Rebbe Yitzchak Vorker zt'l answers that the sin of the Golden Calf was that they didn’t believe in Hashem. The rectification, therefore, is to have emunah (faith). Emunah is portrayed when one does a mitzvah, even without knowing the reason. This proves that we believe in Hashem Who commanded us with that mitzvah, for otherwise, why would we perform the mitzvah? This is called teshuvah on the aspect that was the sin. The sin was lack of emunah, and atonement is attained by doing a deed that shows belief in Hashem.
The Toldos, Rebbe Yaakov Yosef of Polnoa, zy'a, was a kapdan by nature (he had a tendency towards anger when things didn’t go the way he wanted) and he asked Rebbe Mendel of Vitebsk zy'a advice for overcoming anger. Rebbe Mendel didn’t respond. Soon afterwards, the Toldos was traveling with his chassidim, and a pauper, walking on the side of the road, asked for a ride. The Toldos explained to him that there wasn't much room. "If you want to ride with us, you will have to sit among the baggage." The pauper agreed. It was still better than walking. The Toldos asked, "Are you comfortable?" "Everything is fine," the man assured. A little later, the Toldos turned to him again and asked him how he was. Once again, the guest assured that he felt fine. Sometime later, the Toldos, with his genuine care for others, asked the pauper again time how he was faring. This time the pauper replied with a dvar Torah: "Fortunate is the nation that make peace with every situation and whatever happens to them, they say, ככה, 'let it be that way." The chassidim on board laughed when they heard the pauper's witty response, but the Toldos turned white. He realized that he had just received the answer he was seeking. How can one overcome anger? By accepting life as is, even when it wasn't your original plan. You may wish that matters would be different, but if Hashem led you to a certain situation, and you can't change it, say, ככה, "let it be so," because it surely is for the good.
The Toldos and Rebbe Nachman Horodenka zt’l were traveling to Mezibuzh, to the Baal Shem Tov zt'l, for Shabbos. In the middle of their trip, they ended up being behind the wagon of the local governor. The law at the time prohibited them from passing the governor's wagon. The governor was traveling slowly, and the Toldos was worried that they wouldn’t get to Mezhibuzh for Shabbos. Rebbe Nachman Horedenka said, “Whenever I’m confronted with obstacles such as this one, I seek to believe that the obstacle itself will somehow bring me to my ultimate goal.” The Toldos replied, "Halevay!" As they gradually proceeded on their journey, they came to a town on their market day. The townspeople quickly cleared a path for the governor’s coach to pass through, and the Toldos and Rabbi Nachman's wagon was right behind it. If it weren’t for the governor’s coach, it would have taken them a very long time to pass through the town’s narrow and busy streets. But now that they cleared the way for the governor, they cut through the town in a short time. The governor’s coach turned right, they continued on ahead, and arrived in Mezibuzh well before Shabbos. It was just as Rebbe Nachman Horedenka predicted: the obstacle itself was the salvation. The governor’s coach actually helped them reach Mezibuz in time for Shabbos.
Reb Yitzchak Eizik of Zutchka zt'l (Korach) writes, "My father zt'l told us a story, which is brought down in early sources: "A student wanted to learn the language of birds and animals, but his rebbe would push him off, 'You don't need that wisdom. You will be better off serving Hashem with temimus.' But the student kept urging his rebbe until the rebbe agreed to teach him... One day, this student went to his barn to feed his animals, and heard an ox moaning. He heard the ox next to it ask the ox why it was groaning, and the ox replied that he heard that it was decreed that there was going to be a plague, and all animals of this barn would die. 'That's why I'm sad…' When the student heard that, he immediately sold the animals to a butcher/shochet and thereby saved himself from a great financial loss. “A month later, as he was feeding his birds, and he heard one chicken say to another one that a disease would befall the crops. The student sold his crops, and was once again saved from a great loss. 'It's a good thing I asked my rebbe to teach me the language of birds and animals. Look at how much money I'm saving with that knowledge.' "Some days later, he heard an animal proclaiming something. He came closer and heard the animal say, 'The baal habayis of this property will soon die. Death was decreed on him.' "The student ran to his rebbe. His rebbe told him, 'I told you that you should live with temimus! It would have been better for you! If you wouldn’t have saved your cattle and your crops from destruction, that financial loss would have protected you, so you could live. As the Zohar (Tikunei Zohar 143: ) states, 'Some are punished with their lives, and others with their money…' The financial loss would become your atonement. But you saved your money, and now the decree is on your life!'" The Zutchka Rebbe concludes, "We see from this story that a person should live with innocence and with trust and be happy with the lot Hashem gave him, and he shouldn’t want what others have. He should know clearly that if he doesn’t have more, that is for his benefit. It could be that if he had wealth and honor he would have to suffer terribly, either with his health or with his children. Hashem is preventing these matters from him with His compassion."
Rebbe Eizak of Kamarna writes, "My brother, believe me, I endured much persecution and disappointments in my lifetime. If I didn’t have the awareness that everything is from Hashem, and His supervision is on each detail, I would be gone from the world many years ago, due to all the hardships, poverty, distress, exile, disgrace… But Hashem helped me and I don’t feel any of this, because I believe that everything is from Hakadosh Baruch Hu who gives me life. Therefore, I don’t pay attention to all of those matters. And when one believes that everything is from Hashem, all the judgments are sweetened, and one doesn’t feel any distress or pain at all…. When one believes that nothing happens by chance, this faith will heal him from all illnesses, and from all bad traits. He will love his fellow man, even if a fellow man does mean things to him and disgraces him, because he knows that nothing is by chance. That person was sent from heaven to disgrace him… Think about it, and recognize that no one can cause you distress, even the slightest amount, without Hashem's decree. Therefore accept everything with love and joy. This will heal your soul more than a thousand fasts and afflictions."
Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin zt'l taught that if you remember that everything is from Hashem, all your problems will disappear. He explains that the difference between גולה and גאולה ,exile or redemption, is dependent on whether you are aware of the א ,which represents Hashem. When you remember the א ,the גולה becomes גאולה ,and the exile becomes redemption, and you are saved from your problems.
Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin taught that when one goes into business, he must keep in mind that the merchandise he decided to buy, the price the buyer and seller agree on, the merchandise he chooses to sell, are all part of Hashem's decision and plan. With such emunah, Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin guarantees, you will succeed in your business dealings.
Hashem told Eliyahu HaNavi, "Go to Tzarfata in Tzidon and live there. Behold I commanded a widow who lives there to support you…" (I Malachim 17:9). The Chofetz Chaim asks: this widow wasn't a prophetess. How did Hashem command her to support Eliyahu? How did she receive the message? The Chofetz Chaim answers that Hashem communicates in means humans can’t. Humans communicate with speech or by sending letters, but Hashem can send a thought or desire into a person's heart, and this is a form of communicating His will. The person often doesn’t know that Hashem planted the thought in his mind, but it was Hashem speaking to him. Through this manner, Hashem commanded the widow to support Eliyahu. (Shem Olam, Shaar Shmiras Shabbos 3)
Shim'i ben Geira cursed King David. Avishai ben Tzeruyah said to King David, "Why should this dead dog curse my master, the king? I will chop off his head!" David replied, "Why should it make a difference to me or to you if he curses. If Hashem told him to curse, who can ask him, 'Why are you doing that?'" (II Shmuel 16: 9-10). The Tanya asks, "When did Hashem tell Shim'i to curse David? The answer is, the thought that came into Shimi's mind and heart to curse, came from Hashem" (Igeres HaKadosh 25).
The Tanya writes, "Chazal say, 'Whoever becomes angry, it is as though he worshiped idols.' This is understood to the wise, because when one is angry, it means that he lost his emunah. If he would believe that whatever occurred was from Hashem, he wouldn’t become angry." The Tanya explains, "Although a man with free choice cursed him, hit him, or caused him a financial loss… nevertheless, the damage was predestined, and Hashem has many messengers…"
The commentaries explain that the brothers had free will. If they wanted, they could have realized that these feelings of hatred were wrong and they could have overcome their hatred. Nevertheless, the test was great because the hatred they had was sent to them from Above. The Midrash therefore brings the verse, "Why did You make us stray from Your way?' (Isaiah 63:17)."
Joseph was hated by his brothers, and the Midrash (84:18) states that they weren't entirely guilty for their hatred, because Hashem planted it into their hearts. As the Midrash states, "When You wanted, You put love in their hearts, and when You wanted, You put hatred into their hearts…"
We don’t keep the mitzvos when it makes sense to us, and we don’t add onto the mitzvos when our common sense says that if we add a detail it would be better. We keep the Torah with innocence, according to the laws and guidelines that the Creator set for us. Our opinion and feelings are irrelevant. We keep the mitzvos as we were told to.
A mashal is told of an alcoholic who was drinking ninety-six percent vodka. His friends had compassion on him and said, "Why are you an alcoholic? You’re ruining your marital harmony, your friends are leaving you, and you are destroying your health. Why don’t you stop?" The man, still holding the bottle in his hand, answered, "You’re absolutely right. There are ninety-six good taamim, reasons, to stop drinking. But this ninety-six percent alcohol drink has a taam (a taste) that overrides all your ninety-six taamim (reasons). When keeping the Torah, there may be ninety-six reasons and explanations as to why we should do things differently. Our common sense may convince us to do differently. But we accept with innocence what Hashem tells us to do. We follow His will over human logic and all other considerations.
The dry stone that gave water for forty years to the entire Jewish nation and all their livestock is a reminder for us that Hashem can do anything and everything. The Shem MeShmuel (Chukas, 5672) explains that non-Jews think Hashem created the laws of nature, and now the world runs on its own axis. They believe that Hashem does miracles and can intervene with the laws of nature, but they think that nature runs on its own. The Jewish nation, however, knows that even nature is an ongoing miracle orchestrated by Hashem. Without His constant providence fire wouldn’t burn, water wouldn’t flow, food wouldn’t nourish, the sun wouldn’t shine, and so on. The Shem MeShmuel writes, "Hakadosh Baruch Hu can change nature and can overturn nature. The nations of the world also know that somewhat… But the faith of the Jewish nation is greater, for all creation is like nothing; it doesn’t have any essence and existence without Hashem's decree. What appears like nature is Hashem's will…" Reb Yankele Galinsky zt'l told the following story: A successful businessman bought a ticket to sail the Atlantic Ocean on the Titanic. Before leaving, he came to the Tchortkover Rebbe zt'l to say goodbye. He said, "I'm planning to stay in America. It has become very difficult to do business here. America has more opportunities." The Tchortkover gave him his blessings, and added, "Send regards to the G-d of America." The man was shocked. "What do you mean? The G-d of America is the G-d that's here!" "That's my point. Hashem is here too, so why do you need to move to America? You can become wealthy here, as you can be successful in America…" The man remained in Europe. (As we know, this decision saved his life, for the Titanic sank.)
Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l was once riding in a taxi, and the non-religious taxi driver – who was unaware of the stature of his passenger – was venting on the rabbanim. “They don’t let you live. Every day they come up with new rules and regulations.” Reb Shlomo Zalman didn’t respond, but when they stopped at a red light, Reb Shlomo Zalman said, “The people in charge of the roads don’t let us live. They keep making new rules and regulations. On red, we can’t go, only on green. For driving quickly, one gets a ticket. If you don’t wear a seatbelt, you may be fined, and they have a host of other laws. They simply don’t let us live.” The taxi driver frowned and said, “These laws give life. People would die, if it weren’t for these laws." Reb Shlomo Zalman replied, “The laws of the chachamim are the same. If it weren’t for their decrees, there would be many spiritual casualties.”
Included in this theme is the importance of wearing Jewish attire. One shouldn’t think there’s nothing wrong with dressing like the non-Jews. The importance of dressing like a Yid is seen in this week's parashah: As Bnei Yisrael approached Eretz Yisrael, Amalek came and fought with them. The verse calls them Canaanites (and not Amalek) because Amalek was speaking Canaan's language to confuse the Jewish nation into thinking that they were Canaanites (see Rashi 21:1). Amalek knew that if the Jews pray that Hashem protect them from Amalek, Hashem would answer their prayers, therefore they spoke like the Canaanites, hoping that the Jews will pray to be saved from the Canaanites. In that manner, Amalek could win the war. However, the Jewish nation noticed that they were dressed in clothing typical of Amalek. The Jewish people weren't sure who was coming against them. The speech was of Canaan, but their clothes were like Amalek. So they prayed ambiguously, 'If Hashem will give this nation into our hands….' (21:1-2)” and Hashem heard their prayers. The Chidushei HaRim zt’l asks, why didn’t Amalek also dress up like the Canaanites? If they would have done so, the Jewish people wouldn’t suspect anything. Why did they only change their language, but not their clothing? The Chidushei HaRim explains, if Amalek would speak like Canaan and dress like Canaan, they would be Canaan. Because if one dresses and speaks like a nationality, he has adapted that nationality as though it were his. Amalek would have actually become Canaanites. And had the Jewish nation prayed that Hashem deliver the Canaanites into their hands, their prayers would be answered. We bring this Chidushei HaRim to impress the importance of maintaining the Jewish dress. It is one of the things that determine who you are, and where you belong.
The Jewish nation is more beloved to Hakadosh Baruch Hu than the angels.” This is because the angels don’t have a human body and temptations, which pull them towards materialism, as humans do. Therefore the service of humans, who have to battle with their human tendencies and limitations, is more precious to Hashem than the perfect service of the angels.
Refael dreamed of being a special ed. teacher. He had no previous experience as a teacher, though he was certain he could teach well. His only concern was how to control the classroom. He was thrilled when he was invited to give a model lesson, to try out for a teaching position. The difficulties began almost immediately. One student was moving his chair around, back and forth, right and left, creating a ruckus. Refael’s fears about his disciplining abilities was being tested. He said to the student, "I see you have a shaky chair. Go get another one." The student left the room to find another chair and Refael was able to get on with his lesson. Five minutes later a paper airplane landed on the teacher’s desk. Refael said in good humor, "The Ta’z (Orach Chaim 51:1) says that ברוך שאמר was established by the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah by a paper that fell down from heaven…' It seems that a paper just fell from heaven to me too…" The children laughed, and soon, order was restored. There were several other disturbances, but Refael didn’t become angry. With humor he avoided confrontations and continued teaching. But in his heart, he knew that he wouldn’t get the job. How could he? He wasn't able to control the class. The principal was very impressed by how patiently Refael handled the class. He said, “Many good teachers came to try out for the position, but after seeing your patience when the children were misbehaving, you get the job.” Rafael thought the children's misbehavior would cause him to lose the job. Each time a new disturbance began, he thought that this was putting another nail in the coffin of his career as a teacher. But as it turned out, these disturbances were precisely what granted him the job. Refael said goodbye to the children, before returning home, and had a particular fondness for those children who misbehaved. Because of them, he got the job. The lesson that we can take from this is the awareness that hardships are all for our benefit. We go through hard times and spiritual challenges, and we think that these are ruining our hope to succeed, when actually, our growth and our reward will emerge specifically from our passing these difficult tests.
Sefer Yetzirah states that each month represents a different limb in the human body, and the months Tamuz and Av correspond to the eyes. We should therefore be extra cautious with our eyes in these months. Chazal (Sotah 3.) state, “a person doesn’t sin unless a foolish spirit enters him.” Where does one get that foolish spirit? It is written (Devarim 28:34), “You become insane from what you see.” The Mishnas Chasidim (Choshev Machshavos) explains that you get that foolish spirit if you aren’t careful with your eyes.
Rebbe Moshe Mordechai of Lelov zt’l explained that Hashem desires a Jew after one sanctifies himself. This means that if you are cautious with your eyes and with your thoughts etc., Hashem will desire you.
We don’t have a parah adumah today, but we still have mikvah, which brings immense purity for the Jewish nation. The Radvaz (vol.3 415) states, “For teshuvah for every sin, one needs mikvah, first.” Tzaddikim said, “If mikvah can turn a non Jew into a Jew (through conversion which requires mikvah), imagine what it can do for a Jew! … Furthermore, if you feel like a non Jew because of your sins, go to mikvah, because mikvah turns a non Jew into a Jew. So regardless of what happened, you can start over again.
The Bnei Yissaschar (Tishrei, 4:11:31) explains that when one immerses in a mikvah, he bends his head, thus appearing like an embryo. When you go out of the mikvah, you can consider yourself as a new born child, and now you serve Hashem as though you were just born.
The Mishnah states, “All sea creatures are pure.” The Iglei Tal (introduction) explains that when one goes to the mikvah, he is in a place where there are no impurities, and therefore all impurity falls off. The Baal Shem Tov zt'l said that he came to his levels because of mikvah.
There are people who speak everything that comes to their mind, and inevitably, they will transgress many sins. As the Avodas Yisrael (Parah) writes, "Someone who speaks whatever he desires, and he doesn’t curb his speech, it is certain that he will inevitably speak lashon hara, rechilus, and nivul peh… This person is certainly impure…" This is hinted at in the verse, "Every open utensil, whose cover isn't firmly closed, becomes impure" (19:15). The Avodas Yisrael zt’l explains, if your mouth is always open, and you don’t have a lid to close your mouth, he is impure because he certainly says forbidden speech. Therefore, one must train himself to think before speaking.
In Poland, people would say that just as there is a concept of glutton when it comes to food, so too, there is a concept of glutton when it comes to speech. This is referring to the people who speak whatever comes to mind, without considering whether their words are permitted or not.
A doctor will often tell his patients to stick out their tongue, to see what’s happening inside. The Chofetz Chaim zt'l said that similarly, from one’s speech (tongue), one can gauge which level he is on. The Chofetz Chaim compared someone who doesn’t guard his mouth to a household thief. You can lock the door and protect yourself from the neighborhood thieves, but it’s impossible to be cautious from a household thief, as he lives in your home. So too, when one speaks freely, without considering what should be said and what is forbidden, he will transgress severe sins. It’s like a household thief, which you can’t restrain.
People are lax with their speech when they aren’t aware of just how influential and powerful speech can be, either to do good –when used for Torah, prayer, to help others, etc. – or to do bad, such as by speaking lashon hara, by discouraging or disgracing others, and other forms of forbidden speech.
Chazal say that had Moshe Rabbeinu entered Eretz Yisrael, the Beis HaMikdash would never be destroyed. The Chasam Sofer zt'l explains, the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of lashon hara. Had Moshe spoken to the stone instead of hitting it, Klal Yisrael would see that speech can change nature, and give water to an entire nation. They would thereby understand the power of speech, and how cautious they must be not to speak forbidden words. They wouldn’t say that words are nothing, because they saw that words can bring water out of a stone. Therefore, had Moshe spoken to the stone (and entered Eretz Yisrael) there wouldn’t be lashon hara among the Jewish people, and the Beis HaMikdash wouldn’t be destroyed.
The commentaries discuss why the Torah juxtaposes the laws of parah adumah with Torah.The Rokeiach writes that this teaches us that just as parah adumah purifies, so does Torah study purify. Also the Shlah HaKadosh writes, “Even when there isn’t a parah adumah, a person can purify himself by studying Torah with persistence…"
The Or HaChaim (in Rishon L’Tzion) explains that there are various ways to purge a vessel from non-kosher flavors. One way is to purge it in boiling water. Sometimes it’s sufficient to pour hot water over it. The strongest cleanser, though, is to purge it in fire. Torah is also fire, as it states (Yirmiyahu 23:19), “Behold My words are like fire.” Because there are various ways to atone from sins, such as suffering, fasting, and other practices, but learning Torah is the greatest purity.
Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Belz zt'l teaches that there are two ways to become inspired to do teshuvah. One is by making a cheshbon hanefesh, the other is by studying Torah, for the light of the Torah will draw him to teshuvah. The verse says, a fire comes forth from the cheshbon hanefesh, and it will steer him onto the right path. However, a bonfire comes forth from speaking Torah (as Targum Yonoson translates it). So learning Torah is the preferred approach to do teshuvah.