שבת טעם החיים ואתחנן תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaeschanan 5771
Honor Your Parents Because You Owe Them Everything
כבד את אביך ואת אמך כאשר צוך ה’ אלקיך למען יאריכן ימיך על האדמה אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך, honor your father and your mother, as HaShem, your G-d, commanded you, so that your days will lengthened and so that it will be good for you, upon the land that HaShem, your G-d, gives you. (Devarim 5:16)
The Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes, was wont to say that every person should have an “Olam Haba Mitzvah,” and the mitzvah that the Imrei Emes himself was scrupulous with was the mitzvah of כיבוד אב ואם, honoring ones father and mother. When the Imrei Emes was a young child, he was on a train and towards evening he announced to his traveling companion, “it’s time to daven Mincha,” and the Imrei Emes proceeded to prepare for Mincha. Moments later, the Imrei Emes sat back down and began to unwrap his evening meal. His companion looked him at incredulously and asked, “Just a few minutes ago you were preparing for Mincha, and now you are forgoing that obligation in lieu of a meal?!” The Imrei Emes smiled and responded, “You are right. Now is the time for Mincha. However, as I was about to commence my prayers, I recalled my mother’s words to me this morning, ‘Avrohom Mordche, don’t forget to eat your chicken that I prepared for you before the day is over.’ Now I was faced with a dilemma. I have two mitzvos before me, davening Mincha and honoring my mother. Well, it appears that the mitzvah to daven mincha is of a rabbinic nature, whereas the mitzvah to honor my mother is Biblical, so certainly eating my dinner supersedes the mitzvah to daven now.” (We can assume that it wasn’t possible for the Imrei Emes to have eaten his dinner in time enough to still daven Mincha before sunset.) Why is honoring one’s parents such an important mitzvah?
The Gemara (Bava Kama 54b-55a) relates a fascinating dialogue concerning the reward that the Torah describes for one how honors his parents. Rabbi Chanina ben Agil asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba why in the first set of Luchos there is no mention of טוב, good, while in the second set of Luchos, טוב is mentioned (in the commandment to honor ones parents it is said למען ייטב לך, so that it will be good for you). Rabbi Chiya bar Abba responded that instead of asking why it mentions טוב, one should ask whether it says טוב altogether, and he sent Rabbi Chanina ben Agil to Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai.
Rabbi Chanina ben Agil said that he heard from Shmuel bar Nachum that the reason why טוב is not mentioned in the first Luchos is that the first Luchos were destined to be broken, and HaShem did not want the טוב, the good destined for the Jewish people, to be “broken” with the Luchos.
I would like to focus here on the question of Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, who wondered if it even says טוב altogether. Is it possible that Rabbi Chiya bar Abba was unfamiliar with a verse in Scripture? The commentators go to great lengths to explain this cryptic question of Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba (See Gra Ibid, Pinei Yehoshua Ibid and others.)
I would like to suggest the following explanation, and first we have to understand the nature of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) states that when HaShem proclaimed the first two commandments of “I am Hashem your G-d” and “you shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence,” the nations declared that HaShem is seeking His own glory. Only after they heard the commandment to “honor your father and mother” did they acknowledge the first commandments. What was so difficult for the nations to understand about the commandment to recognize HaShem as the One G-d and to refrain from believing in other gods? Furthermore, how did the commandment of honoring one’s parents assuage their concerns?
The Gemara (Ibid) relates how we learn the importance of honoring one’s parents from Dama ben Nesina, a gentile who did not wake up his father to obtain the key from under his pillow, despite being offered a lot of money. Why do we need to learn the importance of observing this mitzvah from a gentile who is not commanded to observe this mitzvah? The answer to these questions can be found in the response of Rabbi Chiya bar Abba regarding the word טוב. Rabbi Chiya bar Abba was telling Rabbi Chanina ben Agil that he did not understand the necessity for the Torah to state the word טוב regarding this mitzvah. Honoring one’s parents does not need an incentive, as one should honor one’s parents because of הכרת הטוב, literally translated as the recognition of the good. A parent does everything for the child, so it is only natural that a child respects the parent in every manner possible. The nations of the world, upon hearing that HaShem commanded the Jewish People to recognize only Him as G-d, declared, “He is merely seeking His own glory.” They failed to understand that we owe our very existence to Him. Only when they heard the commandment of honoring one’s own parents did they understand that what is required of a child is the same as what is required of any of HaShem’s creations. It is specifically for this reason that we derive the importance of honoring one’s parents from a gentile, who is not commanded in this mitzvah. The Gemara (Eruvin 100b) states that had the Torah not been given, we would have learned not to steal from an ant, modesty from a cat, morals from a dove and proper conduct from a rooster. Similarly, had the Torah not stated the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, we would have understood it on our own. For this reason Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba wondered why the Torah even found it necessary to state טוב, when the essence of honoring one’s parents is הכרת הטוב. HaShem should place in our hearts this awareness and since honoring ones parents is akin to honoring HaShem (Kiddushin 30b), through honoring our parents we will honor HaShem. In the merit of the mitzvah of honoring our parents we will merit good and long days.
Shabbos in Action through the Prism of the Parshah
In this week’s parasha it is said (Devarim 5:12) שמור את יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך ה’ אלקיך, safeguard the Shabbos day to sanctify it, as HaShem, your G-d, has commanded you. Rashi quotes the Gemara that states that the words “as HaShem, your G-d, has commanded you” refers to Marah, where Hashem instructed the Jewish People regarding certain mitzvos, such as Shabbos, honoring one’s parents and Parah Adumah. The word שמור also means to anticipate. We can interpret this verse to mean, anticipate the Shabbos every week, just as the Jewish People began to observe Shabbos in Marah, in anticipation of fully observing Shabbos once they received the Torah at Sinai.
The Imrei Emes – Kibud Av Wins Over the Mah Nishtanah
In days gone by the Mah Nishtanah was a much more innocent affair. Kids were not taught the Mah Nishtanah in school, but rather it was up to the kid to notice strange things going on at the Seder and asking on his own volition.
On Seder night when the Imrei Emes was a little boy, his father the Sfas Emes of Gur started his Seder and waited expectantly for his young son to start inquiring about odd happenings. The Imrei Emes sat quietly without the slightest hint of a puzzled look on his face. The Sfas Emes started to do more strange things in order to get the boy to ask, but to no avail. He even started to move things on and off the table, turn the table over, and other wild antics just to break the boy’s calm demeanor, but nothing would make the Imrei Emes flinch.
Finally the Sfas Emes asked his son if he noticed anything different about that night’s meal. The Imrei Emes said that of course he did. Then why, asked the Sfas Emes, did you not seem alarmed and ask any questions?
The little boy answered with pure innocence, because I know my father is a smart man and whatever he does he has a very good reason for doing. That is why I am not the slightest bit disturbed.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Reads His Mother the Megillah Out Of Respect
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held L’Halacha that hearing by Krias Megillas Esther through a hearing aid one could not be Yotzei. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s mother Tzivya was hard of hearing and wore a hearing aid (see story). When Rav Shlomo Zalman became Bar Mitzva he learned how to read the Megillah so that he can read it for his hearing impaired mother.
On Purim his mother would remove her hearing aid and Rav Shlomo Zalman would read the Megillah with all his might close to her ear so that she could be Yotzei. He continued this for many decades.
After many years of practicing this minhag one of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s children mentioned to him that he doesn’t think his mother can really hear all the words despite his best efforts. Rav Shlomo Zalman answered him, “Know my son that I never imagined that she hears the Megillah K’Halacha. All that I do for my mother is only to make her feel good and to honor her.” (Halichos Shlomo Orchos Halacha 2:29:1)
Seeing the Good of the Land: The Holiness of Tel Aviv
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: I have a different appreciation for the following insight now (after visiting Israel) than I did two weeks ago. I have “come and seen the Land and it is very very good” [Bamidbar 14:7].
A student of Reb Yisrael Salanter once went to his master and told him that he was going to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. He inquired of his Rebbe what he should be careful about. Reb Yisrael told him to be careful not to transgress the prohibition of speaking Lashon Harah [evil] about Eretz Yisrael.
Just as our ancestors’ actions set patterns for us in a positive direction (maaseh Avos siman libanim), so too can they do in a negative direction. There was an action of our ancestors concerning Eretz Yisrael — the incident of the Spies. This incident implanted for all generations a tendency within us, that when a person goes to visit Eretz Yisrael he may wish to dwell on its shortcomings rather than on its tremendous attributes. Reb Yisroel therefore told the student “Be careful, and don’t stumble in the sin of the spies.”
This is something that I try to bear in mind. There is perhaps a handicap in going to Eretz Yisrael for the first time at my age, rather that when younger. But the positive side is that one can be very aware and very cautious of this prohibition. One can make a concerted effort to see ‘the good of the Land and its fat places’.
A verse concerning our forefather Avraham says “And G-d said to Avraham, ‘Lift your eyes and see from the place where you are standing there. For all the land that you see, I will give to you and your children.'” [Bereishis 13:14] Before G-d showed Avraham the Land, he advised him to lift up his eyes. That is the approach that one must take when viewing the Land of Israel. It must be with ‘lifted eyes’. It requires, sometimes, an uplifted vision to see beyond the imperfections and to recognize the beauty and greatness of the Land.
When the Gerrer Rebbe, zt”l, went to Eretz Yisrael before the Second World War he wrote back a letter and referred to the “holy city of Tel Aviv”. His Chassidim wondered — we would understand “the holy city of Jerusalem”; we would understand “the holy city of Chevron”; “the holy city of Tzefas” — But the “holy city of Tel Aviv”?! What is so holy about Tel Aviv?
The Gerrer Rebbe wrote back and told his Chassidim, “The only Houses of Worship in Tel Aviv are synagogues! Other cities have churches and mosques, but Tel Aviv is holy — it has only synagogues!”
This is the “lift your eyes” — to see that Tel Aviv has its holiness and not to dwell upon the imperfections.
Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa Reveals the Future
One Purim after the Seudah, Rav Tzadok HaKohen told the following story with his face aflame from the Kedusha of the day. He related that one day he was walking with his Rebbe Rav Mordechai Yosef of Izhbetza and suddenly he stopped and told him the following story.
One Shabbos I was in Peshischa. Right before Havdala as Rav Simcha Bunim picked up the Kos, he said as follows. I am peering into the future of Klal Yisroel in the days preceding the coming of Moshiach. It will be a time when Yehudim will accustom themselves to extravagant luxuries and unnecessary expenses. Their normal income will not suffice them. They will be forced to find side jobs and additional sources of income. They will run day and night to earn what they need to support this lifestyle. They will invest their entire lives in a sea of toil and sweat. My hair stands on edge and my nails cut into my flesh as I imagine to myself what will be the fate of the Yehudim at that time. (Zichronam L’Vracha from “HaKohen”) (www.revach.net)
A Tzaddik’s view of Lifnim Mishuras Hadin
In spite of Reb Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld’s adamant refusal to allow anybody to trouble themselves on his behalf, even if it was just to carry a stick from one place to another, nothing was too much (and nothing too degrading) when it came to himself making life that little bit easier for others.
The Rav was a major conduit for Tzedakah funds arriving from Chutz la’Aretz to Eretz Yisrael. And so, money often arrived at his house on behalf of the poor of Yerushalayim.
It happened once that a sum of money arrived from Chutz la’Aretz for a certain Talmid-Chacham who was in need of it. No sooner had R. Yosef Chayim received the money than he went personally to the recipient’s house in order to hand him the money. Unfortunately, the man was not at home, so the Rav returned home with the money.
When the Talmid-Chacham heard who was looking for him, he hurried to R. Yosef Chaim’s house to enquire what it was that he wanted. Imagine his surprise when he discovered the object of R. Yosef Chaim’s visit! Thoroughly embarrassed, he asked the Rav why he had to deliver the money personally. Why could he not simply have sent a Shaliach or at least, handed the money to a member of his family, who apparently, was in the house when he called?
‘But how could I?’ replied R. Yosef in typical innocence. The sender explicitly wrote ‘Please hand over the money to ‘P’loni’. Had I sent it through a Shaliach or handed it to anyone else, I would have been guilty of reneging on the Shelichus’. (http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/chrysler/archives/yisro66.htm)
We all Come Home
The train was about to leave. It was a two-and-a-half-hour ride from New York’s Port Authority to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and almost every seat was full. Jack Eastman, a successful lawyer and an impressive looking gentleman, hopped on and settled in on the last remaining seat. Jack was sharply dressed in his black pinstripe Giorgio Armani suit, off white Valentino shirt with an arc spread collar, and split-toe Mezlon shoes. He placed his raincoat in the small compartment above his seat and pulled out a state-of-the-art laptop from his sleek leather attaché case. Satisfied with his preparations, he settled in for the trip.
As the doors were about to close, in dashed Jason Gross, a disheveled looking 19-year-old boy, his hair unkempt, his clothing wrinkled and messy. With no seats available, Jason reached up to grab hold of the plastic hook next to his head. Just then the doors of the Amtrak train closed and the train sped off.
Jack had been working studiously on his laptop when he noticed the boy standing above him. How sad, he thought. The young man appeared to be totally lost, with nowhere to go. “Excuse me, would you like to sit down next to me?” A seat had opened up next to Jack and he offered it to Jason.
“Nah, it’s okay. I’m just gonna stand here.” Jason hadn’t even made eye contact with him. He just stared straight ahead.
A half-hour past and once again Jack offered the seat. He could not get back to his work, wondering why this boy seemed so troubled. Jack had two kids: a boy of 15 and a girl of 12. He tried not to imagine his children ending up this way, but if they did he would want an older, caring person to help them.
Once again Jason refused the offer. He obviously wanted to be left alone. Another half-hour past and finally Jason’s weary feet convinced him to accept the seat. He was happy to finally be able to rest. He muttered a meek word of thanks and rested his head against the cold window. Although his head bobbed back and forth from the vibrations of the train, the cool feel of the window against his cheek was refreshing.
“Do you want to talk? It looks like something’s bugging you.” Jack tried to recall some of the teenage jargon he heard around the house but his mind came up empty. Jason continued to stare blankly out the window.
“If I want to talk I’ll let you know.” For the very first time Jack made eye contact with this troubled young man. He had once heard that if you look into someone’s eyes you can see what’s in his soul. What he had seen in this boy’s eyes was pure sadness. Just by looking at him you could see he was lonely and lost. Jack tried a few more times to extract from Jason what was troubling him, and how we could help, and finally Jason relented.
“It all started when I was around 15,” Jason began to bare his soul as Jack sat back and listened carefully. “I was the type of kid who was into electronics and was generally viewed as a recluse. My parents constantly encouraged me to get together with friends and they would always bother me. I would tell them to let me run my own life, but they kept sticking their noses into my business.
“Well, one of the advantages of being an electronics ‘nerd’ is the ability to create and invent different things. And that is precisely what I did. I created my very own invention and made a mint off of it. I became a millionaire overnight. By then I was 17 years old. Sure enough I became popular. My parents tried to warn me about the ‘groupies’ who wanted to get close to me because I was rich. But I had had enough of their advice; I told them once and for all that they should stay out of my life. They pleaded with me and begged me, but the last time we spoke I hung up on them, insisting that they never call me again.”
By now Jack was hanging onto every word of Jason’s tale of woe. He watched closely as Jason shifted uneasily in his seat. He felt Jason’s parents’ pain, yet sympathized with Jason as well; he wondered how much suffering this boy had endured.
“Money helped me find a wife and we got married immediately, with neither of our parents present at the wedding. Nine months later we had our first child. Life seemed to be perfect. There we were — a young couple living in a beautiful high-rise Manhattan apartment with a precious little baby. Then one day a shady character, one that in hindsight I should have stayed away from, offered me the ‘chance of a lifetime’ — an investment that would allow me to retire. I invested the millions that I had made and waited for a phone call that never came. The entire thing was a scam. Just like that, I was poor again.
“When my wife discovered what happened she left me and took our child. I was evicted from the apartment and suddenly had no friends to turn to. My entire world had crumbled. Less than two months earlier I’d been sitting on top of the world and now I was penniless, homeless and lonelier than I ever been. I scrounged around like a beggar going from restaurant to restaurant pleading for food. Doors were slammed in my face; the humiliation was unbearable. Finally, starved and ashamed, I stretched out on a park bench, closed my eyes and went to sleep, thinking, ‘This is where I’m going to die.’
“I don’t know how long I had sleeping but a man tapped me on the shoulder. I had never seen him before and he didn’t know who I was, but he sat down next to me and listened to my story. He cared about me and encouraged me to come back to his home, change my clothing and contact the only people that still cared for me — my parents.
“I thought to myself, ‘How could I use them like this?’ For as long as I could remember I had treated them more like my worst enemy than my parents. I showed them no respect and refused to include them in any part of my life. And now that I needed them I should use them?! I felt remorseful and ashamed about my entire existence. But left with no other choice, I decided to write them a letter.
“I sat down and tried to write. Tears flooded my vision and stained my words. I poured out my soul to them and related the entire chain of events that had transpired since we last spoke. I imagined them reading the letter, and even though I knew they loved me, I was uncertain what their reaction would be. After all, I’m sure I had caused them great pain and frustration. I told them that I needed them in the worst way, but that I did not have the courage ask them in person to take me back. What if they refused to have anything to do with me? I knew it was cowardly of me but I had no choice. This was my last resort.
“So instead I asked them for a favor. I informed them of the train ride that would be bringing me back home on the third of June at 7:30 in the evening. Approximately 50 yards from the train stop there’s a large oak tree. If they found it within themselves to forgive me for my past sins they should hang a small white flag on one of the branches of the tree. And if not… then I’ll just stay on the train and continue on to the next stop.”
Jason was spent. He had just bared his soul to this complete and total stranger, but he had no choice because the stop was just ahead, and he didn’t have the courage to look and see if the flag was there. Jack held what was now a little scared boy close to him. He had cried throughout the story and was anxious to do what he could.
The train slowed and the stop was near. Jason put his head between his knees and was nearly shaking with fear and apprehension.
One hundred yards.
Jack looked out of the window. The train had almost stopped completely. The sound of its screeching wheels was growing louder. Jason looked up, his eyes red, his face white. “So tell me… what did you see?”
Jack stared at Jason and smiled. “The… entire… tree… was… covered… in… white… cloth!!” Jason stood up, hugged his friend and walked toward the exit of the train. Standing there with tears in their eyes were his loving parents. At first he hesitated, but then ran into his parents’ arms and held them closer than he ever had before. His mother and father too held their broken son close and whispered into his ears, “Welcome home, son, welcome home.” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaeschanan 5771
Is sponsored in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of Moshe Tzvi Adler and Akiva Yosef Drasnin of Oak Park, MI. May they bring much nachas to HaShem and to their parents.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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