The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Its All Over

This Blog is no longer active (officially).

Saturday, 17 July 2010

This too is for the good

Adapted from a shiur by R' Shlomo Farhi

The Gemara relates a story about a gentleman called Nachum. He was a man who had a a difficult life, but whenever something bad happened, he would say "Gam Zu L'Tovah - this also is for the good", and this is what he later became known as - Nachum Ish Gam Zu. But why does the Gemara call him Nachum Ish Gam Zu, literally, “Nachum Also”? He was famous for saying "Gam Zu L’Tovah" yet he is not called "Nachum Ish Gam Zu L’Tovah"! One would think that "L’Tovah" would be the key part of what he is remembered as, as opposed to the seemingly extraneous ‘also’.

To understand the answer, we must be aware that there is a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to what he did, and consequently what he is remembered for until today. He wouldn't pass a car crash and point and say it was “l’Tova” - one cannot label an inherently bad thing as "good". "Good" is clearly not an applicable adjective. The depth behind his words is as follows: What he did was recognise the masterplan of Hashem, and the web in which events in our lives unfold. He attempted to see the bigger picture, the greater good which is hidden from our direct sight. That web, that bigger picture, is l'tova. Parts of it may not be, or may not obviously be but in recognising that bad events are part of a good web, we should be able to say "Gam Zu L’Tovah!" So in fact ‘Gam Zu’ – his ability to see that this is "also (one more event)" is the key part of what Nachum said - it is the mechanism by which he could label bad as "also" being good. Not just "L’Tovah".

It take a great inner strength to truly be able to say, in the face of a bad event ‘this too shall pass’ and to really believe in the bigger picture and the greater good. But by working on that strength, we will be able to get to the stage where we can say, as Nachum did, Gam Zu L’Tovah – This too is for the good. The word ‘also’ is the very mechanism that allowed him (and resultantly us) to state something was ‘L’Tovah’.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Many Divided Tents of Yaakov

Adapted from Twerski on Chumash (pg333)

Mah Tovu is the opening verse of Shacharit. In many communities, this verse is not recited. Although it appears to be a blessing, the feeling is that nothing benevolent could have come from the tongue of the evil Balaam. The Gemara says that all of Balaam’s ‘blessings’ reverted to being curses, except for Mah Tovu (Sanhedrin 108b). Nevertheless, some authorities did not wish to cite even this blessing. They followed the principle, “Only wickedness emanates from the wicked” (I Shmuel 24:14).

But what harm could possibly be contained in Mah Tovu?

R’ Yaakov Yosef of Polonya (one of the foremost Talmidim of the Besht) explained that the words of the true prophets are for the greater part sharp reprimands. They were critical of Bnei Yisrael’s behaviour and pointed out their dereliction, demanding that they correct their errant ways. They warned Bnei Yisrael of the grave consequences awaiting those who deviated from the Torah. Not so the false prophets. They preached that all was well and that there was no reason for concern that any harm would befall Israel.

Quoting a Pasuk in Mishlei where Shlomo Hamelech writes that the wounds inflicted out of true love and concern are trustworthy, whereas the abundant kisses of an enemy are worthless (27:6), R’ Yaakov Yosef wants to explain that Balaam’s intention was to curse Yisrael by telling them how wonderful they were. They were so perfect that they did not need to do anything to improve. The Gemara says in (Ketuvot 108b) that if you find a spiritual leader who is beloved in his community, it may be because he does not chastise them for their delinquencies in the observance of Mitzvot. We must be cautious when we hear only praise and no rebuke. As pleasant to the ear praise may be, it does not often stimulate a person to self-improvement.

When R’ Shimon Sofer became the rabbi of Cracow, he found more than a hundred synagogues and shtiblach. He realized that this proliferation of places of worship was not the result of overcrowding, but rather splintering, which was generally due to petty differences. R’ Sofer said, “Now I understand why the Gemara said that all of Balaam’s blessings reverted to curses except for Mah Tovu. Balaam’s intention was to curse Yisrael, but in his infinite mercy, Hashem twisted his tongue so that he pronounced blessings. When Bnei Yisrael sinned and lost favour with Hashem, Balaam’s intention to curse was realized.

“Mah Tovu, however, did not have to revert to a curse. It was never a genuine blessing to begin with. With his prophetic insight, Balaam saw that Jews would be nitpicking and seeking to break away and make many places of worship. His ‘blessing’ that there be many ‘tents of Yaakov’ was actually a veiled curse, and did not have to revert.

There is a principle of “In the multitude of people is a king’s glory – but in the lack of people is a minister’s ruin” (Mishlei 14:28). The finest way of honouring the Divine name would be for large congregations to have standing room only. R’ Sofer’s comments are as timely now as they were more than a century ago. We still suffer from lack of unity. The Malbim explains the second half of the above Pasuk to emphasize that even when there is an impressive display of numbers if there is a lack of unity in religious faith and understanding then it’s all for naught. Division and splits within communities realize the ‘curse’ of Balaam. Let the establishment of new places of worship be the result only of the existing shuls becoming overcrowded and let’s take step to repair the very present divides within our community.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


ויאמר ה׳ אל משה אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרון ואמרת אלהם“
“And G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the Sons of Aharon, and say to them”

R’ S.R Hirsch in his commentary on Parashat Emor points out that there seems to be a discrepancy between the formula used to address Moshe regarding the Kohanim (אמור אל הכהנים...ואמרת אלהם) and the formula used to address Moshe regarding the rest of Bnei Yisrael דבר אל בני ישראל...ואמרת אליהם

דבר aims at giving the short curt idea, the general order of the law, whereas ואמרת gives the complete explanation of the details, giving the understanding of the spirit of the law, appealing to the mind and heart. דבר and אמר differ as ‘speaking’ and ‘informing’. Speaking is the expression of thoughts in words without any consideration of its being accepted by the listener. But informing is always ‘telling somebody’. One can speak to oneself but not inform. Quite the same with דבר and אמר. Whereas דבר is the concise expression of the thought, אמר is addressing the same to the mind and feeling of another person, the complete explanation and development of the thought. We can begin to see the difference between the Aseret Hadibrot and the Aseret Mamarot (of Creation). The words of creation is an Amirah. It immediately realizes itself in the object to which it is addressed. The word of the Torah is a דבר, in the first place it is just said and then it awaits being accepted and carried out.

What is the purpose of this whole Pasuk moving in the ‘Amirah’ and why is there a seeming redundancy with the words: ‘say to them and tell them’?

Rashi on this Pasuk based on a Braitta in Yevamot tells us that the double expression is cautioning the Kohanim regarding minors.

R’ Moshe Feinstein views this as a lesson in educational philosophy and approach. One cannot inculcate children or students with fidelity to Torah and its values by merely telling them what their obligations are.

Parents and educators must demonstrate that the Torah way of life is precious, desirable and beautiful. When a child recognizes that the Torah is the key to serenity and a happy and fulfilled life, he will want to follow the Torah. One must speak to his children ‘twice’; once to teach them the Mitzvot and a second time to ignite within them a burning desire to live a Torah life.

But then why is the Pasuk all in ‘Amirah’? This a beautiful Pshat on the standard formula of דבר אל בני ישראל...ואמרת אליהם, where the דבר is the instruction and the אמר the ignition of a desire, the development of the thought. But what is specific by the Kohanim that Lashon Amirah is used throughout?

I think that here we are being taught a lesson about what it means to be a ‘Chosen Nation’.

R’ Zalman Sorotzkin explains why the charge to be particularly careful about children was given to the Kohanim. While parents can usually control their home environment in which a child is raised, peer pressure and society can have a detrimental effect on a child. It is the parent’s duty to address those influences in an appropriate many. Kohanim are subject to privileges – but they have unique proscriptions as well. Thus, the child of a Kohen was, at times, forced to act differently from his friends. It was his parent’s duty to see to it that he maintained his unique status. So too with the rest of Bnei Yisrael; just as the Kohanim need to behave differently to the rest of the nation, so do Jews need to behave differently to the other nations. Primarily this means that as Hashem’s chosen nation we need to maintain a pristine standard of behaviour, both in our actions and our attitudes. And our parents must guide and encourage their child to hold his own in the face of the different standards his friends or the others around him maintain. This steadfastness can be only be brought about if the desire exists. An emphasis is placed upon אמר because a desire for Torah and her way of life is paramount.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Moshe and Humility

From a linguistic perspective, the removal of even one letter from a word in Lashon Hakodesh will alter the meaning of that word. The first word of this week’s Parasha, which is Vayikra, with an Aleph as the last letter of the word, translates into ‘And He called (to Moshe).’

Rashi says that the language of calling precedes every statement, and every saying and every command. He makes a distinction between Vayikar and Vayikra – the emphasis on the inclusion of an Aleph – one is used to connote affection; it is the language of endearment and implies a friendly calling whilst the other (Vayikar) is used when Hashem appeared to Bilaam and implies a chance or forced meeting

When we read of Hashem communicating with Moshe in the Torah, we see such verbs as Vay’daber (And He spoke), Va’yomer (And He said), Vayatzav (And He commanded). Yet, the language of Vayikra (And He called) precedes them all in prominence.

Whether or not the Aleph is present makes a great difference to the translation of the word, however on closer inspection the letter Aleph of the word Vayikra is written diminutively (Aleph Z’aira), The Baal HaTurim explains that Hashem had ordered Moshe to write Vayikra, but Moshe, the most humble of all men, wanted to use the less complimentary Vayikar, He did not want to accord himself the endearing term of Vayikra. To fulfill Hashem’s command, he wrote the Aleph but wrote it smaller than the rest of the word.

(An interesting side point is that because Moshe wanted to write Vayikar, Hashem lovingly called him close – R’Simcha Bunim offered the following insight into how one might be able to maintain our humility even if we were to reach the heights that Moshe did: “A person standing at the peak of the mountain realizes that he is not really taller than everyone else; it is the mountain that holds him high. We should recognize that our achievements are not of our own doing – Hashem holds us up and grants them to us.)

The Baal Haturim is in essence saying that a compromise was made metaphorically, between Hashem and Moshe in the writing of the term Vayikra, by allowing Moshe the Aleph Z’aira.

However this explanation of the Baal Haturim leads to a dilemma: the endearing language of Vayikra appears before Sefer Vayikra, without any Aleph Z’aira:

“…..And the seventh day He called to Moshe from the midst of the cloud.” (Shemos 24:16)

If Moshe was so concerned with his humility, why does he pen the full endearing term Vayikra (including a standard size Aleph) in Sefer Shemos? Why would he have waited until Sefer Vayikra to show his reluctance to writing Vayikra?

The Chasam Sofer in Torat Moshe addresses the problem in the following manner:

The possession of Ruach Hakodesh is meant to imply that an individual has a higher than basic human comprehension, and a more penetrating visualization of the past, present, and future. He writes that there are three levels of Ruach Hakodesh.

The first level is designated by the term Vayikar (coldly or coincidentally communicated with). This level of Ruach Hakodesh is available even to the Prophets of the other nations, as we see with Bilaam.

The second level of Ruach Hakodesh is hinted to by the term Vay’daber (And He spoke). This attainment of Ruach HaKodesh is only available to Yisrael, and not to the other nations.

And lastly, the third level of Ruach Hakodesh appears in the Torah as Vayikra, that special language of endearment. This level could only have been achieved by Moshe Rabbeinu, and no one else, because Bnei Yisrael sinned with the Eigel HaZahav (golden calf). Prior to the terrible sin of the Eigel (prior to Sefer Vayikra), all of Bnei Yisrael were on a higher spiritual plain, and did in fact possess this third and highest level of Ruach HaKodesh designated by the endearing word Vayikra. Hence, prior to the Eigel, Moshe did not wish to pen an Aleph Z’aira onto the word in Shemos (24:16), because the honour of all Bnei Yisrael was also inferred from the word Vayikra. Under no circumstance, would he consider reducing the honour of Bnei Yisrael.

However, in Sefer Vayikra (which takes place after the sin of the Eigel), that highest level of Ruach Hakodesh through the term Vayikra, would apply only to Moshe Rabbeinu and no one else. And, when it came to his own personal honour, Moshe was suddenly unwilling to pen the endearing Vayikra.

There would certainly seem to be a powerful Musar Haskeil (instruction of intellect- see Mishlei 1:3) here, in that the truly honourable are not concerned with their own honour, but rather, with the honour of others. While this highest level of Ruach Hakodesh is attainable no more, let us never forget that the only way to have achieved it was through an immense concern for the dignity of others, not for oneself. Developing a true and sincere awareness of modest humility is the key to personal success in all one’s endeavours. The humility of the humble will earn respectful esteem as Shlomo Hamelech writes:

"ושפל רוח יתמך כבוד"  (Mishlei 29:23)

Shabbat Shalom,

A Goat, Challot and The Arei Miklot

“He shall lean his hands on the goat’s head and slaughter it before Hashem, in the place where burnt-offerings are slaughtered. (If it is slaughtered with the intention of being a sin-offering, then) it is a valid sin-offering.

An obvious question on this arises. Why does the חַטָּאת have to be slaughtered in the same place on it as theעוֹלָה ? Surely the two have no connection to each other as the חַטָּאת is brought by someone who sins unintentionally whereas the עוֹלָה is a sacrifice brought out of free will.

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that עוֹלָה also has a second meaning - to raise. The Korban raises the owner from their current state to a higher state in order to bring himself closer to Hashem.
The Midrash Vayikra Rabba however, says that the עוֹלָה is to atone for sinful thoughts and fantasies that appear in peoples minds or imagination. This happens to everyone. This differs significantly to a חַטָּאת, where although the sin was בִּשְׁגָגָה - unintentional, if he would have been more careful it would not have occurred.

People seeing him bringing a חַטָּאת may look badly on him because of his actions. Therefore the Torah instructs that the owner places his hands in the same way as the עוֹלָה, the voluntary offering to save the feelings of the person offering the sacrifice.

There is a story with Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement that exemplifies this point. He was once invited out for a Friday night meal. His host noticed when it came to eating that his wife had forgotten to cover the two challos. He flew into a large temper in front of his wife and started shouting at her in front everyone present. “It’s a disgrace! How can you have forgotten something like that?” She immediately apologised profusely and rectified it, but was obviously embarrassed. After the meal the great Rav approached the man and asked him “What is the reason we cover the challos?” The husband replied “In order the challos don’t feel inferior to the Kiddush wine.” Rabbi Yisrael rebuked him in a slight manner “You were concerned with the feelings of an inanimate object, but did not take into consideration the feelings of your wife?”

The Torahs thought for both human feelings are also seen with the Arei Miklot. Many special sign-posts were erected to direct people. This was so that people who had killed unintentionally would not have to be put into the embarrassing situation of having to ask for directions to the Arei Miklot where they will be safe from the family of the murdered person.

With this we can more fully understand the Mishna in Pirkei Avos which teaches that יהי כבוד חברך חביב עליך כשלך, you should respect other peoples honour as your own.

By Raphael Waller

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, 15 March 2010

New Way to Get the PDF Version

Due to the decrepit programming of the Main website and the difficulty involved with uploading the PDF, I've decided to create a secondary place where anyone can can get a copy.

I'll upload just before we go to print, usually on a wednesday (sometimes when we're running late - on a thursday) meaning that you won't have to be anxiously waiting, sitting by your computer fretting on a friday in order to get yourself a copy. [ Heres hoping :) ]

Visit for a printable version of the full Living Torah Weekly.

(Hat tip to GDT blog for the website)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Shabbat, The Mishkan and Donations

The first of this week’s Parashas starts off with Moshe gathering the Jewish people together to tell them three things. Firstly, how they should keep Shabbos even though they are building the Mishkan. Secondly, that no fire should be lit on Shabbos. Thirdly, that they should make donations towards the building of the Mishkan.

Rashi points out when this gathering took place. He says that it was as soon as Moshe had come down from Har Sinai after the Eigel with the second Luchos. Since Moshe came down on Yom Kippur, the first available opportunity was on the day after Yom Kippur.

The Sifsei Chachomim asks on this point a question from Rashi in Parashas Yisro. Over there (Shemos 18:13) the possuk tells us that, “It was on the following day and Moshe sat and judged the nation …. From morning to evening.” Rashi says that the day that the possuk is referring to is the day after Yom Kippur. If Moshe spent that whole day “from morning to evening” judging the nation, then when could he say Parashas Va’yakhel?

The Sifsei Chachomim answers that Rashi himself covers this question in a later comment on that possuk in Yisro. Rashi says peshat in “from morning to evening” is not to be taken literally. Rather it is there to teach us that whoever judges a correct judgement, it is if they are partners with Hashem in creation where it says, “And there was evening, there was morning.” Since “from morning to evening” is not literal rather Moshe only spent some of his time judging he had time to say over Va’yakhel.

The Kli Yakar says over that there is a much more fundamental connection between Moshe judging the people and Parashas Va’yakhel. Parashas Va’yakhel instructs the Jewish people to bring donations to the Mishkan. This could only be done once Moshe had judged the people to solve all the monetary disputes, because if people would donate beforehand there might be donations of some funds which come from somebody who is not the rightful owner. Only after all disputes are solved and all monies are definitely with their right owner can the donations begin.

He goes onto explain why all this had to happen on the day after Yom Kippur. The Mishkan was a unique opportunity for over 3 million people to have a share in the same building. What would normally happen when 3 million Jews would have to build a house together? Can you imagine the Machlokes? The only way this could happen is if all the Jews had Achdus. On Yom Kippur when we received the second Luchos and forgiveness for the Eigel we managed to also regain the incredible level which we had at Matan Torah of “K’Ish Echad B’leiv Echad”-“Like one man with one heart.” Only with this level of Achdus could we begin to start talking about building a Mishkan. Therefore Parashas Va’yakhel needed to start as soon as possible now Moshe has removed the technical problem of a few court cases.

He then brings a Drush which puts the icing on the cake. We are told that there should be no fire lit in our dwellings on Shabbos. Fire is representative of heated Machlokes. Building the Mishkan helped us maintain the level of Achdus and avoid Machlokes. However, that is all very well throughout the week, what about Shabbos when we can’t build the Mishkan? Therefore we have a special possuk warning us that on Shabbos when we aren’t building the Mishkan, be extra careful to avoid Machlokes.

By Aharaon Goldwater

Those Wise in Heart

“Let all those with a wise heart among you come and make everything that Hashem commanded” (35:10)

This week the words ‘Chacham Lev’ are repeated seven times and the root of Chacham appears eleven times. Chachma is generally translated as wisdom. The meaning of the phrase wise-hearted needs further clarification.

Two approaches to Chachma:

The Ramban comments that at first none of Bnei Yisrael were aware that they had the skills necessary to carry out the Divine will but through their devotion to Hashem they discovered that they had the skills required within in them. Emotional factors do not allow a person to accept something about himself whether it be good or bad no matter how many times he is told it and regardless if it is explained to him in detail. Our emotions can cloud our minds meaning that no intellectual information will register.

We usually think of wisdom as associated with the mind and brain rather than with the heart. We also usually associate the heart with our emotions rather than with wisdom. The phrase of Chacham Lev seems to be telling us of the importance that we should attach to our emotions and that we must understand ourselves and our emotional responses to any situation. According to R’Hirsch understanding and insight are subcategories of Chachma – wisdom. Our emotions and our intellect are very closely related; lack of one has an adverse effect on the other.

It is possible to think that this character of Chacham Lev is only relevant to this week’s Parasha (It only appears five times in the Torah – all in our Parasha). The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:54) notes that is specifically linked to the art of construction. However the phrase and its inner meaning seems to include a broader category than simply the ability to make things. In other places around the Tanach, the phrase is related to the observance of Mitzvot:

“One whose heart is wise will do the Mitzvot, but a fool will have tired lips.” (Mishlei 10:8)

Indeed the Malbim comments that ‘Chacham Lev’ refers to someone who has integrated the moral discipline that wisdom imposes with his natural instincts and passions.

Alternatively, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi says that we describe Hashem as ‘wise in the heart’, not because intelligence is a description of Hashem rather because it is intellect that is our essence and Hashem is the very ultimate of intellect, the very epitome of Chacham Lev – Where there is complete unity between ‘wisdom’ and the one who possess it. It is a natural characteristic of Hashem; a human being can achieve the same objective if he yearns for Hashem and attempts to be an instrument for the establishment of Hashem’s kingdom in our world. Much like Betzalel was.

The Pasuk describe Betzalel as having/using wisdom, insight and understanding. R’Hirsch says that he was appointed specifically because he had these qualities. The building of the Mishkan was not merely the external work of artisanship but a way to establish a structure where there are no spare parts, where each part has a symbolic significance.

So in summary, it is likely that Chacham Lev is the wisdom needed to build the Mishkan, wisdom that can translate a Divine plan into human reality, something that will form a bridge between our emotions and our intellect and between us and Hashem. The Mishkan is the centre of vitality of Am Yisrael. It a spiritual and emotional centre, the source of all the teachings of Bnei Yisrael, intellectual or otherwise.

What is needed to construct such a centre is wisdom combined with a heart, someone who is truly Chacham Lev. Only this can bring together the highest point of the Jewish soul and its strong yearning for Hashem. This is wisdom that results from the link between man and Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Luchos: The Marriage Document

“It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances that Moshe’s anger flared up and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them at the foot of the mountain”
(Shemos 32:19)

The question is asked by this episode of the golden calf as to why Moshe broke the luchos. He seemed to have lost his temper and smashed the luchos out of anger; despite the sin of the people, is this the way a leader should act? Rashi justifies Moshe’s actions by bringing a gemora in Shabbos (87a) which says that since a heretic may not partake in the korban pesach which is one of the mitzvos, surely a nation of heretics can not receive the Torah.

The Midrash gives an interesting idea. Moshe realised the sin which had been committed by the Bnei Yisroel would face judgement from Hashem. Moshe therefore broke the luchos in the defence of the Bnei Yisroel as he could now protest that since the Bnei Yisroel had not physically received the laws then perhaps they don’t apply.

Another explanation is based on the Midrash that the letters of the luchos departed when Moshe saw the sin. This made them suddenly very heavy so Moshe could no longer carry them. Alternatively, as Rashbam says, Moshe became weak upon seeing the levels to which the Bnei Yisroel had sunk and he could no longer carry the luchos. Nevertheless, the question remains, why did Moshe only break the luchos when he saw the sin? Was the warning from Hashem (32:8) not enough?

Rabbi Twerski brings the Midrash which says that Moshe wanted to teach the Bnei Yisroel a lesson that no matter how trustworthy the witness, even Hashem, two witnesses are required to give testimony. Therefore, it was only when Moshe, acting as a second witness, saw the sin did he actually believe it.

After this point, the Torah relates that Moshe punished those who worshipped the calf without witnesses or a warning by grinding the gold of the calf and adding it to water and then force feeding the concoction to them. If they were guilty the water was poisonous, if not, it would pass through them normally. This form of justice is similar to that of the sotah, the woman suspected of adultery. The other sinners were killed by the sword or by plague. The question is asked, why was the form of justice chosen similar to that of the sotah?

The answer fits in with why Moshe broke the luchos. Many times throughout Tanach, the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People is compared to that of a husband and wife. The Midrash brings a parable of the newly married man who heard rumours that his wife was unfaithful. In order to ensure that the wife, if accused, would be judged as a single woman rather than a married one, for which the punishment is lighter, the marriage document was torn up. Here too, Moshe effectively tore up the marriage document, the luchos, in the hope that the sin of the Bnei Yisroel would seem lighter. Nevertheless, by the punishment, the Bnei Yisroel are still considered to be under contract with Hashem so their punishment is the same as that of the sotah; just as she is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband and is given the water of the sotah, so too, the people who were suspected of worshipping the idol but not witnessed doing so are punished in the same way.

By Ari Levy.