a hundred thousand. More than a hundred thousand ears he examined! So I asked him, “So do you see Hashem now every time you look at someone’s ear?” He looked at me with a blank face, like the bottom of a frying pan. And I saw there was no use with him. He was like an imbecile; no idea what I was talking about. And that’s because a person has to train himself how to look.

You’re not curious about your fingers?! Take a look at your fingers as they do a task. Watch them turn a doorknob. Or write with a pencil. It’s a remarkable sight! Fingers are miraculous inventions that are an indispensable part of your life. Not one time a day, not ten times a day. Not a hundred times a day. Thousands of times a day, you are maneuvering your fingers in sophisticated and complicated ways. Do you know that your fingers are made up of many small bones that involve complicated hinges and levers? And they were created that way by Hashem to allow us to perform the myriad of tasks that we do – working effectively and swiftly, and rarely tiring.


We had a man here in the shul who was missing a thumb – one thumb he was missing. He had his other nine fingers. And still, the simple things that we do with our fingers, became much more complicated for him. And you would know that, if you used your eyes for their true purpose – to watch your fingers in action. You’d see the thumb acting as the balance against your other fingers when performing most of your daily tasks. And if you look well you’ll see the k’vod Hashem.

When we see these things around us, we understand that nature was created by Hashem. When you see a squirrel scurrying up the side of a tree, you’re looking at the wonders of Hashem’s miracles. You see that it has a furry coat, and that even in cold weather the squirrels survive. They don’t die out during the winter. Next summer they’ll be here again. They have ways and means of surviving – Hashem provides them with fur coats, and big bushy tails that they wrap around themselves. They find holes in trees where they can hibernate. And they have stored up food that they can nibble at during the winter time. And all these elements are part of the great plan that make us aware of the Hand of Hashem in all of nature. And they are a means for us of recognizing the Creator.


Often just by looking at the ground by your feet, you’ll see Hakodosh Boruch Hu. When I walked outside in the morning, I saw a peach pit lying on the sidewalk. Last night some bums were walking here, and they were eating peaches, and they spat out the pits. They spit them out on the sidewalk. Why didn’t they eat the pits? Inside the pit is a pleasant tasting seed. So why didn’t they eat it? They weren’t intentionally trying to be poiresh from the pleasures of this world, that I can guarantee you. So why didn’t they eat the seed?

And the reason is because the pit is so hard that it can’t be broken with their teeth. Try it, you can’t do it; you’ll break your teeth before you break the pit. When you eat a peach, you should be asking yourself this question: Why is the pit so hard? So we understand –  it takes a little bit of thought, but you have to think when you’re trying to see Hashem in nature – we understand that it’s because Hashem made it hard with the purpose of not permitting us to eat the seed. The seed is needed to grow another peach tree.

But when you take this hard pit, that even squirrels cannot break open with their hard teeth, and you put it in the ground, the pit opens up by itself. In the ground, it opens up on its own! It’s a miracle! I’ll tell you the secret. Look at a peach pit the next time you can. There’s a paste there; the two halves of the pit are pasted together with a glue, a strong glue, that make it impossible to break in half. But in the ground the paste melts away, and it opens up. I say “melt away”. Hakodosh Boruch Hu created bacteria in the soil that “just so happen” to need the chemical formula of the glue for themselves, and they eat it. And once the strong glue disappears the peach pit opens up on its own! Now you’re beginning to see the chochmas Hashem. You’re becoming more aware of Him.


That’s what the fruit are made for, to look at:  ונחמד העץ להשכיל – “The tree is desirable as a means to wisdom” (Bereishis 3:6). The fruit of the tree are desirable in order to make you wise. You’re supposed to become wise from a fruit! Look at the fruit and think about it. Just look for a little bit at the wisdom of the fruit, the beauty of the fruit, the chesed of the fruit. You’ll become greater and greater in Awareness of Hashem just from seeing a fruit.

I always come back to our old friend, the apple. Listen to me. Did you ever try putting an apple on the table and looking at it for fifteen minutes? You never did it in your life?! You don’t know what you missed! For fifteen minutes look at an apple on the table; take a nice red apple, put it on the table and look at it. Look at the redness, the beauty of it, the shape of it. It’s gorgeous. Inside is sweet, and crunchy, with just the right amount of tartness from the peel. And hiding inside are the seeds. There’s so much to see in the apple even before you put it in your mouth. Take a look and you’ll see is that it’s wrapped in a wax wrapper, a waterproof case. Because if you take the peel off of the apple, how long will it take for the apple to begin to decay? Immediately it begins turning brown. But this apple was lying on your table perhaps for weeks and it didn’t turn brown. That means that this peel is doing such a perfect job in keeping the apple fresh for you – it’s waterproof and it’s sealed against the air.Do this for fifteen minutes and you’ll be a different person forever.


You know, as a boy, as a young man, I was a ba’al mussar. I came to Slobodka, and they didn’t know me there. I was an American boy who came to Slobodka on my own. One day, I went outside of the town all by myself and I laid down there in the meadow. I’m sure they were spying on me, “What’s this Amerikaner doing out there by himself? ” I was lying there for an hour and a half looking at a daisy. I want to tell you, it was the greatest experience of my life. I was practicing bechina according to the Chovos Halevovos. I can’t forget that day. I was there for an hour and a half thinking about the niflaos haBorei that were all around me in nature. Now, I had studied these things before. I was a bochur, twenty-four years old. But when I got up and walked home, I was walking on clouds. I never had in my whole life such an experience!

Now I’m sorry I didn’t repeat it. That’s the closest I could imagine to the experience of nevuah and I’m truly sorry I didn’t repeat it. But at least the effect is there. And you can do the same thing. Look at the apple on the table for fifteen minutes. It’s a tremendous experience if you put your mind to it. You’ll see the Borei.

And therefore, the next time you meet some college fellow who says, “Prove to me that there’s a Borei, a Creator”, so call him over to the fruit stand on the street corner and show him a banana and tell him, “Look at this wrapper around the banana. Who do you think wrapped it?” “It was an accident“ he’ll tell you. So take off the wrapper and see how long the banana will last without it. So the wrapper is there for the purpose of protecting the banana from rot. Now, if something has a purpose, so Somebody with intelligence had this purpose in mind. It has to be.


And if that’s not enough for him, so pay for the banana, and peel off the cover and show him that the underside of the peel has no color. Why is the banana so beautifully colored yellow outside, while on the underside there’s no color at all? This, even if he would stand on his head, he wouldn’t be able to answer. There is nobody in the world who could refute that proof. And it’s not a matter of believing, you sign on the dotted line, “I hereby believe in a Borei,” and your finished. No! That’s only the first baby step.

If you didn’t see Hashem the last time you saw a banana – it’s a failure, yes, it’s a failure. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not giving up on you. He’ll try again. So when you peel an orange, that’s your next opportunity to become even more aware of Hashem.


Show me a fruit that is beautifully colored on the inside of the peel and drab and plain on the outside, and I can safely offer you a million dollars. You’re not going to find it. And that’s because the One who made that orange knows that when people look at an orange, they look at the outside, they don’t look underneath the peel. And He wants you to notice Him every time you peel an orange.

Now some of you who are regulars here have heard this before. But don’t let that discourage you from thinking about it again. One man heard me talking about the apple for a second and third time, and he told me, “I don’t have to come anymore; I got the schnit.” “I got the schnit,” he says! He didn’t get anything! Because this is something you should be thinking about all your life. Every time you peel an orange, don’t let that golden opportunity go. Take a good look at the underside of the peel and then take a good look at the outside. Each time you see it, each time you look, think about what you’re seeing. You’re fulfilling your purpose in this world, of seeing Hashem in the world around you, and becoming more and more aware of Him.


And so we’re beginning to learn now that the purpose of the apple and the orange and the banana is not like people think, that you should eat it. The purpose of fruit is so you should see it. That’s the main purpose. Of course, after you took a good look and labored a little in the avodah of Awareness of Hashem, so you deserve to have a little refreshment too. So you make a nice bracha and you can eat it as well. But to eat it without looking at it, without understanding its lesson, that’s a waste of an apple. If you don’t utilize the fruit to see the wonders of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, to see the Hand of Hashem, to become even more convinced of a Creator, then not only did you waste the apple, but you’re wasting your life here in this world.


That’s why there is such a variety in the world that Hashem created. When you walk down the street, you’ll see that there are red roses, and yellow roses, and there are pink ones and there are white roses. So the question can be asked, why the variety? It seems overdone, not needed. But there are no accidents; it’s all part of Hashem’s plan.

So in mesichta Rosh Hashanah (31a), Rashi says that the purpose of variety is to attract our attention. It means this: If you see red roses all the time it ends up becoming monotonous and you stop thinking about them. But if they’re red over here, and in another place they’re white, and then right next to the white ones there are yellow ones, and on the next block they’re pink, so finally the message is brought home to you that Hashem made roses for you to notice Him!

Rashi says, כשאדם רואה עופות ודגים משונים זה מזה – When a person sees that Hashem created so many different kinds of birds, and so many different fish that are so different one from the other, so he begins to marvel at the One who made them. מי ברא כל אלה. If the world had only one type of fish, so we’d be lulled into inattention, and we’d be bored by the monotony and we wouldn’t pay any attention to the phenomena. And if the world had only one type of bird, it would be the same.


But now, there are all kinds of birds, so if you didn’t notice the robin, so you’ll notice the crow. And if you didn’t notice the crow, you’ll notice the parrot in the cage. Or at the bay you’ll notice the seagull. In the zoo you’ll notice the stork or the ostrich. And finally the message hits home. Why does the bird have a different type of mouth than the fish has? A bird has a bony mouth, a long bony beak. And it enters your mind, “Isn’t that interesting? What’s the  purpose?” And the purpose, you’ll understand – if you study a little bit – is that it can penetrate the earth and it can pull out its parnasa, it pulls out worms. And that beak is especially constructed for that purpose.

However, it’s only after a number of times that we’re being nudged; our attention is being solicited, that finally we wake up and we say, “Oh yes, look at that.” Maybe sometimes you won’t even wake up on your own. You’ll need to hear a lecture like this one to encourage you to make something of yourself. Otherwise you might be looking at Hakodosh Boruch Hu for ten years, twenty years, thirty years, and you don’t really see Him even once.


The same with seeds. Why do seeds have to be distributed in so many different ways? You see that there are different ways that seeds are distributed. Some trees drop their seeds. Some seeds have wings and they fly away. Some seeds spring out when you touch the plant. Some seeds are stored up in a container that builds up gas pressure, and after a while it bursts, it explodes, and the seeds scatter. There is a wide variety of ways that seeds are spread.

And Hashem could have just as well made all seeds spread in one uniform manner. The answer is because Hakodosh Boruch Hu is trying to get you notice them, so that you’ll notice Him! So the maple seeds are scattered all across the sidewalk, and you’ve been treading on them all your life. And you’ve never once noticed that each seed has a remarkable wing attached to it. It’s only if you bend over to pick it up, and you throw it into the wind, you see it whirling around like a helicopter. And then you finally think, “Oh, maybe there’s something here.” אסורה נא ואראה – “I should turn aside now and look, את המראה הגדול הזה – at this great sight” (Shemos 3:3).


You think an apple seed is simple? It’s small and it doesn’t bother you so you think it’s just an apple seed. One apple seed is such a miracle it should be in a museum. A museum for just one apple seed! An apple has in it, on its DNA molecule, at least two billion bits of information encoded on the little helix – you can’t see it, it’s microscopic – that tells the little seed how to make a tree when it’s planted in the ground. And not only are these billions of bits of information coded there, but the apparatus to carry it out is also in that little seed. I keep apple seeds in my pocket, and when I’m walking down the street I take them out all the time to look at them. I marvel at them.


And when I’m not looking at the apple seeds, I’m looking at the leaves of the linden trees, and the cottonwood trees, that line Ocean Parkway. There are two kinds of leaves. You never noticed that? How could you pass by trees and not notice the Hand of Hashem? And then people come here and ask me if they should travel ten hours to Niagara Falls to see the Hand of Hashem! When you see the Hand of Hashem on Ocean Parkway, then we can talk about Niagara Falls. There are two kinds of leaves. One is an “ordinary” leaf, and the other is a seed leaf, which is an airplane that carries three or four passengers in the middle off that seed leaf. And the seed leaf falls down early in the season and it’s carried by the wind. It carries its passengers out of the shade of the parent tree, and it falls in a place where it can grow more successfully, where it won’t have to compete with the parent tree.

So when you see these parachutes of a dandelion – did you ever take a dandelion puffball and give a blow on it? It blows into the air and you see thirty parachutes, each one perfectly balanced, each one carrying passengers hanging on the bottom. And it’s carried by the wind, sometimes miles away.

So this world was made for us to see the wonders of Hashem and recognize Him. If you want, you could see the yad Hashem, the miracles of miracles, all the time. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to use our own minds to discover Him. He wants us to look, to see, and by seeing Hashem everywhere you turn, you fortify your emunah, your awareness of Him.


And there is nothing more important than clarity of emunah, nothing more important than seeing Hashem in this world. Because that’s your only path to Olam Habah. That’s what the gemara says: העולם הבא…צדיקים יושבים ועטרותיהם בראשיהם ונהנים מזיו השכינה – “In the Next World the tzadikim will be sitting with their crowns on their head enjoying the splendor of the Shechina” (Brachos 17a).

And you know why they will enjoy it? Because the crowns on their heads will give them the ability to enjoy the Shechina. And the greater the crown, the more their enjoyment is intensified. And the Rambam says (Hilchos Teshuva 8:2), you know what the crown on the head is? It’s the דעה שידעו שמצויה עמהן- the Awareness of Hashem that you acquire in this lifetime. The more you acquire da’as in this lifetime, that’s your success! שבגללה זכו לחיי עולם הבא – It’s only the da’as, the Awareness of Hashem, that you acquire in this world, that allows you to enjoy the Next World. And the more you labor to use every opportunity to become more aware of Hashem, to think about Him in terms of actual metzius – apples and oranges and ears and peach pits and clouds and trees and all the other millions of things that Hashem is showing of Himself in this world – then your crown of da’as becomes greater and greater. And that’s going to be your happiness in the World to Come!


It’s like when you visit the UN and all of the ambassadors from all over the world stand up by the podium to speak. So your sitting in the visitor’s gallery and there’s no way to understand them. Every language, every dialect, it would be impossible to know what’s going on. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. Only that they give you earphones that have everything translated into English. And you can put them on and suddenly everything makes sense. Now you understand everything. Now it’s a pleasure. You’re being neheneh m’ziv ha’UN, l’havdil.

And that’s how it’s going to be in the Next World when you come to be נהנה מזיו השכינה. It’s all dependent on how much you succeeded in gaining da’as in this world. Because that da’as will be your crown, and according to the size of that crown, that’s how much you’re going to enjoy the happiness forever and ever in Olam Habah. Only the man who prepared himself in this world will be wearing the crown of da’as, the earphones, that will allow him to enjoy the splendor of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.


And the bigger a man’s mind becomes, the more he understands the greatness of Hashem. That’s what it means השם אלוקי גדלת מאד – Hashem,  My G-d, You have become very great.” That’s past tense. It doesn’t say, “You are great.” You have become very great. What does Dovid Hamelech mean that “You have become very great?” I’ll tell you. You know, when you’re young, or even if you’re old and ignorant, and you haven’t thought too much, so Hashem is still small. As far as you’re concerned He occupies a very little place. Maybe somewhere in the shul. And even in the shul, He’s just a name in the siddur that pops up once in a while.

But the bigger a man’s mind becomes, the more he understands the greatness of Hashem. And that’s what it means גדלת מאד – You have become very great. It’s what we say all day long – יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבה – His great name should be magnified. How do you magnify His name? You’ll make Him bigger than He is?! Nobody could make Him bigger than He is! You have to make your brains bigger!!

If you become bigger, if your da’as grows, so Hashem becomes bigger. When one views Hakodosh Boruch Hu through an ant’s eye view, through a liberal, modern Jew’s view, he’ll see nothing. He thinks he sees everything, but really he sees nothing. He’s entirely blind. To him, to that man with no da’as, Hashem is very small.

But a man who has spent time on the subject, and his mind has expanded, so he can say, השם אלוקי גדלת מאד. In my mind you have become great, and it is my mind that will be my crown in Olam Habah. Hashem, my G-d, You have become great. He’s my G-d because others cannot even fathom how big Hashem is to me.


And so everything that we’re saying here tonight, Moshe understood very well. He looked for Hashem every day of his life in the clouds, in the trees and in the peach pits and the apple seeds and in anything else he saw. And therefore, now, at the end of his life, he was more close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu than anyone before him, or than anyone later would be. His knowledge of Hashem was an immense store of wisdom. And yet he understood that not only is there no end to the greatness of Hashem, but there is no end to the greatness of Hashem that one can see in this world.

And therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu, even on his last day wanted to see more. אעברה נא ואראה – “Let me see Eretz Yisroel.” And Hashem acceded to his request and allowed Moshe Rabeinu one more glimpse of Himself. And so Hashem said to him: וראיתה אתה, I will let you see it, ונאספת אל עמיך, and only then will I gather you into My arms. Because it is only in this world where you can add more jewels onto your crown, I will allow you one more granule of Awareness of Me. And now, forever and ever, you can be נהנה מזיו השכינה with an even greater crown of da’as.

Parshas Balak – Speaking the Praises

פרשת בלק


We read Parshas Balak this week and we don’t even realize that it is one of the most fundamental parshiyos in the entire Torah. And I’ll prove it to you. Listen to these words from a gemara in Brachos (12b). It says there: בקשו לקבוע פרשת בלעם בקריאת שמע – The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah wanted to make it obligatory to read the parsha of Bilam every day during kriyas shema. Just like you say the words that are our lifeblood, Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, they wanted you to also say the parsha of Bilam as well.  Every day! During kriyas shema! That’s how important it is! Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad and Vayar Balak ben Tzipor. The yesodos ha’emunah. It’s remarkable.And it is difficult to comprehend

ומפני מאי לא קבעוה – “So why didn’t they put it in?” The Gemara says because of tircha d’tziburah – it would have been too burdensome for the people to recite so much. It would take too much time. You have to go to work. It’s long enough as it is to daven in the morning. And so even though a great benefit would be gained by saying it every day, still they waived that benefit because of tircha d’tzibura. Now you know how big of a “mitzvah” it is when the chazan gets up at the amud and displays his cantorial talents and people have to suffer through that – as he’s trolling his Caruso, his operas, during davening in order to “inspire” the people. To take up the time of the tzibbur? No, we don’t permit such things.

We should listen to this carefully, because we’re learning something here. We have here a parsha that is so important that it deserves to be said – not once a year like we do, but everyday! You know, it doesn’t say that about the bris bein ha’bsarim or even about ma’amad har sinai. Only this, the words of a gentile from Aram, are from the ikarei ha’emunah, that we must wake up to and go to sleep with. בשכבך ובקומך. And so when you say Shema every morning and every evening, right there along with the great principles of Hashem Echad, of kabolas ol malchus shamayim and kabolas mitzvos we would have begun to lain וירא בלק בן ציפור. Only that Chazal had rachmanus on us – it’s too much time; we have to go to work, a man has to make some money too. You can’t sit around on a bench in shul saying shema all day long!

However, this intention of the chachomim should be a hint for us that the parsha of Bilam is of utmost importance. So the question begs itself: What is so important about the words of Bilam? What is the secret that lies hidden in his his words?


And in order to understand what’s doing here, we’ll begin our subject as follows: Anyone who studies chumash hears, over and over again, that the Am Yisroel in the wilderness failed in many ways. The pashtus of the pesukim make that very clear. You read chumash with rashi and you hear it on every page.

The whole Torah wherever you look is full of criticisms of the Am Yisroel. The entire system of the Torah is tochacha, rebuke.Our great teacher, Moshe Rabeinu, calls us names all the time. He doesn’t pat us on the back. עם נבל ולא חכם – “You’re a low nation, and without any wisdom.” All we heard was criticism. We don’t hear praises; maybe one or two places, but it’s very brief. In general , he is constantly belittling his people. And very sharply – constant chastisement with stinging bitter criticism for forty years. That was the lot of the עם נבל in the midbar.

 How can I alone bear the burden of your troublemaking and your conflict” (Dvarim 1:12). “Remember: Don’t forget that you have angered Hashem your G-d from the day that you left Egypt” (Dvarim 9:7). “And behold; You have sinned against Hashem, your G-d” (Dvarim 9:16). “You were rebellious with Hashem,” said Moshe to the people, “From the day that I knew you” (Dvarim 9:24). “I am well aware of your rebellious spirit and your stiff-necked stubbornness…and your constant rebellious behaviour against Hashem” (Dvarim 31:27).


Yechezkel HaNavi said about them, את שבתותי חללו מאד – They profaned my Shabbosos very much in the midbar sinai” (Yechezkel 20:13). “Very much,” said Yechezkel Hanavi. They were antagonizing Hashem with chillul Shabbos! They had just received the gift of Shabbos – and they heard it from the mouth of Hakodosh Boruch Hu – and how do they treat it? They profaned it very much! And the leaders were guilty as well. Moshe and Aharon weren’t spared the bite of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. אשר מעלתם בי – You rebelled against Me” (Devarim 32:51). לא האמנתם בי – “You were both disloyal to Me” (Bamidbar 20:12). Moshe and Aharon were disloyal to Hakodosh Boruch Hu!

So we see that Hakodosh Boruch Hu wasn’t happy with us in the wilderness. There was terrible criticism of the seemingly lawless nation. עד מתי מאנתם – “For how long will you refuse to obey My commandments” (Shemos 16:28). Constantly He criticized us. And it wasn’t only words! Many were killed. A mageifah here. A mageifah there. So many died. By the misonenim. And at Kivros Hata’avah more died. And then the nachash came to kill more of them as well. Hashem was very angry at us!

And we say it every Friday night. Every Friday night we remind ourselves. And some people even sing it too ארבעים שנה אקוט בדור – “For forty years I quarreled with that generation” says Hashem. ואמר עם תועי לבב הם – “And I say that they are people whose minds have wandered away from Me, והם לא ידעו דרכי – And they did not know My ways” (Tehillim 95:10). You’re singing it with a beautiful niggun, tra-la-la,  They didn’t know My ways. Just those few words of Dovid Hamelech are enough for us to get the picture of what was doing in the midbar.


And now, along comes Bilam the goy, and he’s saying exactly the opposite of everything we’re saying here. He’s heaping praises and more praises upon the Bnei Yisroel. When we listen to Bilam it sounds like he’s talking about a different nation altogether. He tells Balak  ומה אזעום לא זעם השם – “How can I get angry at the Nation whom Hashem is not angry with” (Balak 23:8). Not angry with us?! What were we doing all forty years if not angering Hashem?! Wherever you look in the chumash Hashem is angry at us. ויחר אף השם – “And the anger of Hashem flared up.”  Hashem was angry at Yisroel constantly.  And here Bilam comes and says, “No, Hashem is not angry.”

Bilam looked at the Am Yisroel and said: לא הביט און ביעקב – “Hashem can see no sin in Yaakov, ולא ראה עמל בישראל – and He sees no wickedness among Yisroel” (Balak 23:21).No sin?! No wickedness?! Was the שתום העין really blind?! Over and over again we sinned; חטאתם להשם אלוקיכם – “You have sinned against Hashem” (Dvarim 9:16).

So what’s going on here? Hakodosh Boruch Hu is telling us one thing, and then Bilam comes, b’sheim Hashem, and is telling us something else, something very different. And we wouldn’t be wrong if we were confused. What’s the real truth? Is it what Bilaam is telling us in our parsha, or is it what we understand from kol hatorah kulah?


And the answer is that it’s all true. I’ll give you a mashal. You’re at a chasuna. And before the chuppah the camera man is taking pictures of the kallah. And she is beautiful. Of course, she’s beautiful – she’s been preparing herself all day long for this moment. She’s the most beautiful woman in the hall. And as he’s about to take the picture he asks her to wipe away a tiny piece of dust that has lodged itself on her cheek. Now, are you going to tell me that the camera man thinks that there is a significant flaw in her appearance? Of course not. Certainly there’s a flaw, but it’s a flaw so minute that it takes an expert photographer to notice it. And it’s only because he is such a professional, that he picks up on things that nobody else can see. Only because of that does it bother him. That’s why he insists on correcting this small flaw. And that’s why they hired him. Because they want the best results possible.

The camera man is interested in making the beautiful kallah look even more beautiful. And so, he won’t let anything go. But, of course, the kallah is the most beautiful! And her friends who come tell her that! They tell her how beautiful she is. And the camera man agrees, because that is the real truth.


Now, everything that was said against the dor hamidbar was said in this sense. The great tzadikim were always bitterly criticized as if they had committed the worst of sins. Hakodosh Boruch Hu wasn’t going to let anything go – even the smallest of sins.

The Bnei Yisroel are called the אחותי כלה, the beloved bride of Hashem, in Shir Hashirim. Because we are the most beautiful kallah in the world. And the desire of Hakodosh Boruch Hu is to make us even more beautiful, more perfect. All the criticisms of Hashem, and of His nevi’im were soap to remove the smallest of stains. The accusations against Israel are a actually a testimony to their excellence.

Moshe, the oheiv Yisroel, the lover of his people, sought to improve them by stern castigation. And for this special nation, this method was the most effective. And when he spoke the bitter words of criticism, they loved him for it. I’m not saying it didn’t hurt. Of course it hurt. It stung them to no end. But that’s what they wanted to hear because they knew that the only path to greatness is awareness of one’s own faults.


“They profaned my Shabbosos very much, “ said Yechezkel HaNavi. Very much?! It’s out of the question. You couldn’t profane Shabbos in a small town in Lithuania eighty years ago! In a small town in Lithuania eighty years ago you couldn’t carry anything outside of the eiruv. If a boy or girl walked outside the eiruv carrying something they’d be summoned to the Rav. And they’d be punished. Everybody kept everything. So you’re telling me that when Moshe Rabeinu had full authority, with so many supervisors and judges over the people, that they were michallel Shabbos very much?! It’s ridiculous! It doesn’t mean that they were michallel Shabbos like on Kings Highway and Ocean Avenue on Shabbos  afternoon. Chas v’shalom! The truth is that there was no chillul Shabbos. It happened only twice in forty years. A nation of at least three million, over forty years, and it happened only twice! There were two little incidents. יצאו מן העם ללקוט – Two people went out on Shabbos to gather mann – they didn’t even do it, because there was no mann to gather. But they went out. And later there was the mikosheish eitzim. That’s all. And that’s called שבתותי חללו מאד!! It’s remarkable!


There never was a generation that kept Shabbos as conscientiously as the dor hamidbar. And yet, there was never a generation that was criticized for chillul Shabbos like the dor hamidbar! And these two go hand in hand. Because they were criticized so much, that’s why they were the greatest shomrei Shabbos in our history. That has to sink into your heads. Because your rebbi in the cheder planted poison in your head. And I can’t blame him. The whole chumash is full of bad things about our forefathers in the wilderness.

And that’s what my rebbeh told us about that possuk in kabolas Shabbos that hits you in the gut. והם לא ידעו דרכי – “And they did not know My ways.” And my rebbeh said it means “They did know My ways.” But the reason they knew My ways, is because ארבעים שנה אקוט בדור, it’s because I quarreled with them for forty years. For forty years I sent Moshe Rabeinu to bite at them and tell them that they don’t know My ways. And that’s why they knew My ways.


It’s like a boy in cheder, and his rebbi says, “Do you know the gemara?” And he says, “Yes.” And he does know it. He chazered it at home once or twice. But his rebbi says, “You don’t know it.” So the boy sits down in the corner and reviews it. And he sees that he had overlooked something. Now, the answer of Abbaye makes sense! Now he knows it. So he comes back and the rebbi says, “Do you know the sugya now?” And the boy says, “Yes.” And the rebbi says, “You still don’t know it.” And the boys goes back and looks it over again, and he’s thinking, “Everything seems to fit, it’s understandable. Oh no, I overlooked this word. I don’t know it yet!” And therefore by constant criticism he finally comes to perfection.

And that’s what happened the dor hamidbar, and to a lesser extent to all of the generations of the Am Yisroel, even in our days. The criticism is what makes us great. The little details, the small spot on the Kallah’s dress, is pointed out, and scrubbed away, and scrubbed again, until the Kallah is more beautiful than we thought possible.


And now we come back to our friend Bilam who praised us so greatly. Bilam hated us intensely. He tried his best to cause our downfall. But he couldn’t help himself – what Hashem put in his mouth, he was forced to say. It was שכינה מדברת מתוך גרונו של בלעם. Just like the words that came out of his donkey’s mouth was nothing but the dvar Hashem, a donkey has no sechel of his own after all. So too, you must know that everything that came out of Bilam’s mouth was the word of Hashem. Hashem is talking to us through Bilam’s mouth. Bilam is our donkey and from his mouth comes forth a nevuah for us to let us know what Hashem is really thinking about the Am Yisroel.

So Bilam said, “Hashem sees nothing bad in the Am Yisroel.”And he spoke at length about it. Because Hashem doesn’t see any wrong at all. “I see nothing wrong in My Nation.” Human beings sometimes make errors; but My people, לא הביט און ביעקב. Certainly people do wrong things, people make mistakes. On each person we say אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא. Certainly! But Hashem looks at the nation and He sees no wrong in Yaakov. לא ראה עמל בישראל. He sees no injustice in Yisroel.

Like the kallah’s friends who tell her how beautiful she really is, so too Bilam tells us only the truth. He came for one purpose, and for one purpose only. To say the emes! Hashem sees no sin in the Am Yisroel. He sees no wickedness among His people! And that’s no contradiction at all to the biting criticism that fills the Torah, which comes to perfect the perfect Nation.


This will take a long time to explain because in cheder you learned differently. But when you grow older, you have to understand the truth of the Torah. And that is that the Am Yisroel is the greatest and purest nation, much more than any nation in the world!

Many people have been misled, even talmidei chachomim. I remember once I was saying a drasha in shul and I mentioned that the Dor Hamidbar was beloved by Hashem. I said that they are called yedidim and ahuvim. And this one man, a talmid chochom, finally lost patience with me. He was so angry with me when I said that. “It’s against the pesukim what you’re sayinghe told me. “They didn’t know My ways.” He showed me the possuk in the siddur.

And how can you blame people for being mislead? All the seforim in the Torah criticize the Am Yisroel. Terribly! Yishaya, and Yirmiya, and Yechezkel, are all criticizing. And it makes an impression. But it’s such a sheker! It’s a big misunderstanding. And even a man as great as Rabbi Akiva made that error. The Gemara says that (Sanhedrin 110b) שבקיה רבי עקיבא לחסידותיה – He forsook his piety when he spoke about the Dor Hamidbar. And he made this mistake because the pashtus of the pesukim are on his side. But the maskanah of the gemara is: אספו לי חסידי – Gather in to Me, My devoted ones, the dor hamidbar. They were Hashem’s chassidim.

And so, if we were chassidim and yedidim and ahuvim, then what is all the criticism?

The nevi’im were cleaning us! A little speck on your face?! Wash it off! Every little speck is a tragedy. And so Hashem says, “Oy, gevalt. Gevalt, gevalt, look at that little speck on you!” And He makes a big fuss out of it. But when we read it today, we are so impressed with the “Gevalt, gevalt” that we think that they were wicked people chas v’shalom.


And therefore it becomes a big problem, a great confusion. We have to fight back against all these wrong ideas that make us look down at our nation. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu did something. He sent us Bilam. He sent a goy. A goy is the one least liable to say anything good about us. From a goy you’d expect nothing but kitrug, accusations, blame. But when Bilam opened his mouth, and the words of Hakodosh Boruch Hu came out, He had nothing to say except praises of the Am Yisroel. So now you know that’s the emes! If we’ll listen to Bilam’s words, we’ll become ovdei Hashem. We’ll learn to think like Hashem thinks.


It states in the navi, “My nation, remember the kindness that I did with you, when Bilam was called to curse you, ויהפוך השם אלוקיך את הקללה לברכה – Hashem your G-d overturned the curse into a blessing.” Hashem was mihapeich the curses of Bilam into brachos. The question is what’s the big chesed over here? They’re not supposed to be cursed. Why should they be cursed?

Now pay attention to the answer. Bilam could have spoken like Moshe Rabeinu. He could have said words that would have been very bitter. He could have said עם נבל ולא חכם – “You’re a very low nation. You made an eigel.” ארבעים שנה אקוט בדור עם תועי לבב הם והם לא ידעו דרכי. “For forty years you fought with Hashem and you didn’t know His ways.” And it would have been all true. Moshe Rabeinu said it. So couldn’t Bilam also say it? And that’s what Balak wanted to hear. He paid good money for that.

But Hakodosh Boruch Hu said, “No, I’m not going to let you say that. I’m not going to put those words in your mouth! I’m going to turn My hanhaga upside down. You’re going to say the opposite of what My nevi’im have been telling the Am Yisroel. ויהפוך – I’m going to turn everything upside down and you’re going to tell them just the opposite. From you, they’re going to hear the truth!

And that was the neis! It was a big neis! Moshe Rabeinu can tell us how bad we are because he didn’t mean it! He only wanted to benefit us. But if you, Bilam, would say it, you’d mean it as a k’lalah. Oh no, I won’t let you say it.” And therefore, from Bilam’s mouth came out only brachos. ויהפוך – Hashem turned His way of dealing with His people upside down. He changed His hanhagah, and only the pure truth came out of Bilam’s mouth, brachos instead of klalos.

We must look at the Am Yisroel through Bilam’s eyes, not through the eyes of Moshe Rabeinu. Not through the eyes of Yeshaya and Yirmiyah and all the mochichim. We have to listen to their words, absolutely. But to look at the Am Yisroel, we should look at them only through the eyes of Bilam, because that’s the truth. The greatness of the Am Yisroel is what Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to know.


And now you know why they wanted to put the parsha of Bilam into kriyas shema. We are being fooled by all the criticism and bitter words of Hashem and His nevi’im. You know, the kallah when she hears again and again about the black speck on her cheek, the small stain on her dress, so she might make a mistake. She might feel that she’s the one in the room who is most filthy. And it’s the same with us – we learn constantly about the criticisms and we start to think that the bnei yisroel were not so good. And therefore, Chazal wanted us to repeat Parshas Bilam every day, in order study the importance, the greatness, the holiness, the beauty and the virtues of the Am Yisroel.

And Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants us to spend time thinking about that. Because no matter what we’ll say, no matter how how much we review it, it will never be sufficient to exhaust the subject of the greatness of the Am Yisroel.


And that’s our job in this world. Despite whatever we might know about the frummeh, the slight failings of the Am Yisroel, we still know that the truth is what Bilam said. לא הביט און ביעקב ולא ראה עמל בישראל. And we must constantly fill our minds with a barrage of emes, a barrage of the true greatness of the Klal Yisroel. We take Bilam as our model and ויהפוך, we have to turn the klalos into brachos constantly. We have to be very careful to see only good just like Bilam.

But how do we do that? How are we supposed to see our own greatness in the midst of all the criticisms? Awareness of our greatness leads us to demand perfection of ourselves and of our neighbors. We view ourselves through the magnifying glass of the Torah and we therefore criticize ourselves and are embarrassed by our people’s flaws. We are not satisfied with mediocrity and familiarity breeds contempt. If you stand among the nations of the world like an ordinary human being, and you see the Bnei Yisroel so you see them as human beings.

Let’s say, here’s a kollel family. And there’s another person standing in the street, a Jew, a frum Jew, and he sees the kollel family. To him it seems like they’re human beings. Just like he is. The children are boisterous, a little wild. The mother is busy cooking and cleaning. And life goes on in their house like any other house. And therein lies the great error of not appreciating the Am Yisroel.

And therefore, we must follow the model of Bilam who taught us how to achieve this goal. And he explains: כי מראש צורים אראנו – “I see the Am Yisroel from the top of mountains.” It means that I look at them from an elevated position. You can see better when you’re standing on a mountain. When you’re down below, close by, sometimes it’s too close, and you don’t see the truth. “Everybody else sees them and criticizes them,” said Bilam, “but I see them from a viewpoint higher than anybody else. And I see the real truth, that Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees them as the best people in the world. Nobody can even remotely resemble them.”

And so, when you look at that kollel family, you’ll have to get off the ground. To understand the greatness of any frum home, you are going to have to get off of the ground and view them with a nobility of mind. If you go through life without thinking, then you’ll never appreciate the Am Yisroel. It’s only when you take a step back, and you see the Am Yisroel with the clear sighted view that Bilam had, that’s how you’ll appreciate our greatness.

When you look down now, מראש צורים, from the mountains, and you see the Am Yisroel, the ovdei Hashem, through the eyes of Bilam, which is really through the eyes of Hashem, then there is no comparison between a Jewish home and the homes of the umos ha’olam. When you view them with a clear sighted view, you’ll be amazed at what you see. You’ll see a nation that has no equal, by far, among all the peoples of the world. The best nations of today and of antiquity never even came close to the המון בית ישראל, to the ordinary Jew.

And Bilam said: מה טובו אהליך יעקב – How beautiful are your tents Yaakov, משכנותיך ישראל – your dwellings, O’ Yisroel. Bilam is speaking here about the private home of a Yisroel. Now, of course some say that it includes the Mishkan, the batei mikdash – the first beis hamikdash, the second beis hamikdash – the shuls and batei midrashim but אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו. It’s good, but it’s not the pshat. There’s no question that the Bilam here is talking about the Jewish home.  Bilam is speaking about the homes where the Jewish mothers and fathers raise up their children. The Jewish home is beautiful. It’s unique in the world. And Bilam, with his prophetic eyes saw that.

And he saw that the home of a simple Jew was going to actually be a beis hamikdash. It’s a place of the greatest idealism. And no house in the world will ever compare to the Jewish home. Everything that comes in has to pass supervision – is it kosher? And the mother is supervising like a kohen gadol. The whole avodas Hashem in the kitchen is done perfectly with הדרת קודש. There are milchedig dishes, and fleishigidig dishes, and pareveh dishes. Nothing in the world can equal such a service. There’s no mixing! The mother gets nervous if she even thinks that you might have mixed the spoon in the wrong place. Everything is done according to prescribed form. The meat is slaughtered according to special rules, and the blood is removed with salting. The milk has come from certain sources, and all the food in the house is certified with kosher labels. You can’t bring any type of food into a Jewish home. It’s not easy, but it’s always done.

Shabbos is observed in that home. And they pray to Hashem all day long in that house. The children are taught to thank Hashem before putting any piece of food in their mouths. Mezuzos on every doorway to proclaim to the world, “We belong to Hashem.” Taharas hamishpacha, tzniyus, decency, morality fill the Jewish home. And you hear brachos in that home all day long – a different blessing for every item that you’re eating. How beautiful is the Jewish home!

And outside on the street it’s the same holiness. Beautiful Jewish boys, decent and frum. Beautiful Jewish girls – you see Jewish girls in the street, long dresses and long sleeves, even in the summer heat. The gentiles are walking down the street wearing the same amount of clothing that a horse wears. A woman goes out on Kings Highway and she’s dressed up in a pocketbook! But our girls are covered. They don’t expose their bodies. And they’re decent girls. They’re well behaved; they don’t shout in the street. It’s a pleasure to see their loyalty to the Torah. You can be sure that they won’t eat just anything, even if they’re hungry. They’re careful what they eat, where they go, what they wear. The Jewish children are being brought up with chastity and taharah.

Here’s a Jewish boy riding past me every day on his bike. It’s such a pleasure to see him – I look out for him every day. A big yarmulkeh on his head, a crown of glory, to signify that he’s a servant of Hashem. And his tzitzis are flying behind him in the wind. And he’s riding on his bike through a gentile street – he’s not ashamed. He doesn’t even think about it. He’s a Jew! He wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

And if he’s hungry for a piece of candy, does he buy any candy? No; he looks, does it have a hechsher on it? What kind of hechsher? It depends. Sometimes the hechsher is not good enough and he’ll deny himself the fun of eating candy. Even though nobody is around! That’s a holy nation! Who else does such things?! Nobody. They’re kodesh kodoshim. That little Jewish boy, when Shabbos comes, he’s not riding on his bike anymore. No, he walks. And he doesn’t carry. He checks his pockets before he goes out in the street, that little Jewish boy. He’s kodesh kodoshim.

You have to try to find the very best that you can see in your people. Think about their greatness. And the truth is that as much as you’ll look and as much as you’ll find, it’s not the truth. They’re better than you think they are. They’re much better than you think they are. If you only knew how much self-sacrifice there isour! How much money is given away for charity! So many give a tenth of their income to tzedaka. You know what that means? A tenth?! People are working hard to make a living! And they’re giving ma’aser. These people are tzadikim gemurim. They’re living according to the Shulchan Aruch. They call up and ask questions about small details of procedure. Everything is done according to halacha.

If a woman buys a chicken, and she spends ten dollars, let’s say, on a meat order. And then she finds something that’s a question. She goes to the Rav and he says it’s treifeh and she throws it away. She doesn’t argue. She doesn’t try to deceive the Rav. Even a butcher who buys a big beheimah, a half of a steer, and he finds something wrong with it, he asks the Rav to pasken the shailah, and the Rav says it’s treifeh, a regular decent butcher is willing to lose hundreds of dollars. It’s a Jewish nation of idealists. And therefore we have to appreciate them. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves them even more than we ever will be able to do.

What is it that the Am Yisroel is excited about?! They’re excited about Hakodosh Boruch Hu. They’re excited about mitzvos. That’s their lives. Their whole lives are based on shmiras hatorah. You know how much money it costs to send a child to cheder?  It’s a load of money! A tremendous amount of money. And the girls also. People are spending a tremendous amount on tuition, to bring up their children b’derech hatorah. We’re trying very hard, petitioning the government to give us vouchers, for the government to recognize us, to give us a rebates on income tax. The Reform Jews are fighting against that, they don’t want that. Because once we have the opportunity to get rebates on our school expenses, then maybe more and more Jews will send their children to yeshivos. The reformers are afraid of that, they’re fighting hard against that. But, no matter what happens, our nation is paying anyhow. Even though the IRS doesn’t care how much the people spend; you can’t deduct that. And so, the Am Hashem is spending tremendous sums on schar limud. And that’s a great demonstration that the Am Yisroel is an am kadosh. No question about it!

The bnei yisroel are michabev es hamitzvos, they love mitzvos very much. If we look at the Am Yisroel the way we’re supposed to be looking at them, then our attitude in general will be very different. We begin to appreciate that this is a nation that is keeping the mitzvos Hashem. And they’re doing it in pratei peratim. The Torah says לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו – You can’t cook milk and meat together.” You can’t cook them together. So if you have a piece of cold meat, cooked meat, cold salami and you smear some butter on it, so according to the Torah there’s nothing wrong. Butter on salami or cream cheese on salami, why not? According to the Torah, nothing wrong! But would the Am Yisroel do that? Chas v’shalom! Not only do they not cook it together, but they don’t even eat it together cold. From the oldest to the youngest, we are a nation who are dedicated to Hashem and His Torah.

I always tell you the same story; it’s a great story to tell. There was a little boy who ate a fleishigah meal. And he wants some ice cream. Nobody is home; he’s all alone. But he looks at the clock. He can’t eat the ice cream yet. He’s a little boy. An eight year old boy. And he’s waiting for the clock to turn to the sixth hour and then he’ll eat the ice cream. A little boy! That’s what the Am Yisroel is bringing up! It’s an am kadosh! You have to appreciate the Am Yisroel.

We’re mechuyev to understand that the Am Yisroel are thirsty for avodas Hashem. All our lives we should live with the clear awareness that the Am Yisroel is a holy nation. Men and women, complete segregation. No dancing together like by the umos ha’olam. No games, no entertainment; when people come together it’s for avodas Hashem. Tzniyus, loyalty to Hashem, bein adam la’chaveiro, shmiras ha’lashon, chesed, doing kindliness to others. Derech Eretz. We’re accustomed to all these things so we don’t feel the greatness of our lives. But Bilam looked through the walls of the tents and saw how the Am Yisroel lived. He saw our perfection and he said that we’re a nation that is kodesh l’Hashem forever and ever.

And it’s not enough to view the Am Yisroel properly. We also have the function of praising the Am Yisroel, praising the frum Jews. It’s a chiyuv on us. You have to learn how to say sh’vachim on the frum Jews. You have to learn that chiyuv because that’s what Hashem expects of you. That’s why He sent Bilam, to be a model for us. If the goy Bilaam said it in the name of Hashem, in order that we should recognize the truth, then our job is to praise the Am Yisroel always.


You know that up until recently, when the Communists were still in charge in Russia, so the Russians worked very hard to influence American public opinion. They had thousands of agents in the United States, people all over the country, who had one job only. They wandered around, they made their way into newspaper offices, into the offices of politicians, they put themselves everywhere, and whenever they had a chance they said something. You wouldn’t know they were agents. You didn’t know they were propagandists. But at every opportunity they spoke, they got in a few words; to praise communism, to speak against President Reagan, to knock the American government, to talk against nuclear arms. They were infiltrating society everywhere; private life, public life, the newspapers, business. Thousands and thousands of agents. And they had one purpose – to praise what the Kremlin wanted them praise. To work on behalf of the Communist government and praise everything that they did.

We have to realize that we have to do the same. That’s our job in this world. But l’havdil, instead of being agents of disinformation, we are the sh’luchim of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the agents of the truth. And that’s what Rabeinu Yonah teaches us in his Sha’arei Teshuva. If you look in the sha’ar shlishi, siman kuf ches, you’ll see that he says every person has to be a sh’liach ne’eman for his Creator. We’re Hashem’s agents and our job therefore is to spend our lives in talking in shevach of avodas Hashem and in shevach of the ovdei Hashem. It’s our job to praise the ovdei Hashem. That’s our job!

And who are the ovdei Hashem? That’s the frummeh! The mothers and fathers who are raising children b’derech hatorah. The boys and girls who at such a young age are already busy day and night with avodas Hashem; davening, learning, making brachos. It’s the regular families, those are the ovdei Hashem that the Sha’arei Teshuva is talking about.

You have to be proud of the places of avodas Hashem, proud of the yeshivos, proud of the kollelim, proud of the Beis Yaakovs and the batei kneisiyos. Let’s say you go to a certain frum shtiebel, and you see many frum Jews, kein yirbu, so when you come back home, make sure to speak in praise of what you saw to your family, to your friends. “I’m nispa’el,” you’ll say. “It’s so wonderful there. Their behavior, their avodas Hashem, the hispailus in the davening, their devotion. It’s such a wonderful place.” Speak to the sky about it!

Wherever you go, Rabeinu Yonah says, rehearse beforehand, to utilize the opportunity. Let’s say you’re going to be at a chasuna. You have to go, it’s a cousin. And you’re going to spend time talking. You’ll be sitting there at the table and everybody is wasting their words, talking about nothing. So you prepare beforehand some good propaganda, some good words to say about the frummeh. Think beforehand. Every time you sit down for a meal with your family is a remarkable opportunity. You can speak about the greatness of the Am Yisroel in so many different ways.

That’s what the Sha’arei Teshuva says: כאשר יתיצב בתוך העם וידבר עם חבריו – “When you’re standing among the people, יתבונן בינה וידקדק וישגיח בכל מוצא שפתיו – you should plan your words with wisdom, and carefully prepare what will come out of your mouth, לשבח עובדיו ויראיו – to speak words of praise about His servants and those who fear Him.” You can’t just show up at the chasuna or the Shabbos table and hope that the right things come to your mouth. You have to prepare beforehand.

And Rabeinu Yonah says that if you do this then יזכה בזה בהגיון לבו ומבטא שפתיו בלא יגיעה ופעל כפים זכות גדולה עד לשמים כי זה מעיקרי יצירת האדם – by doing this, by merely preparing your thoughts and using your words for the cause of Hashem, then without any effort and work of your hand, you will acquire merits without end, because this is one of the most important purposes of the creation of man.

Parshas Chukas – The Reality of The Next World

פרשת חקת


The taharah process of the parah adumah with which this week’s parsha begins, has been forever one of the most mysterious procedures found in the Torah. Even Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, said about it: אמרתי אחכמה, והיא רחוקה – “I thought to understand it, but it is too far away” (Koheles 7:23).

Everyone knows that the parah adumah comes to purify the Am Yisroel from tumas meis.  Now, there are many different ways for a Yisroel to become tamei; but it’s only tumas meis that requires the exceptional procedure of the parah adumah. A dead body, we all know, is the avi avos hatumah – the father of the fathers of all forms of spiritual defilement – there’s nothing more tamei than the lifeless body of a Jew. Even more than a metzorah, more than a zav and a neveilah, more strict than any other tumah in the world, is the tumah that Hashem has decreed upon the dead body. And the only way to be cleansed of this severest of all tumahs is by way of the parah adumah. And that’s mysterious as well. What is it about a dead body that its tumah should be so severe? And it’s so severe that nothing besides the ashes of the parah adumah can purify it!


And besides for the tumah, we are also commanded to bury the dead body as soon as possible. Everyone knows of the mitzvah of לא תלין את נבלתו. It’s ossur to allow a dead body to remain without burial, even overnight. And not only is this a commandment, but the burial of the dead body is encouraged by nature itself. Hashem has decreed that the lifeless body must putrefy. Chazal tell us (Pesachim 54b) that one of the things that Hashem set into nature during the sheishes yimei bereishis is על המת שיסריח, that a dead body has to decompose. The body, once it is devoid of life, begins to rot away.

Now, you might ask, what’s the chiddush about a meis putrefying; everything rots away. An apple also rots. A cat rots away as well when it dies. However, the human body, once it dies, it deteriorates and rots more rapidly and in a more disgusting fashion than anything else. An apple when it rots is not so disgusting. Even a cat when it dies is not so repulsive. But a human has the most vile possible odor; when a human body putrefies it has the most offensive of all odors. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable of us to wonder about the reason for that. Why did Hashem do that to a human body?


Now, maybe you never thought about this question, but our chachomim did. Our chachomim thought about everything! And the answer, we are told, is that Hashem made that phenomenon, He decreed it, in order to encourage people to bury the dead body as soon as possible. Hakodosh Boruch Hu made a dead body to be most offensive, its sight and its odor, in order that we should be in a hurry to bury it and put it out of sight.

Now the question is, what’s the hurry? Would it be so bad if we could keep the zeideh around a little longer? You could leave him in his rocking chair, his eyes closed, and continue to enjoy his company. The family would keep him around! Rashi (Pesachim 54b) says that! So what’s the rush? And after a week or two, or a month, let’s say, so then you could bury him. Now pay attention because there’s a very great lesson here.


There is a very big peril in letting a dead body lie around. You know what that peril is? A dead body is a testimony against hashar’as ha’nefesh. The sight of a dead body, a body that had just moments before been full of life, seems to be a contradiction to the principle that man lives on after death. Just think about it. What’s the first thing that you think about when there’s a meis? You think it’s the end. Death deceives the mind to think that this is the sof kol adam, that this is the end. And that’s that’s a very big sheker.  You should never see it, because death is like a pirchah, a refutation of the the ikar ha’emunah – the foundation of all foundations, belief in the World to Come.

When a person is walking around, and he’s functioning; he’s eating three meals a day and he has money in his pocket, so it’s easy to talk about the World to Come. Sure, why not! In addition to this world, he wants the Next World too. Why not?

But when you see a dead body, it becomes very difficult to believe in the Afterlife. Because no matter how much your seichel tells you that the neshama lives forever, when you look at that dead body it hits you between the eyes: “Look, he’s dead now. It’s over, finished.” All the ani ma’amins that you rattled off after shachris for so many years, come crashing down into a heap of rubble, at the sight of a lifeless body.


There was once a man in the shul by us, a frum man, whose father died. So I went to be minachem avel, nishtheintgedacht. He broke down weeping as I was speaking to him. And he told me that it hurt him so much, he was pained so much, because at the time when his father died, he looked at his father’s body and he saw the lifeless lump of skin and bones, and he felt that it was the end, a complete end; he’s no longer. Of course, this man was a ma’amin. But even a short moment of seeing a dead body, is a moment of weakness that counteracts the seichel, the Torah attitudes that you have acquired over many years.

And therefore, in order to not be weakened in our belief in the World to Come, and so that we should know that the meis is not really meis, Hashem wants us to get the body of sight. And Hashem encourages this by making the decomposition of the meis so unpleasant, so disgusting, that nobody would even venture to keep the meis around for longer than needed. Hashem wants the meis out of sight and out of mind. Because it’s so important to know that this person is not dead. I told you many times already, that the word מת is related to the word מוש, to move. Because that’s what misah is – merely moving from one place to another. And therefore, Hashem wants this dead body out of sight in order that we should remember that he’s not a body, that he is tzelem Elokim. And the tzelem Elokim lives forever. He is not dead! The zaideh is still alive!


And we understand now why the most stringent of all tumahs is the tumah of a dead body. Because what is tumah anyway? Do you think it’s a force of defilement that magically spreads through the air? The Rambam says that what tumah really is, is a defilement of the mind!

An object which is capable of contaminating your mind, by impinging on the great truth of life after death, is a most dangerous object and must be avoided.

And that’s why Hashem decreed that the dead body should transmit the highest form of tumah, because it transmits to your mind the highest form of falsehood. That’s what tumah is – Hashem is telling us, “Keep away.”

The strictest level of tumah is what Hashem wants us to keep furthest away from. And the most dangerous thing in the world is the watering down, even in the slightest, of our belief in Olam Habah.


Now, before we go on, it’s important to understand that this belief in Olam Habah is not just an extra, a middas chassidus. Because when we turn to the Mesillas Yesharim, the textbook of avodas Hashem, we see that Olam Habah is everything! He tells us there that we must always keep in mind that the יסוד החסידות ושורש העבודה – The foundation and root of avodas Hashem is שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו… הוא העולם הבא- “That a man must make clear to himself and convince himself of his obligation in this world…which is preparing for the World to Come.”

Pay close attention to his words because there are two separate functions here.  It must become crystal clear, יתברר, to you what your purpose is in this world. But it’s not enough that you have pinpointed your purpose. It’s not enough that you can say, “I believe in Olam Habah” and you’re finished.


Because in addition to clarifying that, there is also the function of ויתאמת, you must become convinced about Olam Habah. You must exert whatever effort is required to convince yourself that it’s true. You have to try with all your abilities to gain a firm belief, a firm conviction in the reality of Olam Habah. You should be convinced of the existence, the truth, of Olam Habah no less than you are convinced in the truth of your fingers.

Now, because the deep conviction in Olam Habah is the foundation of our avodas Hashem, it is not enough to merely keep away from meisim. Not only do we need to stay away from anything that will weaken our belief in Olam Habah but we need to use whatever methods available to strengthen it as well. Whatever we could do to ויתאמת, to convince ourselves of this truth, and then to convince ourselves even more, that is our obligation. And that brings us to a very important subject, a subject that we will call intimations of eternity, the hints of eternity that are available in this world. Hakodosh Boruch Hu made this world in a way that it supplies us with many reminders of the World to Come.


I’ll tell you a little story from the gemara (Brachos 44a) about our chachomim. It’s a story about how they worked on this function of יתאמת, of impressing the truth of Olam Habah more and more into their souls. I’ll read it in translation. “Rabbah bar bar Chana said: When we used to follow after Rabbi Yochanan” – now, where did they follow him? To the beis medrash?! No; it says “When we used to follow Rabbi Yochanan to eat the fruits of Ginosar.” Ginosar is the Kineres. And near the lake there was a place where the fruits grew most lusciously. The most delectable fruits grew there.

And Rabbi Yochanan used to go there especially for the mitzvah of eating fruit. Do you hear such a mitzvah?! And his talmidim followed him. How many? At least a hundred it says there. Rabbah bar bar Chana says there: “When we were a group of a hundred, each one of us picked ten fruit – big fat fruit – that’s a thousand fruit, and we ate them.”

The gemara there describes the scene. “Rabbi Abahu ate so much עד דהוה שריק ליה דודבא מאפותיה – “His forehead became so slippery that even a fly couldn’t get a foothold on it; the fly would slip off his forehead.” He ate so much, there was so much juice and sweetness inside him from those fruits that his forehead was exuding oils. Rabbi Abahu was packing himself with fruit. And he was just one example. Rav Ami and Rav Assi would eat עד דנתור מזייהו, until their hair fell out. They ate so much that their hair fell out! It means they were gorging themselves. It was an orgy of eating.


And Reish Lakish used to eat עד דמריד, until he became out of control. He lost control of himself; he became wild. It says there that Rabbi Yochanan had to call the policemen of the House of the Nasi. הוה משדר ליה רבי יהודה נשיאה באלושי אבתריה – “Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah had to send a troop of men to get Reish Lakish.” The police of the Nasi had to come and carry him home.

Now this is a remarkable story you’re hearing right here. These tzadikim were not interested in eating for eating’s sake. And so it seems to us a waste of time. Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan wouldn’t involve themselves in d’varim b’teilim. And here they left the Yeshiva, they traveled to the orchards of Ginosar, and they spent hours – it was hours – eating fruit!


So we see that there was something of an investment here. It wasn’t just an outing like we see boys go out on Lag B’omer or something. There was a purpose here! What’s all this about? After all, these were great men. Even if it was Purim, it could be it was Purim, but even then it’s not understandable to us.

Today, if a rosh yeshiva would go on an outing with his boys it would be a queer thing. He might let them go out – what could he do already, he wants to keep them happy so that he can get more students. So he let’s them go out to the park; but he wouldn’t go with them! Imagine the whole Mirrer Yeshiva takes off, and they all march down Kings Highway to the big fruit store, and they all get busy eating. The talmidim, the mashgiach, the roshei yeshiva, are all sitting on the benches on Kings Highway and stuffing themselves with fruit. But that’s exactly what happened in Ginosar. Only that they weren’t boys, they were grown men; they were amora’im. And that needs an explanation.


And so we’ll understand it as follows: These men were working on the realization of what it means Gan Eden. You know that Olam Habah is called Gan Eden. And it’s called that as a mashal, so that you should know how to imagine Olam Habah. And the Torah describes that the most delectable fruit grew there. כל עץ נחמד למראה וטוב למאכל. Now, those fruits were extremely beautiful;  golden yellow, bright red, pink, blue, purple; all beautiful colors and luscious tastes. That’s how we are supposed to think when we imagine Olam Habah.

And that’s why Rabbi Yochanan traveled to all the way to Ginosar. Because there, the fruits were the most beautiful, the most sweet-tasting, in Eretz Yisroel. They wanted to get a tziyur, a picture, of Gan Eden! Seeing is believing! And the closest that they could come to seeing Gan Eden was the peiros Ginosar.


And so they went to that place, where these orchards were, and they gloried in the sight of these peiros. But it wasn’t enough to just look at them. They plucked the fruit off the trees and they ate. And they ate and ate and ate. And they enjoyed it so much. It was an orgy of simcha, an orgy of hakarah, of da’as. They gained such a da’as, an awareness of Olam Habah, and they were changed forever.

They worked on this mashal with all their ko’ach, so that Gan Eden would be in their minds all year round as an actual fact. They had felt it with their senses; they had seen it, they had tasted it, they gorged themselves on it! It was all in the form of a mashal, but the purpose was to teach themselves the awareness of Gan Eden. In their minds, where it matters most, they taught themselves this principle, and it became more and more real.

Of course they knew that the fruit they were eating were nothing compared to Olam Habah. In Olam Habah the joy is infinitely better than peiros Ginosar. The gemara says that the pleasure is so sweet, so intense, that the neshama can’t survive. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu needs to revive the neshama again and again so that it can continue to partake of the pleasure of seeing the Sh’china. Because in Olam Habah the longer you look, the happier you become, and the more intense your joy becomes. It’s not like eating fruit. After all, you get tired of eating after a while. How much could you eat already?! In this world all happiness turns out to be a disappointment after a while. But at least something they wanted to experience, a me’ein Olam Habah, a picture of Olam Habah in their minds.


So we see here how tzadikim gedolim, who wouldn’t waste a minute of their lives from talmud Torah, spent a big part of their day in gaining an awareness of what Gan Eden looks like. And that should stand out as a model for us, a model that we should keep before our eyes always. You’re hearing an important chiddush here tonight. Very important! And so, it’s very necessary for those of you who now heard this, to take it to heart and begin a new career of thinking of Olam Habah. Wherever you make your way in this world, your mind is on the Next World, yearning for that great banquet hall all the days of your life.

Now, Hakodosh Boruch Hu supplies us in this world with intimations of Olam Habah. You walk in the springtime and you see a tree that burst out all in pink flowers. Don’t let that go! Stop for a minute and look at it. That tree is a mashal for Gan Eden. That beautiful sight, if pondered for a moment, fills the soul with joy, with delight. The whole tree has burst out in a profusion of color, pink blossoms, beautiful flowers. Now, in this world, it won’t last too long. But if you stop and let your eyes drink in this glory, it will go into your neshama as you think, “This beautiful sight is a mashal, a hint of Olam Habah.” That’s what it’s for, and that’s how you should utilize it.


I was forty years old the first time I saw apples growing on a tree. I was a city boy; I never saw apples hanging on a tree. For a city boy, apples “grow” in the big bins in front of the store, that’s all. But I was once in a shul, I used to daven in the morning there, and I was the only kohen. I didn’t want to monopolize all the aliyos, so before kriyas hatorah I would walk out into the yard, so that I shouldn’t be called up to the Torah.

So I walked out on that first day and I saw a sight! A tree, and red apples are hanging on the tree! I was amazed! I never saw such a thing before. But I was prepared for the sight because I had already learned this Mesillas Yesharim about יתאמת, about convincing yourself about the reality of Olam Habah. I had already studied the gemara about peiros Ginosar. And so I utilized that apple tree. My mind feasted on it.  And I stood there thinking about how beautiful, how pleasurable, how much joy there will be in Olam Habah. To this day I can’t forget that beautiful picture of that tree full of red apples. I don’t know if that tree is still standing, but in my head it’s still there. And I’m makir tov to that tree because of the lesson it taught me about Olam Habah.


And so, when you pass by a fruit store on Kings Highway and outside you see a whole collection of colors, those are your “peiros Ginosar.” Beautiful colors, in all its varieties! Red tomatoes, golden bananas, purple grapes – every form of color, every shade, and all different shapes and sizes. And the tastes – all types of delicious tastes. Now, instead of just passing by, and wasting your life like so many others, so you stop for a moment and take a look at all these beautiful colors. And you think, “All these are a mashal for the glorious garden of Gan Eden, where the best fruits grow. That’s where I’m going to be someday. And it’s going to be a thousand times, a million times more enjoyable!”

Now, to ears that are not accustomed, this idea does not appeal. It doesn’t even find a place to take root in our thoughts because we’re Olam Hazeh’dikeh people. We see a fruit stand and we just think of it as a place to buy fruit and that’s all. So maybe you’ll look at the prices, what’s on sale, or you’ll watch the Italian man with big biceps unload the fruits from his truck. But to look at the fruit and prepare for Olam Habah? You never even thought about such a thing! But in reality, and yes this is the reality, Hakodosh Boruch Hu put it there as one of the many experiences that should remind you of the happiness of the World to Come. The fact that we see these beautiful things is to be utilized by us as a reminder about Gan Eden.

It’s a very important function that we’re learning right now. To utilize all the meshalim in this world to make us aware of the most important purpose of our lives; the great happiness that is awaiting us in Olam Habah.


So next time you see a mountain in this world, don’t waste the opportunity. It inspires within you a feeling of admiration when you see that tall mountain in the distance, and your heart yearns; you’d like to climb that mountain. Of course, if you get there, all you would find would be deep grass, and rattlesnakes. Your yearning won’t be satisfied on top of that mountain. Because the reality of this world is always disappointing. But the dream, that imagination that you have, is not false. Because that mountain symbolizes something that’s unattainable in this world. What you’re really yearning for is a great mysterious happiness – the happiness of Olam Habah.

Or let’s say you’re standing on a country road, and you look down the road and it’s winding down for miles and miles. And you’re thinking, “I’d like to travel on this road, to see what’s doing at the other end.” That yearning is real! That yearning for travel, “I’d like to go and travel down this winding road,” should be a symbol for us. Because there is a road, a true road to happiness. The road to Olam Habah is the winding road without any deceptions. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is not deceiving us. The road of your life leads somewhere. Our life is a road that leads to a much greater destination than any other road.


And it doesn’t have to be in the country. Let’s say you’re standing on a highway, here in the city. And you’re thinking, “Here on this side, I know all about it. Nothing interesting, just stores around here. But what’s doing at the end of the highway? Probably something interesting. I’d like to travel there and see.” Now, the truth is that it’s nothing. But the imagination, the yearning was put in our hearts in order to stimulate us to think about this great road that we follow in this life, that leads to a true destination. And we utilize all these stimuli in this world, to make us more aware of the World to Come.

Here’s a man standing by the seashore and he sees the horizon, where the water meets the sky. And a certain feeling wells up within him: “What’s beyond the horizon?” The truth is that there’s nothing there, just more water, that’s all. But all of us yearn for something beyond the horizon. And that yearning is put into your heart for a purpose. Hashem put that into your hearts for the purpose of making you aware that there is something much greater “beyond the horizon.” This world is only the beginning and the best is yet to come. Because over the horizon, and down that winding country road, is our future in Olam Habah.


And that’s why the chachomim also called Olam Habah a seudah. The World to Come is a banquet. So now, let’s say, you’re at a wedding, a beautiful banquet, and the waiters are serving all types of delicacies and dishes. And all the guests are seated there, enjoying themselves. And you look around and you’re utilizing it as a picture of the World to Come. Only that was is served there will be much more delicious than all the delicacies that are being served at the chasuna. It will be a great seudah, where they will be serving the most delicious things. And you’ll never get tired of the pleasures in that world. It’ll go on and on forever and ever. And it’s happiness that will never come to an end. You’ll be seated at the great banquet of Olam Habah together with all those who deserve it.

So your wealthy cousin is wasting his money on an expensive chasuna, and he’s not getting anything out of it. And neither are the guests. Except maybe stomach aches and missing hours of sleep, so now many of the wedding guests will be grouchy people the next day – with stomach aches. But you, because you came here tonight, you’ll be the one guest who knows how to utilize the chasuna. All the money of the chasuna was for you! Because when you look at the seudah, when you experience such a banquet, you utilize it for thinking of Olam Habah.

And you don’t have to wait for a chasuna invitation. There are an endless amount of opportunities, simple ways, whereby you can utilize the happiness of this world, to prepare for Olam Habah. Let’s say, when you sit down to a regular meal. Breakfast, let’s say, a regular weekday breakfast. You’re hungry aren’t you? So whatever you’re having for breakfast, you certainly enjoy the food. Now, once in a while you should add the thought that this meal is a mashal for the very great seudah of the World to Come. It’ll be a much greater happiness there; we’ll be seated at a glorious banquet in Olam Habah, a great happiness that will last forever. But your breakfast can be are least a mashal for that great experience. And now, with some thought, your enjoyment of breakfast becomes a mashal for Olam Haba.


When you sit down at your table on Friday night is another opportunity. The candles are burning, the white tablecloth is spread on the table, two beautiful challahs covered with a white cloth. It’s beautiful!  So why let it go to waste? It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing at the table. Why don’t you think about what the Gemara says, that Shabbos is מעין עולם הבא – “Shabbos is something like Olam Habah” (see Shabbos 57b). Why did they say this? Just for poetry?! Just to have some nice words for a niggun?! Is it just telling you to eat a piece of chocolate cake on Shabbos, take a long nap and enjoy yourself, and that’s all? That’s the depth of what Chazal meant?!

No, these words are telling you how to utilize the opportunity of Shabbos. Shabbos is Olam Habah, and the successful person will utilize that piece of chocolate cake to become a ben Olam Habah. He’ll learn how to become a ben Olam Habah while eating a slice of challah and piece of kugel. How’s that?


So, you’re sitting now at the table and enjoying the seudah of Shabbos. And it’s beautiful. The house was cleaned, the table is set, and the food smells delicious. You’re  appreciating all the work your wife put in preparing all this. And what’s the first thing you think about? You’re thinking how all of this good food was prepared before the sun went down. If your wife had been lazy, if she had slacked off and slept on the couch all Friday, there would be no Shabbos. מי שטרח בערב שבת יאכל בשבת – “One who exerts himself on erev Shabbos, will eat on Shabbos, מי שלא טרח בערב שבת מהיכן יאכל בשבת – But one who neglects to prepare on erev Shabbos, what will he eat when Shabbos comes?” (Avodah Zarah 3a). Although the mashal is true, but the nimshal is even more true. Because if you don’t prepare in this world, you’ll have nothing at all in Olam Habah. In the Shabbos of this world, you can maybe find a neighbor to share some food with you, but in the Yom She’kulo Shabbos, you’ll only have what you prepared.

And so you must make sure to use the opportunity of me’ein Olam Habah. You’re sitting there and thinking that it’s all a mashal of the World to Come. Someday you’ll be seated at another table. And the candles there will be much more brilliant. That’ll be the real Shabbos. There, you’ll sit at a much bigger seudah, a banquet that will be forever and ever. And it will be a banquet of the greatest joy that you can imagine, far beyond anything you could imagine in this world.

You’ll never get tired of eating there. Olam Haba is joy following joy, pleasure after pleasure.  We have to picture Olam Haba, and the more that you picture it, the more your emunah grows in you. So as you sit at your Shabbos table enjoying the delicacies of Shabbos, think about Olam Haba. If you don’t, and you’re sitting at the table eating and singing and enjoying yourself, but you’re not thinking, then it’s a real waste. Nothing will remain of the good things that you and your wife labored to prepare.  At least there should be some gain – become a ma’amin in Gan Eden as a result of what you enjoy today.


And one who lives with Olam Habah in his mind, enjoys this world. A life without Olam Habah in your mind is a hopeless life. Nowadays the youth are taught atheism, and even the good boys are taken in by the s’vivah around them. And Olam Habah never even enters their mind. So why shouldn’t they kill themselves young? What difference does it make? And that’s why suicide today among adolescents is more than it has ever been before.

But when a person lives with the knowledge that he is headed towards the great happiness of Olam Habah – he sees it already while he’s standing in this world – then his entire life is transformed. It’s common sense. Life becomes worth living no matter what! Every second of life becomes worth living because it’s all a part of the road to Olam Habah.


And that’s why Jews always lived happily, even those that were poor. Because they were accomplishing what they came to this world for. They were doing mitzvos, learning Torah, and living Torah lives. And a loyal Jew knew that it was only a preparation for the great future. כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא – “All of Yisroel, all of those who live as Yisroel, have a portion in the World to Come” (Sanhedrin 90a). And therefore his life was all one happy journey towards Olam Habah.

It’s common sense that the consolation of Olam Habah is a necessary form of lubrication in all that we do in this life. It gives us more energy, more happiness, more eagerness, to do things. Not only because of the reward, but just the mere fact that this world is merely a hallway that leads to that great happiness in the Next World prevents us from being discouraged. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu! How fortunate we are!


And so as much as you can, you should think about your good fortune. Speak about it. Every Shabbos should leave over in our hearts some residue of the emunah in the World to Come. Talk about Olam Haba at your table. Now, sometimes your children won’t want to listen to it; that very well might be a sign that they don’t believe in it. Then you’ll have to preach Olam Haba to them again and again. A  person has to hear it a thousand times and then maybe a little emunah will come into his heart. But that little bit is more precious than diamonds.

And if you’ll think, if you’ll make use of the opportunities in this world, then this world becomes a very profitable place. Think about Olam Habah frequently. Use all of the hints in this world as the mashalim that Hashem intended them for. If you’re a parent, talk about Olam Habah at the table. Talk about it whenever you can. Be a propagandist for Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Can it be that you sit with your children at the table week after week and you never mention Olam Habah?! You’re not an Italian, you’re a Yisroel!


If you’re a rebbi in a yeshiva, talk about it to your talmidim. Here’s a rebbi who never once mentioned Olam Habah in his classroom! Everything else he mentions, everything! But not once did he mention Olam Habah. Is that a rebbi?! Are you doing your duty? Are you raising up children b’derech hatorah? You’re teaching them Bava Kama? Wonderful! But not one word about Olam Habah?! Never?! Gevalt! What happened to you?!

Husbands and wives also. They shouldn’t be embarrassed. They should mention Olam Habah to each other. Don’t be ashamed of saying those words whenever you can. I once mentioned Olam Habah in a lecture I was giving, I mentioned it a few times, and finally this man couldn’t control himself any longer, “What’s this that you’re mentioning Olam Habah, Olam Habah. You sound like a little girl.” A bur, an am ha’aretz, he was. A little girl?! That’s all we should be speaking about! It should be part of our lives. It should be mentioned at the table. Parents, children; boys and girls, should mention Olam Habah whenever they can.

The results of such a career are certainly going to be remarkably great. Because when a man is constantly reminded of Olam Habah, when he is always thinking of that garden of delights, then all of his deeds, all of his behavior in this world becomes different. When you live for the moment, you will say things that you will regret later; you will do things that are not so wise.


So here you have a man whose wife insulted him. Or a woman whose husband said a sharp word to her. A bochur whose chaver in the Yeshiva or shul insulted him. Now, if you live only for this world, for the moment, so you might want to insult him back. Why not? But actually you’ve lost a glorious opportunity. Oh, what an opportunity you have lost!

But if you’re a person who lives with intimations of Olam Habah, you’re an Olam Habah’dika mentch, you’ll make use of that moment. Because actually it is an opportunity. When somebody insults you and you’re able to restrain yourself, you’re living for the World to Come. You’re living with Olam Habah in front of your eyes. And that’s a glorious achievement.

The man who keeps quiet when his wife says something silly against him. And the woman who keeps her mouth closed when her husband gets angry and says something foolish to her. These people have trained themselves, by means of all the reminders of Olam Habah in this world, to utilize all of these opportunities to live for the World to Come. They are living their lives for eternity. It is when the thoughts of Olam Habah are always before your mind, that’s how you will reap very great profit and success in this world.


And this subject of Olam Habah can help us unravel at least a little bit of the mystery of the Parah Adumah that we began with tonight. Because even though Shlomo Hamelech said about the parah adumah, “I saw that wisdom is very far from me,” that does not mean that we are free from gleaning some truths from it. For, if we look intently, there are remazim which we can learn.

ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין בה מום – “They shall take to you a red heifer, perfect, which is without any blemish” (Chukas 19:2). Included in the word “perfect” is also the requirement that the color should be perfect without any hairs of a different color. This parah adumah, without any sort of blemish, and with a beautiful coat of red hair was a rarity. It was beautiful to look at. Simply to come see this animal would be worth the trip. And because it was so difficult to find, it was very expensive. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a parah adumah. You sell one Parah Adumah, and you could retire into Kollel. You were set for life. (Kiddushin 31a).


And yet, despite its striking beauty, despite its perfection and its enormous cost, while it’s alive it’s worthless! It could accomplish nothing of the purification procedure while it was still in its state of beauty. Of course, it was valuable while it was alive, but only because of its potential, because of what would be accomplished with it after its slaughter and decomposition. You have to slaughter it and burn it, and it becomes ashes. Oh! That’s when it becomes important!  Only as ashes could it achieve its true purpose, the ability to purify an avi avos hatumah.

This symbolizes an important parallel:  To Hashem, the most precious object in the world is a Yisroel. Even one Yisroel is more valuable to Hashem than the entire Universe. “For my sake the world was created” is what the Yisroel says (Sanhedrin 37a). And yet, like the Parah Adumah, no matter how precious he may be, no matter what he has achieved in his life, he has not reached his true purpose while he’s alive. The destination of a Yisroel is the Next World. Only there does he accomplish what he came to this world for. A person while he’s alive, that’s not his perfection. What matters is what happens after one passes out of this world and becomes ashes. When a person is מות, when he moves (מוש) from this world to the next, that’s what really counts. When you come to Olam Habah, that’s the purpose of life. Olam Habah is the purpose, not Olam Hazeh!

Of course, we’re all thinking only about Olam Hazeh. We plan on being here for the next ten thousand years. Only other people die. We shudder to think about Olam Habah. We’d like to be here forever. But that’s a fundamental error. Because only when one dies and is interred and his body turns to dust, that’s his achievement, exactly like the Parah Adumah. Our greatest happiness will be after we say farewell to this world and move on to the ecstasy of Olam Habah!


And now we understand why it’s only the parah adumah which can purify the tumah that comes from a dead body. The tumah of a dead body that comes because which implies that all has ended with the last breath of this man, can only be purified through the lesson of the Parah Adumah. And that lesson is that this man has not died. “Don’t be fooled by that lifeless body,” says the kohen as he sprinkles the ashes of the parah adumah. “This parah adumah can only achieve its purpose now, as ashes. And for this man as well, nothing has been truly achieved until this moment. Only now has he reached the pinnacle of the life he lived, as he continues to live on in Olam Habah.”

We are busy in this world, perfecting ourselves by accumulating mitzvos and Torah and da’as. Just like the parah is perfect, we aim for perfection in this world. But we must always keep in mind the great truth of Olam Habah, that the ultimate and most sublime excellence of man is achieved only when he becomes dust in the earth. It is then that his neshama, his tzelem Elokim, leaves this world to rejoice in front of Hashem in Olam Habah. And that eternal happiness is a simcha that even Hakodosh Boruch Hu couldn’t make any greater.

Parshas Korach – On Dangerous Neighbors

פרשת קרח


When we read in this week’s parsha about Korach opening a rebellion against Moshe Rabeinu, we are not surprised to hear the names of Dasan and Aviram. And why would we?! As far as we know, Dasan and Aviram had been the long time nemeses of Moshe Rabeinu – and if there was trouble brewing, you could be sure that Dasan and Aviram were not too far behind. You remember when they challenged the authority of Moshe back in Mitzrayim? מי שמך לאיש שר ושופט עלינו – “Who said you can boss us around?!” (Shemos 2:13), they said. And they didn’t suffice with words. They sought to have Moshe killed by informing on him and thereby forcing him to flee to Midyan (Rashi, Shemos 2:13-15). And it was Dasan and Aviram who defiantly blamed Moshe when Pharaoh refused to supply the Bnei Yisroel with straw for their workload of bricks (Rashi, Shemos 5:20-51).

And they continued their brazen challenges even after Moshe Rabeinu led the Bnei Yisroel to freedom into the wilderness. They angered Hashem at the Yam Suf by complaining to Moshe: “Were there no graves in Mitzrayim that you took us out to die in the desert?” (Yalkut Shimoni 231). When Moshe gave his clear command to not leave over any mann for the next day, they ignored him, and they then disobeyed him again by going out to look for the mann on Shabbos (Tanchuma, Shemos 10). And just last week, Dasan and Aviram were the ones whom the Bnei Yisroel wanted to appoint as their new leaders, in order to return to Mitzrayim after the debacle of the spies (Yalkut Shimoni 743, 14).

And so if someone would ask us: Why did Dasan and Aviram join Korach’s rebellion, we would say, why not? They were chomping at the bit to be hostile to Moshe, to degrade him and to upend his leadership of the Am Yisroel.


But when we turn to Chazal we find something that surprises us. We are told that Dasan and Aviram were drawn into the rebellion because of a completely different reason, one we wouldn’t expect. And they tell us as follows: On the possuk that opens our parsha, ויקח קרח…ודתן ואבירם, it is asked: “Korach, we understand had his reasons. But Dasan and Aviram, why did they join? What was in it for them? And the answer is given מכאן אמרו חז”ל אוי לרשע אוי לשכינו – “Woe to to a wicked man, woe to his neighbor” (Tanchuma 4). Dasan and Aviram lost the their lives – in this world and the next – because they lived next door to Korach.

In Parshas Bamidbar we learned that in the wilderness, Hakodosh Boruch Hu commanded each tribe to encamp in a certain location surrounding the Mishkan. The levi’im were stationed close to the Mishkan on all four sides and each sheivet had its own prescribed location surrounding the levi’im.

Korach’s tent was in the section of Kehas, in the area set aside for the levi’im on the southern edge of the Mishkan. And Dasan and Aviram, from the tribe of Reuven, also dwelled on the southern side. And it  is evident here that their tents were very close to Korach’s. Despite the segregation of each tribe into separate sections, Dasan and Aviram had pitched their tents on the outskirts of the encampment of Reuven, and thus they were near Korach who had pitched his tent on the outskirts of the section of Kehas.


Now, it is probable that these men had chosen to be near each other because they shared certain opinions in common and they  therefore gravitated to one another’s company. But there is no doubt that the dwelling in close proximity to one another subjected them to negative influence and made them much worse. It was their choosing of the wrong neighbors, and the resulting wrong influences, that was their ruination and destruction. Because they were neighbors of Korach, that’s what led to their destruction along with him. Don’t think it was their disappointment, or their hatred of Moshe, or even their arrogance. They were destroyed because they had a bad neighbor! And that’s because everything seeps in and has an effect. Oy l’Korach, oy l’Dasan v’Aviram!

Because whatever mistakes Dasan and Aviram had made, they were still part of the Am Yisroel. And they were going to remain forever part of our people, in this world and the next. They called out na’aseh v’nishma along with the rest of Klal Yisroel at Har Sinai and their descendants would have entered Eretz Yisroel and settled there along with the rest of the nation. But it was their shachein, the influence of their environment, that ruined them and their descendants forever.


I’ll tell you another story from the chumash about bad neighbors. כי תבואו אל ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לכם לאחוזה (Vayikra 14:34). “When you come to the land that I promised you,” Hashem says, “You’re going to settle into nice stone houses, good solid houses that you’ll find there.” And now you’ve lived there for some years already, and you’re sitting back in your plush chair, admiring your house, when you notice a queer color on the wall. And your heart sinks within you – because you know what that means: ונתתי נגע צרעת בבית ארץ אחוזתכם – “I will place a tzaraas affliction, a plague, on your home in the land of your inheritance” (Vayikra 14:33). And you cry out, “A nega tzaraas! Ah yah yay! A nega tzaraas in my home!”

And so, what can you do already – you go to the Kohen and you tell him כנגע נראה לי בבית – “It looks like I might have a nega in my house” (ibid. 14:35) And the Kohen takes a look at it. “It’s a pity; oy a pity,” he says. And so, after a certain waiting period, the Kohen tells you that the tamei stones are going to have to be removed and disposed of outside the city. וחלצו האבנים אשר בהן הנגע – “They must remove the stones in the wall that contain the affliction” (ibid. 14:40).


Now, you happen to share an outside wall with your neighbor. Right next door, in a home attached to yours, there’s another man, another Jew. And some of these stones that you are supposed to be pulling out are big stones that make up the wall between you and him. And you don’t know what to do now. The tzaraas is not on his side; it’s your problem, not his. But it’s one big stone. And on the other side of this stone is his living room.

But the possuk says: וחלצו את האבנים – “And they have to pull out the stones”. And Chazal are bothered by this word וחלצו, “And they shall remove the stones.” Who’s they?! What they?! Let him remove his own stones! And so Chazal uncover a hidden meaning in this word, in this extra vuv. And it’s a meaning that is a life principle. וחלצו: מלמד ששניהם חולצים – “And they both must remove the stones”(Sifra). Even the stone that is shared with the neighbor must be removed. V’chaltzu – they both will be removing stones from the wall. Even the innocent man, on the side that has no nega tzaraas.

So you start pulling out the stones and now you can look through the hole and see your neighbor lying on his couch. And as you’re digging out the stones, he puts up a howl: “What do you think you’re doing?! You’re making a hole in my living room wall! What are you looking into my house for?!” “Well, the Kohen told me to pull out the stones here; there’s tzaraas on this side.” So he’s hollering at you through the hole, “But the tzaraas is not on my side. The nega is not on my side, it’s on your side of the wall. What’s it got to do with me? Why are you getting me involved in your problems?!”  But the Torah says it can’t be helped! V’chaltzu – and they both must remove the stones. It can’t be helped. He’ll have to suffer along with his wicked neighbor.


Now, why is that? Hakodosh Boruch Hu knows what He’s doing. So why did He add a vuv, an extra letter, to tell us that the innocent neighbor must be punished as well? There’s something here! And we should understand it.

We know that tzaraas doesn’t come onto someone’s walls for nothing. Why does a nega come on a man’s house? There’s a reason why the nega came on his wall. It’s a punishment. It’s sent for certain reasons – for exactly what it doesn’t matter right now – but there’s no question that the nega tzaraas is sent as a punishment for sins. Now, he’s not so wicked as we imagine him to be. But still, something wrong there is, and he’s being punished for his sins. And now the stones of his house are being pulled out. Oy l’rasha, alas for the wicked man who has to be punished. That we could understand.


But what about the neighbor? What did he do wrong? And on this the Sages comment: אוי לרשע  – “Alas for the wicked man” אוי לשכינו – And alas for his neighbor as well! The neighbor is being punished just because he’s a neighbor. Oy l’shcheino!  It’s not an accident! Because he’s living next door to him, that’s why he’s being punished. Oy l’rasha, oy l’shcheino.

Why did you live next door to him?! “I didn’t know who he was. He’s a decent Jew. He keeps all the mitzvos.” This neighbor was no Korach. You’d have a difficult time even figuring out what he did wrong. He davens with you in shul every day. His children are in good chadorim, his girls in the Beis Yankiv.


It’s true, there are certain things he didn’t do. Maybe he failed to appreciate the great happiness that a home offers, the manifold forms of kindness provided by a roof and walls. So Hakodosh Boruch Hu had to send him a reminder. Maybe he wasn’t always willing to lend out his hammer or his drill to his neighbors. Or maybe he would speak lashon harah. There was something there, no question about it. But what does his poor neighbor have to do with it? I didn’t know that,” he tells the Kohen. ”I thought he was a kind-hearted man, a good fellow. You expect me to be peeking into his windows; I have to know everything about my neighbor?!”

So the Kohen says, “Look; what could I do? It’s a law of the Torah, וחלצו האבנים. We have to pull out the stones. And even though it leaves a hole in your living room. I’m sorry. You should have had the foresight to choose where you live. Oy l’rasha, oy l’shcheino.”


And so we see that Hashem is punishing not only the man on this side who didn’t  appreciate the gift of a home. Not only the  man who spoke lashon harah or was too stingy to lend out his things. Hashem is punishing the man on the other side too, the shachein who lives next door. Because you shouldn’t live near such a man. It’s a remarkable lesson that the Torah is teaching us here: to what extent a person must guard himself from any negative influence that might seep in, even of the most subtle kind.

Environment is a most powerful influence. Wickedness, even the most faint forms, is contagious. Even good people, if they live among resha’im, after a while they adopt their ways. Now that’s a very big responsibility. Today I don’t know what to say. Where can you find a house? You’ll have to go out into the wilderness someplace like the Rambam says: יצא למערות ולחוחים ולמדברות – “You’ll have to go out to the caves, the thorn bushes and into the wilderness”(Hilchos Dei’os 6:1). Anything, anywhere, to escape the wicked environment! But whatever it is you’ll have to do, we see here the principle of avoiding wrong company as much as possible. Because you’re going to get it. One way or another you’re going to be punished for living near the wrong man.


And it’s not with whom we live. It’s any type of contact with a bad influence, even the most superficial. In Mishlei we read: פגוש דוב שכול באיש ואל כסיל באולתו – “It’s better to meet an enraged bear, a bear that lost her cubs, rather than a fool with his foolishness” (Mishlei 17:12). Now, I’ll explain this mashal. Someone once brought me a boy scout manual; people bring me books of all kinds. So I opened it up and saw an interesting piece of advice. It says that when you’re in the forest and you see a wild animal, don’t run away. It’s a good opportunity to study wildlife. Remain where you are and study it up close. However, it says there that there’s one exception to this. When you see a she-bear with her cubs, then watch out; don’t hang around. She’ll do whatever she feels is needed to protect her cubs. And she’s as mean and vicious as could be.

Now that’s a she-bear with her cubs. But Mishlei is talking about a she-bear whose cubs have just been taken away from her. That’s even worse. That’s the worst kind of animal to meet. She’s looking for somebody on whom to wreak havoc. In her anger, she’s looking to lash out at anyone.


So let’s say you’re walking down Ocean Parkway on a lonely summer evening, and all a sudden this enraged she-bear turns the corner, looking for her missing cubs. You’re in a bind now. So what should you do? You climb the telegraph pole! You never did it before?! You don’t know how?! Start climbing and learn. You better teach yourself very quickly.

But now Shlomo Hamelech tells us a big chiddush. It’s an open possuk but people ignore it. פגוש דוב שכול באיש ואל כסיל באולתו – “Better for a man to meet that bereaved she bear, than meet up with the man with foolish ideas” (ibid.) So let’s say, this bear is gaining ground on you, and you’re struggling to make your way up the telegraph pole. And then, all of a sudden, a yeshua! Your cousin Joe drives by in his car and offers you a ride. No! says Mishlei. It’s no yeshua at all! So you tell cousin Joe “No, thank you,” and you keep climbing.

Shlomo is saying that it’s better to take your chances with that she-bear and the telegraph pole than to spend time with your cousin. You’re better off with the bear! Now, that’s a chiddush. I don’t think we would have said it ourselves.


We have to understand that possuk because it’s not only a mashal. It’s a way of life. And that’s what Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in a different possuk in Mishlei: מכל משמר, More than anything else that you guard” – more than your property, more than your health, more than your children – נצור לבך, “You must guard your mind” (Mishlei 4:23). I was once looking out of the window of the Yeshiva and across the street was a bank. An armored truck drove up, and two men leaped out. One was holding a revolver, and looking in all directions, and the other was carrying bags, bags full of money. And I took notice with what care people guard what’s important to them.

And I thought about that. These pieces of metal, or maybe they were sheets of green paper, were being guarded with such care. The man in a uniform was standing with his revolver, looking on all sides – danger lurked everywhere, and his eyes were wide open to prevent any sort of mishap, to make sure nothing would happen to the money. It was a sight to see.


Now, comes along Shlomo Hamelech, and he says, more than you guard money, more than you guard your health, even more than you guard your life, more than you guard anything, you must guard your mind. Suppose you were carrying up here in your head, not a pound of brains, but you were carrying a pound of diamonds. A pound of diamonds is very valuable. And so, anybody who would catch you in a dark alley, could chas v’shalom split open your head and get rich. Now, you wouldn’t walk alone! There would be too much to lose. Even in the daytime you’d walk with armed guards. If you knew that your head was full of diamonds, you’d make sure to protect it. But it’s your tough luck. All you have up there is a mind.

And now along comes Mishlei and tells you that your mind is more valuable than diamonds! Not a pound of diamonds. It’s more valuable than a truckload of diamonds! And you must protect it like that. At your ears you have to put an armed policeman. Every ear has to have an armed policeman to watch that nothing pernicious should sneak into your mind. And in front of your eyes another armed guard. Because you have to guard your thoughts more than the guards who protect the delivery of money.

And Mishlei explains why the mind needs such care and protection: כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – “Because from your mind, the kind of mind you have, that’s the kind of life you’re going to have” (ibid.). Chayim means life in this world and the Next World. All the happiness and success that you will achieve in both worlds is only ממנו, from the mind. Your mind is your accomplishment!


Now besides for the value of what you have up here, there is another just as important reason why you must always be on guard. מכל משמר – more than anything else in the world. And that is because there is nothing in the whole universe as sensitive as a person’s mind. Your mind is subject to influence from the outside more than the most delicate and sensitive mechanism. Every word, every sight, every attitude, sticks to your mind like glue.

Now, let’s see what an authority, a great authority, says about this. Everybody knows that Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in the Kuzari is a very careful writer. He doesn’t say any mishalim or any guzma’os. Every word is measured. In fact, he says too few words. In a few words of the Kuzari there is a great deal of thought. And this is what he tells you. He says: The things that you heard in your youth, the songs of your youth – he’s talking about the romantic songs that you heard when you were young – and here are his words: לא תתכן עליהם התשובה – “It’s not possible to do teshuva, to repent for them.” Even though you’ll repent, even though you’ll fast and you’ll shed tears, you’ll never be able to take it out of your mind.

Now, it doesn’t mean that you’ll think about it all the time. It doesn’t mean it will be in your conscious mind; it might go down into the subconscious. But it will remain forever. As long as you live, it will be a part of you, a part of your personality.

When somebody opens his mouth next to you – it doesn’t matter if he’s speaking to you or to someone else – once those words enter into your ears they are actually being engraved forever on your heart. And you’ll never be able to get rid of what you heard. You may forget, you may not be aware, but it sinks down into your subconscious, and it remains there forever. And it doesn’t merely remain there like a pile of acorns. No, they carry on an activity of affecting all of your thoughts and all of your  emotions.


And I heard from my Rebbi zichrono l’vracha that you’ll take it with you to the Next World too. He said that even if you’re a tzadik, a talmid chochom, it’s going to come to come along with you to the Next World. Because that’s what you bring with you to the Next World. Your mind, your personality is the only thing that comes with you. The mental attitudes that a man acquires in this world is what you take with you forever. כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – From the mind will come all the results of life, in this world and the next.

Now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do teshuva for the sin. If you did something wrong, you listened to something you shouldn’t have – let’s say chas v’shalom you walked into a movie theater. Nobody should ever dream of such a thing, especially nowadays (the Rav zatzal said these word in 1974!). If somebody walks into a theater nowadays he has a very small chance of ever coming to the Next World. I guarantee you that. No question about it. And by the way, spread the good word to your friends who don’t come to these lectures. It would be a shame if they didn’t know this.

And suppose someone here is now going to take my advice and stop watching. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but let’s say, let’s imagine, that someone would want to do teshuva from this sin of opening his mind to all the garbage available in the world. So he could  repent. For the sin he can repent. How exactly to do it, you’ll have to go to an authentic talmid chochom and ask him to teach you how to repent. And you’ll do teshuva. But no matter what, even the best repentance is not going to remove that influence from your mind. You can repent from now till Yom Kippur, the repentance will only remove the sin; but once you have corrupted your mind it will never regain its complete purity.


It’s already been indelibly impressed into your head forever. Of course, there’s an eitzah for that too. It’s possible to superimpose on top of that dirty layer, a new layer of kedusha, of idealism, of noble thoughts. And then another layer. And then another. So it depends on how thick the layers are and how many layers you’ll add. Sometimes you can put so much on top that it will bury the bottom layer.

However, whatever enters your mind is there forever. You should keep on adding good thoughts, good attitudes, good ideals. Pour into your head Torah and more Torah. And  you’ll cover it up with Torah attitudes; you’ll bury it deeper and deeper. As much as possible you must superimpose on top of the foolish ideas, new ideals in order to keep it buried. But it’s there however. It’s not out! And that’s why you have to guard the mind more than anything else.


I’ll give you an example. I was once sitting on a park bench and behind me there was a man speaking to someone else. I heard such filthy things and he poisoned my mind. I got up immediately and walked away, but it was too late. I couldn’t forget it. And that dirt is still in my mind.

And therefore, what a fool will say in a minute or two, is so damaging that it will damage your mind beyond repair forever and ever. And that’s why the she-bear is a better option than cousin Joe. Because Joe will buttonhole you. “Oh, Chaim, how are you? You know what I heard today?” And he’ll fill your ears, your mind, with his narishkeit. And you’ll never be able to get out of your head what he poured in.

So you’ll tell me, “How could it be?! In a second he’ll say something and ruin me?! Rabbi Miller, you’re exaggerating.” No, this is no exaggeration – it’s not even half the story. Because that’s what a mind is. The mind is so sensitive that if that k’sil is going to say something to you, you should know that it’s going to harm you forever. And so you’re better off taking a chance with the telegraph pole, and don’t talk to cousin Joe.


Of course, you have to save your life; I’m not saying you shouldn’t. And so, make sure to keep a strong grip and keep climbing. But whatever you do, you don’t want that fool opening his mouth and pouring his foolishness into your head. Whatever he says will have an effect on you forever and ever. Whatever he puts into your head is going to remain there. Forever! And that’s why there is nothing more important than protecting your mind; your thoughts, emotions and attitudes. And every foolishness that you encounter in this world, even the most subtle, is ruining the most precious possession you own. And your most precious possession is your mind.

And that’s why you must guard it more than anything else. Mikol mishmar, more than anything else, nitzor l’becha, guard your mind. Your mind you cannot protect unless you take the most extreme steps, and it must be done with unwavering consistency; without let up. Because from all sides there are going to enter influences that are going to mold your thoughts and your personality. And therefore, m’kol mishmar nitzor l’becha. Guard it more than anything else in the world.


The opening words of the book of Tehillim are extremely significant. Because if Dovid Hamelech chose the following words as his introduction to his magnum opus, then it shows you how important they are. Tehillim has many subjects and it speaks a great deal about our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the great ideals of the ahavas Hashem and awareness of Him. But he begins with words that seem out of place in such a sefer. He begins with the following words: אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים – “How fortunate is the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (1:1). What’s this doing here? We want to hear about great ideals, about kirvas Elokim, emunah, ahavas Hashem. And it’s there; it’s all there in Tehillim. But Dovid is teaching us here that it all starts with maintaining a clean mind. You can never really say Tehillim, you can never love Hashem and sing to Him, if your walking with the resha’im and filling your mind with their ideas.

Now, it’s not praising the man who just doesn’t follow the advice of the wicked. It means he didn’t walk, he didn’t even pace the streets together with them. Because if you walk their streets, if you are in their company, then to a certain extent, you are in “the counsel of the wicked.” Whatever they are thinking, whatever attitudes and feelings they have, is shared by you to some extent. Even a walk down the block with them causes you to be a partner in their thoughts, their attitudes, and their emotions.

And the possuk continues: אשרי האיש…ובמושב ליצים לא ישב – “How fortunate is that man who never sat down in the place where the scoffers sit” (ibid.). Leitzim means jesters. To sit down let’s say in a kosher restaurant, but it’s a place where there are other customers; leitzim, jokers, kibitzers, scoffers. Even though they’re not laughing – they just came to buy kosher food – still it’s a moshav leitzim. How fortunate you are if you change your mind and decide to go home and take something from the refrigerator!


But I’m going to tell you something now that I learned from my Rebbeim. If you want to come close to Hashem, if you want to utilize your time in this world to achieve perfection, then you will have to understand that, to some degree, everyone around you is a leitz. Because when a person doesn’t appreciate the greatness of somebody superior to him – he thinks it’s too much, too extreme – then he’s a leitz, a jester.

Your desire for kirvas Elokim, will always be perceived by the friend who stands one rung below you, as extremism. משוגע איש הרוח – “The man who wants to be a man of spirit is always meshugah to other people” (Hosheah 9:7). And therefore, as far as your avodas Hashem is concerned, that friend is a leitz. Of course, he’s not a leitz according to his madreigah, but he’s a leitz for you. And really all of Mankind are leitzim. Because they are not living up to the standards of perfection in avodas Hashem that they are capable of and expected of them.

I’ll give you an example. Mankind – even the good ones – fail to appreciate what they see with their eyes every day. They might say, “Isn’t it wonderful. Nice weather we had today. Blue sky, gardens blossoming on all sides, trees growing, fresh air.” But these people are willing only to go up to a certain extent in their appreciation of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And anybody who goes beyond that, they would already consider that person an extremist.

If you look at an orange and point out that the peel is colored only on one side, and you say that it teaches us about Hashem, that’s meshugah, they’ll say. You’re going to sit and look at an apple seed or a dandelion and fall in love with Hashem?! What’s with you?! Why are you wasting your time?! It’s meshugah ish ha’ruach. If you’re all about Hashem, then they’ll say your meshugah. And therefore, anyone who wants to step forward and be great in the eyes of Hashem, must realize that those people around him, and I’m speaking of the good ones, are leitzim.


And therefore, if you want to succeed in this world, to make something of yourself, then to a large extent, as much as possible, you’ll stay away not only from what we call leitzim, but to stay away from people. And now we’ll read the possuk like this – and it’s a true pshat: אשרי האיש… אשר לא ישב במושב לצים – “Fortunate is the man who doesn’t sit among people!” You won’t mingle with people if it’s not necessary. Because you refuse to be hampered by the attitudes of the society around you.

Now, of course it depends on who is the “man” and who are the “people”. Sometimes the man must sit among people. You have to come to the yeshiva, to the kollel, to the beis knesses, because otherwise you’d be a nothing. You come because the s’vivah elevates you. Most people benefit by being in a good environment.


But even in the good places, you must know, that you should not allow yourself to be held down by the general attitudes. Because there is very much more to accomplish, above the level of most of those around you. So whatever you need to associate with them for; to discuss sugyas, to learn b’chavrusa, certainly utilize that. Absolutely; because that’s not a moshav leitzim. It’s a moshav chachomim. And even what you need for parnasa, speaking with your coworkers and your boss. Whatever is required of you for normal living. Dealing with your spouse, and your children and your neighbors. Whatever is needed, must be done.

But above and beyond that, when you want to grow further in your avodas Hashem, and you need more things than they can understand and provide, then you must live your own life. It’s told about the Gra, the Vilna Gaon, that when he was still a boy, before bar-mitzvah, he already began doing things on his own. Now, don’t follow that example. It’s not for you to do. But the lesson we take from him is that he broke with the hergel, the habit of the environment. And that’s how he became great.

How does one become great? By not listening to the environment. To some extent you have to live independently from everyone around you. You have to be willing to oppose whatever the environment is forcing into your delicate brain. You’ll have to always be using your judgement to see the empty and false ideals of the environment, and to reject them from entering your mind.


It says (Megillah 25b) כל ליצנותא אסירא בר מליצנותא דעבודה זרה – Every kind of mockery is forbidden. But one form of mockery is permitted; not only permitted but it’s a mitzvah. And that is to ridicule wrong ideas. Let’s say a yeshiva man ridicules romance. He ridicules movies, and love stories. Songs and poems? He ridicules them! He’s not wrong. He’s right; he’s a hundred percent right. That’s not the leitzanus that’s ossur. That’s leitzanusa d’avodah zarah.

And that’s one of the most important ways of avoiding the insidious influence of the outside world. Through ridicule, by deflating the worth of all of these empty ideals, you protect your own mind from them seeping in.

There’s so much to ridicule in this world. And it deserves ridicule! Sports! There’s no meshugas like watching grown men trying to hit a ball with a stick! Whooo! Homerun! It’s mamish gurnisht mit gurnisht, and yet, because you’re an American, so you fell in with the meshuganehs. Here’s a boy walking down the street with a baseball cap. Not just a cap, a cap with the name of a team on it. He wants to identify with a baseball team! Is there anything stupider than that?! A Yanks cap on his head. He’s advertising that his head is a gentile head. Ay, a rachmanus on these fools.

Restaurants! It’s a sickness. The desire to eat out is a taste that you develop because you live among the gentiles. It’s like developing a taste for cow dung. It’s nothing. It’s stupid. But you live among your neighbors and therefore you think that eating cow dung means that you’re cultured.


And if you say it the way it is, outside of this door if you say it like it is, then you’re the meshuganeh! But מוטב לי להקרא שוטה כל ימי ולא ליעשות רשע שעה אחת לפני המקום – “It’s preferable for me to be called a meshuganeh all the days of my life, and not become a wicked person for even one moment in the eyes of Hashem” (Eduyos 5:6).

And that’s what it means “Praiseworthy and fortunate is the one who doesn’t sit with the leitzim”. And it’s serious. Dovid Hamelech means it seriously. אשרי – How lucky you are that you didn’t go there. How fortunate you are that you kept far away from all of the leitzim. But the problem is that you don’t appreciate what Ashrei means. You think it’s “praiseworthy” maybe. “Fortunate” or “lucky”. Like you were fortunate enough to pay your rent this month. Or maybe fortunate enough to have a summer house in the Catskills. No, no, no. That’s not what Dovid Hamelech means. This is the first word in the whole sefer Tehillim, the introduction to all of the great ideals and attitudes of that remarkable sefer. It is the Ashrei! It’s saying: “The most fortunate thing in the world” is to keep far away from bad influence. Because without this first step of separating from the world, it will be impossible to achieve all of the great attitudes and ideals in the rest of his sefer.


Here you have a man who built a beautiful home. And then into his dining room he opened a sewer main. And now anytime his neighbors on the block urinate or defecate, it goes right into his dining room and pours onto his expensive rugs. That’s preferable, it’s much better, than having a sewer main pour directly into your head. But that’s what the TV is. And that’s what the radio is. And the magazines. These low characters are spewing out day and night the worst kind of filth. You’re putting feces into your head, and your poor innocent children are growing up in the midst of a sewer.

When you tune into a channel and this leitz, this noi’ef, is talking and you’re listening for  five minutes, then this filthy fellow has become your Rebbi. He’s now your father. You have gained a papa! And it’s as serious as could be because he has entered into your mind forever.

But television and radio and magazines are not the whole picture. The truth is that it’s much more than that. There’s a whole world, a whole outside world that’s pouring into us all of the sewage of the wickedness of the gentile world. And therefore we have to stand guard day and night over our minds.


So when you sit down at a kiddush or at a simcha, and the people around you are talking. What are they talking about already? Even if it’s not lashon harah and other d’varim assurim, but it’s almost always words of foolishness, d’varim b’teilim. So while you’re sitting there munching away and putting garbage into your intestinal tract, you don’t even realize that you’re also putting feces into your brains. You know, your stomach, alright, maybe a little Exlax will help. Eventually it will be expelled from the system. But the garbage in your soul will remain there forever. You’ll never get rid of it. That’s the Kuzari’s statement, that what goes into your neshama from the foolishness you hear, remains there forever.

You have to watch out what kind of magazines come into your home. It’s very important because your wife and your children also have minds that are just as valuable and just as sensitive as yours. You think that reading the Orthodox newspapers and magazines is not bringing the shachein rah into your home. Of course, it’s a thousand times better than gentile newspapers and television – more than a thousand times! But that’s because bringing a New York Times and the New York Post into your home is not just a shachein rah – it’s bringing in adultery, and avodah zarah, and shfichas damim into your home. You’re bringing in a whole troupe of leitzim and  apikorsim into your head and into the heads of your wife and children.

But even the Jewish newspapers are full of garbage. Page after page of this and that and this and that. What about Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Oh, Him? Oh, He’s put away in a different section; don’t bother me about Him now. So all of those newspapers are a shachein rah – except that instead of living next door, you invited him into your living room.


But tonight I wanted to give you an eitzah. It’s a way of living in isolation, of not allowing your mind to be influenced by your environment, even when you’re living among others. I’ll tell you what the Chovos Halevovos says about this. You know, isolation would mean that when you go to the country in the summer you would have to take a walk out into the woods and never come back. You’d have to be a hermit. But suppose you can’t do that. You don’t know how to live in the woods. You wouldn’t survive the winter. And you have a family to care for. So you have to come back to the city. And you have to go to work on the subway. How can you be a hermit on the subway?! You’re hanging on the strap and all around you people are pressing on you. Let’s say there are two hundred people in that car – so you’re not a hermit if you’re traveling on the subway.

So there’s only one way of doing it. You close your eyes – of course keep one hand on your purse, your wallet – close your eyes and forget about your environment. Think that you’re hanging on a the branch of a tree somewhere in the wilderness. All by yourself. And commune with Hakodosh Boruch Hu! Isn’t that a wonderful idea?! To walk with Hashem in secret. והצנע לכת עם השם אלוקיך – “Walk secretly with Hashem” (Michah 6:8). So now you’re hanging onto a branch in the forest somewhere, not a subway strap on train, and you’re talking to Hashem in your thoughts. “Hashem, please guide me. Hashem, give me success. I love You, Hashem. My life is devoted to You, Hashem.”


Isn’t that a beautiful thing to say in the subway? Nobody is around you. You’re shutting yourself away from all of the sh’cheinim ra’im, all of the bad neighbors crowding around you. Forget about all the ethnics around you. Forget about all the browns. And all the whites and all the yellows. Forget about them. Of course, as I said, your hand must be in the right place because they aren’t forgetting about you.

And let’s say you have to sit with your parents, with your brothers and sisters, with your in-laws, and even with your own children. Sometimes you have to sit with your children and your in-laws for hours. And you must do it. Of course, you must spend a few minutes with your grandchildren or with your nieces and  nephews. You have to say a few kind words. Certainly; you have to recognize your family. ומבשרך לא תתעלם- “Don’t hide yourself from your family” (Yeshaya 58:7). However, you must always be aware of what is happening. Sometimes you’re sitting for hours in small talk and your mind is being chewed up with their foolish conversations. And you’re deteriorating as you  sit with them. Your mind is stultifying.  So no matter what, men and women – if you want to be somebody, you must cut loose from those around you. And when you’re among people, you must always be on guard. What is it that I’m hearing? What is it that’s entering into my mind, my most precious of all possessions? Because whatever goes in will never come out.


I was on Kings Highway a few weeks ago, and I was passing by two old ladies, and just as I passed by I heard one of them saying, “This city air is nasty. Nasty Brooklyn air.” And it was terrible to hear. It went into my ears like an arrow.

Now, I know that Brooklyn air is not nasty at all. I’ve said here many times the Medrash on the possuk of כל הנשמה תהלל י-ה that my Rebbi always repeated. It says there  על כל נשימה ונשימה תהלל י-ה, that on every breath you take, you should say Hallel. And my Rebbi said it means whole Hallel, not half. A full Hallel for every breath! And I’ve thought about my Rebbi’s words for many years, and I know that I’m very behind. I haven’t even paid up for the first day of my life.

And yet, here comes along this old grouchy hag who’s breathing just fine – most of her friends aren’t breathing anymore, and if they are, it’s with the help of machines – and she’s complaining about the Brooklyn air. So you would think that if my Rebbi says one thing, and this old grouch says something else, so her words are batel u’mivutal, they mean nothing at all.

But it’s not so. Because everything you hear, everything you see, is engraving itself on your mind. At that moment, standing on Kings Highway, this grouch was my shachein, my neighbor, and אוי לרשע אוי לשכינו – Woe is to the rasha who complains about Hashem’s air, and woe is to this poor old man who had to hear her words while walking down Kings Highway.

And so you have to fight against all these destructive influences with all the chochma possible. I’ll tell you what I did. I didn’t waste a minute. When I got home, I put a stopper into the sink, and I filled it up with water. Up to the top. And I dunked my head in. And I counted to thirty. And then I came up and took a long, deep breath of the Brooklyn air. It was delicious!


I once told you about this simple experiment that proves that breathing is fun, didn’t I? Dip your head in a bucket of water three times and take it out twice. So now your head is in a bucket of water. And finally when you feel ready to explode, you’ll take it out, and take that breath. Ahh, is it delicious! And the truth is that it’s always delicious. Only that all day long, none of your neighbors say anything about it. And when they do, it’s to complain. That’s a shachein rah! You think that a neighbor, a friend, an acquaintance, who is not speaking about Hashem all the time is any better than that man who found tzaraas on his wall. No, he’s not any better. And he’s your shachein!

Now, I know that what I’m saying here – I know that it’s a waste of time telling people these things. It’s only being said for exceptional people. But if you came here, you’re already from the exceptional. What I say here is a waste of time for most people. But there always are some people who want to stand out in the eyes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and they are the fertile ground upon which some of these seeds will take root and sprout.


And therefore, the person who wants these great ideals of avodas Hashem, of perfection in ahavas Hashem, da’as Hashem, and emunah, to grow tall in his mind, will need to always be on guard against even the most subtle of outside influences. Because every time you let your guard down, you are making the same error that Dasan and Aviram made, not recognizing the danger of a shachein rah. And once you allow wrong ideas, and wrong attitudes and ideals to be poured into your mind, it will never be the same again. No matter how much good you try to pour in alongside them, it will never be the same. And while you won’t suffer the fate of Dasan and Aviram who were cut off from the Am Yisroel because of a shachein rah, your opportunities for perfection in this world and the next, will forever be hampered. Because your mind is your future. מכל משמר נצור לבך כי ממנו תוצאות חיים – “More than anything else that your guard in this world, make sure to guard your mind; because from your mind will come all of the results of life, life in Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah” (Mishlei 4:23).