Sunday, February 21, 2016

Understanding Tefilah: Hodu - 8 [Rav Dovid Lessin]

שירו לה' כל הארץ, בשרו מיום ליום ישועתו.

“Sing to Hashem, the entire earth, tell of His salvation daily.”

Dovid HaMelech is not only calling upon all people to sing, but also to the entire earth.  The question is simple: How do plants, rocks, and water sing?  Rav Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu 3:152) teaches a yesod that a creation reaches the level of singing when it arrives at the purpose for which it was created.  This is why the gemara in Chullin 91b says that Esav’s angel asked to leave Yaakov in order to say shirah.  It had fulfilled its purpose in assisting Yaakov asend to greatness and therefore was ready to sing.

This is why a person can experience a moment of pristine, other-worldly elevation in the midst of a song, such as at a kumzitz or tisch.  The beauty of a song has the power to lift up a person, so that for a moment he feels no discrepancy between who he is and who he is meant to be.  The harmony of the music brings him into harmony with himself.

In the previous pasuk, Dovid HaMelech explained that Hashem refers to us as “m’shichai,” His anointed ones.  This is a clear reference to the days of Mashiach, a time when the world will be filled with song.  All of creation, humans and non-humans alike, will actualize the purpose for which they were created and will experience sublime harmony as a result.  After alluding to the times of Mashiach, Dovid naturally turns his attention to the entire world and calls for the song that will be sung collectively at that time.

And what will that song be?  The second half of the pasuk tells us.  We will sing about Hashem’s moment-to-moment involvement in our lives.  We will realize that he’s always there with us, always holding us up, always taking care of us.  Imagine how joyous that song will be...

L’refuat Yeshaya ben Chava HaLevi

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tefilah: Hodu 7 [Rav Dovid Lessin]

לא הניח לאיש לעשקם ויוכח עליהם מלכים. אל תגעו במשיחי ובנביאי אל תרעו.

“He let no man oppress them, and He rebuked kings for their sake: ‘Do not touch my annointed ones, and do not harm my prophets.’”
The word “hini’ach,” or “let,” can also be translated as “to put down.”  The key to our divine protection is Hashem’s decision to pick up Avraham Avinu and the entire Jewish nation after him, and to never put us down.  Hashem carried us above kings such as Pharoah and Avimelech and warned them not to touch or harm us in any way.  This can be compared to the word we use to describe marriage in Judaism, “nisuin,” which literally means “carryings.”  One who marries is making the decision to carry the other person no matter how difficult it becomes and to never put them down.  Hashem made that commitment to us when we first became his anointed ones.  “M’shichai” in this verse can also be understood as “my designated ones.”  Avraham Avinu earned our chosenness as Hashem’s designated partners in this world, and as such we have merited to be held and carried in a way no other nation enjoys.

The famous metaphor tells of a boy being carried on his father’s shoulders, who eventually forgets that his father is holding him up.  The boy asks the person next to him, “Have you seen my father?”  The father realizes his son has lost an awareness of his fortunate situation, and decides to put the boy down so that he can experience the dangers of being small in such a big world.  Immediately the boy is afraid asks to be held once more, now understanding that his father had been protecting him all along.  We must not forget that we are always being carried, collectively and personally, and that is the source of our divine protection.

L’refuat Yeshaya ben Chava HaLevi

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tefilah: Hodu 6 [Rav Dovid Lessin]

בהיותכם מתי מספר, כמעט וגרים בה. ויתהלכו מגוי אל גוי, ומממלכה אל עם אחר.

“When you were a numbered people, few and strangers in it (Israel).  And you traveled from people to people, and from one kingdom to another nation.”

Rashi explains that Dovid HaMelech is highlighting the difference between our attachment to Eretz Yisrael and any other nation's attachment to their homeland.  Under ordinary circumstances, a nation's connection to their homeland develops after conquering and inhabiting the land for a period of time as an entire people.  By contrast, our relationship with Eretz Yisrael began when we were few in number - only two (Avraham and Sarah).  Furthermore, we did not live in Eretz Yisrael at the time it was given to us; we were strangers in a land not our own.  We were not even rooted in the land when we received it; we were constantly traveling in and out of it, to Mitzrayim, Grar, and Charan.  Rav Kook explains that our story is different than all other nations because our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is a different kind of attachment.  It is supernatural, granted to us by Hashem, and cannot be explained by ordinary rules.  We have a relationship with Eretz Yisrael that is deep and profound, and is woven into the fabric of the Jewish People, regardless of how many we are and where we happen to be located.

The Siach Yitzchak adds that traveling through peoples and kingdoms poses different threats.  "People" (“goy”) connotes a group without a leader that exhibits thievery and lawlessness, and which loots those who pass through.  "Kingdom" (“mamlacha”) connotes a united group under a leader, which can band together against a common enemy, especially one like Avraham who openly denied their gods.  Yet, despite our wanderings in such dangerous lands, Hashem’s promise of Eretz Yisrael granted us special protection that ensured we would survive all attacks and eventually come home.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

IThink - Law and Order (Avos 3:2) [Rav Binyamin Hutt]

It is all too often that we are subjected to a disturbing report relating another offense or felony.  It is right there on the front page or smart-phone, alongside your coffee, as you roll out of bed.  We are neither oblivious to the world around us, nor ignorant of all the pervasive dangers.  Why don't we care?  How can we move on to the sports page as if nothing happened?  We might not be lawyers, judges, or law enforcement agents, but there is something we can do.  We are members of society who should care enough to take a moment to pray for the general wellbeing of our fellow citizens.  Never underestimate the power of prayer.  They may be called headlines, but each news flash must penetrate our hearts.  Additionally, while we should always hope to live in a more perfected world, we must simultaneously thank Hashem for allowing the governing nations to facilitate real life law and order

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

iThink - Your Final Destination (Avos 3:1) [Rav Binyamin Hutt]

 דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך ולפני מי אתה עתיד ליתן דין וחשבון

Remember when an airport used to be just an airport with a few news stands?  Now most airports could practically double as shopping malls, food courts and art museums.  All of these amenities offer convenience and entertainment to the modern traveler.  Now imagine the embarrassment of the everyday passenger who missed his connecting flight due to his window shopping in the central terminal!  This world in which we live is strikingly akin to a bustling airport.  Everyday there are countless exciting new arrivals as well as departures that are difficult to deal with.  Amidst all of the people coming and going, we find newer and more sophisticated innovations that constantly grace our lives; providing opportunities for efficiency, pleasure, and ease.  If these temporal attractions become distractions, then you might not arrive at your potentially glorious final destination.  Do not get diverted by a culture of 'duty free,' and remember to proudly fulfill each incumbent obligation to earn your place in sublime eternity.  All passengers for flight 120, this is your final boarding call.                

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Tefilah: Hodu 5 [Rav Dovid Lessin]

"זכרו לעולם בריתו, דבר צוה לאלף דור. אשר כרת את אברהם, ושבועתו ליצחק. ויעמידה ליעקב לחק, לישראל ברית עולם."

“Remember His promise forever - the word He commanded for a thousand generations - that He made with Avraham and vowed to Yitzchak.  He then established it for Yaakov as law, for Yisrael an eternal agreement.”

The promise referred to here, according to many mefarshim (see Radak) and as evident from the continuation of Dovid HaMelech’s words, is the Bris Bein Hab’sarim in Parshas Lech Lecha, where Hashem promises Avraham that he will be given Eretz Yisrael.  If so, what does it mean that Hashem “commanded” this to happen?  To whom did Hashem command this, and how can one be commanded to inherit something?

The answer lies in the previous pasuk, where we explained that Hashem governs and guides the entire world.  Hashem commanded the world to unfold in such a way that Eretz Yisrael would belong to Avraham’s children.  He hard-wired it into the fabric of existence and into our national character by reinforcing His promise to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, until a chazaka had formed that made our identity as Jews inseparable from Eretz Yisrael.  As Dovid HaMelech goes on to say, once we sprouted into the nation of “Yisrael,” our bond with Eretz Yisrael became conretized and immutable.  This is what we are implored to remember in this psukim, that Hashem made promises that He intends to keep (see Rashi at the beginning of this week’s parsha, Va’eira), chief among them being His pledge to bring us home to Eretz Yisrael and to watch over us there.

L’refuat Yeshaya ben Chava HaLevi

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tefilah: Hodu 4 [Rav Dovid Lessin]

In an attempt to reignite the Understanding Tefila campaign, let’s continue looking at the verses we say each day in Psukei Dzimra (for earlier blog entries on this topic, see Archives).

We explained that the beginning of Hodu is a call to sing Hashem’s praises before the entire world.  Dovid HaMelech then addresses Clal Yisrael directly, and begins to sing Hashem’s praises: “Hu Hashem Elokeinu, b’chol ha’aretz mishpatav.” “He is Hashem, Our G-d! His judgments fill the earth.”

2 Questions:
- Why does Dovid begin his praise by talking about judgments?  Hashem’s judgments should be a source of fear for us, not celebration!
- What does it mean that Hashem’s judgments “fill the earth”?  We certainly don’t look around and see an earth operating according to a Divine sense of right and wrong!

There are two ways to answer the second question, which will lead to an answer of the first.

  1. Dovid HaMelech may be saying that although Hashem is our G-d (“Elokeinu”), He nonetheless pays attention to everything happening in the entire world.  Nothing escapes His eye.  Every single person on the planet will be held accountable for their actions and inactions at the end of 120 years.  Dovid offers praise for this because accountability is a sign that Hashem cares about what we do, just as a parent who cares will hold his or her children accountable for their actions.  In this way, Hashem’s judgment is very, very good for us (“Ki Mishpatecha Tovim” - Tehilim 119:39).  The worst emotion a child can receive from a parent is apathy, a lack of caring altogether.
  2. Another possibility is that Dovid HaMelech may be saying that Hashem governs the entire world, even though it’s often hard for us to see it.  Hashem’s “invisible hand” directs everything that happens in this world.  Hashem holds the whole world in His hands, so to speak, and guides us, individually and collectively, through the tumult of life.  This is obviously reason for great praise.  Dovid chooses to open his praise with this depiction of Hashem as “moshel,” or ruler (which fits with “Elokeinu”), because it sets the tone for all praise that is to come.