Parashas Vaeschanan 5780- Torah, the true Light

This week Parasha always ensues the fast of Tisha Beav and is known as “Shabbos Nachamu” “Shabbos of Comfort”. It derives its name from the Haftorah of the week: “Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her iniquity has been conciliated, for she has received from the hand of God double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40) This message of comfort is a prophecy concerning the promised Redemption and assures Israel that the destruction and exile are merely temporary. Thus, the Parasha offers comfort of a deeper kind, the type that can be used daily and enable us to endure this bitter exile. The verses state: “You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, “Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!” For which is a great nation that has a God Who is close to it, as is the Lord our God, whenever we call to Him? And which is a great nation that has righteous decrees and ordinances, such as this entire Torah that I place before you this day? (Deut. 4:6-7) The destruction of the Temple represents the loss of the Shechina, Hashem’s Presence, from the world. This departure is akin turning the light off in a dark room, it is impossible to see. Similarly, in a world without Hashem’s light, all are blind and incapable of foreseeing obstacles. The Zohar instructs that Hashem’s light did not depart totally from the world, it is present in the words of Torah. Learning Torah is essential to navigate life. The Talmud [Berochos 8a] states; “Since the destruction of the Temple, Hashem only has the four cubits of halacha as His domain in His world.” And the Mishna [Avos 3:2] says, “Two people who sit together to learn Torah, the Shechina hovers over them … how do we know that even when one person engages in Torah study Hashem immediately takes note and establishes his reward? It is written, “Let one sit in solitude and be submissive, for He has laid it upon him.” (Eicha 3:28) The Torah scholar, who immerses himself in the pursuit of learning Torah for its own sake, finds himself inside a spiritual universe that provides him an indescribable knowledge, as the Amora Shmuel states in the Talmud [Brochos 58b]: “The paths of the heavens are as known to me as the streets of my hometown Nahardoi.” The person who immerses himself in the study of Torah finds true comfort and happiness. Hashem Divine Spirit provide him contentment and relief from life stumble blocks. Hashem’s light enables him to see clearly, but ironically the “blind people” claim to know best the way through life. The following story will illustrate the point beautifully: Hunger was a familiar guest in Reb Shabsai’s home as work did not come by so often for the bookbinder. Since Reb Shabsai and his wife, Perel, refused to collect charity, they regularly went to bed enduring the throbs of an empty stomach. Once, before Shabbos, they had not a single coin in the house—not for wine, challah, or even for two stubs of wax for candles. Despair cut through Reb Shabsai’s heart like a fiery poker. Although the image of a barren table smothered in darkness was heartbreaking indeed, the couple agreed to follow the Talmudic adage, “Better make your Shabbos profane than to rely on the largesse of others.” On Friday afternoon, Reb Shabsai left for the synagogue, where he, as usual, spent the rest of the day reading Psalms and learning Torah. This, coupled with the peaceful silence, helped somewhat ease his burdened mind. When the sky turned orange tinged with red, Reb Shabsai began to prepare to welcome the Shabbos while the synagogue around him filled up. As much as Reb Shabsai would have preferred that they last forever, the evening services eventually drew to a close. He remained in his seat and stared blankly at his siddur, sneaking occasional glances at the others leaving—he did not want anyone pestering him as to why his windows were dark. The synagogue fell quiet as before, and Reb Shabsai finally decided it was time to come home. As he arrived home, he realized something was not right. The sight of candles twinkling warmly from behind the grubby window made Reb Shabsai’s heart sink. He was quite sure that was his home. Had Perel really been unable to contain herself from borrowing the candles? Or perhaps worse, money? His bewilderment grew further as he crossed the front door to discover Perel beaming next to a table laden with a bottle of wine, two glazed loaves of fluffy challah, and an assortment of delicacies. He studied all of this quietly. A demand for the meaning of this would undoubtedly distress Perel, so Reb Shabsai resolved to simply leave it unaddressed. He returned Perel’s smile. “It was a miracle, Shabsai,” said Perel, discerning her husband’s unasked question. “While you were gone, I began to clean the house and came across a pair of gloves I didn’t know we even had. The gloves, Shabsai, had big golden buttons! They were quite expensive, too, because once I snipped them off, they sold for a sizable amount. Everything you see here” – she motioned to the lavish table “ – was bought with that money.” A sudden surge of gratitude warmed Reb Shabsai’s heart; Hashem had delivered in their time of need. He danced around the small table, clapping his hands with a spontaneous song on his lips. Perel laughed, the worries of poverty usually etched on her face now gone without a trace. Miles away, sitting at his own Shabbos table, the Baal Shem Tov also began to laugh. The hearty sound reverberated around the room, despite the large crowd of students gathered there. This prompted a few of them to exchange curious stares, but no one attempted to inquire about the reason, nor did the Baal Shem Tov explain. After havdalah the next day, Reb Ze’ev Kitzes asked the Baal Shem Tov for the meaning of his Friday night laugh. The Baal Shem Tov provided no answer, instead requesting his wagon driver to ready the horses for himself and his students. With a respectful silence, the students piled into the wagon after the Baal Shem Tov; they were accustomed to the occasional mysterious outing. The wagon did not stop until it had arrived in the Polish city of Opatow (Apta) the next morning. By the order of the Baal Shem Tov, one of the students hurried off to find Reb Shabsai, a bookbinder. A wide-eyed Reb Shabsai soon stood in the front of the Baal Shem Tov. “Tell me what happened on Shabbos night,” said the Baal Shem Tov gently. And so, Reb Shabsai did: he recounted the couple’s grim certainty that they had to fast that Shabbos, the unexpected gift from Above, and his dance around the table to praise Hashem. The Baal Shem Tov nodded along, his beard failing to hide a wide smile. “The entirety of Heaven rejoiced in your moments of pure joy,” smiled the Baal Shem Tov. “Now tell me, what do you want to be blessed with?” Reb Shabsai thought for a few moments, scrunching up his face wistfully. “I don’t need silver or gold. It’s obvious the one thing Perel and I want is children . . .” The Baal Shem Tov blessed the couple with a child, and one year later, he arrived in Opatow once more to serve as sandek for the baby boy at the Bris. The baby was named Yisrael to honor the Baal Shem Tov. That boy grew to become one of the most inspiring leaders: Rabbi Yisrael, the Maggid (preacher) of Kozhnitz. Human intelligence is the faculty that raises him above the other creatures in his world but is useless to him as a guide. That is not to say that intelligence has no value, it is useful to solve scientific problems. Thus, it is the science of the blinds, as it has no clear path and only succeeds after many failures. Despite that, the secular scholar believes himself to be at the frontiers of human knowledge no matter what area of intellectual endeavor he may be engaged in. On the other hand, the Torah scholar is bathed with Hashem light, which enables him to see from one side of the world to the other. He is not under the control of nature like all mortals, he controls nature!

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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