Category Archives: Kli Yakar

The Double-Edged Dollar

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Ekev

 

The Double-Edged Dollar

“Ambition makes the same mistake concerning power that avarice makes concerning wealth. She begins by accumulating power as a means to happiness, and she finishes by continuing to accumulate it as an end.” Charles Caleb Colton

Moses recounts how Korah, Datan, Aviram and their followers that rebelled against Moses and God were swallowed up by the earth with all their belongings:

“The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and their tents, and all the fortunes at their feet.” Deuteronomy 11:6

The Kli Yakar notes the interesting phrase, “the fortunes at their feet.” He explains that ones wealth is what stands a person up on “their feet.” He quotes Maimonides who sets out that wealth is the basis of a normative life and one of the four pillars (admittedly the lowest – hence the “feet”) of a healthy and successful existence.

The Kli Yakar draws on a midrash that claims Korah was extravagantly wealthy. Israelis to this day still use the term “as wealthy as Korah” to denote extreme wealth. This great wealth led him astray. He thought it was a foundation, a platform, for more power. The desire for greater prestige skewed his thinking. Though he had been considered a great man, he did not see what was clearly erroneous thinking. His wealth blinded him to reality and to the fact that he had taken the wrong side in an ill-considered battle.

In the end, the same wealth that sustained him and his family corrupted his judgment and betrayed him.

May we control our wealth, as opposed to our wealth controlling us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Karl Marx. Though I don’t agree with many of the theories he gave birth to and certainly not several of the forms they evolved to, some of the recent protests are reminders that he had a point.

Choice Exile

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Vaetchanan

Choice Exile

“The real community of man, in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of potential knowers… of all men to the extent that they know.”

-Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Moses, in one of his final acts as leader of Israel prepares the Cities of Refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Cities of Refuge are a peculiar institution, basically allowing an inadvertent murderer a sanctuary, a haven from the Blood Redeemer, the relative of the victim that has the legal right to kill the murderer.

As such, by going into the exile of a different city, a different location, a different community, the inadvertent murderer saves himself and prolongs his life. The exile to the City of Refuge can even be seen as giving new life to the murderer.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 4:41) sees such exile in a positive light and ties the concept of exile to a famous dictum from the Mishna (Ethics of our Fathers 4:14):

“Exile yourself to a community of Torah.”

The Kli Yakar claims that just as a City of Refuge provides life-giving sustenance to the murderer, so to a city or community of Torah, a place that reveres the word of God, provides life-giving sustenance to a person.

May we ‘exile’ ourselves to such places and appreciate and support the communities that make it so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication 

To the Torah community of Alon Shvut and its hosting of the incredible Bible Study Week. Seekers of Truth from all over the world joined our ‘exile’ to participate in this fantastic experience.

Hypocritical Humility

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Devarim

Hypocritical Humility

“And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin is pride that apes humility.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

At the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Rashi informs us that the younger men deferred and were humble in front of the older learned men. They respectfully let the elders approach the mountain first and be ‘first’ on line to receive the word of God and the Commandments.

However, in the request of the children of Israel to send the spies into Canaan, it was a less orderly group that approached Moses. The younger ones pushed their way past their elders demanding that Moses send a reconnaissance mission to check out their future possessions in the Promised Land.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 1:22) explains that in their eagerness to promote their material prospects and wealth, the younger men forgot about the respect due their elders. Furthermore, the Kli Yakar accuses these impatient youngsters that their former obsequiousness at the giving of the Torah was merely a sham, a false humility, and was actually indicative of their disdain for the Torah. Whatever meekness they demonstrated in regards to acquiring the word of God and approaching Him were ruinously misplaced. It showed instead the priority they gave to wealth by the sudden brazenness they exhibited at just the hint of earthly gain.

It follows that this precedence of wealth over the word of God was the motivation of the ill-considered mission of the spies that concluded with the tragic curse of the 9th of Av. That was the day the spies returned and gave their evil, damning and dooming report. Besides the punishment of wandering the desert for forty years, God promised that on that day we would mourn for generations, most notably for the destruction of the Temples.

The false humility and the faulty priorities proved to be our downfall and the source of anguish and failure that has lasted millennia.

May we be less deferential in seeking the word of God and keep our priorities straight.

Shabbat Shalom and a Meaningful Fast,

Bentzi

Dedication

In memory of Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzera of Beer Sheva, the grandson of the revered kabalistic sage, the Baba Sali. His murder by a deranged follower is yet another tragedy in a long list of tragedies that seem to occur in this period. May his memory be a blessing and protect us during tumultuous times.

Pillars of the Universe

Kli Yakar Numbers: Masai

Pillars of the Universe

“Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.” Carl Zwanzig

What is the basis of creation? What keeps our world afloat? Ancient myths believed in a giant turtle that swam through the currents of the cosmos, upon which the earth rested. Scientists from not long ago believed in an invisible ‘ether’ that the planet moved through. Jewish tradition believes that it is the righteous that hold our world together and keep things going. 

“And they camped upon the Jordan, from Bet Hayeshimot until Avel Hashitim.” Numbers 33:49

The Kli Yakar reads meaning into the names given for the Israelite encampment at the end of their forty years of wandering. Just a few verses earlier, the Torah mentions the death of Aaron the High Priest, who died in the Hebrew month of Av, a month that contains sadness and mourning, the month that starts this Monday.

“Hayeshimot” refers to “shmamah” (destruction), while “Avel” (mourning) “Hashitim” (of the cedars) refers to the loss of the righteous that are compared to the cedars, the tall majestic trees of the world. The verse foreshadows the destruction of the Temple(s) in the month of Av which is equated to the death of the righteous.

The Kli Yakar takes the comparison further. At the destruction of the Temple the heavens shook and the earth quaked. It was a catastrophe of epic proportions which altered and lessened all of existence. So too the death of the righteous. When they pass away, creation trembles. The righteous are the very foundations of reality. Their loss loosens the power that binds the world together.

May we have the merit to identify them, treasure them and support them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

In memory of Rabbi Yehuda Amital of blessed memory, Founder and Head of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut. This week commemorates one year since his passing. The universe shook that day and reality seems ever so tenuous since.

 

Wealthy Arrogance

Kli Yakar Numbers: Matot

 

Wealthy Arrogance 

The Children of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land. The leaders of two of the tribes, Reuven and Gad, approach Moses. We are told that they were wealthy with cattle, presumably their share of the massive spoils of the just-finished battle with Midian. They suggest Moses should let them inherit the land they had conquered from the impromptu battles with the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Moses is shocked by the request. Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies? Did they wish to bring punishment and destruction upon all of Israel for their recalcitrance, for their refusal to enter the long sought-after land? The two tribes offer that they will lead their brothers in the conquest of Canaan, leaving their women, children and cattle behind in the pasture-rich land they saw and rejoin them once the conquest is complete. The Tribe of Gad leads the discussions with Moses. Moses finally agrees.

The Kli Yakar is troubled by Gad’s display of leadership. Reuven was the eldest of the tribes. Gad was amongst the younger ones. The Kli Yakar states that Gad was out of place in speaking before the eldest. He explains that it was because of their wealth. Gad was wealthier than Reuven and apparently one of the wealthiest tribes. That gave them the confidence and the gall to speak out of turn. To push themselves ahead of those wiser and more learned than themselves. To force themselves into situations that were inappropriate and that would lead to anguish in future generations.

May we learn to speak in turn, from both wealth and humility.

 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Bentzi

 

Dedication 

To the memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We were just reminded of my family’s visit to him 21 years ago, which was really cool.

Forgiven Jerusalemites

Kli Yakar Numbers: Pinhas

 

Forgiven Jerusalemites 

In the Jewish prayer book, there is a passage that is intended to be recited twice a day, which for some reason has fallen into widespread disuse.

 

The Kli Yakar explains that this passage has a deep lesson regarding the topic of receiving forgiveness and atonement from God, apparently something we can benefit from at least twice a day. 

The passage is the command of the daily sacrificial order in the Tabernacle/Temple (Numbers 28:1-8). There are two daily sacrifices of a male one-year old lamb. One is brought in the morning at the crack of dawn; the second in the evening before dark. What the Kli Yakar finds unusual is that the morning sacrifice is mentioned once in the passage, but the evening sacrifice is mentioned twice.

 

The Kli Yakar states that the night is a time of sins of the mind and therefore a sacrifice of atonement must be brought in the morning. However, the day is the time of sins of the mind and the body and therefore a double atonement is required, hence the doubling of the request for the evening sacrifice.  

What is perhaps most interesting is the Kli Yakar’s quotation of Tanchuma 13 that “one does not sleep in Jerusalem with a sin in his hand.” Somehow, just sleeping in Jerusalem, in the proximity of the Temple where the sacrifices are brought, atones, protects and perhaps even absolves its residents of sin. Not that Jerusalem residents should feel free to go on a sin shopping spree, but it’s nice to know you have a leg up in the atonement department.

 

The Talmud states that prayer is the modern equivalent of the sacrifices and there is no closer replacement than the actual passage of the sacrifices. 

May we utilize our prayers and achieve regular, daily atonement, wherever we live.

 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Bentzi

 

Dedication 

To my in-laws, Yossi and Gita Tocker, on the first anniversary of their aliyah.

To the newlyweds: Rachel & Yonatan Shai Freedman and Michal & Shlomi Nir.

It is said that newlyweds get a new slate. I’m sure they will write a beautiful accounting of themselves.

Evil-Eye Protection

Kli Yakar Numbers: Balak

Evil-Eye Protection 

"Chamsa": Ward against the evil eye.

In Judaism, there is a concept that people have the power, just by looking at others with evil thoughts, of somehow causing something negative to happen. The “chamsa” (upraised palm symbol) is popular in Sepharadi culture as a ward against the “evil eye.” The Kli Yakar explains that there is something more effective.

When the evil sorcerer, Bilaam, attempts to curse the Children of Israel in the desert, he is confounded time and time again by God. God forces Bilaam to bless the nation of Israel instead. In one of the most famous lines uttered by Bilaam, he states: 

“How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” Numbers 24:5

The Kli Yakar quotes the Talmud (Tractate Bava Batra 66a) that part of the blessing was based on the fact that no tent opening looked onto the opening of its neighbor. The Children of Israel practiced a noteworthy modesty, not seeking to cast an eye upon the goings-on of other households. Bilaam realized that if the Children of Israel had already taken proper precautions against the evil eye internally, then he would have no chance to cast an evil eye himself. 

The Kli Yakar adds that the merit of the “tents” protected Israel from the evil eye. The tents are a synonym for none other than study of the Torah, of Jewish law and tradition, which protected and continues to protect the Children of Israel from the evil eye.

May we never have an “evil eye” cast upon us, or at least protect ourselves with study and modesty. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi 

Dedication 

To the newlyweds, Rachel and Greg Malsin. It was one of the more fantastic weddings of my life. “May you build a steadfast home inIsrael.”