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vaetchanan 2012

  GOOD INTENTIONS


ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאודך    You shall love your G-d with all your heart… The word heart in Hebrew is לב  with only one letter  ב . Here, the Torah says to love G-d with all your לבב, which implies to love Him with both hearts. The good and evil inclinations are found in the heart. We are to love G-d with both our hearts,  or both inclinations. How can one serve G-d with his evil inclination? By redirecting material desires and distractions to serve G-d, we are serving Him with our desires. We might have difficulty understanding why G-d needs to command us to serve and love G-d even with our Yetzer Tov. Isn’t that the natural habit of the good inclination, to love G-d?

Rabbi Michael Bernstien (Windows to the Soul, Shaar Press) answers that sometimes the Yetzer Tov comes up with good ideas that are not necessarily the will of G-d. Communism has something that sounds like a good idea. The road to hell is paved with stones of good intentions. The Torah makes sure that we know that having a good intention does not necessarily mean that this is the will of the Torah.

R’ Chaim Volozhiner approached his Rabbi ,the Vilna Gaon. He had this great idea to build a yeshiva, the first of its kind. The Gaon, after hearing the plan of R’ Chaim, did not respond. R’ Chaim understood that the Gaon was not behind this project. He left the Gaon and did not say anything.

Several years passed, and still thinking that building the Yeshiva was a good idea, R’ Chaim returned to the Gaon and presented the plan once more. This time the Gaon gave his approval. R’ Chaim did not understand. Why was he turned down the first time, and this time, he got a “yes”?

To this the Gaon answered. “When you came the first time, you came with such excitement. That does not usually happen with mitsvot. Excitement for good deeds usually stems from ulterior motives. Now, years later, I see that you are still thinking about this Yeshiva project, but now, with a calm mind. For this, I give my approval. (adapted from Impact, Targum Press)

It is hard for us to know when and why we do things. Today, it is very hard to do even good things without ulterior motives. Although ulterior motives can be pasul  and invalid , they do not disqualify the act itself. The act must be done, while the motives must be worked on. This is what is meant to serve G-d with your good inclination.

Some people wonder as to how, exactly, we can be commanded to love G-d. If we do not have His love in our hearts, how can we get it? The answer is that deep down, we all have love for G-d in our hearts. It is blocked sometimes because of our busy schedule, thoughts of the past and worries of the future. We can tap into it by stopping these thoughts and focusing on our prayers. 80 percent of the thoughts that go through our minds are about the past and future. Not about the “Now”. If we think about the now, the good that G-d bestows on us, – שעשה לי כל צרכי  that he provided me with all my needs, then we can love Him.

There is something interesting in the Midrash about this passuk. The Midrash explains that the mitzvah to love G-d is actually to make the Name of G-d loved by others through you-  שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך   This is strange. The simple explanation of the passuk is, “You should love your G-d.” Why the change?

G-d is complete. He does not need our love. He does not need our care. However, we must show our love and care to Him. The greatest level of love of G-d is our getting others to love Him, as well. Loving G-d in a way that we care so much that we want more love of G-d in the world, that is the true love of G-d.

 

A MINUTE WITH G-D

 

My son asked me a good question. We recite Kriat Shma in the morning and at night. The purpose of this recital is to accept on ourselves the yoke of G-d’s Kingship. Why does the Torah say only בשכבך ובקומך   when you go to sleep and when you wake up? Why don’t we have to accept the yoke of Heaven in the middle of the day, when we pray Mincha?

The answer I gave my son satisfied him. In the way the world ran for thousands of years, people would work during hours when there was sunlight. They would get up before sunrise and go to sleep not long after the stars came out. The light hours were used for working. We are supposed to accept on ourselves G-d’s kingship everyday, all day. But to say the Sh’ma needs proper focus and thought, and during the day people are busy at work. The Sh’ma recital cannot be done properly if you just speed through it. If you do not have the proper concentration during the Shma, you missed the reason for reciting it. You have to say it again slowly. This is time consuming. However, when people first got up in the morning, before beginning their day, and at the end of the day’s work, when they went to bed , they could be more focused on prayer, instead of on work. During the day, when one could not dedicate proper Kavana (concentration) to saying the Sh’ma and accepting G-d’s kingship, they were not required to do so. At night, when the people who did not have artificial lighting finished their work and could enjoy the stillness of the night, it was the opportune time to recite the Sh’ma and devote to it the proper concentration. Nowadays, people have no time for concentration; their minds are always at “work”. If they get up early, they check their e-mails. They overwork themselves during the day and come home overly exhausted.  You may have religious people reciting Kriat Sh’ma everyday, but never once saying it properly. Is there any way that we can get just a few minutes with G-d into our daily schedule?


WHO REALLY BURNT DOWN THE TEMPLE?

 

In the Nacheim prayer we say on Tisha B’av afternoon, we recall the destruction and rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash with these words:   כי אתה באש הצתה ובאש אתה עתיד לבנותה וכו’    You set it on fire, and You will ultimately rebuild it with fire.  The Midrash  cites this statement – together with the verse in the Torah teaching that the one who sets fire to the possessions of others is liable for damages (שמות כ”ב:ה) And then the Midrash quotes the Holy One as making the following amazing statement: “I have to fix the damages that resulted from the fire I set”.   (ילקוט שמעוני-זכריה ב:ט)

Now, this is all very strange. We have all been taught that the Temple was destroyed because of the sins of our People. Through sin, our forefathers caused G-d’s Presence to leave the Holy Site, making it vulnerable to the torches of our gentile enemies. How, then, can we understand that G-d is liable for its rebuilding, and not the Jewish Nation?

Oddly enough, this paradox can be explained by another paradox:

The Talmud (ברכות לא:) tells us that when Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah) attempted to defend the Jews against the charge of idolatry, he went out on a limb, and pointed an accusing finger at G-d: “You caused their hearts to go astray by creating the Evil Inclination(מלכים א יח, לז)”               . ]The Talmud criticizes this statement, but goes on to say that G-d actually agreed to this charge.]

How are we to understand this?

The Siftei Chaim offers an explanation which, I think, resolves both these paradoxes. Indeed, Man has freedom of choice, which ultimately makes man liable for sin. But once a person repents, G-d judges him favorably, and acknowledges that “I was the One who created him with such a strong evil inclination and passion; I will therefore take responsibility for the sin.”

In other words, although the sin was committed by the sinner, his liability continues only until he repents sincerely. After repentance, G-d is willing, as it were, to bear the responsibility, since, ultimately, the sin was a result of the negative drive (yetzer ha’ra) created by Him.

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Taking responsibility for our foolish actions can be very difficult. We often find ourselves denying responsibility for our mistakes, making all kinds of excuses and trying hard to keep up a self-image of perfection. But, if we can internalize the refreshing concept discussed above – that G-d forgives us when we candidly admit our sin – we will have a great new source of hope. And we will be able to approach Elul and the Days of Repentance in the right frame of mind.


DOUBLE PUNISHMENT / DOUBLE CONSOLATION

 

When people speak of “support,” they are usually referring to one of three types: emotional support, physical support, or monetary support. Indeed, the human psyche relies on these three types of support to stay balanced and healthy. If one of these is missing, an individual often feels like he is drowning.  This feeling will be most intense when emotional support is missing.

What is emotional support? It is by no means limited to encouragement. Basic honor and respect also provide emotional support to an individual. If these are missing, not only will mental and emotional health be likely to deteriorate, but bodily health as well. Subconsciously, we are always looking for support from our family, friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, some people do not get support from these parties. This may be because they simply do not have a circle of relatives or friends – or because the relatives and friends fail to provide the appropriate level of respect and honor. We sometimes forget just how powerful and vital this kind of support is.

It emerges, then, that one of the biggest acts of chessed we can perform is to simply lend an ear. If someone we know is suffering, it may be difficult to let them rattle on and on. We might feel that we do not have any way to help. But this feeling is misleading. The fact is that even if the person is suffering from lack of physical or monetary support, a listening ear and emotional support can do much to soothe their pains.

If possible, though, we should do even more when we are approached by someone who is subconsciously looking for support: We should try to open up their eyes to the truth that ultimately it is not family, friends, etc., that hold us up. This is actually all a mirage. There is no-one who loves us and respects us more than our G-d in Heaven. He is the source of all support. Needless to say, wisdom and tact are necessary to convey this message effectively.

One powerful way to do this is to point to people who have succeeded in realizing – and living by – this basic truth. One such person could be a man or woman who lost their spouse at an early age, or a senior who never found a spouse at all – but managed to stay happy, and even become a source of support for others!

How did they accomplish this? The answer is that they found support by observing how the Creator supports them. They then went on to support others. They realized just how much G-d loves us and supports us even though we often ignore Him. And He is still there for us when we come back to Him.

In the Haftarah of Shabbat Nachamu, we read: נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלוקיכם (Be consoled , be consoled my nation – so your G-d will say). The Midrash comments: They were doubly punished, and they will be doubly consoled (ילקוט שמעוני). How can we understand this? Why did G-d punished us doubly for our sins, and then give us a double amount of consolation?

The answer lies in the Haftarah of Parashat Masei (Yirmiahu 20:13):כי שתים רעות עשה עמי- אותי עזבו מקור מים חיים לחצוב להם בארות בארות נשברים אשר לא יכילו המים (My nation committed two evils against Me: They abandoned Me, the source of living waters, to go and dig wells for themselves – broken wells that cannot hold water).  This calls to mind the parable of the queen who ran off with a farmer. Not only did she leave the king – she left the king to marry a simple farmer!

The Chovot Halevovot notes that the Prophet is not only referring to abandoning G-d for idol worship. He is also referring to abandoning our trust in G-d to trust in the more immediate things that support us. We trust that if we are breathing now, we will still be breathing a minute from now. We trust that as long as we have an investment/business/rich parent, our financial situation is stable due to these means. We trust that if we are happily married or supported, things will remain that way. What this really boils down to, however, is that we are relying on means because we built a certain amount of trust in them. We may then, unfortunately, forget to turn to G-d to keep asking for those blessings. By doing this, we are abandoning our relationship with G-d, who is like the spring of fresh waters itself. We rely on our broken wells that we dug that cannot even contain the water we put in them from the spring. We are busy focusing on the wells and rivers and pipelines through which G-d sends us good, but we forget that He is the source of all our bounty. These are the two evils done by our nation – abandoning our trust in G-d to trust in other means of support, and forgetting that these means are actually provided by G-d.

In His great mercy, however, He is willing to accept us back even after we have behaved so badly. Our King does not forsake his queen – the Jewish People – after she ran off with the farmer who is himself supported by the King. He still calls Himself “your G-d.” He does not forsake us even if we have forsaken Him. There is no greater consolation than this. He is always there watching over us. Furthermore, when we come back to Him, not only does He not get angry at us for leaving Him, He also shows that He is overjoyed to have us back. This is the double consolation.

About the author, Yosef

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