Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Lech Lecho 5770

שבת טעם החיים לך לך תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Lech Lecho 5770

Fleeing Evil
Introduction
In this week’s parasha, we find an interesting pattern. The parsha commences with HaShem instructing Avraham to leave his homeland and travel to the Land of Canaan. Avraham was then forced to leave the Land because of a hunger and he descended to Egypt. Pharaoh took Sara and was then struck by a plague. Sensing that Avraham’s presence was detrimental to the Egyptian welfare, Pharaoh sent Avraham away. Further on we find that Avraham and Lot parted ways because of the dispute amongst their shepherds. The Torah then describes the battle of the four kings and the five kings, in which the kings of Sodom and Amorah fled and fall into the wells, and the other kings led to the mountains. Avraham is then informed by the palit, the fugitive, that his nephew Lot was captured. Following the battle, HaShem made a pact with Avraham, and Avraham took various animals and cut them up. Birds of prey descended upon the carcasses and Avraham drove them away. HaShem then promised Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt and then they would leave with great wealth.
Evil leaving
The Torah then describes how Sara took Hagar as a second wife. Sara then became angry at Hagar and she chased her away. All these incidents reflect on the concepts of fleeing and departure. The parasha culminates with HaShem instructing Avraham to perform Bris Milah. This act involves the removal of the foreskin. All these seemingly unrelated episodes correlate as they signify the idea of departing or fleeing from the evil influences and cleaving to the good. Thus, the initial instruction that Avraham received to leave his homeland culminates with the mitzvah of Bris Mali, a physical manifest of removing the excess and undesirable and striving for the good.
Bris Milah and Eretz Yisroel
The Medrash states that in the merit of Bris Milah, the Jewish People will inherit Eretz Yisroel. In the simple sense this means that Bris Milah is a covenant between us and HaShem, and settling peacefully in Eretz Yisroel is a reflection of that covenant. On a deeper level, however, Bris Milah signifies removal of the undesirable and seeking a closer relationship with HaShem. Dwelling in Eretz Yisroel also reflects on our unique relationship with HaShem, as the Medrash states that one who dwells in Eretz Yisroel dwells there without sin.
The Shabbos connection
In a similar vein, throughout the week we are tempted by foreign influences that threaten to sabotage our spiritual ascent. HaShem has proffered on us His Holy Shabbos when all harsh judgments depart and we can focus on becoming holy and pure. This increased level of sanctity should allow us to become closer in our relationship with HaShem. We will then merit being true descendants of Avraham Avinu, of whom it is said (Yeshaya 41:8) zera Avraham ohavi, offspring of Avraham who loved me.

Shabbos Stories
Praying on Wings of Devotion
Rabbi Aharon Roth, popularly called Reb Arele, formed a new Chasidic group last century based on total self-sacrifice in davening, as taught by the Baal Shem Tov.
The following article was published [long ago] in the Hungarian literary monthly, “The Jewish Future,” by Dr. Frishman, the personal doctor of Rebbe Arele Roth." In it, Dr. Frishman tells how under the Rebbe's influence he became a baal teshuvah.
The long delicate lines on his face that was surrounded by a black beard and his sunken cheeks expressed a deep pain that emanated from severe bodily suffering. His frail body seemed ready to collapse under the burden of suffering, yet his eyes reflected a sea of calmness and a world of gentleness; wondrous lights shone in them.

For four weeks no food had entered his mouth; and in fact, he didn’t have anything to eat. All that he had he gave away for Tzedakah. He never let a single coin stay overnight in his home. The great city, blessed with a large Jewish population, had so many overwhelming problems that it gave no thought to the tzaddik who lived within it. She never lifted him up on her palms, and so the little that he had he gave to those who were needier than him.

He was not needy for food, and even if he wanted to eat he couldn’t. His body was made lean by fasts and self afflictions, and everything that entered his mouth, he vomited out. Even his body recoiled from the pleasures of this world; all of him yearned for the world above.

So now, I was called to him: His afflictions had become more severe and hindered his divine service.

“Again, they’re putting obstacles in my way!” he murmured bitterly. “They’re not letting me pray as I should, as I need to! The heavens are open, and they’re waiting for my prayers, not for my prayers alone, but for the prayers of every Jew, any Jew!”

I put my hand on his pulse to feel with my fingers the flow of holy life.

“To pray,” the rebbe cried, “is my world!” I’ve lived my whole life with physical suffering. I’ve never enjoyed even one moment of peace and quiet. But prayer caused everything to be forgotten, prayer poured new life into me, it lifted me up to the heavens and caused me to sprout wings!”

My fingers were still resting on his pulse. I feel the beats getting stronger. It seems as if wings are struggling and flapping under my fingers.

“To pray!” the tzaddik sighed with longing -“what a joy it is to pray! To bless with an overflowing heart with burning fervor the One and Only One! To pray! To experience that sweet, wonderful, and exalted taste, that pleasure garden of holy words, to count them like a string of pearls, like a treasure chest of diamonds, like precious stones. To utter each one with special care, to bask in its radiance, to ensure that it isn’t lost, to sing with a fervor that gets stronger and stronger. What supernal pleasure it is, what joy! What can compare to this - to praying?”

The tzaddik’s face glowed from an excess of joy and fervor, his bent body straightened up as it were, grew erect. I’m holding his hand, grasping it strongly as if to fly with him when his arms transform into powerful wings and lift him up into the upper realms.

“Do you know what prayer is?” he cried. “It’s flying - longings with wings, the soul getting close to the heavens, and elevating to come near to its Creator! All the worlds tremble before this powerful yearning-- the sun, the moon, the stars in the sky all yearn to fly and to elevate with great speed, shooting heavenward to the highest heights. The surging waves of the sea, the strong gusts of wind, the tongues of fire, the ravishing scents of flowers - all yearn to rise, to elevate above, all crave to get close to their Creator.

“Only the human being - the creature made to get close to the Creator, to elevate - only he crouches as if paralyzed, crude and lumpish, frozen without movement, as if chained to the earth.

“But the truth is that humans too can fly, they have only to learn from the birds. Have you ever seen how a bird prepares to take off? First, it shakes itself and flaps its wings, shaking off the earth's heaviness before flight; only after it gathers in the wind can it take off, and fly and soar on the air!”
“I don’t understand, Rebbe!” I shouted in despair. “Teach me too, teach me to fly!”
“Come with me to the synagogue, my son, and watch the Chasidim pray. See how they forget this world and everything in it, how they shake off their earthliness, how they begin to sway, to clap their hands - like a bird that wants to take off, flapping its wings - they shake themselves off, the mud that clings to them begins to drop off, to fall away, their wings gather air, their fervor increases - and suddenly they break contact with the earth, soaring closer to their Creator. Come, my son, to the synagogue, and you too will learn to fly, you too are able!”

Wealth of Happiness

The hill of sand was nearly desolate. From time to time, the rattling of passing wagon wheels broke the silence.
The sun beat down mercilessly, and between one wagon and the next there was hardly a sound except for the chirping of birds and the muffled noise of metal hitting sand. A wagon stood in the heat, harnessed to an aging horse whose head was deep in its feedbag, jaws moving methodically and without pause.
Near the wagon stood a figure in a wide-brimmed hat to protect his face from the sun. The man was dressed in a dark and dingy shirt that had seen better days, stained now with dirt, and a pair of threadbare trousers held at the hips by means of a rope made of woven straw.
The man’s face was creased with lines, thanks to hard work more than to his age. Were someone to ask his name, he would have answered with a shrug. “What’s the point of asking my name? Who am I, and what is my life? I am a digger of clay. Yaakov Dovid is my name ― the simplest of the simple. I have no title and no elaboration... Just a poor Jew who works to support his family by digging clay.”
Yaakov Dovid lifted his spade in a regular motion. With each strike in the dirt, he removed small clods of earth and emptied the shovel into his wagon. Every few days, when the wagon was filled with reddish-brown clay, he would travel to town and sell his wares to builders, in exchange for a few coins.
Such was the dirt-digger’s life for many years, and so it might have continued to the end of his days, had Heaven not decreed a different future for Yaakov Dovid.
One day, Yaakov Dovid was working hard as usual. He struck the dirt with his shovel when, suddenly, he heard a strange knocking sound. The metal spade had hit a rock. Yaakov Dovid had a great deal of experience with the kinds of rocks that came into contact with his shovel when he dug. He would merely set them aside and go on with his work. But this sound was different. He stopped for a moment to investigate.
In the dirt gleamed tiny, glistening lights. The sun's rays were breaking up on a large, glasslike lump that had been lying beneath the layers of clay. It was unclear whether the mass was nature's handiwork or that of man. Yaakov Dovid’s eyes widened. Placing his shovel at his feet, his fingers began to scrabble in the dirt until he had freed the chunk of something lying underneath.
His breath caught. It was a gigantic diamond, of a kind scarcely ever seen, not only by simple diggers, but even by much more prosperous folk.
Trembling, he glanced around on all sides to make sure no thief was lurking in the vicinity, ready to pounce on his find. His torn pockets were no place to keep this treasure. He thought for a moment, and found the solution. He hid the diamond beneath his seat in the wagon. No one would check there.
As the day wore on, he continued working with a singing heart. A festive feeling enveloped him. In his mind's eye he saw himself sitting in a luxurious armchair in an ornate palace, enjoying beauty and splendor and never again having to perform such backbreaking labor as digging for clay...
The following morning, he hastened to the jewelry store. Approaching the shopkeeper, he whispered that he had something to show him. The shopkeeper took him into a corner. There Yaakov Dovid unwrapped the diamond and showed it to him.
At the sight of the gigantic precious stone, the shopkeeper gaped as though thunderstruck. Unbelievingly, he felt it on all sides, throwing periodic glances at Yaakov Dovid all the while. “Where did you get this diamond?” he asked in amazement.
“I found it in the dirt,” Yaakov Dovid confessed. “How much is it worth?”
The shopkeeper could scarcely find the words. “Listen to me, and I’ll tell you what to do,” he said excitedly. “There is no one in this country that has the money to pay what this diamond is worth.”
“Impossible.” Yaakov Dovid thought the man was trying to get him to sell the stone cheap.
“Why argue with me?” the shopkeeper flared. “Are you the expert, or am I? A diamond the size of a chicken’s egg ― there is no one in this country who can pay for such a thing. Take it across the sea, to London, England. There, you'll doubtless find a buyer. If no ordinary merchant will buy it, perhaps the royal house will. In any case, don’t delay for even a moment. Leave at once. You are about to become an extraordinarily wealthy man!”
Yaakov Dovid returned home. Naturally, he did not go back to his job. He and his wife put their heads together to formulate a plan. For the sake of this exalted goal, she was willing to forgo certain comforts for the moment. They sold some of their belongings to pay for his passage to the port of Odessa, where he would purchase a ticket on a London-bound ship...
Like a chick newly emerged from its shell, Yaakov Dovid stood blinking at the sights and sounds of the harbor. Tens of ships, large and small, were docked there. Porters and stevedores raced to and fro. Some were loading cargo into the holds of ships about to set sail, while others unloaded boxes and bundles from ships that had recently docked. Men, women, and children stood in long lines near the ships, suitcases in hand. They are getting ready to sail away from here, he murmured to himself. With pounding heart, he approached one of the people standing in line. “Where is this ship going?”
“To London,” the man replied. “Do you want to sail on it?”
“Yes. How much does a ticket cost?”
The answer took his breath away. If he were to sell his meager home, he might just have enough money to buy passage fare to London!
Downcast, he walked around the bustling harbor. He stared sadly at the steadily dwindling line of passengers. Soon the ship would be full and it would set sail for London. Without him.
Suddenly, a resolution formed in his heart. He joined the group of passengers and climbed aboard. A stern-faced officer in a crisp uniform stopped him. “Ticket, please.”
“I’m not traveling - I only want to talk to the captain.”
“The captain?” The officer’s brow creased. He had never been confronted with such an odd request.
After much coaxing, he acquiesced to the Jew's request. A sailor was enlisted to bring him to the captain's cabin on the upper deck.
Yaakov Dovid mustered every ounce of his courage as the door opened and he was ushered into the presence of the ship's captain. To his good fortune, his sensible wife had forced him to buy a new suit, as befit his future standing as a wealthy man.
The captain lifted his head from the large map spread before him on the broad table. “What’s the problem, sir?” he asked impatiently. “Didn’t they give you a nice enough cabin? Go see the first officer, not me.”
“No, no,” Yaakov Dovid said hastily. “I have something to say to you, Captain. I am a diamond merchant and must get to London to sell this special stone.” He took the huge diamond out of his pocket.
The captain was stunned. The diamond glowed and glistened with a thousand shades of light, like a tiny sun. For a long moment, the captain stood mesmerized before it. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my life - a lot of diamonds and jewels - but I've never seen one that comes close to this for beauty and size,” he said excitedly. “Well, what can I do for you?” His manner and tone had changed completely. He spoke gently, courteously.
Yaakov Dovid succeeded in convincing the captain that, due to a series of unforeseen errors and lack of time, he had arrived at the port without a ticket in hand and, even worse, without a penny in his pocket. He assured the captain that, the moment he sold his diamond in London, he would return to the captain with the full fare.
“Certainly,” the captain agreed. He summoned the first officer to his cabin and ordered him to give the “Jewish diamond merchant” the best cabin on the ship.
Yaakov Dovid felt like a man in a dream as a pair of uniformed sailors made themselves available to fulfill his every request, day and night. His suitcase was immediately unpacked for him and its contents arranged in the cupboards. He allowed the sailors to put everything away, except for the one thing that he permitted no one but the captain to see: his precious diamond... He was afraid to leave his diamond behind for even a moment, lest thieves get their hands on it. He did not wish to take it with him on deck, as his hands were constantly going to his pocket to feel for it and would end by rousing suspicions.
So Yaakov Dovid sat in his cabin, enjoying his precious stone. He would take it out of his pocket, touch it gently, and thank his Creator for bringing him such a fortune. When he returned from London a wealthy man, he would give a great deal of charity, keeping in mind all the poor folks and remembering how, just yesterday, he had been one of them.
The sailors brought his meals to his room, setting the tray down and leaving at once. He would wash his hands for the meal and then, to whet his appetite, would take out the diamond and place it before him on the table. The sight of that sparkling stone would fill him with joy, making the food go down more easily.
At noon each day, he received a visit from the captain. Apparently, rich men merit special treatment wherever they may be. The captain found Yaakov Dovid to be an intelligent and pleasant fellow, and he enjoyed chatting with him. If he only knew who I am and what kind of work I do, Yaakov Dovid would think with a smile. Once, the captain asked him why his hands were so hard and calloused, and Yaakov Dovid confessed openly that, before he'd become wealthy, he had been a simple laborer. He was a little apprehensive over the captain’s reaction but, on the contrary, the captain was deeply moved by this information and afterward treated him with even greater respect.
One night, the sea was rocky under a stormy sky. Yaakov Dovid found it hard to sleep, and was filled with fear of the ship's sinking into the depths along with his diamond. He hardly closed his eyes all night, and when his breakfast was brought to him in the morning he was drowsy and slightly confused. He washed his hands and ate a little; then, out of habit, took the precious stone from his pocket and placed it on the white tablecloth, next to the loaf of bread. During the meal, he nearly fell asleep. With difficulty, he managed to rouse himself long enough to stumble to his bed. He threw himself onto it like a sack of bricks and sank into a leaden sleep.
While he slept, the attending sailor came into his cabin as usual. Without paying any particular attention, he picked up the tablecloth along with all its contents, carried it over to the round porthole, thrust his hands out, and - as he did every day - shook the cloth out over the waves. The loaf of bread, still nearly whole, hid the shining stone on its way to the depths.
Yaakov Dovid slept a long time. He awoke at last in an addled state, with no memory of where he was or what he was doing in the small cabin. Why wasn't he standing in his clay pit, striking the earth with his shovel?
Suddenly, he remembered. He was on his way to London, to sell the precious diamond that he'd found in the clay. With a single leap, he lunged for the table.
A heartrending cry echoed through the cabin. The table was completely bare, the tablecloth empty. Everything that had been on it was gone.
At the sound of his terrible cries, the sailor raced into the cabin. Yaakov Dovid whirled on him. “Where is the food? Where is everything that was on the table?”
The sailor explained that he’d done what he did every day: shaken the tablecloth out the porthole.
The diamond had sunk in the waters of the sea!
Goodbye, unimaginable riches. He had always been a luckless fellow, and a luckless fellow he would remain.
The sailor left without comprehending what had happened. Yaakov Dovid fell on his bed, covered his face with his pillow, and wept bitter tears. He had left his city a pauper and he would return the same way. And how was he to return? Where would he get the money to sail from London back to Odessa? And how would he pay for the overland portion of his journey?
All at once, he recovered. If he cried openly and revealed his secret to the captain, he would be hurled overboard without pity. There was one law for the rich, and quite another for the poor. He would not have to say a word; one look at his anguished face, and the captain would know all.
He had one asset, and that was joy. If he behaved as happily as usual and acted normally, the captain would notice nothing of his tragedy and Yaakov Dovid would at least make it to London.
That same day, he behaved with an extra measure of cheerfulness when the captain came to visit him. Enjoying his company, the captain lingered. Suddenly, he leaned closer and said, “I like you a lot. Let me tell you something. I’m not just a sea captain; I am also a big grain merchant. The entire hold of this ship is filled with fine wheat. All together, it’s worth a fortune ― several times more than the value of that diamond of yours. I need to sell it in London, but I can't spare the time. How about being my agent and selling the wheat for me, in return for a nice percentage?”
The sum that Yaakov Dovid realized from the sale of the wheat in London was 10 times the value of the diamond he had lost. He became a rich man overnight. On his return to the ship to give the captain the money, he found all the sailors weeping.
“Our captain died suddenly of a heart attack!”
With the captain’s death, and having not left any heirs, Yaakov Dovid inherited all the profits from the wheat, and returned home a very wealthy man.
“The diamond was not his,” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov would say when telling this story. “And the proof: He lost it. The captain’s wealth did belong to him, as you can see by the fact that he kept it. How was it that a simple clay-digger achieved this state? Only because he stood firm and did not lose his joy!”
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Lech Lecho 5770
Is sponsored liRefuah Shleima
Refoel Chaim Simcha ben Devorah Aliza bisoch shaar cholei Yisroel
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
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1 comment:

N said...

thank you for your weekly divrei torah, i also have a dvar torha blog, http://geshmacktorah.blogspot.com/ , can we blogroll each other please?