The Shabbat of Parshas B’shalach is also known as Shabbat Shirah. Rav Pincus notes that “shirah” – a time of song – is not reserved for that once instance in history, when we arrived on safe shores, on the other side of the Yam Suf. The concept of shirah – singing out in praise, appreciation, love, adoration of the Borei Olam – should ideally be a dominant part of every day of our lives. Dovid HaMelech spent entire nights writing song and praise, composing Tehillim, etc. Singing praise of Hashem is a “chovas kol ha’yetzurim lifanecha,” as we say every Shabbat in the teffila of Nishmas kol chai. There is a chova – an obligation of every human being – to sing shirah to Hashem for all the wonderful gifts He bestows upon us every day.
Gemara Psachim 118a says:
קשין מזונותיו של אדם כקריעת ים סוף, דכתיב (תהילים קלו:כה) נותן לחם לכל בשר וסמיך ליה לגוזר ים סוף לגזרים
How do we understand that providing food for one’s self (and family) is as difficult as Krias Yam Suf?
It’s a real avodah and takes real effort to acknowledge Hashem, and not take for granted the simplest sustenance, possessions and abilities we have been given. But, says Rav Pincus, when we come home at night and open our refrigerators to find food, that itself is like Krias Yam Suf, and is worthy of pausing to “say shira”. No doubt, that being makir tov to Hashem constantly throughout the day is a tremendously lofty endeavor, but it an important ideal to strive for, even if one can only achieve a fraction of the total goal. Saying shirah is something that we have to train ourselves to do on a more regular basis.
One final thought: Rav Pincus quotes Rebbe Yeshoshua ben Levi, who says (Sanhedrin 91a): “Kol ha’omer shirah ba’olam ha’zeh, zocheh v’omrah l’olam haba”
This gemara was a particularly difficult idea for me to reconcile, in thinking about the yahrtzeit this Shabbat. One cannot understand why a person like Daniella, who spent so much of olam ha’zeh singing shira, was taken to olam haba now, so swiftly, so young. But I saw another idea in Rav Pincus that brought some comfort that I would like to share…
Shir HaShirim 2:14, says:
יוֹנָתִי בְּחַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע בְּסֵתֶר הַמַּדְרֵגָה הַרְאִינִי אֶת מַרְאַיִךְ הַשְׁמִיעִנִי אֶת קוֹלֵךְ
My dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice.
Rashi comments on this passuk that the dove Shlomo HaMelech is referring to is a mashal for Bnei Yisrael in Parshas B’shalach.
Bnei Yisrael fleeing Paraoh is akin to a dove hiding in the clefts of a rocky cliff. The dove has gone there to hide from the predatory hawk but inside the rocky refuge is a snake. So too Bnei Yisrael were caught between the Yam Suf in front of them (snake), and the entire Egyptian army bearing down on them from behind (hawk). With nowhere to turn, Hashem says to us – ‘show me your face; show me to whom do you turn when you are in distress?’
הַשְׁמִיעִנִי אֶת קוֹלֵךְ — Let me hear your voice; Rashi explains this to mean – to whom do you call out in a time of tzara?
Very often, during times of tzara there is no answer or explanation. While asking for an answer may be fruitless, it also doesn’t mean we stay silent, wallowing in sadness. It is my belief that the mitzvos, and shalosh seudot and torah learning, and increased sensitivity to others, etc. that took place in the wake of Daniella’s passing is our קוֹלֵךְ — our “calling out”. There is no answer to be had for why tragedy occurs; the best we can do is ensure an increase of G-dliness in the world through the actions by those still in olam ha’zeh and able to perform mitzvos. Hashem asks the dove in it’s time of sorrow – ‘to whom do you call out’ – and we have responded: ‘To You, Hashem.’
In the first dvar torah after Daniella’s passing, for Parshas Yisro, I quoted from Tehillim 92:13-14:
צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּה
שְׁתוּלִים בְּבֵית ה’ בְּחַצְרוֹת אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ יַפְרִיחוּ
A tzaddik grows like a cedar tree; beyond any normal bounds. Why? The message of Dovid HaMelech’s beautiful poetry is that a tzaddik ultimately grows in a world without boundaries; he or she grows in Hashem’s garden. It flourishes in Hashem’s palace. Tzaddikim are hopefully given many years in this world to influence others and allow others to learn from them, but the main flourishing of a tzaddik occurs beyond this world.
My hope is that through Daniella’s own abundant zechuyos, and through our קוֹלֵךְ and the proliferation of mitzvos and learning that have been undertaken in her memory, that her neshama continues to grow and be elevated like a soaring tree “b’veis Hashem,” and that in turn, her family and friends feel more of her presence and guidance in this world.
In Shmos 1:15, the Torah tells us that the incredibly righteous and brave women who defied Paraoh, and saved the Jewish firstborn males from being tossed into the Nile, were named Shifra and Puah:
וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה
A glaring question arises: Why does the Torah uses these alternate names? Here is Yocheved, a woman of 123 years, one of the 70 people who went down with Yaakov to Egypt, the daughter of Levi; and Miriam – a neviah…were they not worthy of being identified by their originally-given names?!
He uses a mashal of a baby that is sick in the hospital, lo aleinu. The doctors are working round-the-clock to try and save the baby and figure out the cause of the illness. But the mother is sitting calmly with the baby, speaking softly in his ear, and trying to eek out a smile, telling herself and the baby that it will all be OK. The doctors are rightfully consumed by the big stuff – the baby’s heart rate or white blood cell count, etc. They can’t worry about the baby’s happiness level or whether the baby is calm or in fear.
Miriam and Yocheved essentially played both roles, of heroic doctor and caring mother. In the most horrifying circumstances, trying to rescue the lives of these babies who were otherwise sentenced to be drowned to death, Miriam and Yocheved also endeavored to give these babies some semblance of normalcy, by soothing and comforting them, paying attention to the little things. Even during chaos and oppression, they were Shifrah and Puah.
Rav Pincus also includes a story about Rav Shlomo Heiman ztl. His wife was a huge ba’alat tzeddakah, who was particularly focused on helping financially-troubled orphans find enough money to make a wedding.
In thinking about this idea from Rav Pincus, I believe there is a related lesson with regards to different types of tzeddakah and kindness. Without making any qualitative distinctions whatsoever, there is the type of tzeddakah done slightly removed from the recipient (such as making a donation), and then there is tzeddakah done up close and personal. The latter requires a unique type of effort, sacrifice and frame of mind. Yocheved and Miriam – Shifra and Puah – weren’t writing checks or prescribing medicine from afar. They were the personal helpers to the newborn babies and their mothers at an incredibly frightening time in our history. They stood on the front lines and got their hands dirty, so to speak.
During this final month before Daniella’s yahrtzeit, I hope to try and highlight at least one or two of Daniella’s amazing qualities in connection with the upcoming parshiot.
[based on ma’amarim by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus ztl, in Tiferet Shimshon]
Vayikra Perek 23 in Parshat Emor, discusses the moadim, among them is of course the upcoming holiday of Shavuos.
Why is the holiday called “weeks”? Unlike Pesach and Sukkot, why is Shavuot named for what happens before the holiday?
The Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 306 on the Omer, writes that the Jewish people were born for Torah. We were taken out of Mitzrayim to receive the Torah. To paraphrase, we count the Omer to show our excitement that X many days have passed, and we are that much closer to Matan Torah, and when we are excited we count up.
This last part seems odd — usually when we’re excited we count down. When someone gets engaged, for example, he/she usually counts down the days to the wedding. What is it about Torah and receiving the Torah that makes us count up instead of down?
Rav Pincus explains based on B’reishit 29:20:
וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
The 7 years that Yaakov had to wait to marry Rachel seemed like they went quickly in his eyes. How can we understand, that waiting 7 long years to marry his beloved Rachel, seemed like it flew by? That’s not how it usually works…
The answer is that each day Yaakov got closer to becoming the person he would need to be, so that he could be a husband to Rachel and progenitor of Am Yisrael. Each day of that 7 (eventual 14) year period, he had a new tefisah.
If, however, a man is given something productive to work on, and every day for 100 days, he is given $10,000, then the days will FLY by. Ultimately, the man receives the same $1 million dollars, but the experiences are drastically different. Why? Because in this second mashal, every day is another chance to work at something, accomplish and gain something in the process. Before he knows it, the man will have $1 million.This, l’havdil, is the purpose of the Omer, and why we count UP, which may seem counterintuitive, given our excitement to get to the end. We’re eager for the end, but we’re not rushing there, because there is so much personal work we need to accomplish before we get there. Each day of the Omer is supposed to be used as a chance to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah on the 50th day; each day is meant to be used for work, preparation and growth. With each count, we are supposed to prepare ourselves to be koneh torah in another way. Whether that means learning more, working on middos to be a bigger kli for Torah, learning Pirkei Avos during the Omer, etc. The days are not obstacles standing in the way of the big Torah payday at the end; each one is a special, integral opportunity to prepare ourselves. Each day is another “$10,000”, and the final result is worth far more than $1 million.
If we look at Yitzchak’s role, we can understand the connection on another level: Yitzchak wasn’t the founder of monotheism, nor was he the father of the 12 tribes who really expanded nation. Yitzchak was the transition. He dug the same wells as Avraham. He stayed the course. He was given an idea and a new way of approaching the world and G-d, that he had to work on and bolster so that he could hand it off to Yaakov.
Finally, Rav Pincus ties in the significance of counting 49 days. As we know, Creation was 7 ‘days’. But after Creation, the world was simply a skeleton – an external framework. Nothing had been accomplished in the world other than its physical conception and existence.7 (i.e. Creation) multiplied by itself gives the world a certain depth, and this depth comes only from Torah. The world is not supposed to just be a picture, he explains. It is meant to be infused with action and righteousness, and that is what Torah brought to the world.
In the days leading up to Shavuot, we are supposed to fill ourselves with meaning and purpose. If I may humbly continue this thought – we are not supposed to be content simply “being free” after Pesach. On Pesach we were granted freedom; our bodies were given back to us, so to speak. But that can’t be the end of the story. As the Sefer HaChinuch writes, we were taken out of Mitzrayim for the purpose of receiving the Torah. On Pesach we were re-created, and stood in a similar fashion to Adam HaRishon after Creation, with merely the physical attributes of a human being. Between Pesach and Shavuot we are supposed to fill that vehicle and shape ourselves into something meaningful and worthy of receiving the greatest gift in the world.We are not supposed to just be satisfied, admiring a “picture” of ourselves, rather build ourselves into something substantial.
Sheva shabbatot temmimot t’hiyena (
— the idea being that we are supposed to use these days to build ourselves into something complete/shaleim/”tamim”, and be properly prepared to receive the Torah.
Shabbat Shalom, and a meaningful counting of the Omer
The affliction of Tzara’at manifests itself in a number of different ways, one of which is referred to by the Torah as “Tzara’at noshenet,” or “old tzara’at.” (Vayikra 13:11). The skin becomes infected in the same manner as it does with standard Tzara’at, but in this case, a scab has begun forming within the infected area. The Torah declares such an infection as Tzara’at that had infected the skin earlier, and has since begun to slightly heal, thus accounting for the scab.
Based on a dvar torah written by R’ David Silverberg, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l teaches an important lesson from this manifestation of Tzara’at. Upon seeing the growth of new, restorative skin, the individual is led to believe that the infection does not constitute true Tzara’at. After all, the affected area has already begun healing. The Torah, however, tells us otherwise. For any amount of time as the infection has not completely healed, it cannot be dismissed; the individual is a metzora. Tzara’at noshenet symbolizes a situation in which we find “bright spots” or mitigating factors within our faults. We sometimes take a look at our actions and parts of our personalities and find negative qualities, but we are tempted to excuse these deficiencies as soon as we can identify some alleviating factor, justification, or even a positive byproduct of these shortcomings. The Torah teaches us that an infection remains an infection even when accompanied by some healthy skin. Faults are still faults, even if we can find some good associated therewith. The task, therefore, is to spend time working on ourselves, mining the root causes of any negative qualities that persist, and act in a way that is always purely intentioned and properly carried out.
Another interesting lesson learned from the laws of Tzara’at is found in Gemara Shabbos. Perek 13:45 in Tazria says:
וְהַצָּרוּעַ אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ הַנֶּגַע בְּגָדָיו יִהְיוּ פְרֻמִים וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ וְעַל-שָׂפָם יַעְטֶה וְטָמֵא טָמֵא יִקְרָא
Gemara Shabbos 67a says:
וטמא טמא יקרא – צריך להודיע צערו לרבים ורבים יבקשו עליו רחמים
From the usage of “yikra”, the Gemara learns that when a person is afflicted with Tzara’at, the nation is to be made aware, and the people must subsequently pray for the afflicted individual.
Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus references a concept in Gemara Brachos 12b (learned out from a passuk in Shmuel I):
כל שאפשר לו לבקש רחמים על חבירו ואינו מבקש – נקרא חוטא
Anyone who is able to ask for mercy for his friend, and does not ask, is called a ‘sinner’.
Being labeled a choteh/sinner is a rather serious thing. The importance of praying for a friend in need is underscored by the harsh outcome of not doing so. How interesting that specifically from the sin of lashon hara, which has the terrible potential to tear relationships and communities apart, chas v’shalom, we learn the requirement to pray for another; specifically an individual who committed the damaging act. We might think this is the last person who is deserving of collective prayer and concern, but in fact, it is just the opposite.
Given the enormity of the need to pray for the metzora, perhaps there is more than just one purpose for the collective prayer for this individual. The obvious reason to pray for the metzora so that he/she will be cured. Additionally, we pray not only for the “infection” of the skin to be physically cured, but also that the root cause of the lashon hara – jealousy, anger, insecurity, voyeurism, boredom, etc. – be cured as well. The cause of (and pervasiveness of) lashon hara, is obviously not isolated to this individual; everyone in the community is susceptible to fall victim to such pitfalls, and so the more we care about one another, the less likely we all are to speak ill of each other.
Furthermore, while the metzora must be taken outside the camp due to his/her transgression, ultimately our goal is not to exile a person indefinitely. There is a concept that every person in Klal Yisrael serves a special purpose, which only that individual capable of fulfilling. Despite the terrible sin of lashon hara that was committed, we pray for the person to be cured and rejoin the community, so that the community may once again be complete and benefit from all the positive qualities and value this person has to offer.
One final thought, going back to the beginning of the parsha which speaks about circumcising a baby boy on the eighth day from birth (Vayikra 12:3). I was tasked this week with trying to explain the merits of having a ritual circumcision to a Jewish co-worker of mine who is expecting his first child in a few months. Hopefully I was successful, but it reminded me of a story once read about Rav Chaim Berlin. Rav Chaim would often read Shir HaShirim on Chol HaMoed Pesach, and when he came to the 15th passuk in the first chapter, year after year, he would burst into tears. The verse reads:
He was once asked why that passuk caused such an intense response. In short, he said that when he was the rav in Moscow he was approached by a Jew to perform a circumcision for his son. This Jew had made a living selling Christian items, had zero affiliation with other Jews in Moscow, and could be killed if it was ever discovered that he was Jewish. Rav Chaim went to the home, which was filled with Christian relics and had no semblance of anything Jewish. A few days later, Rav Chaim asked that the father come see him to tell him how the child was doing. Rav Chaim asked the father why he was moser nefesh to perform a Bris Milah. The father broke down and said although he was no longer a practicing Jew, and that it seemed unlikely that his newborn son would ever be exposed to much Judaism, he at least had a chance to be connected to Judaism, because he grew up in a Jewish home. The father didn’t want to deprive his son of the opportunity to be a proper member of the community should the son decide to do so someday in the future.
Rav Chaim said that from this he understood the seemingly redundant wording in Shir HaShirim and how that connects to doves. Chazal explain the repetition of, “You are fair,” by saying that the first one refers to before we sin, and the second one refers to after we sin. What is the fairness/beauty after the sin? The answer is found in the next words, “Your eyes are as doves.” A dove, unlike other birds, will never fly so far away from her nest that she can’t navigate her way back. A Jew has this quality, that even when he sins and “flies” far from the Source (no matter how big/small the sin or how near/far he wanders), hopefully he is never too far to find his his way home, and hopefully when he does find his way back, (perhaps similar to the metzora who we are to pray for and whose return to the community we eagerly await) he is greeted with open arms.
[based on Rav Shimshon Pincus ztl: Tiferes Shimshon]
One of priestly garments, worn by The Kohen Gadol, was the Me’il (robe), described in Shmot 28:31-35. This magnificent robe had 72 gold bells on it, separated by alternating pomegranate-shaped tassels of t’cheilet, purple and scarlet wool.
There are many beautiful explanations offered for the purpose and deeper meaning behind the bells, the pomegranates, the robe’s design, and its function to atone forLashon hara, etc. (discussed in some detail below.)
Using the Ramban’s explanation for the Me’il, Rav Pincus writes about an importantyesod… The Ramban explains that the Kohen Gadol wore this garment as a way to announce himself, so to speak, to Hashem before he went into the Kodesh, the holier parts of the Mishkan. He was asking for “permission” of Hashem to enter the Kodesh and perform his priestly service.
Why did the regular kohanim not wear the Me’il? Because there is an added level of approval needed for the highest leader. Such a role cannot be undertaken by just anyone. Such a person needs to ask permission and receive verification of his worthiness for the task.
Rav Pincus points out, however, that on Yom Kippur in the Kodesh HaKedashim, theMe’il was not worn; it was not one of the 4 articles of clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol on this holiest of days, per Vayikra 16:4.
The question begs — when the Kohen Gadol went into the holiest place of all, he no longer needed to introduce himself?? Of all times – when the Kohen Godel went lifnay v’lifnim, representing all of Klal Yisrael and pleading with the Master of the Universe for atonement – we would think that asking for permission to enter would be mostappropriate!
The greatest concentration of Torah in the world was in the Kodesh HaKedashim, since the Aron and Luchot HaBrit were housed there. The lesson, says Rav Pincus, is that Talmud Torah is available to anyone. No matter a person’s background, no matter a person’s level of observance – Torah is always available. We don’t need someone “closer” to Hashem than us to make an intro. No “hookups” needed. Noreshus needed, and no need to ask “permission” to access Torah. Anyone asher yidvenu libo can tap into the infinite lessons of Torah.
To quote Rav Pincus, and roughly translate –
את כתר התורה כל אחד יכול ליטולו ולשימו עטרה על ראשו
Everyone is capable of taking the crown of Torah and placing it as a crown on their own head.
I believe this yesod connects with another lesson learned out from the Me’il…
As mentioned above, The Gemara in Erachin 16a states that the robe atoned for the sin of Lashon hara; Hashem said, “Let a noisy object [the bells] atone for the act of making noise [Lashon hara].”
How so? What’s the connection?
I believe there are a few related ideas to help explain.
Rav Moshe Alshich prived an explanation for the Torah’s description of the arrangement of the bells and pomegranates. The bells and pomegranates were placed in alternating fashion: a bell, followed by a pomegranate, followed by a bell, followed by a pomegranate, and so on. Yet, the Torah speaks of the bells as being placed in between the pomegranates. Even though each pomegranate was surrounded by two bells, just as each bell was surrounded by two pomegranates, the Torah nevertheless chooses to specifically describe the bells as being surrounded by pomegranates.
The Alshich explains that the Torah here alludes to the great value of silence. The stress in the passuk is the siginificance of the pomegranates surrounding the bells — Megilla 18a teaches: “mila b’sela mashtuka b’trin” = a word is valued at one sela (coin) and silence is worth two (sela’im). Rashi explains: If one were to buy a word for one coin, it would be worth it to pay two coins for silence. For every measure of speech, one should have two measures of silence. The Torah thus emphasizes that each bell – each sound that a person makes – must be surrounded by two silent pomegranates.
To this point, often times Lashon hara is just noise; audible information to just fill space; For example, Reuvein speaks Lashon hara about Shimon. Reuvein’s real goal was not to speak against Shimon to ruin his reputation; he spoke Lashon hara because the silence was too bothersome, or because he couldn’t think of something better to say at that moment. He had some juicy news to share with his peers that he used it to gain some attention and popularity. Most people, when they speak about others, actually care little about the one they’re speaking against. They doing it for themselves — with an eye toward improving their own image and popularity, rather than (and carelessly inconsiderate of) the resulting damage to their fellow man. So as not to seem dull, we often engage in conversation that isn’t particularly profound, but fills the empty space.
This idea of guarding our speech by keeping our lips tightly closed, and only talking when we have something important to say, is even symbolized in the physical shapes of the bells and pomegranates of the Me’il. The bells with the ringers inside resemble an open mouth with a tongue. The pomegranates resemble a mouth tightly shut. Each golden bell was surrounded by a pomegranate on either side to remind us of our responsibility to think twice before we speak. In this way, we atone for the sin of Lashon hara.
Finally, the Gemara in Zevachim 18b explains that the term used for the simple garments worn by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur – Michnisei Bahd, Ketonet Bahd, Mitznefet Bahd, Avneit Bahd – were linen garments, learned out from a passuk in Yechezkel; Bahd = Pishtim = Linen.
As stated above, the absence of the Me’il from the Kohen Gadol’s garb when he entered the Kodesh HaKedashim on Yom Kippur, teaches us that no permission or access code is needed to tap into Torah. There is, however, (at least) one prerequisite for Talmud Torah and D’veikus with Hashem, and that is humility. This is signified by the Bigdei Pishtim – the simple, white, linen clothing, which were the only clothing allowed to be worn when encountering the Luchot.
I believe humility connects to the lessons of avoiding Lashon hara in that a humble person has no designs to put someone else down by spreading Lashon hara; he has no desire to one-up or overtake someone else. Instead he thinks – ‘I am so far from perfect myself, so who am I to speak ill of someone else??’ The Torah’s punishment for Lashon hara is tzara’at, not to cause him pain, but to humble and lower him in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. In fact (thanks to an internet search), Erachin 15b says that the remedies for speaking Lashon hara are Torah study and humility.
A few years ago, Rav Moshe Weinberger shlita, in his Shabbos Shuva derasha, noted that pishtim (linen) has the same letters as sefasi (lips). The Kohen Gadol, as an extension of Klal Yisrael, comes to Hashem offering just the teffilos of his lips. Lips of his, and the collective lips of Klal Yisrael, that were hopefully employed for good things throughout the preceding year. Lips that know when to stay closed, and lips that know when to be used for Talmud Torah, teffila, and redifas shalom.
Humility and proper treatment of others, are key ingredients to help ensure the fulfillfilment of our daily request of: Hashem sefasai tiftach, u’fi yagid tehilasecha.