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Parshas Vayeilech

Prayer with Legs to Stand On

Volume 26, No. 47

Sponsored by Aaron and Rona Lerner in memory of mother Faiga Reva bat Yoel Aharon a”h (Fay Lerner)

Our parashah opens: “Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel.” Where was Moshe “going”? R’ Mordechai Twersky z”l (1798-1837; the Maggid of Chernobyl) explains as follows:

We read (Bemidbar 14:17), “And now, may the strength of my Lord be magnified, as You have spoken, saying.” [Although the words “You have spoken” literally refer to Hashem, it can be interpreted as if “you have spoken” refers to man.] This alludes to the teaching of Kabbalists that when a person speaks, i.e., prays, he magnifies the Name of G-d and has the ability to elevate the souls of many Jews.

How does a person know if he is praying properly? The verse concludes, “You have spoken, saying” — if, after a person prays, he wants to “say,” i.e., pray more, then he knows that he has prayed well. But if he is glad to be finished, he has not prayed properly.

We also read (Kohelet 4:17), “Guard your legs when you go to the house of Elokim.” Proper prayer stands on two legs, says R’ Twersky. One leg is man’s belief in the holiness of the prayers, and the other is man’s trust that Hashem accepts the prayers of even the least articulate person. However, a person must always be truthful, as Chazal say that “falsehood has no legs.” [As written in the Torah, the letters of the word “sheker”/”falsehood” all come to a point on the bottom. Thus, they have no “legs” and cannot stand.]

Moshe’s prayers undoubtedly stood on strong “legs,” and he was therefore able to elevate the souls of the Jewish people. It was on those “legs” that our verse says he “went.” There is also another way to elevate the souls of Jews, R’ Mordechai concludes. Shortly, we will take the Four Species which Chazal say symbolize four types of Jews. Even the aravah, which has no taste and no smell--representing the Jew who has no Torah and no mitzvot--can be elevated when it is bound together with the other species. (Likkutei Torah)

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“My anger will flare up against [the nation] on that day and I will forsake them; and I will conceal My face from them and they will become prey, and many evils and distresses will encounter [the nation]. It will say on that day, ‘Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?’ But conceal, I will conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.” (31:17-18)

R’ Menachem Mendel Krochmal z”l (Poland; 1600-1661) asks: In verse 17, G-d conceals His face once, and this concealment leads to “many evils and distresses,” yet in verse 18, where He conceals His face doubly, no evils follow! Why?

He explains: The Gemara (Megillah 12a) asks, “Why were the Jews of Haman’s generation worthy of destruction?” The Gemara answers, “Because they had bowed down to Nevuchadnezar’s statue.” (See Daniel ch. 3.) The Gemara asks further, “Then why were they not wiped out?” and it answers, “Just as they bowed down only for show, not with idolatrous intent, so G-d’s decree that they be destroyed was only for show.” We see, writes R’ Krochmal, that G-d sometimes hides His face “for show,” but nothing bad happens as a result. Sometimes, when G-d hides Himself, it leads to great pain and suffering, while other times He hides Himself only so that we will search for Him.

The Gemara states that verse 18 contains an allusion to Queen Esther, whose name means “concealment.” This is not merely a play on words, R’ Krochmal notes. Rather, as we have just seen, our verse alludes to the way in which G-d concealed Himself in Esther’s time – just for show, just so we would search for Him. (Pi Tzaddik: Drush 48)

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“But, conceal I will conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.” (31:18)

R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (1772-1810) teaches: There are two levels of hester panim / concealment of G-d’s “face”. When G-d merely hides Himself, it is difficult to find Him, but it is possible if one looks hard enough. And, since one knows that G-d is hidden, one can motivate himself to seek Him.

Sometimes, however, G-d conceals the fact that He is concealed. [In this case, we do not realize that He is hiding and that He has abandoned us.] This is a greater tragedy because, when we don’t realize that He is concealed, we are not motivated to search for Him. (Likutei Moharan I 56:3)

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“So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to Bnei Yisrael.” (31:19)

R’ David Hakochavi z”l (Provence; 13-14th centuries) writes: The received tradition teaches that this verse commands each person to write a Sefer Torah for himself. The purpose of this mitzvah is clear – the Torah is the necessary tool in order for a person to perfect himself, and, surely, no craftsman would attempt to practice his craft without his tools.

Chazal state that each person must write his own Sefer Torah, even if he inherited one from his father. The reason, explains R’ Hakochavi, is that it is human nature to value more that which one has made by himself. (Sefer Ha’battim: Migdal David, Sefer Mitzvah No. 16)

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“This song shall speak up before it as a witness. . .” (31:21)

“This song” refers to the song of “Ha’azinu” in the next parashah. To what does it testify?

R’ Chaim of Friedberg z”l (16th century, brother of the Maharal of Prague) explains that there are many prophecies in the Torah and the Prophets which do not have happy endings. Most notably, the horrible curses which were read last week in Parashat Ki Tavo end without any mention of a brighter future.

Not so the song of “Ha'azinu” which ends with the verse, “He will bring retribution upon His foes, and He will appease His land and His people.” This is a promise of the long-awaited redemption. Says our verse, write the song of “Ha'azinu” as a testimony and reminder to yourselves that the redemption will come.

Why do so many prophecies end without consolation? Why do many chapters of the Prophets leave us with unanswered questions about our faith? R’ Chaim explains that this was done intentionally so that we should not think that the prophets served G-d only because they understood His ways. No, they too had unanswered questions, but this did not diminish their love for Hashem or their service of Him. (Sefer Geulah Vi'shuah ch.6)

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“When Moshe finished writing the words of this Torah onto a book, until their conclusion, Moshe commanded levi’im, the bearers of the Ark of the covenant, saying, ‘Take this book of the Torah and place it at the side of the Ark of the covenant of Hashem, and it shall be there for you as a witness’.” (31:24-26)

Our Sages relate that Moshe wrote 13 Torah scrolls on the last day of his life, one for each tribe and one which he gave to the levi’im (see our verse). The reason one Sefer Torah was placed at the side of the Ark was so that if, at some future date, someone tried to falsify the words of the Torah, a master copy would be available with which to rebut the falsifier. This Torah was entrusted to the levi’im, for they are the keepers of the tradition, as it is written about them (Devarim 33:10), “They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael.”

R’ David Lifschutz z”l (the “Suvalker Rav”; rosh yeshiva in Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, New York; died 1993) explains further: It is human nature that one who no longer wishes to observe the Torah’s laws will not simply abandon them; he will create a new religion or a new philosophy which he will claim is the Torah. [This phenomenon can be seen many times throughout our history, beginning with the Golden Calf, when the Jewish people declared, “This is your god, Yisrael.”] Moshe was afraid that someone would take out his Sefer Torah and, for example, erase the words “Do not” from the commandment “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” As long as the Torah remains untouched, one or two generations may stray, but their descendants will return. Once the Torah is tampered with, however, all is lost. (Tehilah Le’David p. 18)

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R’Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900; rebbe of Lublin) related:

I was once traveling when I saw a father and son walking together. Their appearance bespoke extreme hunger, and they clearly were near the end of their strength. Suddenly, the father saw a glint in the mud of the road. It was a small coin. He asked his son to bend and lift it, but the son thought it was too little to bother with. He did not want to use his last strength to bend over for such an insignificant sum.

Having no alternative, the father bent down. Then, he struggled to clean and polish the coin. He realized that this coin might buy enough food to save their lives. Having cleaned the coin, he bought 13 fruits with it.

Seeing that his son was starving to death, the father commanded his son to eat the fruits. “No,” said the son. “You used your last strength to lift the coin and polish it, while I was too lazy. You eat!”

But the father could not bear his son’s suffering, and he devised a strategy to get his son to eat. He told his son, “I have to go to such-and-such a place. You stay here and rest and follow me in about an hour.” The father then headed down the road and, once he was out of sight, he began dropping his fruits along the road. By the time he had gone some distance, all of the fruits were half-buried in the mud on the road.

An hour later, the son came along. Seeing a fruit along the way, it never occurred to him that it was his father’s fruit. Instead, he assumed that another traveler had dropped it. Gathering his strength, he bent down to reach the fruit and he cleaned it of the mud that encased it.

A little farther down the road, he saw another fruit. Again, it did not occur to him that it was his father’s fruit. And again, he gathered his strength to bend down and to clean the fruit.

Eleven more times, this scene was repeated. If only, said R’ Tzaddok, the boy had bent down once to pick up the coin, he would have felt entitled to a share of the coin that his father found and he would have shared his father’s fruit. Then, he would not have had to bend down 13 times to pick up the fruit. From this I learned, R’ Tzaddok concluded, that if one would only overcome his laziness and deal with the challenges that face him initially, he would save a lot of trouble down the road when the challenges are multiplied. This applies as much to serving Hashem as it does to gathering fruit from the road. (Hakohen p.19)


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