The Midrash comments about the opening verse of our parashah
(Devarim 29:9), "You all are standing here today": Just as the
day is part light and part dark, so you, too, will have dark, but
in the future, it will become light for you. When? When you are
joined as one group.
R' Nachum Mordechai Friedman z"l (the "Chortkover Rebbe")
writes: Chazal mean to teach us that just as when the day becomes
dark, it is because the earth has turned away from the source of
light (the sun), so, too, when it becomes "dark" for us, it is
because we have turned away from the Source of Light. It is not
because the "light" has gone away, but because our sins have
built a wall between us and the "Light."
This midrash also teaches: Just as you know with certainty that
the sun will rise in the morning, so you must believe with
unshakable faith - indeed , you must know - that "Light" will be
restored to you.
Finally, do not think that just as you can calculate the time
of sunrise, so you can calculate the time of G-d's salvation
(i.e., the return of the "Light"). When will it happen? Only
when you are joined as one group! (Doresh Tov)
"You are all standing today, before Hashem, your G-d; the
heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers - all
the men of Israel; your small children, your wives, and your
proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer
of your wood to the drawer of your water, for you to pass
into the covenant of Hashem . . ." (29:9-11)
Philosophers divided people into several categories. The
unlearned masses who observed the Torah's laws, they said, were
like those who try to reach the king's palace, but never see it.
Those who study Talmud only are like those who circle the palace,
but never enter it. Those who study philosophy enter the palace,
and the most expert among these actually reach the throne room.
Our verses prove that this is not so, writes Rav Moshe Avigdor
Amiel z"l (Chief Rabbi of Antwerp and Tel Aviv). Even the
unlearned water carrier and woodcutter can pass into the covenant
(L'nevochei Hatekufah Ch. 13)
R' Mordechai Yosef Leiner z"l (1801-1859; the "Izbica Rebbe")
comments that the above verses teach that G-d does not expect the
same thing from every person. Rather, G-d expects every person
to maximize his accomplishments using the tools that he has been
given, whether those be the tools of a tribal elder or of a water
carrier. This, writes R' Leiner, is the meaning of our Sages'
teaching: "Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his
generation." On an absolute scale, Yiftach certainly was not as
great as Shmuel, but each utilized the tools at his disposal to
accomplish the mission that G-d had assigned to him.
"It [the Torah] is not in the Heavens." (30:12)
From this verse, Chazal learn that once the Torah was "sealed"
at the end of Moshe's life, no prophet may change it. G-d has
given the Torah to us to interpret according to the rules that
the Torah itself contains, and even if He would tell us how to
act, we would not listen. Rather, we base our actions only on
the Torah, as interpreted by the sages. (See Bava Metzia 59b and
Yet, we find instances where sages consulted angels regarding
the proper halachic decision. R' Yaakov of Marvege, a 12th
century Tosafist, did so regularly, and composed the work
She'eilot Uteshuvot Min Hashamayim ("Responsa from Heaven").
Indeed, this work is quoted by poskim and followed! How is this
consistent with the rule: "It is not in the Heavens."
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l ("Chida"; 1724-1806) explains
that the Heavens may be consulted when the gemara has discussed a
question and left it unanswered. In such a case, there is no way
that we can be expected to resolve the matter using our own
(Shem Hagedolim: Erech R' Yaakov Hechassid)
The Mishnah teaches: "If one says, `I will sin and I will
repent, I will sin and I will repent,' he will not be given the
opportunity to repent."
Why is the phrase "I will sin and I will repent" repeated? The
gemara answers that once a person has committed the same sin
twice, it becomes permitted in his eyes. A person who says, "I
will sin and I will repent," may actually repent. However, once
he adopts this attitude twice, he will never repent.
R' Chaim Hager of Kosov z"l offers another explanation for the
double expression. Teshuvah is one of the 613 mitzvot, so it
could be argued that a person is obligated to sin in order to
fulfill this mitzvah. However, even if that were true, a person
would only be obligated to sin once in his lifetime. The first
time that a person says, "I will sin and I will repent," he may
be doing so for the sake of the mitzvah, but the second time, we
can be sure that he is really a sinner.
In light of this, says R' Chaim, we can understand Yosef's
response to the wife of Potiphar (Bereishit 39:9): "How can I do
this great evil and I have sinned to G-d." Shouldn't he have
said, "How can I do this great evil and I will sin to G-d"?
R' Chaim answers that Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Yosef with
the argument that it is a mitzvah to sin in order to repent. But
only once, Yosef answered. Therefore, "How can I do this great
evil and I have [already] sinned to G-d" and fulfilled the
mitzvah of teshuvah.
R' Chaim of Friedberg z"l
R' Chaim ben Bezalel of Freidberg was born in approximately
1515. He was one of four brothers about whom the great
commentator and posek, R' Shlomo Luria ("Maharshal"), wrote: "I
have heard about the wise brothers, the lofty, wise and pious
one, R' Chaim; the lion of Torah, R' Laib; and the two shining
stars, R' Sinai and R' Shimshon . . ." R' Chaim was a leading
sage of his generation, though his legacy is overshadowed by that
of his younger brother, R' Laib, better known as the Maharal of
Prague. When he is quoted, it is usually by the name, "R' Chaim,
the brother of Maharal." (See, for example, the marginal gloss
in most editions of Berachot 64a).
R' Chaim was educated in at least three yeshivot. His earliest
teacher was R' Yitzchak Sephardi, a Spanish exile who settled in
Posen, Germany (R' Chaim's birthplace). R' Chaim writes that
"[H]e taught me Mikrah / Bible with great care, and Rashi's
commentary in great depth." Throughout his life, R' Chaim
continued to study and teach Rashi's Torah commentary, and he
wrote Be'er Mayim Chaim, a commentary to Rashi's commentary. R'
Chaim repeatedly emphasized that Rashi's comments are much deeper
than meets the eye, and require careful analysis. In this, R'
Chaim was followed by his brother, whose book, Gur Aryeh, is one
of the most popular commentaries on Rashi's work. It is
believed, as well, that Maharal's interest in the systematic
study of Mikrah and Mishnah according to the recommendation of
Pirkei Avot (ch. 5) was inspired by R' Chaim, who had been so
taught by R' Yitzchak Sephardi. R' Yitzchak also taught R' Chaim
Hebrew grammar, and the latter encouraged his own students to
pursue this discipline along with their other Torah studies. (R'
Chaim's grammar book, Etz Chaim, has not been published.) R'
Chaim also sought to produce an accurate Yiddish translation of
As a young man, R' Chaim traveled to study under R' Shalom
Shachna of Lublin, one of the leading sages of Poland and the
leader of the pilpul school of Torah studies. However, like his
fellow student R' Moshe Isserles ("Rema"), R' Chaim apparently
rejected the pilpul method.
R' Chaim's next teacher was Maharshal, and it was his method of
studying halachah that R' Chaim adopted as his own. Maharshal
was strongly opposed to the practice of studying halachah from
codifications such the Shulchan Aruch of R' Yosef Karo.
Maharshal wrote that halachic codes were written with the
intention of making "one Torah" out of the many views that exist,
but instead they have the opposite effect. Because of the
brevity of the codes' statements and the lack of discussion
therein, anyone can say, "I suspect that this author did not take
into account the view of Rabbi So-and-so, and that is my view."
Furthermore, wrote Maharshal, with the existence of codes, the
layman thinks that he has no more need for rabbis, for he thinks
that he now knows the whole Torah.
To these criticisms, R' Chaim added a third concern. German
Jewry, which R' Chaim served his entire career, possessed many
unique customs that, in some cases, had been passed down from
generation to generation for over 1,000 years. However, after
the 15th century, Germany had relatively few Torah scholars. As
a result, noted R' Chaim, when the Spanish and Polish sages
composed halachic codes, there was usually no one to speak up for
German's customs, and these were invariably left out of the
The correct method for studying halachah, according to both
Maharshal and R' Chaim, was the method of the Tosafot. Always
begin with the relevant Talmudic passages. Compare them,
contrast them, and, if necessary, reconcile them. Then advance
to the early commentaries, testing their words against the
Talmud's conclusions. In this way, the halachah can eventually
be determined. R' Chaim wrote in a letter that the Shulchan
Aruch and other codes definitely provide a worthwhile service as
a review for those who have already studied the entire Talmud,
but they should not be used as independent halachic sources.
Consistent with these views, R' Chaim was reluctant to leave
any written works. He encouraged his students to memorize
material and study by heart, thus developing their memories and
their analytical abilities. That R' Chaim wrote any books is a
testimony to the persistent demands of his students, and even so,
he postponed his writing until an epidemic forced him to be
quarantined and separated from anyone with whom he could "talk in
learning." (This happened in 1569 and again in 1579.) R' Chaim
passed away in 1588.
Because many readers did not receive last week's issue, the
following dvar Torah relevant to the month of Elul is reprinted
It is said that R' Yisrael Salanter z"l (founder of the Mussar
movement; died 1883) was visibly terrified during the month of
Elul. Once a Jew asked him, "Of what are you afraid - is Elul a
bear [i.e., a frightening animal]?"
R' Salanter answered: "Elul is more frightening than a bear.
Look at King David! He said (Shmuel I 17:36), `Your servant has
slain even lion and bear.' And yet, King David himself said
(Tehilim 119:120), `My flesh shuddered from dread of You, and I
feared Your judgments'."
R' Shimshon David Pinkus z"l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel; died
2001) observes: It is difficult for us to understand R'
Salanter's feelings. Each of us says, "I'm still around after
all of these years. Why should I expect to die all of a sudden?"
Nevertheless, our Sages have instructed us to pray during the
Aseret Yemei Teshuvah / Ten Days of Penitence: "Remember us for
life, O King who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of
Life . . ." Apparently, our Sages understood that it is
necessary that each of us pray for his life.
The truth, explains R' Pinkus, is that the season of Elul and
the High Holidays demands of us emunah / belief in G-d. We do
not perceive that our very lives are hanging in the balance, but
we are called upon to believe it nevertheless. Indeed, Rambam
writes in Sefer Hamitzvot that the mitzvah of emunah includes the
belief in reward and punishment, and it requires us to fear that
This mitzvah is particularly difficult for those of us who are
surrounded by Hashem's kindness, concludes R' Pinkus. We live
lives of ease, comfort and even luxury, and we do not see that
one moment on Rosh Hashanah can change everything - for us, for
our families, and even for the entire Jewish people. We must
teach ourselves to believe this. (Sichot R' Shimshon David