Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Song Of Praise

"רננו צדיקים בד' לישרים נאוה תהילה"
[ תהילים לג:א ]

" Sing your praises of G-d, O righteous ones, the praise of those who walk in the straight paths is beautiful "

What is the defining factor in the "value" of praises to G-d ? Not how well it sounds or even how sincere it is. The most beautiful praise is praise that comes from an intimate knowledge of Hashem's ways.

If I glance at a painting and declare it to be wonderful - certainly that would be nice - but it would pale in comparison to a master artist declaring the same thing ! That's why Dovid Hamelech tells the righteous to sing of Hashem's wonders - they are the ones that can really expound upon them.

What about the rest of us ?

The gemara introduces a concept of a talmid-chacham-in-one-topic. Let us attempt to become a tzaddik in one aspect - before any praise or thanks to Hashem, take an extra moment or two to think about how great a kindness Hashem has granted you and how you would fare without it.

May all our shiros vetishbachos take on the aspect of Rannenu Tzaddikim and may we then be zocheh to bring mashiach, bimheira byameinu, amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Disgrace Of G-d

The Torah teaches us that if we execute capital punishment by hanging that we shouldn't leave the body hanging because it is a disgrace to G-d - since we are created in His image.

Rashi quotes the Medrash that explains this by way of an allegory : There were once twin brothers. One became an important governmental minister, and the other became a thief. One day the thief was caught and sentenced to death. He was hung on a tree - and all passersby thought it was the minister and the minister was greatly shamed.

Now this story refers to the physical resemblance between the two brothers - surely this is not what the medrash meant when it said that we are created in G-d's image ?!

When we say that we are a Tzelem Elokim we are describing our similarity to Hashem in our ability to choose good over evil. Hashem has free will to choose - and it is in that aspect that He granted us His likeness.

Now we see why it is a disgrace to G-d to leave a person hanging on a tree - it is the very same G-d-like bechira that the perpetrator abused and landed himself in this mess. And therefor it is specifically the misuse of this likeness to G-d that the executed is showcasing by being hung a tree for his crimes. That's why we don't leave him up there - to not harp on the disgrace of free choice and it's consequences.

Monday, August 20, 2007

To Sing Your Praises

In Tehillim 27, which we add to our davening come Elul, we find Dovid HaMelech making an interesting request.
" הורני ד' דרכיך ... למען שוררי "
"Hashem, guide me in your ways ... for the sake of my praises"

At first glance, it seems that the pasuk is implying that the purpose for divine guidance is the "thanks" that Hashem gets in the end - that Dovid HaMelech is dangling a 'carrot' to G-d saying that if you help me I'll 'be your best friend".

Two points help us see past this erroneous conclusion. Firstly - Dovid HaMelech is asking for guidance in Hashem's ways, not his own. So his motivation couldn't be selfish. Secondly, Dovid HaMelech realised that the most meaningful prayer is not the one of desperation. A desperate prayer ( like to heal the sick or grant salvation ) is a big thing - because at it's core there is an acknowledgment that Hashem is the power and force controlling these events. A song of praise however, is an even higher level - because it comes with the realization that Hashem is always looking out for us and the only thing we can really give back to him is our own free willed expressions of praise.

This is the power behind this pasuk - the intense desire to 'do something for G-d' and the understanding that the only thing we have to give is our freely given praise.

Hatzlacha !

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Daven For What We Really Want

When Dovid HaMelech says : "Achas Sha'alti Me'es Hashem, Osa Avakesh" [ Tehillim 27:5 ] he is not only stating his request but is emphasizing it. We know that Dovid HaMelech is asking for the ability to reside in the house of Hashem all his days - why must he declare his request with emphasis ?

Sometimes when we ask for something - we don't necessarily want whatever it is we're asking for - we simply want an additional benefit that we'll get if we ask for this thing.

There is a story of one housewife who tells her friend that she can produce a magnificent dinner for two just by opening a can. The friend doesn't believe her and so she stays hidden away in a closet to watch the proceedings. When the husband gets home his wife sets before him the unappetizing contents of the can and he declares : "Canned beans again ?! Let's eat out !"
The beans were not the source of the fancy meal, just the cause that made it happen.

One can imagine that living in the House of Hashem is a wonderful experience - aside from the sublime pleasure that would permeate the place - there is of course the security of knowing that you are beyond harm's reach.

This is why Dovid Hamelech must emphasize his request - "Osa avakesh" - This is my request - because one might think that he ( and we, when we pray with his words ) simply wanted to be close to G-d for the side benefits it offers. However the emphasis tells us that the desire to be close to Hashem here is pure, wholly for the sake of serving Hashem, nothing else.

So when we petition G-d with these words daily - we should have kavanna for purity of focus and a sincere desire to be closer to Hashem. Le'maan sh'mo.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, August 10, 2007

What Came First, The Temple Or The Tree ?

Commanding the Jewish people regarding the destruction of idolatry, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts all the places where the pagan temples could be found. "...Upon the tall mountains and under every verdant tree..." [Devarim 12:2]

The Kli Yakar points out that this actually highlights a major difference between true divine service and the mistaken notions of the idolaters. Their temples are situated in pastoral, impressive settings - mountaintops and the like - because they have no intrinsic value. In order to inflate the worth of the pagan temples they placed them in important places.

The Beis Hashem, on the other hand, is in an opposite place - firstly, chosen by G-d (and not man) and secondly, on an otherwise nondescript mountain. The real value of the place is in it's kedusha - not it's scenery.

With this in mind we can redouble our efforts to serve Hashem in sincerity and not for the outer trappings we associate with frumkeit.

Hatzlacha !

Friday, August 03, 2007

Oh, Is That All ?!?!?

"What is Hashem, your G-d, asking of you ? But to fear Him and to follow in His ways ..." [Devarim 10:12]

The gemara in maseches Megilla [25a] asks the obvious question - 'Is fear of G-d such a simple matter ?' and it answers ... 'yes, for Moshe rabbeinu it was'!
To illustrate this principle the gemara gives an analogy - imagine someone needing a great big utensil, a pot to hold 100 liters, say - if he has the item in question ( catering warehouse ) then even a big item will seem small ( i.e. he will not feel that cooking a 100 liter pot of soup is a big deal, after all, he has the equipment ). The opposite also holds true, says the gemara. If one needs a small utensil ( like a 5 liter pot ) but doesn't have it - it seems insurmountably large ( picture trying to cook 5 liters of soup in thimbles).
Moshe Rabbeinu had mastered the avodah of yiraas shamayim - therefore he referred to it as a simple matter.

We must still ask, though - why would Moshe Rabbeinu refer to it as a simple matter for us ? We hadn't mastered it yet !

The lesson here is a powerful one - whenever any trial or obstacle comes our way - we must realize that Hashem has already given us the resources to overcome it - and therefore we should be as calm as the one who may have a large task ahead of him - but is confident that he has the tools with which to accomplish it.

Hatzlacha !

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Curious Torture

"And He caused you hardship, and He sent you starvation, and He fed you the manna that neither you nor your forefathers had known ..." [Devarim 8:3]

We find all throughout the Torah that the manna was praised as being a heavenly food - what's more, whenever Bnei Yisrael complained about it they were smitten mightily - so how can Moshe Rabbeinu describe it as a torture device !?!?

It must be noted, that when the people complained - they were complaining to Hashem - they were being ingrates ! Lack of proper gratitude is one thing that Hashem doesn't 'let slide'. Here, however, Moshe Rabbeinu is simply sympathizing with the people.

Moshe Rabbeinu was, first and foremost, a Shepherd. His entire relationship to the people was based on compassion. Recognizing that change is stressful - Moshe is even willing to call it torturous - in order to make his point. That point is found in the second half of the passuk - "... in order to instruct you that man shall not live by bread alone, rather, upon all that the Lord says shall man find sustenance"

So G-d is essentially, killing us with kindness here. He gave us the most marvelous food ever imaginable - however, in that, it was so foreign that the Jews were skeptical of it and having to rely on it - was seen as torture. So while we may not prove ungrateful for Hashem's goodness we do need some extra effort to recognize the blessing in it. In our case that we may see directly that our livelihood is provided by G-d.

By extrapolation - it's ok to acknowledge the difficulties we encounter in our service of Hashem. What's not ok is to fail to grasp the reasons behind the 'torture' and why Hashem wants us to receive this treatment.

Hatzlacha Rabba !