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Parsha Re'eh - Elul

Parshat Re'eh

Reb Shlomo learning

Even Shlomo

The Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Elul is always ‘Re’eh Anochi’. It’s the Shabbos where G-d gives back to every person the vision of the way we are suppose to look.

And here I want you to know something very deep.

It says ‘Re’eh Anochi’, ‘Behold See that I’ is all in singular, Nosen Lifneichem Hayom, ‘Am Placing Before All of You’, is already said in plural. So everybody is asking, why does G-d start off by saying ‘Re’eh’ in singular but ends off ‘Lifneichem Hayom’ which is already in plural? The answer is very simple. The world always thinks that in order to fit into a society you have to give up your individuality. The more you become a bagel the more you fit, but in G-d’s society it’s the other way around. If you don’t know who you are supposed to be, you are not part of Israel, you are a misfit. If you want to be part of ‘Nosen Lifneichem Hayom’, if you want to be part of all of Israel… ah, this is mamesh something else.

You know what it is, it’s really crazy, it’s the facts of life. The less a person has any idea what a yid is all about, he doesn’t know how to be part of all of Israel, let’s face it. This yidele from Temple of the Blue Bagel who thinks he is the greatest human being in the world, and he thinks that the greatest Jew ever born has no part in any society, mamesh not really in any society.

So this portion begins with ‘Re’eh Anochi’, and in Chassidus it says Re’eh Anochi, I’ll show you your ‘I’. I will show you what you can be, I will show you what you are supposed to be.

You know friends, it’s so crazy. What is the greatest evil in the world? The greatest evil in the world is if you take away somebody’s hope, or somebody’s vision that they will never be what they wanted to be, what they set out to be. All the other nations who are fighting Israel, okay, we will conquer them, we will make peace with them, they are not that terrible. Amalek is the worse. Amalek is saying to yidden ‘listen, you wanted to be G-d’s people, you were set out to be G-d’s people. You will never make it, let’s face it, you will never make it’.

Yisro came to Moshe after he heard of the crossing of the red sea and the fighting of Amalek, and he wants to become a yid. In a nutshell it’s like this. What is the difference between the exodus of Egypt and the crossing of the red sea? On the night we came out of Egypt, G-d gave us a vision of what G-d is all about. When we crossed the Red Sea G-d gave us a vision of what Israel is all about, of what yidden are all about. It says that when crossing the red sea, the lowest lowest Jew had higher visions than prophecy.

If you remember, we were learning it a hundred times. To know what you can be is deeper than prophecy. It’s possible to be the highest prophet in the world. I can know exactly when the messiah is coming, I can know what happened exactly two hundred years ago. I can know what Moshe Yankel is doing in Borough Park. But mamesh to know what Yidden are all about, to know mamesh G-d’s plan with the Yidden, this is the deepest depths there is, deeper than prophecy.

So after we crossed the Red Sea we got this vision of what will happen mamesh till Mashiach is coming: Ad Ya’avor Amcha Hashem – we will make it, it was clear to us. After Amalek saw the crossing of the Red Sea – Vayavo Amalek. That he can’t stand. He doesn’t mind if you are a Jew for one day but he wants you to have your doubts about tomorrow. I don’t care if you go to Israel be a little bit there, but don’t have this vision that mamesh it’s going to happen, get rid of that vision.

I’ll tell you the deepest depths. What did the Beis Hamikdash do to us? Imagine I would walk around being a garbage collector and someone would tell me ‘you know, you can do unbelievable things’. It’s hard to break away from collecting garbage, but if this vision would be mamesh clear to me, what I can do… crazy, what am I wasting my time with garbage. Being in exile is that I lost this vision.

Now friends, let it be clear to you. You cannot have a real vision of yourself unless you have a vision of all of Israel… you can’t. And you can’t have a vision of all of Israel unless you have a vision of yourself. So again, here we begin Re’eh Anochi, the Ribbono Shel Olam says ‘I am giving you back your vision of your eyes, to mamesh know what you can do’. Nosen Lifneichem Hayom, and realize that I am mamesh giving it back to you in the midst of all of Israel.

See that it is your choice and choose wisely. Know who you are.

בנים אתם לה' אלוקיכם – You are the children of Hashem your G-d!

[Devarim 14:1]

Love of Hashem, love of Torah and love of your fellow Jew are intertwined and inseparable. The Alter Rebbe told his disciples that “Grandfather [that is how the Alter Rebbe used to refer to the Baal Shem Tov] loved the simple Jew very much. In the early days when I first came to Mezeritch, the Rebbe the Maggid told us that the Baal Shem Tov would often say, “Love of one’s fellow Jew, is Love of G-d. “You are the children of Hashem.” If you love the father, you love the children.””

Reb Shlomo zt”l loved every word and every letter of the Torah. And he loved every Jewish soul dearly. What some or many do not know is that Reb Shlomo zt”l so much wanted us to learn בשמחה, to know and live the deepest depths of Torah and Yiddishkeit בשמחה. He dreamt of having a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, where people from all over the world would come together בשמחה, to study every word of Torah with love and deep respect for one another בשמחה – with true joy! This is why our Yeshiva is named Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo.

We can wipe out poverty!

Be it financial, or psychological or social needs, there are many needy and very needy people in most societies. Let us not even dare pretend to think that we have any real idea as to why some people suffer so much, and why we may be more fortunate than them. But do let us consider what we can do for them. What can we as a society do get rid of poverty, theirs and our own?

Clearly everyone knows about the great mitzvah of 'tzedakkah' - to share one's wealth and heart with the poor. But, we must note that the Torah also teaches us that we can prevent poverty. However, it is not just a matter of redistribution of our resources, as we shall see.

Let us read a few verses carefully (see further down for more insights into this great mitzvah). In Chapter 15 Moshe Rabbeinu talks about the mitzvah of 'Shmittah'- the Sabbatical year. In addition to the agricultural side of the mitzvah to 'let go' - to let the land rest for an entire year, we are also obligated to 'let go' or relinquish unpaid loans:

א מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה שְׁמִטָּה: 15:1 At the end of seven years you will make a release. [note- the literal meaning of 'shmittah' is release]. 2 And this is the manner of the release; to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because time of the release for the Lord has arrived.

[note- Unfortunately, because there were dishonest debtors who took advantage of this law, the creditors started avoiding giving loans; consequently, honest people who really needed a loan could not get one. Therefore, Hillel the Elder instituted the practice of 'prozbul'- a legal document handing your outstanding loans over to the 'beit din', and thereby the loans need not be 'relinquished'.]

3 From the foreigner you may exact; but what is yours with your brother, your hand shall release. 4 אפס However, there will be no needy among you, for the Lord will surely bless you in the land the Lord, your God, is giving you for an inheritance to possess.

The word אפס -'efess' means 'zero', nothing. In this translation they rendered אפס as 'however'. The Ibn Ezra points to the deep implication, that in addition to giving us the responsibility to help our needy brothers, the Torah is telling us that there is a real possibility of having a poverty-free society. Rashi notes this as well.

Rashi: However, there will be no needy among you: But further on it says, “For there will never cease to be needy [within the land]” (verse 11). [These two verses seem to contradict each other. However, the explanation is:] When you perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among others but not among you. If, however, you do not perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among you. - [Sifrei]

Hashem blesses us to have a poverty-free society. But this promise/blessing is conditional, as we see in the Rashi above, and as spelled out in verse 5:

5 However, [this will depend on] if you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, to be careful to do all this commandment, which I am commanding you today.

Rashi: However, if you hearken [to the voice of the Lord, your God]: then “there will be no needy among you” (verse 4).

The Ibn Ezra says that if we [at least the majority] would live an honest life with man and with G-d, according to Torah and mitzvot, we would be blessed to be free of poverty [and we would then have the resources to help other nations].

However eventually we strayed from the Torah's path and consequently we have had to deal with poverty ever since, including our personal 'spiritual poverty'. The Talmud (Talmud, Bava Batra 10a) records a conversation in which Turnusrufus challenged Rabbi Akiva, "If your G-d loves the poor, why doesn't He feed them?" To which Rabbi Akiva replied, "So that we should be saved from purgatory (in the merit of the charity we give)."

Rabbi Akiva’s reply says that of course Hashem does not need us to feed his poor. But since there are poor as a result of our having strayed from His path, we are responsible not only to help them, we are responsible for the very existence of poverty! And we have to work hard to rid our societies of poverty. We need Hashem’s blessings to achieve this, because the journey is full of many hardships.

First and foremost, the way in which we can get back to the good life is by doing acts of loving kindness and tzedakkah. The greatest blessing is the mitzvah of tzedakkah and ‘gemilut chassadfim’ doing acts of loving kindness. This mitzvah affords us the opportunity to make the world a better place. It allows us to manifest Hashem’s reality and compassion in this lowly world that is filled with aggression and suffering. As we arouse ourselves to have compassion on one who is less fortunate and to provide them with support, Hashem is aroused above to have compassion on us. We need Hashem’s compassion not only to make things better, we need it just to keep on believing that we can make things better; that we are not living under fate, that we really do have the free choice to be good and to do good.

The mitzvah of tzedakkah and gemilut chassadim is presented as follows:

7 If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers in one of your cities, in your land the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother. 8 Rather, you shall surely open your hand to him, and you shall lend him sufficient for his needs, which he is lacking.

Rashi and all the commentators take note of the special wording of this mitzvah. There are three aspects here; 1- do not harden your heart; 2- do not close your hand; and 3- you shall open your hand. Rashi explains: Rashi: you shall not harden [your heart]: Some people suffer [as they deliberate] whether they should give [to the needy] or they should not give; therefore it says: “you shall not harden [your heart].” Some people stretch out their hand [to give], but then close it; therefore it says: “nor close your hand.” - [Sifrei]

Ibn Ezra explains ‘you shall not harden your heart’ as a commandment to speak kindly, with compassion and encouragement. [i.e. do not shut your heart from being compassionate]. The Talmud states (Baba Batra 9b) states כל הנותן פרוטה לעני מתברך בשש ברכות והמפייסו בדברים מתברך בי"א ברכות ‘one who gives a coin to a poor person is blessed with six blessings, while if one also appeases him [with kind words] he is blessed with elven blessings’.

All this is true not only in how we relate with the poor, it is also true vis-a-vis our own personal spiritual poverty. As we have learned many times our souls are all too often living in poverty in the exile of our bodies. Just like food nourishes our bodies, Torah and mitzvot are the nourishment for our souls. Therefore, we must recognize that we are responsible for our souls and their well-being, and that if they are living in poverty, it is we who are responsible to restore them to being joyous and robust as they were in heaven. So, do not harden your heart – have compassion on your soul; and do not shut your hand – do not withhold your soul’s nourishment of Torah and mitzvot; and you shall surely open your hand – feed your soul!

And when we have compassion on our fellow man the gates of Hashem’s compassion are opened. May we be blessed to do much kindness this coming Elul and bring down much heavenly compassion on ‘Am Yisrael’ and ‘Eretz Yisrael’, and may you and all of us be blessed with a happy wonderful New Year. Shalom Shalom Shalom

רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם

בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה [דברים י"א:כ"ו

“See that I am giving you today a blessing and a curse.” There are so many deep layers of meaning in this verse. B’ezrat Hashem, let’s see a few of them. ראה See – the Ohr Hachayim explains it’s your choice, you can look up or you can look down; you can look to the higher worlds, you can see with higher consciousness, you can see the depths of people and of life, or can see the superficial mundane. ראה אנוכי – See that it is I who gives you all that is available and accessible to you. ראה אנוכי See that I am accessible to you לפניכםin the deepest depth of your being; you can receive Me into the deepest depth of your heart, such that your Neshama will radiate with My light and illuminate every aspect of your life. היום – Today, right now, do not put it off until tomorrow. ברכה וקללה – this gift is both a blessing and a curse; it is your choice, it depends on how you will receive it and how you will respond to it. If you will ‘hearken’ to the mitzvot of Hashem, you will bring His holy light into the world, then all the nations will stream to Yerushalayim and join you in amazing prayer. But if you don’t, this gift can heaven forefend be a curse, as they will continue to attack you and blame you for all their ills.

Parshas R’eih – There is much to SEE

The Parsha begins with the words:

"RE'EIH anochi noteyn lifneichem hayom bracha u'klallah

"See [that] I am giving you today the blessing and the curse...

et habracha asher tishme'u ... the blessing - that you will listen to the mitzvot

v'et ha'klallah im lo tishme'u... and the curse - if you will not listen.."

Most of us would readily admit that it is very special to be close to Hashem and to serve Him. We admire holy people and we probably would like to be holy as well. So why is it so difficult to ‘see’ this? Why is it so difficult to ‘hear’ Hashem’s mitzvoth? Why is it so difficult to be as holy as we would like to be? Why don’t we go all the way?