שבת טעם החיים ראש השנה-האזינו-עשרת ימי תשובה תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Rosh HaShanah-Haazinu-Aseres Yimei Teshuvah 5771
Sing for the Good and for the Bad
ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם למען תהיה לי השירה הזאת לעד בבני ישראל, so now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouth, so that this song shall be for Me a witness against the Children of Israel (Devarim 31:19)
Parashas Haazinu is unique that it is written as a song and its meaning is cryptic. In a simple sense Haazinu is a testimony to the performance of the Jewish People. If the Jewish people follow HaShem’s will than they will be rewarded and if they flout His will, they will be punished. Yet, the fact that Haazinu is written as a song is evidence that there is another dimension contained in this fascinating parasha. Let us take a look at what the Torah is telling us regarding our own behaviors and how we can apply the Torah’s wisdom to improve our relationship with HaShem.
Praise HaShem for the Good and the Bad
We first need to address why Haazinu is written as a song. If the Jewish People follow HaShem’s will and are rewarded, we can easily understand why their hearts will sing with praise of HaShem. However, if they do not obey HaShem’s wishes and are punished, can we suggest that we will be singing HaShem’s praises? The Gemara provides us with the answer to this question, as we are taught (Brachos 54a) that one is required to thank HaShem for the good and for the bad. Thus, it is explicit that even when our nation suffers, we are obligated to sing HaShem’s praises. One must wonder, then, why the blessings and curses in Parashas Ki Savo are not written in the format of a song? What is unique about Haazinu that warrants the song format?
Haazinu is a Song that is Arranged in One’s Heart
To answer this question, we need to examine the meaning of a song, referred to in the Torah as a Shirah. While a song is normally the result of one’s feelings and emotions, the song of Haazinu has a different connotation. It is said (Devarim 31:19) viatah kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos vilamdah es binei Yisroel simah bifihem limaan tihiyeh li hashirah hazos lieid bivnei Yisroel, so now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouth, so that this song shall be for Me a witness against the Children of Israel. This song of Haazinu is unique that HaShem instructs Moshe to place it in their mouth. The Sfas Emes (Haazinu 5644) writes that the Jewish People have a portion in every part of the Torah. Commensurate with what a Jew studies of the Torah HaShem implants light and reason into the Torah. One has to have a pure heart to be a recipient of the Torah. The word simu, place, writes the Sfas Emes, is the arrangements of the heart. One has to arrange his heart and have proper intentions to receive the Torah. This thought of the Sfas Emes is complemented by the idea that the word shirah is similar to shur, which means a wall. Thus, the song of Haazinu must be like a wall, i.e. one must be strong in accepting both the blessings and the curses. We can now better understand why Parashas Ki Savo is not written in the form of a song. Rashi writes in the beginning of Parashas Nitzavim that when the Jewish People heard all the curses, their faces turned green and they informed Moshe that they were not prepared to handle the gravity of the curses. Moshe appeased the Jewish People by telling them that they had angered HaShem in the past and they were still able to exist. The Jewish People were devastated by the curses because they had not been prepared for such an onslaught of fire and brimstone. Once Moshe prepared them for the future they were able to withstand the dire warnings and only then were they able to hear the blessings and the curses in the format of a song.
Remove Satan and Create a Wall
We can now adopt a new approach to serving HaShem with both the good and the bad that permeates our existence. It is noteworthy that the word shofar contains the word shur, a wall, and also the letter pey. The letter pey denotes anger and harsh judgments. The commentators write that when blowing the Shofar we should have in mind the words kera Satan, rip out the Satan. In order to be strong in our service of Hashem, we must acknowledge that what we refer to as bad also emanates from HaShem and our mission is to root out the bad. In this manner, we can be strong like a wall and serve HaShem with love and fear.
The Shabbos connection
Shabbos is a time of song and joy. We are confident in our knowledge that we have worked hard all week to serve HaShem and with the onset of Shabbos, all harsh judgments depart and we are able to serve HaShem with love and joy. HaShem should purify our hearts to serve Him in truth, and we should merit a Kesiva Vachasima Tova, a healthy and meaningful New Year.
Old Jerusalem Stories
The Torah (Numbers 35:6) mandates that one who murders unintentionally must flee to one of the cities of refuge, where he is to remain until the death of the High Priest. It is not coincidental that these were Levite cities.
Though the murderer did not act willfully, his crime could have been prevented had he exercised proper caution. As the Talmud makes clear, his act requires atonement and that is the purpose of his exile.
The Levites were teachers of their people and served in the Holy Temple. Their cities were permeated with an atmosphere of Torah and heightened spirituality. Such a place would surely make an impact upon the murderer so that he would eventually leave as a better, more refined individual.
The following story illustrates this idea:
A distinguished man once presented the following question to Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, during his years in Jerusalem:
He was a member of a small Torah community in an Israeli city, whose girls attended a religious school in a neighboring city which had a much larger religious population. There was no pressing need to open a religious school in his area, since all the observant girls had a school nearby and the secular population had no interest in a religious school. On the other hand, if this smaller community were to open their own school, perhaps a few secular families would also enroll their daughters there.
Rabbi Soloveitchik responded with a story:
In Brisk, Poland, the religious school was situated in a predominantly secular neighborhood. Near the school lived a secular couple who enrolled their daughter there merely as a matter of convenience. The girl was profoundly influenced by her educational experience.
It happened that her father and mother had to go away for the weekend. They left their daughter in charge of their hardware store and warned her that the store was to be open on Shabbat as usual. The girl was afraid to totally disobey her parents but she was determined to do everything possible to avoid engaging in any transaction on Shabbat.
Shabbat day, a non-Jew entered the store, pointed to a small decorative item in the store window and asked its price. “One hundred zlotes!” the girl replied confidently. The man stormed out of the store in fury, for he knew that the item was worth only one half-zlota.
A short while later, the man returned. “I really shouldn’t offer you another zlota,” he said, “but I’m willing to raise my offer to five zlotes.”
“I’m sorry,” the girl replied firmly. “One hundred zlotes and not a zlota less.”
Throughout the day, the man returned time and again, each time raising his offer a bit more, and each time he left empty-handed as the girl stood her ground. After Shabbat had ended, the man returned again. “Okay,” he said grudgingly, “I’m willing to pay your price.” He placed one hundred zlotes on the table.
“Let me explain why I’m doing this: I recently redecorated my entire home. Everything looks beautiful, but I need one small item to make it complete. When I passed by your store and saw this item in the window, I knew that this was the item I needed. I know that I’m overpaying by a lot, but it’s worth it to have this item displayed in my dining room.”
When the girl’s parents returned home, she told them the entire story. So impressed were they by their daughter’s steadfastness and by the result of her refusal to violate Shabbat, that they began to show interest in Jewish tradition and eventually became fully observant.
“And so,” concluded Rabbi Soloveitchik, “it is obvious that having a religious school in one’s city can have a very positive effect!”
[Another, unrelated, story:]
Near the Churvah Shul in the Old City of Jerusalem stood a small butcher shop, whose proprietor was a short man with a red, flowing beard. Over his black frock, Reb Beirish the Butcher wore a white apron as he chopped meat and, at the same time, recited chapters of Mishnah from memory. After the day’s meat had been salted, deveined, chopped, weighed and priced, Reb Beirish would open a Talmud and study. When a customer came in, Reb Beirish rarely spoke. Each piece of meat had a tag on it with its type of cut and price, so there was usually no reason for him to interrupt his learning.
Once, as he was salting a piece of meat, Reb Beirish noticed something about the piece that might have rendered it unkosher. He placed it on the side with the intention of showing it to a rabbi later in the day. Then, a woman customer entered his store and purchased some meat. After she had left, Reb Beirish realized that she had taken the questionable piece ― but Reb Beirish had no idea who she was!
Without wasting a moment, he closed the store, hurried to shul and began to recite Psalms, as he beseeched God that he should not be the cause of a Jew inadvertently eating something unkosher.
Soon after he returned to his store, the woman appeared to buy more meat. A cat had entered her home, sprung onto her kitchen table, and scampered off with the meat that she had bought!
How to Become a Rothschild
In the 18th century, Mayer Amschel Rothschild began the Rothschild financial dynasty that has tended to Jewish charitable and communal needs for two centuries. The following story tells of his humble beginnings.
Reb David Moshe of Chortkov used to relate how Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founding father of the dynasty of magnates, rose to his legendary opulence by virtue of an incident that took place one year on the 14th of Nissan, during the annual household search for chametz (leaven) on the evening before Seder night.
In his youth, Mayer Amschel was an attendant of Reb Zvi Hirsch of Chortkov, the father of Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg. In due course he married a young woman from Siniatin, where he set up in merchandising and prospered somewhat.
Now Reb Zvi Hirsch had saved up 500 gold ducats as a dowry for his daughter. Throughout the year he hardly ever opened the desk drawer where it was kept – except for the eve of the 14th of Nissan, when in the course of the search of chametz he opened it up. When this occasion came around for the first time after Mayer Amschel had left the household and married, the rabbi duly opened the drawer, and was horrified to find that the wallet containing his entire savings had disappeared.
The members of his household hastily decided that the thief could be no other than Mayer Amschel. They cited reports that he had opened a shop and was prospering – indisputable evidence that he was the thief, no doubt about it!
The rabbi repeatedly silenced their arguments, and reprimanded them for succumbing to the Jewish prohibition of suspecting the innocent. Had they themselves not been witness to his honest and God-fearing ways during the period of his employment with them? But they gave him no rest, until eventually he was compelled to make a reluctant journey to Siniatin. On opening his door and beholding his former employer whom he so much admired and esteemed, the young man rejoiced exceedingly, and showed the rabbi every mark of respect.
With heavy heart and faltering spirit, Reb Zvi Hirsch recounted his misfortune to his trusted former attendant, and through the discreetest of hints intimated to him that they suspected him.
“They are right,” Mayer Amschel was quick to confess, “I took the money. At the moment, though, I have at hand only about 200 ducats, which I will return to you at once. The rest I will return within a short time.”
The rabbi returned home with a double measure of relief – firstly, because the members of his family had not wrongly suspected an innocent party, and secondly, because the missing amount was now being returned to him. And in fact it all reached him in due course, in periodic installments.
In fact, however, the young man had stolen nothing. This is how it all came about.
As Pesach approached, a maid from one of the nearby villages had been hired to whitewash the house of the rabbi. The locked drawer in his study fascinated her intensely. She contrived to secure a key, and in due course presented the bulging wallet to her admiring spouse. For a long time he kept it well-hidden, but when he was satisfied that the whole matter had no doubt been forgotten – and besides, it was high time to begin to enjoy this windfall – he took one ducat with him on his next visit to the local tavern, and ordered vodka in plenty for himself and all his cronies. When it was time to pay, he slapped the gold ducat expansively on the counter and said to the innkeeper: “Look what I found! Here, take it to town and have it exchanged. Keep what I owe you for the drinks and give me the change.”
This he did. The next week again, the humble hostelry rang loudly in the wake of this peasant’s generosity, and when the local yokels all caroused a third time, he again paid with a gold ducat that he had found.
The innkeeper was no fool. He went off quietly to the Polish governor and passed on his suspicions.
“Next time he comes around,” advised the governor, “surround him on all sides with his favorite drinking companions, and fill him up till he’s dead drunk. Then we’ll hear the truth! As they say, ‘In flow the spirits, out flow the secrets.'”
The next time came soon enough, and by now the rustic’s quickly-growing circle of friends were intensely inquisitive: where had he found all those ducats? And so it was that he confided the whole story of his wife’s little escapade to a couple of dozen eager and red-nosed listeners, mentioning for good measure exactly where the treasure now lay buried.
The innkeeper took along a group of witnesses to the governor, and on hearing their testimony he sent off his henchmen to dig in the peasant’s backyard. There they duly found just a few ducats less than 500.
They bound and shackled him and hauled him off unceremoniously to the governor’s castle, where he confessed.
The governor now sent for the rabbi. Quaking, the unfortunate scholar prepared himself for the worst: for who could know what new problem awaited?
Surprisingly, though, the governor asked him instead how many children he had, how much he earned weekly, and so on – and the rabbi of course answered.
Then came the following question: “And how do you plan to marry off your daughter?”
The rabbi thereupon told him about the 500 ducats that he had saved up, and that had been stolen; and on being asked further questions, he described the wallet in which the money had been kept. Fully convinced, the governor promptly handed it over to its rightful owner, and told him of the episodes in the local tavern.
So it was that the rabbi returned to his home with mixed feelings – joyful at the discovery that his former employee was indeed an upright man, and grieved that he had suspected him.
He immediately set out for Siniatin and asked the young man what on earth had prompted him to admit to an offense which he had not committed, and to return a sum which he had not stolen. Mayer Amschel’s explanation was simple enough. He had seen at their previous meeting that his former master was deeply distressed, and had gathered that if he were to return to his family with empty hands, both he and they would be in even deeper anguish. He had therefore decided on the spot to say that he had stolen the money. He gave away his entire fortune at the time in order to give the rabbi some peace of mind, and had then sold and mortgaged whatever he owned in order to make up the required amount.
Amazed, the rabbi begged his forgiveness for having once suspected him. He returned the money, and gave him a blessing that Heaven should grant abounding riches to him and to his seed after him, for many generations.
Amschel grew to be prodigiously wealthy, the father of the opulent House of Rothschild. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Rosh HaShanah-Haazinu-Aseres Yimei Teshuvah 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a Shanah Tovah Umvoreches
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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