Posts Tagged: Rav Aryeh Lebowitz

V’zos Haberacha

Devarim 33:13:

 וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת ה’ אַרְצוֹ מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת

And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the Lord be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that couches beneath

In Moshe’s blessing to the Tribe of Yosef in V’zot Haberacha, one of the blessing, as explained by Rashi, is that the waters from beneath the ground in Yosef’s portion of the Land of Israel rises to the surface to saturate the ground above.

I would like to humbly suggest a (somewhat shorthand) explanation of what this blessing might mean, based on a few ideas said over by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz shlita

In Sefer Breishit, Yosef is described as being very attractive – “Yefat to’ar v’yefat mar’eh”  (39:6)
Rashi in Breishit 49:22 says that women in Egypt would come to gaze at Yosef.
Exterior beauty seems to be an odd characteristic of Yosef HaTzaddik for the Torah to stress…what is really being conveyed?
The Ramban refers to Sefer Breishit as Sefer Ha’Avos, and Sefer Shemot as Sefer Ha’Banim.
Yosef’s death is recorded at the end of Breishit and at the very beginning of Shemot, because Yosef had characteristics of both forefather and son. He is the bridge.The Midrash says that the Arbah Minim correspond to the following figures and traits:

  • Esrog = Avraham: Heart, Ba’al chessed
  • Lulav = Yitzchak: Spine, Gevurah, Courage.
  • Hadas = Yaakov: Eyes, ‘Seeing is believing’, Emes
  • Aravot = Yosef: Lips — revealing inner beauty (to hopefully be explained…)

How do we define beauty?

The Gemara in Keddushin 49b says that 10 measures of beauty came down to the world, and 9 were taken by Yerushalayim.
Yerushalayim is certainly beautiful now, but was not always so outwardly beautiful, yet there is intrinsic beauty. The Kotel isn’t the most gorgeous structure in the world, but it represents so much beauty and unseen history.

Rav Lebowitz explains that the opposite of beauty in Judaism is something sullied and dirtied; something that you can’t see beyond the surface.

Yofi/beauty is clarity; the ability to see what lies beneath.
The world, by contrast, typically describes beauty in external terms.

Yosef/Aravot (the least externally attractive of the Arbah Minim) are likened to lips; lips/language take thoughts that can’t be seen and gives them expression; they uncover what is hidden. Language and word usage – implemented properly –  is what separates us from the animal kingdom.

The bracha for the Tribe of Yosef in V’zos Haberacha is that specifically the richness from below the surface is what makes the ground fertile and beautiful.
וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת

Yosef may have been a handsome guy, but that’s not what we celebrate. We admire and try to emulate his deep inner strength and beauty, and it is that authentic attractiveness that can bridge generations and make our rich mesorah attractive from father to son; from one generation to another.

A main aspect of Sukkot is to teach and remind all generations to come, that Hashem protected us as we left Egypt. As Vayikra 23:42-43, says:

…בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Yosef’s inner qualities and middah of clarity is a good place to start when trying to accomplish this directive.


[based in part on divrei torah by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz and Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl]

There is a machlokes in Yevamos daf 4, about whether we are meant to learn anything from the ordering of the Parshiot/subjects in the Torah (doreish smuchim). Even Rav Yehuda, who typically holds that there is no added lesson in the ordering, says that Sefer Devarim is the exception, and that there are lessons to be learned from the way in which Moshe ordered his speech in Sefer Devarim.

What can be learned from the juxtaposition of the descriptions of the Shalosh Regalim at the end of Parshat Re’eh, with the commandment about appointing judges and officers at the beginning of Parshat Shoftim?
Rav Nebenzahl suggested that the juxtaposition teaches us about ensuring the longevity of the religious high and spiritual heights we achieve during the chagim

The end of Re’eh talks about the halachot, karbanot, and joy associated with aliyah l’regel. Without question, we are supposed to be inspired on these pilgrimages to Yerushalayim. We are supposed to be wrapped up in the moment and the celebration.

But real test, is how/whether we are be affected once the chagim have come to a close. No doubt it was easy to be inspired on the shalosh regalim; seeing the nation gathered together, seeing the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash etc. We know, however, that the chagim are not the only time in the year for religion – Judaism is all day, every day (with varying levels of intensity and ritual service).

When the chagim are over, and we go back to our job or school, are we still acting like someone touched by religious experience?

As part of a related thought, a question is posed about the reasoning behind the name of “Akeidat Yitzchak.” The word ‘akeida’ means ‘binding’. But wasn’t the most impressive part of Yitzchak Avinu’s behavior his messirus nefesh or the fact that he was put on the altar in the first place?  

Why not ״העלעת יצחק״? Why highlight the actual binding, instead of the actual placement on the alter and Yitzchak’s character traits of willingness and devotion that were at the heart of this brave act?

The Shemen Hatov points out that, according to Chazal, Yitzchak asked Avraham to tie him more tightly to the altar, lest he jump up at the last moment, and ruin the sacrificial act.

Yitzchak wasn’t merely caught up in the inspiration he felt while preparing to do Hashem’s will.  He also thought about the next few moments; he thought about ensuring that he wouldn’t lose that inspiration – at the key moment – as his father came toward him with the knife.  At a time of great inspiration, before the climax of the moment, he was preparing a method to ensure that he wouldn’t fail once some of that inspiration began to dissipate. The physical binding was Yitzchak instituting a safeguard to ensure that his dedication to his mission would continue, even after that inspiration might be challenged.

That safeguard is what we celebrate; we celebrate not as much the messirus nefesh moment, but what did he did with that moment. He used that moment to make sure it would be lasting. Forward thinking as to how he would react as time went on.

One possible way to ensure this for ourselves is the commandment of having  שופטים ושוטרים…בכל שעריך

The hope is for us to ensure that we see Hashem and have ambassadors of Torah all of our cities and communities.
It is a communal responsibility and a personal question to be asked: what system/infrastructure do I/we need to put in place to ensure I still feel inspired; what measures/safeguards need to be taken to live in the proper framework; what is ourakeidah?

Perhaps that is why we read the story of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana – to get us to think, ON Rosh Hashana, specifically during our season of inspiration, about what measures we need to take to ensure the inspiration continues through Yom Kippur and Sukkot and throughout the entire year.


[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]

In this week’s parsha, we are taught about the the mitzvah that we have come to know as Birkas HaMazon. (see Devarim 8:10)
Also in this week’s parsha, the Medrash Rabba teaches about the bracha of Borei Nefashos. Logically, we would think that if the Midrash wanted to teach us about the bracha to be said after drinking liquids, it would do so in connection with the bracha said after bread.
Instead, the bracha of Borei Nefashos is taught in connection with the following, seemingly unrelated, psukim in Devarim 9:2-3:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה עֹבֵר הַיּוֹם אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן לָבֹא לָרֶשֶׁת גּוֹיִם גְּדֹלִים וַעֲצֻמִים מִמֶּךָּ עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וּבְצֻרֹת בַּשָּׁמָיִם
עַם-גָּדוֹל וָרָם בְּנֵי עֲנָקִים אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ וְאַתָּה שָׁמַעְתָּ מִי יִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי עֲנָק

Hear, O Israel:you are to pass over the Jordan this day, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to the heavens.
A people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard others: ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’

Says the Midrash on these psukim:
שמע ישראל אתה עובר היום את הירדן: הלכה אדם מישראל ששותה מים לצמאו אומר ברוך שהכל נהיה בדברו רבי טרפון אמר בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונם

The question is, how does Borei Nefashos relate to Bnei Yisrael’s commandment to enter the land and the tall task (no pun intended) of conquering a land with fortified cities and giants?

Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer ztl (the last pre-war chief rabbi of Krakow) gives a beautiful answer, highlighting the importance of empathy, and the “blessing” of experiencing difficult times: He explains that many times we genuinely want to help another person, but we simply do not know how because we cannot truly relate to another’s situation. If we never struggled with a particular situation or issue, then it becomes difficult to help someone else through that problem.

The text of Borei Nefashos reads:

בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונן, על כל מה שבראת להחיות בהם נפש כל חי, ברוך חי העולמים …

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies; for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being. Blessed is He, the life of the worlds.

We thank Hashem for the chesronos – that which we lack; it’s an odd thing to be thankful for, but we acknowledge that we have times when we feel that we’re uncomfortable or missing something.How does this relate to Eretz Yisrael and kivush Ha’Aretz?

The answer is that the difficulty of acquiring Eretz Yisrael teaches us about how we are to use challenges to help others in the future…
When we look at Eretz Yisrael, we see a place where we feel we belong; a land we ought to be able to call our very own because it was promised to our forefathers. In reality, just as it was in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu and now in our days, there are difficulties, yisurin and nisyonos standing in our way. These challenges are not merely punishments, but they also empower us for the future.
Wherever we find ourselves, we are bound to encounter individuals who have gone through difficult times, who feel they don’t belong, or who feel left out. As a result of us having that shared experience of coming to Eretz Yisrael under tough circumstances, we can use that 
chisaron to help others who are also having difficulty acquiring what they need or want.
Borei Nefashos is a truly unique bracha, in which we thank Hashem for the fact that sometimes we have to struggle, that then enables us to empathize and help our brothers and sisters in need.

Very often it’s difficult to see or accept this lesson while in the midst of a difficult challenge, but hopefully in hindsight we can see how experiencing a particular hardship empowered us to help others.

This idea reminded me of a Shabbos HaGadol drasha given a few years ago by Rav Moshe Weinberger shlita, in which he said that the “rechush gadol” — the “immense wealth” that Avraham’s descendants would carry out as they left Egypt, as promised by Hashem to Avraham — is our ability to have compassion toward others. Compassion is a key aspect of being a Jew. In fact, the direct commandment for this concept is (not coincidentally) found in this week’s parsha. Devarim 10:19:

וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Love your stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Hashem made us go through the shibud of Mitzrayim (and all the challenges in the desert and of conquering the Land) so that for the rest of existence we would know compassion. Jews know what it feels like to be alone and downtrodden. It is our job now to treat others experiencing similar feeling with love and kindness.


[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]

There is a mnemonic that Chazal created to help us remember when we read certain parshios throughout the year. The mnemonic as quoted in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 428:
פקדו ופסחו, ולמעוברת סגרו ופסחו, מנו ועצרו, צומו וצלו, קומו ותקעו

All of the examples in the mnemonic list the Torah portion that comes BEFORE the chag…except for one:
For Tish’a B’Av, it says: צומו וצלו
“Fast and then pray” i.e. Tish’a B’Av (fast) occurs and then we read Parshas Va’eschanan (which is a prayer of Moshe, hence “pray”)
Rabbi Lebowitz poses the following 3 questions:
Question 1: Why for 9Av, does Chazal list the “chag”/occasion first and then the Parsha that comes AFTER it? It should say ‘read Devarim and then have 9Av’…

Question 2: Moshe says in Devarim 1:37 that Hashem punished him, by not allowing him to enter Eretz Yisrael, because of Bnei Yisrael’s sin of the Meraglim:
גַּם בִּי הִתְאַנַּף ה’ בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר גַּם אַתָּה לֹא תָבֹא שָׁם

Why is Moshe blaming Bnei Yisrael for being denied entry to the Land; wasn’t he punished because he hit the rock, instead of speaking to it?

Question 3: The Midrash in Meggilas Eicha instructs us to read Devarim 1:12 in the somber tune of Meggilas Eicha. The passuk begins with the word “eicha,” and in it Moshe recounts his feelings that he could no longer bear the burden of the multitude of the people. Other than the word “eichah”, what link is there between this passuk/Parshas Devarim, and 9Av?

To begin, there is certainly a link between Devarim and 9Av: As Rashi explains at the beginning of Devarim, Moshe lists all the places where Bnei Yisrael traveled where something bad happened, to hint to them that they should remember their missteps in that location. Since 9Av is a result of our sins, it is fitting to hear Moshe’s mussar, with regards to our sins, on the Shabbat before 9Av.

Rav Soloveitchik points out further, that the only sin that Moshe expounds upon in detail and explicitly states in the parsha, is Cheit HaMeraglim – the sin occurred on 9Av ,and triggered all future suffering on this day. To understand this, we must recognize the degreeof devestation of the Meraglim. Before the Meraglim, Bnei Yisrael were on a tremendous high, making their way out of slavery, with the Torah in hand, on the way to the Promised Land. Along comes the damaging report of the Meraglim, and Bnei Yisrael plummet drastically. The ultimate and final gift after all Bnei Yisrael endured, and after all miracles Hashem performed, was Eretz Yisrael…and we spit, kaviyachol, in Hashem’s face, by believing the spies’ negative report. 

Cheit HaMeraglim is the culmination of all of Bnei Yisrael’s complaining and all the jabs they took at Moshe by asking ‘why did YOU [Moshe] take us out of Egypt to die in the desert’. It was a lack of emunah that was too much to recover from, and why that generation dies in the desert. Moshe knew it wasn’t him that really took Bnei Yisrael out and was testing them, but after a while it had a tiny effect on him. It is this frustration that causes him to veer ever so slightly from Hashem’s word at Mei Meriva. Moshe hits the rock because he reaches a breaking point precipitated by Cheit HaMeraglim

As noted, Cheit HaMeraglim was the first of the major catastrophes to happen on 9Av. According to Megilla 31b, some Tanaaim held that we should read the story of the Meraglim in Parshas Shlach on the morning of 9Av. We, however, follow a different opinion and read from Va’eschanan…
A shift occurred where we went from using 9Av only as a day to remember the bad things in Parshas Devarim, to a day where we also think to the future and pray. 
“Fast and pray,” say Chazal; make sure you pray after you fast. We certainly mourn all the terrible things that happened, but we don’t wallow and abandone hope. We don’t mourn just to mourn, so we can say, ‘woe unto us’. The reason for the fasting is for us feel our distance from Hashem, and use that aching feeling to move closer toward Him. If fasting doesn’t motivate us to pray to move closer to Hashem, then it didn’t fulfill it’s purpose.
The goal is V’shavta ad Hashem elokecha v’shamata b’kolo”

The Gemara in Ta’anis 30b and Bava Basra 60b, famously states:
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה
All who mourn over Yerushalayim will merit and will see its simchah
We still mourn, because we know that when we mourn, it’s not just about the pain of the past, but also about bringing the joy of the future. The past brings us to our destiny; we glance backward, to eagerly look forward.
Rav Soloveitchik said that because we remember our past, we know how to live in the present, so that we can achieve our future.
Part of Chazal’s mnemonic is to inform us what our focus should be on and after 9Av. The past is extremely important; lessons from Devarim must not be discounted. But the parsha that more accurately dictates what our mindset should be on 9Av and during this period, is the parsha after 9Av, namely this week’s parsha of Va’eschana. In it, Moshe wasn’t praying for just anything; in the first few psukim of Va’eschanan he is desperately pleading enter Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael allowed the spies’ reports to chill this passion and deep love of Eretz Yisrael that should have been blazing inside of them. I believe we are supposed to experience the pain of 9Av, and come out mimicking Moshe’s prayer, yearning to be in our Homeland with the Beis HaMikdash.
Our goal on 9Av and going forward is not self-loathing. Instead, we take the lessons of the past, to pray for the future and merit:
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה