• November 27, 2022
  • 2 5783, Kislev
  • פרשת וארא

Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart

Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart

Chovot Halevavot is the oldest systematic book on ethics that we have. It was written By Rabbeinu Bachya in the 11th century.

For previous classes please click here.(http://www.webyeshiva.org/class/?cid=1146)

January 4, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 1
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Welcome back to our shiur on the חובות הלבבות. Today we continued with Rabbeinu Bachya’s examination of the subject “the Love of God.” The Torah tells us that we need to love God with all of our faculties:

דברים פרק ו

(ה) וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ:

Rabbeinu Bachya, following the Gemara in Brachot 61b, explains that the Torah specifies that we need to love Hashem with all our soul, all our body[1] and all our wealth because various people place differing values on these faculties and are more willing to share with their beloved one of these attributes but not another. Some people may willingly  share of their wealth but not of their time or labor and some people may share of their labor but not their money. Our love for Hashem needs to be all encompassing. We must be willing to give our all to Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya does not quote the story of עקדת יצחק  in this regard but I think it is very relevant. When Hashem tested Avraham Avinu he did not ask him to give himself up as a sacrifice, He tested Avraham Avinu by asking him to give up his son Yitzchak. Avraham Avinu “passed” this test and proved his loyalty to Hashem. Importantly (and I think we tend to overlook this) Hashem told Avraham not to kill Yitchak Avinu.  I think that there is an important lesson in this point. Rabbeinu Bachya (and the Rambam as well) say that our love for Hashem needs to be all-consuming. It must take precedence over our love for anything and anyone. When Avraham Avinu was tested he was willing to give up his son. In his אגרת השמד the Rambam writes that if the Jews in a certain location are being forced into apostasy then they need to flee even if that means that they leave their families behind.[2]

However as long as matters are not at such a crisis point Hashem does not demand that we renounce the love of our families. Our love for Him does not preclude our living with our families. We are not expected to be “holy hermits.” The Torah commands us to marry and have children. Our love for our families is part of our following the path of the Torah. Rabbeinu Bachya says that this is one possible meaning of the word בכל- that all of our loves should be part of our greater love for Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya goes on to explain how one reaches love for God. He says that this does not happen in a burst of inspiration. Rather,  a person reaches love for God after following a process of refinement of both his grasp of Hashem’s being and of his own place in the world vis a vis Hashem. The process is a long one and there are no shortcuts.

We compared Rabbeinu Bachya emphasis on the process towards the love of God with the Rambam’s.  The Rambam discusses the love of God in two places, in הלכות יסודי התורה and in הלכות תשובה.

In הלכות יסודי התורה  he writes about the attainment of אהבת ה’:

רמב”ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב

הלכה ב

והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו ויראתו, בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים ויראה מהן חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול….

According to the Rambam, when a person studies nature and appreciates its wonders he will immediately be seized by a feeling of love and adoration towards Hashem who created this universe. This sudden inspiration of love for Hashem is not the phenomenon described by Rabbeinu Bachya but I don’t think the Rambam disagrees with Rabbeinu Bachya.

This is what the Rambam says about the love of God in הלכות תשובה:

 

רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק י

הלכה ו

דבר ידוע וברור שאין אהבת הקדוש ברוך הוא נקשרת בלבו של אדם עד שישגה בה תמיד כראוי ויעזוב כל מה שבעולם חוץ ממנה, כמו שצוה ואמר בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך….

If a person can be seized in a moment by a feeling of love for God that feeling can leave him as rapidly as it came. As the Rambam writes “it is well known” that love for Hashem is not “bound to one’s heart” until he dwells on it constantly and exclusively.  It may be that the Rambam gives more credit to the moment of inspiration than does Rabbeinu Bachya, but the Rambam does not see inspiration as a substitute for the difficult spiritual journey described by Rabbeinu Bachya.

That is is the summary of today’s shiur. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to attend the shiur. Stuart Fischman

 

[1]  In Rav Kaffach’s translation (since Rabbeinu Bachya wrote in Judeo-Arabic) the words לבבך , נפשך andמאדך  mean soul, body and wealth, respectively.

[2] איגרת השמד

 

…וכן מצינו באברהם אבינו עליו השלום שמאס משפחתו ומקומו וברח לנפשו להנצל מדעת הכופרים. וכל זה אם לא יכופו אותו הכופרים לעשות מעשיהם, שצריך האדם לצאת מביניהם, אבל בשכופים אותו לעבור על אחת מן המצוות, אסור לעמוד באותו מקום, אלא יצא ויניח כל אשר לו, וילך ביום ובלילה עד שימצא מקום שיהא יכול להעמיד דתו, והעולם גדול ורחב

January 11, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 2
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied Rabbeinu Bachya’s discussion of love for Hashem. Specifically, Rabbeinu Bachya asked if anyone (or perhaps everyone) can achieve love of Hahsem? Rabbeinu Bachya answered his own question by saying that love for Hashem can be expressed three ways:

  1. a) giving up one’s wealth for Hashem
  2. b) giving up one’s health for Hashem
  3. c) giving up one’s life for Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya said that Avraham Avinu was special in that in his love for Hashem he was willing to give up his wealth, his health and the life of his son Yitzchak[1] for Hashem. This sort of love is beyond the reach of most people according to Rabbeinu Bachya.  All people have a powerful instinct for self-preservation and are not able to sacrifice their lives. Nonetheless Jewish history is rich in tales of heroic martyrdom. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that martyrs are the beneficiaries of Divine aid and this aid gives them the strength to make the supreme sacrifice at times of crisis. They are given this aid because they spent their lives in the service of Hashem and in the quest of achieving love of Hashem.

We read a story about the martyrdom of the members of the Talmud Torah of Kelm which I think demonstrates the truth of Rabbeinu Bachya’s idea about martyrdom. The Talmud Torah of Kelm was a school of Mussar in Lithuania. When the Nazis ימ”ש  arrived in Kelm they took out all of its teachers and students to be shot. As the members of the Talmud Torah were lead to their deaths they sang with joy the songs that they used to sing on Simchat Torah. They especially sang the song “אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו ומה נעים גורלנו…” Rav Dessler zt”l whose record of this story appears in volume three of his מכתב מאליהו  asks how could they manage to sing with joy at that moment? He explains that the goal of every member of the Talmud Torah was to find the truth in the service of Hashem. At that moment when they were about to be killed they rejoiced at the opportunity to show that their service of Hashem was true and not tainted by thoughts of this world. As Rabbeinu Bachya says, this ability to face death with joy is extraordinary and can only be the result of a lifetime’s work of growing ever closer to Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya writes that while the ability to give up one’s life to Hashem is beyond normal human ability, the ability to yield one’s wealth and health to Hashem is within everyone’s reach. His basis for this view is to be found in the story of Iyov (Job). The story of Iyov is one of the most famous and one of the most puzzling in all of Tanach.  Hashem is challenged by Satan to test Iyov’s faith. While Hashem lauds Iyov’s righteousness, Satan replies that Iyov’s goodness is the product of Hashem showering him with prosperity. Take away Your favor from Iyov, Satan challenges, and Iyov will sin. The story is well-known. Hashem strips Iyov of his wealth, of his children and his health and Iyov still remains loyal to God and does not sin. Rabbeinu Bachya thinks that Iyov is an example for all of us and we should be able to be as loyal as him.

Rabbeinu Bachya conludes with a surprising (to me) note. Rabbeinu Bachya writes that anyone whose love for God is based either on hope for a reward or fear of punishment will be aided by Hashem to achieve perfect love of Him. This surprises me because Rabbeinu Bachya’s emphasis throughout the חובות הלבבות was that we need to develop and refine our motives in the performance of mitzvoth and in our belief in Hashem. This is our task on earth. It seems that in all other facets of Jewish belief we are expected to achieve  growth on our own. However the highest level of love for God, the willingness to die for Him is so far removed from our abilities only Hashem Himself can give us the strength to meet that challenge.

At  the end of the shiur we discussed Rav Sadiah Gaon’s explanation of the story of Iyov. Many commentators (notable Jewish ones as well) say  that the “Satan” of Iyov is an angel. Rav Sadiah Gaon thinks that this is ridiculous. Angels are Heavenly beings and would not speak enviously about a human being in the way that “Satan” speaks about Iyov. Similarly, Rav Sadiah Gaon says that the idea that there were “fallen angels” who fell victim to human desires and lusts is absurd. Angels do not have human vices.

So who is the “Satan” of Iyov? Rav Sadiah Gaon explains that the word “satan” in Biblical Hebrew means “enemy.” Iyov had an influential enemy who were jealous of his successes. When people would say that Iyov was worthy of his success because of his righteous behavior, this enemy  of Iyov replied that his righteousness is a sham. The moment that his fortune will change Iyov will sin. Hashem accepted this challenge of the enemy . He took away all that Iyov had in order to allow Iyov to demonstrate his loyalty to God once and for all.

Why did God  do this to Iyov? Why did he bring all this misery down upon a righteous man who did not deserve it? Rav Sadiah Gaon explains that this is the meaning and role of a tzaddik. A tzaddik is a person who leads by example. A tzaddik (and we all need to be tzaddikim) lives a life which teaches his or her neighbors how to serve God. If the lesson which needs to be taught is how to serve Hashem while suffering the tzaddik needs to be prepared to teach that lesson. If there are people who say that tzaddikim only obey God when God is “paying them” these people need to be shown what true righteousness is. This is the job of the tzaddik and Iyov fulfilled that role.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

 

[1] Whom he loved more than himself

January 18, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 3
Class description

Dear Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed one of the most sensitive issues affecting the Jewish people. Rabbeinu Bachya in chapter five of his discussion on אהבת ה’ wrote that one thing which can stop the development of אהבת ה’ is misguided love.  Specifically hatred towards those who love Hashem and love for those who hate Him prevent a person from loving Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya provides an example from the Tanach to explain his position His example is the relationship between two kings, יהושפט  and אחאב. Yehoshafat was one of the greatest and most righteous kings of Judea while Ahab was one of the most evil and wicked kings to rule over the ten tribes of Israel. When we study Tanach we see that there was usually tension if not outright warfare between these two Jewish kingdoms. The exception to this state of affairs was the relationship between Yehoshafat and the family of Ahab. They were so close that Yehoshafat took Ahab’s daughter as a wife for his son.[1] Yehoshafat fought as an ally with both Ahab and his son Yehoram. He also participated in maritime ventures with another son of Ahab, Ahazyahu. Hashem did not approve of Yehoshafat’s collaborations with these evil kings and sent prophets to Yehoshafat to make this clear.

After surviving the war in which he fought along with Ahab (who was killed in battle) Yehoshafat was told this message:

דברי הימים ב פרק יט

(ב) וַיֵּצֵא אֶל פָּנָיו יֵהוּא בֶן חֲנָנִי הַחֹזֶה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוֹשָׁפָט הֲלָרָשָׁע לַעְזֹר וּלְשֹׂנְאֵי יְיָ תֶּאֱהָב וּבָזֹאת עָלֶיךָ קֶּצֶף מִלִּפְנֵי יְיָ:

After Yehoshafat’s fleet was destroyed he received this message:

 

דברי הימים ב פרק כ

(לז) וַיִּתְנַבֵּא אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן דֹּדָוָהוּ מִמָּרֵשָׁה עַל יְהוֹשָׁפָט לֵאמֹר כְּהִתְחַבֶּרְךָ עִם אֲחַזְיָהוּ פָּרַץ יְיָ אֶת מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וַיִּשָּׁבְרוּ אֳנִיּוֹת וְלֹא עָצְרוּ לָלֶכֶת אֶל תַּרְשִׁישׁ:

Yehoshafat was a great tzaddik. He must have had very good reasons for working with the kings of Northern Israel. Perhaps he thought that by working with them he could influence them to do teshuvah. But whatever his motives may have been Hashem did not approve of this cooperation and his joint ventures ended in failure.[2]

These stories in the Tanach about Yehoshfat are of course lessons and we need to learn form them. The failure to treat Hashem’s enemies (and there can be no doubt about Ahab’s character) as our enemies displays a sort of confusion within our value system. Rabbeinu Bachya says over and over that true love for Hashem is an all-encompassing emotion and can leave no room for other loves, and certainly not for any love towards people like Ahab.

The Poskim applied the lesson of Yehoshafat towards our relationships with non-observant Jews. In the Gemarah there are discussions about dealing with non-observant individual Jews, This sort of cooperation is referred to מחזיק ידי עוברי עבירה. There are fewer discussions about dealing with groups or movements of non-observant Jews. Groups such as the Saduccees/צידוקים or early followers of Christianity (to whom the label מינים was attached[3]) were viewed as enemies of the Jews and cooperation with them was apparently unthinkable to the sages.

In the 19th century with the triumph of the Haskalah , Reform and other such movements the observant Jews found themselves to be an embattled minority within the Jewish people. This change in the composition of the Jewish people has made the question of how we should relate to non-observant Jews one of the most important issues facing us today.

The 19th century authority, the Netziv[4] adopted a nuanced approach to the question.  In one teshuvah, the Netziv wrote that it is absolutely forbidden to cooperate with a group known as “Beit Ya’akov[5]” in anything having to do with prayer. This group’s members did not observe Shabbat. And even though the Halacha permits us to pray with non-observant individuals there is no basis for assuming that this group will do teshuvah en masse. The Netziv, basing himself on a verse from Mishlei says there are two realms in which we may be called upon to cooperate with non-observant Jews and each realm has its own appropriate response. If we are called upon to cooperate with non-observant Jews in commercial or other secular ventures then we may do so if we are careful not to allow this business relationship to evolve into a personal one. The other realm for cooperation is the religious one. Here it is absolutely forbidden for us to cooperate with non-observant Jews since the religious habits of non-observant Jews are totally incompatible with the Halacha and are destructive. The Netziv writes that Yehoshfat was fortunate in that Hashem brought an immediate end to his venture Ahab’s son. Even though the goal of the partnership was profit their relationship was a friendly one[6] and thus culpable.

On the other hand the Netziv opposed a policy of Orthodox Jews seceding from the larger Jewish community. In the United States there is separation of church and state but in Czarist Russia (and this is still the case in certain countries for better or for worse) the government recognizes religious groups  and deals with them on an official basis. When Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch zt”l revived Orthodox Judaism in Germany he petitioned the local authorities to recognize his Orthodox community as a separate religious group, unaffiliated with the “original” recognized Jewish community which was by that time dominated by Reform Jews.[7] This sharp demarcation between observant and non-observant Jews became the model for other communities in Germany and Austro-Hungary. The Netziv opposed this tendency. He refers to it as “a sword-blow to the body of the nation.” The Jewish people are a persecuted minority and our only hope is to maintain our unity when facing the Gentiles. We must do all we can to strengthen the observance of the Torah, but this can only be done by the strengthening Jewish education and separating ourselves into competing communities will not further this goal.

In the 20th century this question arose in the United States where Jewish communities established community-wide institutions such as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. The leading Halachic authorities of the time (with one exception) forbade Orthodox Jews from contributing to these funds. Supporting non-Orthodox institutions simply empowers those who transgress the Torah.[8] In Mexico where apparently the government dealt with ( and subsidized) the organized Jewish community , Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l forbade Orthodox Jews to sit on committees with non-Orthodox Jews if those committees have any influence over matters such as education or “culture.” If there needs to be a committee to deal with the government on these matters the Orthodox Jews need to have a committee of their own. On the other hand , he ruled that there is nothing wrong with cooperating with non-Orthodox Jews in purely civic matters.

The decision that Orthodox Jews need to abstain from cooperating with non-Orthodox Jews caused a tear in the Jewish community that still exists. In one respect it helped the struggling Orthodox community to maintain its way of life when assimilationist tendencies were threatening to lead to the demise of Halachic Judaism in the United States. On the other hand it made cooperation on topics of community-wide concern fraught with tension.

As I mentioned there was one authority who held that Orthodox Jews should contribute to community-wide philanthropic funds. Rav Lichtenstein שליט”א describes the opinion of his father-in-law , Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, on this matter. Rav Soloveitchik zt”l who forbade entering a Conservative synagogue in order to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah nonetheless permitted Orthodox Jews to contribute to the community-wide philanthropic fund in Boston, Massachusetts..[9]

The question of how observant Jews should interact (if at all!) with non-observant Jews has tormented us for hundreds of years. In Israel Rav Kook zt”l was the victim of vicious attacks because of his willingness to embrace secular Zionists.

The need to separate between cooperating and endorsing is of course essential. The Netizv’s call for unity between all Jews regardless of their level of observance while insisting on the truth of the Halacha seems to me at least to be the key to our survival.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

 

 

[1] This had very unfortunate results for Yehoshafat’s son, Yehoram.

מלכים ב פרק ח

 

(טז) וּבִשְׁנַת חָמֵשׁ לְיוֹרָם בֶּן אַחְאָב מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוֹשָׁפָט מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה מָלַךְ יְהוֹרָם בֶּן יְהוֹשָׁפָט מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה:

(יז) בֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים וּשְׁתַּיִם שָׁנָה הָיָה בְמָלְכוֹ וּשְׁמֹנֶה שנה שָׁנִים מָלַךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָם:

(יח) וַיֵּלֶךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בֵּית אַחְאָב כִּי בַּת אַחְאָב הָיְתָה לּוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַיַּעַשׂ הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְיָ:

[2] The interesting exception is Yehoshafat’s successful war which he fought along with Ahab’s son Yehoram

מלכים ב פרק ג

 

(ז) וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּשְׁלַח אֶל יְהוֹשָׁפָט מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה לֵאמֹר מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב פָּשַׁע בִּי הֲתֵלֵךְ אִתִּי אֶל מוֹאָב לַמִּלְחָמָה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶעֱלֶה כָּמוֹנִי כָמוֹךָ כְּעַמִּי כְעַמֶּךָ כְּסוּסַי כְּסוּסֶיךָ:

[3] http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%99%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%AA_%28%D7%99%D7%94%D7%93%D7%95%D7%AA%29

[4] MESHIV DAVAR

Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Judah Berlin (Netziv) was born in Mir, Russia, in 1817, and died in Warsaw, Poland, in 1893. He was renowed primarily as head of the yeshivah of Volozhin in Russia, the “mother of modern yeshivot.” Berlin wrote commentaries on the Bible, the halachic midrashim, the Talmud, and the She’iltot, as well as many responsa. During his term as head of the Volozhin yeshivah, the student body of that institution included more than 400 students, who received close personal attention from him. Berlin was active in communal affairs, and he supported the Chovevei Zion movement, which advocated Jewish settlement in Israel.

[5] I don’t know anything about this group, but it should not be confused with the network of school for girls.

[6] Yehoshafat was accused of being a friend to Ahab’s son

דברי הימים ב פרק כ

 

(לז) וַיִּתְנַבֵּא אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן דֹּדָוָהוּ מִמָּרֵשָׁה עַל יְהוֹשָׁפָט לֵאמֹר כְּהִתְחַבֶּרְךָ עִם אֲחַזְיָהוּ פָּרַץ יְיָ אֶת  מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וַיִּשָּׁבְרוּ אֳנִיּוֹת וְלֹא עָצְרוּ לָלֶכֶת אֶל תַּרְשִׁישׁ:

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samson_Raphael_Hirsch

[8] Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l allowed Ortodox Jews to contribute to community-wide funds on the condition that Orthodox institutions would receive more disbursements than non-Orthodox instittions.

[9]  For a long, if rambling discussion of the matter of the Rav’s attitude towards working with non-Orthodox rabbis  see the Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_B._Soloveitchik

and the Google search page:

 

https://www.google.co.il/search?q=soloveitchik+conservative+synagogue&oq=soloveitchik+conservative&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57.9495j0j4&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

January 25, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 4
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur on חובות הלבבות  we studied more of Rabbeinu Bachya’s writings on אהבת ה’ . In that chapter of חובות הלבבות  Rabbeinu Bachya explores the behavior of an אוהב ה’. How does a person change once he or she reaches this level of spirituality?

Rabbeinu Bachya lists several  signs which set apart the אוהב ה’  from the rest of society. The first such sign is the abandonment of all pursuits which would distract the אוהב ה’ from his devotion to God.  Second, the אוהב ה’ has a very special sort of relationship with Hashem. He does not serve Hashem because he fears Divine wrath, nor does he serve Hashem because he craves Hashem’s favor. He serves Hashem out of a sense of duty; the אוהב ה’ realizes that he must serve Hashem because, simply put, He is the Divine Being. Rabbeinu Bachya tells the story of a pious man who met a person who was truly in awe of God. It happened that this man spent the night alone in the desert. The pious man asked this second man if he wasn’t afraid of the wild animals which prowl in the desert at night. The man who truly was in awe of God answered that he would be embarrassed to be in fear of anything but Hashem.[1]

People who are אוהבי ה’ can be identified by their speech. Because they love Hashem they do not invoke His name in vain and they refrain from swearing. In our society people mention Hashem’s name too often. Phrases like , “Oh my God!” or “God damn it” are just two examples of a distressing lack of respect for Hashem. With regard to swearing there are technical differences between mentioning and not mentioning Hashem’s name when swearing (saying אני נשבע בה’ as opposed to saying only אני נשבע) but it is certainly forbidden to swear in vain even if Hashem’s name is not mentioned in the oath.[2]

Even though we should not mention Hashem’s name in vain, Rabbeinu Bachya writes that it is praiseworthy to invoke Hashem’s name and His aid when we discuss our plans for the future. אוהבי ה’  are in the habit of saying “ברצון ה'” even when making plans for the near term. There are two reasons for this. First we do not know if we will be alive in the coming hour. Second we cannot know if what we are planning is in accord with Hashem’s plans.

Besides saying “אם ירצה ה'” or “בעזרת ה'” people write at the top of their letters ב”ה or  בס”ד and the Poskim discuss the appropriateness of this practice. Rav Yosef Rosen zt”l, known as the Rogotchover Gaon opposed this practice. He felt that the letter “ה” in the abbreviation “ב”ה”  is a letter from Hashem’s name and cannot tossed into the trash. Since most of our correspondence does end up in the rubbish bin, writing ב”ה is forbidden. In addition to this concern of the Rogotchover Gaon, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l had another objection to writing ב”ה  at the top of correspondence. Most people’s correspondence is not of a very high level. “Friendly” messages are usually about nonsense and often contain לשון הרע . Writing the letters ב”ה at the top of such messages is foolishly hypocritical. Rav Feinstein zt”l saw no need to write ב”ה at the top of correspondence, but if it makes someone feel good it would be better to write בס”ד since none of the letters in that abbreviation represent Hashem’s name and can be tossed away without any concern. Rav Feinstein’s concern for hypocrisy is I think relevant to saying בעזרת ה’ . Rabbeinu Bachya is of course correct in endorsing the practice of saying בעזרת ה’  when we make plans. This is an acknowledgement of our dependence upon Hashem. But we need to be conscious of what sort of plans we are making. If we are planning a wedding, a trip to the doctor or a badly needed vacation we can and should involve Hashem in our plans. But is it really sensible to say בעזרת ה’ when planning to meet someone at a movie theater?

Rabbeinu Bachya then says that the sign of the אוהב ה’ is that he works to bring other people closer to Hashem. Here he makes an important point. We saw that for Rabbeinu Bachya love of Hashem is the highest level of spiritual development that a person can reach. It is approaches the levels reached by the prophets. Nevertheless, it vastly more worthy to bring people closer to Hashem and the Torah than it is to perfect one’s soul. And it is here that  Rabbeinu Bachya who writes so scornfully about the service of Hashem in exchange for reward writes about reward. The person who devotes himself to his own development is like a merchant with only one item for sale. Even if this one item is incredibly valuable the merchant can only profit once from its sale. Another trader whose wares are less valuable than what the first merchant offers can make greater profits than the first merchant if he has a greater volume of sales. When  a person devotes his energies to bringing people closer to Hashem and to observance of the Torah he may not reach great heights of spirituality. However, he will be rewarded for all the mitzvoth done by the people whom he taught. His reward from Hashem will be greater than the reward given to the solitary saint.

As I mentioned it is striking that Rabbeinu Bachya brings up the subject of Divine reward here and it represents ( I think) the seriousness with which he views this idea.

The Rambam writes in a similar vein. In ספר המצוות when he discusses the mitzvah of אהבת ה’ the Rambam says that to love Hashem means to follow the example of אברהם אבינו who preached to the pagans of his time about Hashem . He  taught them about Hashem and eventually, with שרה אמנו, built a community of believers knows as “.הנפש אשר עשו בחרן ”

The tension between the legitimate need to further one’s own development and the need to bring the Torah to the people is explored in a teshuvah of Rav Moshe Shternbuch שליט”א. A yeshiva student asked him if he may leave the yeshiva to work in “kiruv.” Rav Shternbuch, a great scholar in the Lithuanian tradition valued Torah scholarship above all else.[3] He replied to this student and told him that this is not really a question that he, a stranger, can answer. It is important to bring the Torah to the people, but it is also important not to be distracted from one’s studies. Some people can walk away from their books for an hour and then come back and resume their studies easily. Other people find it more difficult to concentrate on the Talmudic discussions after walking away from them. Therefore, Rav Shternbuch wrote, the only person who can answer this question is the student’s teacher who is well acquainted with the student’s abilities. However Rav Shternbuch added that every yeshiva student ought to be able to work in “kiruv” occasionally. Quoting מהר”ם שיק  he wrote that if it is permitted to leave one’s studies to attend a wedding it is certainly permitted to bring people back to the Torah and to save their souls from loss.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. We have only one more chapter in חבות הלבבות and I would like to know what book you would be interested in learning next. Please write to me with your suggestions. Thanks, Stuart Fischman

[1] While this story teaches a powerful lesson we need to remember that the Halacha forbids us from needlessly putting our lives in danger and from relying on miracles.

[2] רמב”ם הלכות שבועות פרק ב הלכה ד. עיין גם ברמב”ן לבמדבר פרק ל’:

 

וטעם ידור נדר לה’ – איננו כמו אשר נשבע לה’ (תהלים קלב ב), כי הוא כמו וישבע לו (בראשית כד ט), שנשבע אליו לצרכו, אבל בשבועה יאמר ובשמו תשבע (דברים ו יג), ואשביעך בה’ (בראשית כד ג), כאשר נשבעתי לך בה’ אלהי ישראל לאמר כי שלמה בנך ימלוך אחרי (מ”א א ל), השבעה לי באלהים הנה (בראשית כא כג), אבל בנדר לא יאמר “ידור בה'” אלא “לה'”. וכבר רמזו החכמים טעם הדבר בספרי (מטות יד), אמרו מה הפרש בין נדרים לשבועות, בנדרים כנודר בחיי המלך בשבועות כנשבע במלך עצמו, אף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר, חי ה’ וחי נפשך אם אעזבך (מלכים ב ד ל). והסוד, כי השבועה מלשון שבעה, כי בנתה ביתה חצבה עמודיה שבעה, והנדר בתבונה ראשית דרכו קדם מפעליו מאז, נמצא שהנדרים על גבי תורה עולים ולפיכך חלים על דבר מצוה כדבר הרשות, והנה כל נדר לה’ וכל הנשבע בו:

(ד – ו) ואשה כי תדר נדר לה’, ושמע אביה – רצה הכתוב להזכיר האיסור תחלה להגיד כי גם הנערה בלאו הנזכר שלא יחל ד

[3] We saw in the introduction to חובות הלבבות  that this was not necessarily the position of Rabbeinu Bachya.

February 1, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 5
Class description

Yesterday we studied the final chapter on אהבת ה’ which is the final chapter in Rabbeinu Bachya’s masterpiece, חובות הלבבות.

In this chapter, Rabbeinu Bachya reviews the behavior of the אוהב ה’. The person who loves God has no interests other than following Hashem’s will. The אוהב ה’ does not pursue the pleasures which the Torah permits since those pleasures will not bring him closer to Hashem. The lives of those who truly love God are bound up with Hashem. All their labors are directed His service. When the אוהבי ה’ succeed in an endeavor they thank Hashem for His help. If an endeavor is not successful they seek Hashem’s forgiveness and make plans to try again, knowing that Hashem values their honest efforts. They are humble, they are aware of their shortcomings but they do not allow their failures to depress them.

אוהבי ה’ do not neglect those activities necessary for their sustenance. However they view those tasks as they do bitter-tasting medicine. They involve themselves in those activities out of a sense of necessity and not of enjoyment. אוהבי ה’  know that prosperity is not the result of their own efforts. Therefore they concentrate their efforts on achieving spiritual growth which is the path to eternal success.

When  אוהבי ה’  think about the mitzvoth of the Torah they conclude that the obligatory mitzvoth are insufficient for expressing their desire to serve Hashem. Many mitzvoth can only be performed occasionally (e.g. the mitzvoth of the holidays and Shabbat) or only in certain circumstances ( building a railing on one’s roof (מעקה) or performing a ברית מילה  ). The only mitzvah which constantly accompanies us is the mitzvah to study the Torah. However, the אוהבי ה’ do not find spiritual fulfillment in study[1]. They seek to serve Hashem by improving their character and their grasp of the mitzvoth of the intellect. They strive to go beyond what is required in these fields and to follow the examples set by the prophets and saints.

The  world is blessed because of the merits of these אוהבי ה’. The rains come, suffering is kept away and we find our needs met because of their righteousness.

Rabbeinu Bachya says that this level of spiritual development can only be achieved by gradual progress. It would be wrong to make a sudden, drastic change in one’s habits in order to reach the love of God. The first steps must involve abstinence from the pleasures of this world. The second stage requires a person to stop desiring those pleasures. Rabeinu Bachya says that the love of pleasure cannot co-exist with the love of God.

I feel immensely grateful to Hashem for helping us to study the חובות הלבבות. Rabbeinu Bachya’s guidance is of inestimable value and I hope that we will succeed in making his teachings part of our lives.

I thank everyone at the WebYeshiva office who made these shiurim possible and I also thank everyone who participated in the shiurim since it is their comments which made the learning a truly live experience.

We will study b’ezrat Hashem  the upcoming holiday of Purim during the remaining three shiurim of the semester and I invite everyone to participate in those shiurim as well.

May we be זוכה  to keep on learning together. Stuart Fischman

[1] This is the view of Rabbeinu Bachya as he made clear in his Introduction to the work. He does not believe that the study of Torah alone can lead to spiritual perfection and he wrote חובות הלבבות to provide the necessary guide to achieving such development.  This negation of Torah study as the path to spiritual perfection was attacked by Rav Chaim of Volozhin who wrote the book נפש החיים to explain the position that the study of Torah is the path to reach God. In late 19th century Lithuania there was a fierce debate between the followers of Rav Chaim Volozhin and those who  wished to see the study of מוסר made a part of yeshiva curriculums.

Handouts
February 8, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 6
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we began a series of three classes on the subject of Purim. And we discussed the subject of Amalek. The nation of Amalek figures prominently in the Purim story. Hamman was a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag whose like was spared (contrary to the Divine  commandment) by King Saul who was the ancestor of Mordechai and Esther the heroes of the Megillah. On the Shabbat before Purim there is a mitzvah to read Parashat Zachor which contains the commandments to remember what Amalek did to us in the desert and on Purim itself we read the story about the battle that we fought with Amalek after leaving Egypt.

Why does the Torah command us to never forget what Amalek did to us? Why are they singled out, as opposed for example, to the Egyptians who enslaved us? Rav Soloveitchik zt”l explained that Amalek is not only an ethnic group but an ideology. The Torah restricts the permissibility of our marrying certain ethnic groups (Egyptians, Idumeans and Moabites to name a few).  The Torah also commands us to fight the “Seven Nations” who inhabited Israel when we first entered it. However, the Gemarah rules that these nations no longer exist, they assimilated into other cultures. The exception to this idea is Amalek. The Rambam writes the following:

רמב”ם הלכות מלכים פרק ה

הלכה ד

מצות עשה להחרים שבעה עממין שנאמר החרם תחרימם, וכל שבא לידו אחד מהן ולא הרגו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחיה כל נשמה, וכבר אבד זכרם.

הלכה ה

וכן מצות עשה לאבד זכר עמלק, שנאמר תמחה את זכר עמלק, ומצות עשה לזכור תמיד מעשיו הרעים ואריבתו, כדי לעורר איבתו, שנאמר זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק, מפי השמועה למדו זכור בפה לא תשכח בלב, שאסור לשכוח איבתו ושנאתו.

Who can say he as actually met an Amalekite? Why doesn’t the Rambam say that Amalek nation no longer exists? Rav Soloveitchik wrote that Amalek is not a defined ethnic group. Amalek is the ideology of mindless anti-Semitism. Hitler’s Germany was Amalek. Nasser’s Egypt was Amalek.[1] The Torah demands that we stay vigilant against anti-Semitism and that we may not rely upon the enlightened world to protect us.

The mindlessness of Amalek’s hatred of the Jews is seen clearly in the story of Purim. Hamman was the Prime Minister of the Persion Empire, second only to the king. The Megillah emphasizes that all the ministers in the Persian court bowed down to Hamman. Yet Hamman is not satisfied, he gets no pleasure from his status and power because a single, solitary Jew named Mordechai would not bow down to him. Hamman says:

(יא) וַיְסַפֵּר לָהֶם הָמָן אֶת כְּבוֹד עָשְׁרוֹ וְרֹב בָּנָיו וְאֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר גִּדְּלוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר נִשְּׂאוֹ עַל  הַשָּׂרִים וְעַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ:

(יב) וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן אַף לֹא הֵבִיאָה אֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂתָה כִּי אִם אוֹתִי וְגַם לְמָחָר אֲנִי קָרוּא לָהּ עִם הַמֶּלֶךְ:

(יג) וְכָל זֶה אֵינֶנּוּ שֹׁוֶה לִי בְּכָל עֵת אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי רֹאֶה אֶת מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ:

If Hamman was an ordinary tyrant he would have simply eliminated Mordechai and enjoyed the total subservience of the remaining members of the court. But Hamman is not an ordinary tyrant. He has a need to kill not only Mordechai but all the Jews:

(ו) וַיִּבֶז בְּעֵינָיו לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בְּמָרְדֳּכַי לְבַדּוֹ כִּי הִגִּידוּ לוֹ אֶת עַם מָרְדֳּכָי וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הָמָן לְהַשְׁמִיד אֶת  כָּל הַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל מַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ עַם מָרְדֳּכָי:

This mindless hatred for the Jewish  people is the telling characteristic of Amalek.

We next studied what Rav Shimon Gershon Rosenberg zt”l (known as [2]רב שג”ר) wrote about Amalek.   רב שג”ר saw in the story of Hamman an example Nietzshe’s morality. Nietzsche famously held that certain people who have “will” have the moral right to seek power at the expense of those who are weak and lack this “will.” Hamman had this sort of will. He had power, wealth and status but this was not enough for him. He needed total power, the fact that Mordechai would not bow down to him meant that he was incomplete. For any normal person having the obedience of 99.999% of the population would be enough. But for the man of will  that missing 0.001% is crucial.

רב שג”ר explains that Judaism does not deny the importance of “will” or of striving for individual fulfillment. The difference between  Nietzche’s will and the Torah’s will is the goal . Nietzsche sees the goal of will as being domination of the strong over the weak. This is a morally  valid purpose for living. The Torah, as we know, opposes this world view. The Torah demands of the superior person to protect the weak and to embrace those who need help.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. I apologize for the bizarre tech issue which shut down the shiur with a half hour to go.

Bye, Stuart Fischman

 

[1]  This idea appears in an essay titled “קול דודי דופק”  based on a public shiur given in 1956. See:

 

http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%9C_%D7%93%D7%95%D7%93%D7%99_%D7%93%D7%95%D7%A4%D7%A7

[2] http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A9%D7%9E%D7%A2%D7%95%D7%9F_%D7%92%D7%A8%D7%A9%D7%95%D7%9F_%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%96%D7%A0%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%92

February 15, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 7
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In today’s shiur we studied the unique nature of the festivity which is central to the holiday of Purim. We began with a discussion of the Purim prayers which appears in the 12th century work, שבלי הלקט. The שבלי הלקט records an interesting custom from the yeshiva of Rav Amram Gaon[1]. In that yeshiva on Purim special תחנון  prayers were said . This practice was in stark contrast to the usual formula of prayers on festival days when no תחנון at all is recited. Why then were extra תחנון  prayers said on Purim?

Rav Amram Gaon explains this practice by noting that Purim is not a usual holiday. On holidays we recite the Hallel prayer. The joy-filled passages of the Hallel prayer are incompatible with the תחנון  prayer which is filled with our petitions for God to save us in our exile. But Purim is a holiday which commemorates our being saved while remaining in exile, and as such the Sages did not ordain our saying Hallel on Purim. Since Purim is a holiday of the exile Rav Amram Gaon felt that it is appropriate to ask Hashem on Purim to complete the process of salvation which began on Purim.

The current practice is not to say תחנון  on Purim. Our practice is based on the view of another, anonymous Gaon quoted by the שבלי הלקט. He wrote that even though we don’t say Hallel on Purim the Megillah describes Purim as a day of       “משתה ושמחה” . Therefore the תחנון prayers are not in keeping with the spirit of the day.

Rav Shagar elaborated on this “different” nature of the celebration of Purim. What can we learn from the fact that Hallel is not said on Purim? If Purim’s nature does not warrant the saying of Hallel, then why exactly are celebrating?

Rav Shagar explains that that there are two types of rejoicing in Judaism. There is the rejoicing of the holidays which calls “שמחה”  and the rejoicing of Purim[2] which he calls “ecstasy.[3]” On the holidays we celebrate our good fortune. In the Torah the holidays are linked to the agricultural cycle and for that reason the holiday of Sukkot is the most joyous of the holidays since it is the holiday of the harvest season. When the farmer’s work is done he can look back with satisfaction on the past year and thank Hashem for His blessings. Therefore the שמחה of the holidays is a rational שמחה and as a rational joy it can be quantified and regulated. There are Halachot which tell us how to celebrate on the holidays. There is a mitzvah to drink wine on a holiday, but this mitzvah can be fulfilled by drinking a  רביעיתof wine.

Rav Shagar uses the word ecstasy to describe the joy of Purim. By “ecstasy” he wishes to convey the irrationality of the joy which we feel on Purim. The events of Purim took place in the Persian exile and at the end of the story the Jews were still subjects of the Persian king. That is why , according to the Gemarah, Hallel is not said on Purim. The redemption of Purim was incomplete, the position of the Jews remained precarious and there was no real reason to celebrate. As Rav Shagar notes, our custom of reading the Megillah includes reading certain verses with the tune of מגילת איכה- Lamentations.

This mixture of gloom with joy is very special according to Rav Shagar. The highest form of joy (“ecstasy” as he puts it) is the result of making a conscious decision to be joyful despite one’s circumstances. True joy demands that the person detach himself from his surroundings and realize that noting is real except for God. When a person can achieve this level of closeness to God he will reach ecstatic joy. On Purim the Jews were faced with annihilation. Instead of losing hope they accepted Esther’s call for a three-day public fast and returned to Hashem. By this act they were saved. But this miracle is clothed in the garb of petty court intrigue. Rav Shagar does not mention this, but other commentators point out that God’s name is not mentioned even one time in the Megillat Esther. Purim was celebrated despite the circumstances, not because of them.

That is why the celebration of Purim is so extravagant. On Purim we are commanded not only to drink, but to get drunk. And not merely drunk but drunk to the point that we can no longer think clearly. We need to be so drunk that we reach the point of עד דלא ידע. This drunkenness represents our loss of any self-identity and egoism. It represents that our individual identities are truly not important if we can reach closeness to Hashem and closeness to Hashem requires absolute humility

Closeness to God can be achieved on happy occasions and during times of crisis. דוד המלך reached this level of joy when brought the ארון הברית  to Jerusalem. He danced with wild abandon among the people. When his wife Michal told him that his behavior was undignified he replied that he is happy to behave this way before Hashem. During the Temple period the greatest celebration was the שמחת בית השואבה when the scholars and pious people would dance and celebrate. Rav Shagar uses Kabbalistic language to explain this boundless, “ecstatic” joy. God’s inspiration is compared to light. The joy of the holidays, a rational and reasonable joy, can be “contained” and does not burst forth out of the person. However the joy felt when one is closest to God is so powerful it cannot be contained and it explodes out of the person and is expressed by the wild dancing which is found  both by דוד המלך and the participants in the שמחת בית השואבה.

This is the paradox of Purim. It was not the most striking miracle in our history.מגילת אסתר ends with the incongruously banal mention of the Persian king levying new taxes. But it was out of this grim existence in the exile that the Jews grew closest to God. They overcame their circumstances and that act of spiritual strength and defiance brought them the great joy of Purim.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman[4]

[1] The custom recorded in the name of Rav Amram Gaon by the שבלי הלקט can be found in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon as well.

[2] Rav Shagar writes that the celebrations which took place in Beit Hamikdash known as the שמחת בית השואבה were similar to the celebration of Purim. However that discussion is tangential to our discussion of Purim so I am omitting it here.

[3] Rav Shagar whose essays are in Hebrew uses the words שמחה and אכסטזה. I am confident that translating  אכסטזה as ecstasy is correct. I do not know how to translate the word שמחה so I am leaving it in Hebrew.

[4] I apologize to everyone who listens to the shiur on the archives. I failed to turn on the “record” function until the middle of the shiur.

February 22, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Chovot Halevavot: Duties of the Heart: Lesson 8
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied one of the essays on Purim from the Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky[1] זצ”ל , in his work נתיבות שלום .

The Netivot Shalom found the main idea of Purim to be, as did Rav Shagar zt”l in last week’s shiur, its quality of “.הסתר”  Purim is a celebration (however strange this may sound) of God’s hiddenness. Rav Shagar taught that the celebration of Purim is a celebration of our total involvement in God and our willingness to abandon any connection with worldly affairs in order to be purely and solely with God.

The Netivot Shalom, perhaps because he was the head of a community as opposed to a Rosh Yeshiva, presents his teaching about Purim in a more personal and less theoretical/abstract fashion. Purim is the holiday for people who feel lost. Everyone, at some time or another, feels adrift in this world. Things aren’t going the way they should be going. These disappointments may be material or religious.  The person sees no hope and feels abandoned by Hashem. Purim is the holiday when we find the strength to carry on and fight through despair. The Midrash says that when Esther approached Achashveirosh’s throne-room she felt that the cause of the Jews was lost and recited the words from Tehilim:

תהלים פרק כב

(ב) אֵל-ִי אֵ-לִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי רָחוֹק מִישׁוּעָתִי דִּבְרֵי שַׁאֲגָתִי:

The Jews  of her time were totally assimilated. They were in exile, they participated in the party of Achashveirosh.[2] Haman’s decree was adopted as law. Only Mordechai saw a chance of deliverance from what seemed to be inevitable destruction. He cried out to Hashem.

 

 

 

אסתר פרק ד

(א) וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָדַע אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶת בְּגָדָיו וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדֹלָה וּמָרָה:

Mordechai had to fight a descendant of Amalek named Haman. But we saw in the first shiur that Amalek, that implacable enemy of the Jews is not a nation in the usual sense. Amalek is an ideology. The Netivot shalom carries this idea further and says that Amalek is an emotion. Specifically, Amalek is despair. He bases this idea on Chazal’s explanation of a pasuk in “Parashat Zachor”:

דברים פרק כה

(יז) זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:

(יח) אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱ-לֹהִים:

רש”י דברים פרק כה

(יח) אשר קרך בדרך – …דבר אחר לשון קרי וטומאה…דבר אחר לשון קור וחום, צננך והפשירך מרתיחתך…

People lose their enthusiasm for the Torah. They lose whatever fervor had for the performance of mitzvoth and eventually sin. This is the inner Amalek with which they need to struggle and overcome. The way to overcome this Amalek is the way Mordechai overcame his Amalek. The person who feels that Hashem is far from him needs to fight that that feeling and to cry out to Hashem just as Mordechai did  so long ago. Amalek attacks by means of causing despair- “אשר קרך בדרך” which is interpreted as “.לשון קור וחום” Amalek cools our ardor for Hashem and when we feel abandoned by God Amalek has won.

The celebration of Purim is not merely a victory party, it provides us with the means to defeat Amalek. Amalek preys on the sad, the discouraged and the lonely. As the Torah says:

דברים פרק כה

…וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים:

The Netivot Shalom says that the best way to fight despair and loneliness is by surrounding oneself with friends. The Purim celebrations are centered around the mitzvoth of משלוח מנות איש לרעהו  and מתנות לאביונים. Having friends who can support you when times are tough is the best defense against feeling abandoned which is the goal of Amalek. The Netivot Shalom makes a very insightful point. The mitzvah of charity is צדקה andצדקה  is a sort of one-way relationship. The giver of charity gives the charity but expects nothing in return. There is no reciprocal act done by the recipient of charity (other than saying thank-you).On the other hand when I give someone a gift it is because I have feelings of love for the recipient. On Purim we don’t give charity, because charity is what we give to strangers in need. On Purim we need to feel love for every Jew and when we help our loved ones that isn’t charity. When the Jews are united they don’t need to fear Amalek.

I hope this summary does justice to a very important essay. The Netivot Shalom’s lesson of Purim is a very valuable one. Thanks to everyone who participated. Happy Purim to all! Stuart Fischman

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sholom_Noach_Berezovsky

[2] Though traditional commentators don’t make this point, secular Bible critics note (sarcastically and gleefully) that the names Mordechai and Esther resemble the names of Babylonian deities.

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.