The Kuzari (3:5) writes, "For the chassid, the moments of prayer is the 'heart' of his day. All other moments are like roads leading to that moment. He yearns for it, for that is when he is closest to spirituality and is most distant from animalistic behavior." The Kuzari adds that prayer should be like breakfast, lunch and supper, where one meal keeps him satisfied until the next meal. So too, the prayers in the morning should give him spiritual sustenance until the next prayer.
The Torah states, "Yaakov had twelve children" (Bereishis 35:22) and one of the twelve, obviously, was Binyamin. Then the Torah writes, "These are Yaakov's children born to him in Padan Aram" (Bereishis 35:26). The Chizkuni asks, Binyamin was born in Beis Lechem, not in Padan Aram! The Chizkuni answers: in Padan Aram Rachel prayed, "May Hashem grant me another son." That prayer said in Padan Aram, enabled her to bear another child, thus it can be considered as though Binyamin was born in Padan Aram.
A poor unemployed person didn’t have anything to do one morning, so he spent the morning sitting in the post office, watching the goings on. He saw someone hand a few coins to the clerk, and in exchange, the clerk gave him an expensive package. This happened a few times that morning. "I didn’t know that expensive items were sold for cheap in the post office," the pauper thought to himself. He collected some money, gave it to the clerk, and asked for a diamond ring in exchange. The clerk laughed at him and explained, "The few coins that people pay is for the delivery. Before that, they paid the full price for the items." The nimshal is, if one thinks his effort brings him parnassah, he is like the fool in this story, who thinks that expensive items are acquired with a few pennies. Parnassah comes from prayer, when one pours his heart out before Hashem, while hishtadlus are the few coins paid for the delivery.
Reb Elyah Roth zt'l told the following story: The Or HaChaim HaKadosh was once a guest in the home of simple people, who excelled in the mitzvah hachnasas orchim. The Or HaChaim felt an aura of kedushah in their home, and he wanted to know the origin. "Could it be that they're hidden tzaddikim?" he thought, but after paying closer attention, he saw they were just regular, good people. The Or HaChaim was curious to discover the origin of the holiness that prevailed in that home. As he was contemplating on that, he heard the family reminiscing about one of the guests that used to visit their home. The Or HaChaim heard them tell the following: From time to time, an old, wealthy man would come to their home. The family honored him immensely — as they honored all their guests — and the old person used to give a nice gifts to each family member. However there was dissention, between the family and the old man. The family would serve Hashem with fervor, and the old man couldn’t handle it. On one of his visits, the old man said, "Why do you say birchas hamazon so loud? Hashem hears quiet brachos too. In addition, your extra zealous ways might make your guests uncomfortable and embarrassed, as they will feel that they aren't as frum as you are. In my opinion, it is wrong to say birchas hamazon loudly…" The family accepted his mussar, and they benched in silence. The old man was pleased that they listened to him, and he gave each of them another gift. Sometime later, the old man returned, and as always, he gave out gifts to each family member. On Friday night the family began to sing Shalom Aleichem, joyously and loud…and the old man became anxious and edgy once again. "There's no reason for all this fervor!" he said nervously. "Say it silently!" and the family obeyed. The old man gave them some more presents. The old man showed up once again on erev Pesach, and distributed presents to the family members. The baal habayis greeted him joyfully, and invited him to the Seder. The old man replied, "I can't be at your Seder if you’re going to start shouting and acting inhumanely. I will only join you if you agree to be silent at the Seder. Do as I teach you: Keep the fervor in your heart. Don’t show it on the outside." The baal habayis said he'd have to ask his wife. She said, "When he stole from our children the birchas hamazon, I kept quiet. Then he took away our Shalom Aleichem, and I also forgave him. But I refuse to give away the Seder night." The old man became angry and said, "I shouldn’t have given you all those presents, since I see that you don’t listen to me." The baal habayis was worried the old man would ask them to give back all the precious presents, but his wife saw things differently. She said to her husband, "Gather all the presents and give them back to him. I don’t want them, and I don’t want his false rebukes." The Or HaChaim listened in astonishment, and said, "Now I understand why there's a holy aura in your house. That man was the yetzer hara, trying to uproot your temimus. The wife's wisdom saved your home." The lesson is, external fervor is helpful as it rouses the inner emotions. There are those who want to skip the fervor, but how will they pray properly?
The Chofetz Chaim zt'l (Likutei Amorim 10) teaches, "In addition to Shemonah Esrei that's said three times a day, one should pour his prayers out from the depths of his heart, when he is in private, alone in his home. The reason these prayers are so important is because the three daily Shemonah Esreis are [often] said by rote. One doesn’t think so much about what he is saying. But when a person is by himself, and he makes a cheshbon hanefesh about his situation, he reflects on his poverty and troubles, and worst of all is that he’s only earning enough for bread and water, then he will pour his heart out like water before Hashem, and the prayer will be said with kavanah. It will be a prayer from the depths of his broken humble heart. That prayer will never be returned unanswered." According to this counsel, there are many opportunities for prayer. In addition to the three daily prayers, he is advised to find more times to pray to Hashem. These prayers are often more meaningful, since one says them in his own words, and he talks about the issues that are important to him, at that time.
The Gemara says, "If only a person would pray the entire day!" Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa zy'a taught that this can be accomplished by praying for each thing you're about to do. For example, on the way to work pray that you be successful. When you're about to learn Torah pray that you should understand. Before cooking dinner, pray that it should turn out well. One should pray for the major and minor aspects of life. Whatever you do, pray, and then you will be praying the entire day.
It is written, "The prayer of a poor person who wraps himself and pours his speech out before Hashem." the Divrei Chaim zt'l explains that one should wrap his prayers within the conversations he speaks during the day. Even as he speaks with someone, he can intend, in his heart, a prayer to Hashem.
Generally, one needs to be on a very high level to create such a prayer. It isn't a simple matter to have a conversation with someone, and conceal a prayer within the words. One should wrap his prayers around everything he does. As Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa taught us, whatever you’re doing, pray to Hashem. Pray for success in your work, pray for shalom bayis, and pray for nachas. With every deed that you do, realize that success is in Hashem's hands, and pray to Him. If a person applies these counsels, he will be praying many times a day. As Reb Yochanan said, "If only a person would pray the entire day!"
The Torah lists Pinchas' lineage twice. At the end of last week's parahsah it states: (25:7). Why? Rashi writes, "The tribes disgraced Pinchas. They said, 'Did you see what the offspring of Yitro did? His maternal grandfather would fatten calves for idol worship, and now he went and killed a prince of Yisrael!' Therefore the verse associates his lineage to Aharon." The question is, the nation knew that Pinchas' grandfather was Aharon, and they stilled disgraced him, pointing to his grandfather, Yitro. So what is gained when the verse repeats that his lineage is from Aharon? The Ksav Sofer zt'l answers: The nature of the Jewish nation —particularly of cohanim, the students of Aharon — is to love peace and to pursue peace. But at times, for the preservation of Klal Yisrael, and/or for Hashem's honor, one must go against one's nature, and act with zealousness. When Pinchas acted with zealousness and killed the sinners, people said he simply has bad traits. "He's a descendant of Yitro, he lacks the compassionate nature of a Jew. It isn't surprising that he killed a prince.” The Torah clarifies that it isn't so. Pinchas is a descendant of Aharon and his nature is like Aharon, to be compassionate and kind. Only, he went beyond his compassionate nature to stand up for Hashem's honor. Therefore, the Midrash states, "Pinchas deserves his reward." This is because it's easy to serve Hashem within one's comfort zone. But when one must do contrary to his natural tendencies, he deserves reward for that.
Reb Moshe Kodeveiro zt'l (the Rama"k) was the author of the renowned sefer Tomer Devorah. The Alter of Kelm zy'a said, "Tomer Devorah is the Shulchan Aruch for middos." The first Rebbe of Bobov, Rebbe Shlomo zy'a, said he reached his levels because he studied Tomer Devorah in depth. The Divrei Chaim of Tzanz zt'l said that studying Tomer Devorah is a refuah for cancer. Similarly, the Yismach Yisrael of Alexander zt'l advised people with "the disease" to study Tomer Devorah. This holy sefer teaches people to emulate Hashem's compassion, patience, and humility. The Tomer Devorah teaches the following: When a person goes against Hashem's will and commits a sin, Hashem still gives him strength and life. Hashem could rightfully say, "If you are going against Me, why should I give you strength?" But Hashem, with His humility, gives strength and life to people, even as they disgrace Him. We are urged to follow in Hashem's ways and therefore, even when someone disgraces us, we should continue doing kindness for him.
When one serves Hashem beyond his nature, miracles beyond nature happen to him. The Magid of Zlotchev zt'l taught, "When a person desires a miracle that's beyond nature, for example, he wants children, but according to the rules of nature that's impossible, he should do a great mitzvah, going beyond the limits of his nature. Just as he goes beyond his nature, miracles will happen to him beyond nature" (Igra DePirka 24).
Pinchas is Eliyahu HaNavi, and he lives on until today. The explanation is as follows: The Gemara (Chagigah 4:) repeats a conversation between Rav Bibi bar Abaya and the malach hamaves (the angel of death). Rav Bibi bar Abaya asked him, "When someone dies before his time, what do you do with all those extra years?" The malach hamaves had told him that it happens, sometimes, that people die before their originally planned time. Rav Bibi bar Abaya wanted to know what was done with all those years that he should have lived. The malach hamaves replied, "If I find a Torah student who goes beyond his limits, I give those years to him." The Maharam Shik zt'l explains: In the days of Pinchas, there were many years that had to be allocated, as twenty-four thousand people died before their time in the plague. Where did all those years go to? Their years went to a talmid chacham who was maavir al midosov, and Pinchas was such a talmid chacham, as he went beyond his nature to do Hashem's will. Consequently, Pinchas received the lost years of the twenty-four thousand people. He is Eliyahu who lives forever. How did Pinchas go beyond his nature? As the Ksav Sofer explained, he went against his nature to act zealously, though his nature was to be kind and compassionate. According to the Maharam Shik, he went beyond his nature because by nature everyone wants to protect himself, but Pinchas put his life in danger to kill Zimri. The Midrash tells us that Shimon's tribe surrounded him, and wanted to kill him because he killed their prince. He needed great miracles to remain alive. We can also explain that Pinchas went beyond his limits, because people shamed him, yet he remained silent. As Rashi (25:1, quoted above) writes, "The tribes disgraced Pinchas… 'Did you see what the offspring of Yisro did…? He went and killed a prince of Yisrael!'" Pinchas accepted the shame, he didn’t answer back. He went beyond his limits and all the years of the people who died in the plague were given to him.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 27:2) teaches that no one really deserves reward for his mitzvos, because every mitzvah is preceded by Hashem's kindness. As the Midrash states: "Who ever circumcised his son before I gave him a child? Who ever built a maakah (gate) before I gave him a roof? Who ever put up a mezuzah, before I gave him a house? Who ever built a succah, before I gave him a place? Who ever took a lulav, before I gave him money? Who ever wore tzitzis, before I gave him a garment?" So why should he be awarded for the mitzvos he performs? Wasn't he already rewarded with the goodness he received? The exception, the Chasam Sofer zt'l says, is when one is humiliated and he doesn’t answer back. This good deed isn’t preceded with a kindness. In fact, it was preceded with shame and humiliation. And for that he deserves reward. Therefore, about Pinchas the Midrash states deserves his reward.
If the rabbanim present at this seudah would know that Bar Kamtza's disgrace would result with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, they would certainly do whatever they could to keep Bar Kamtza at the meal. In retrospect, one always sees better. We should learn from this to always be cautious with the honor of our fellow man.
In last week's parashah, Bilaam merited seeing an angel (22:31). How could this terrible wicked person see an angel? The Bas Ayin answers that it was because Bilaam endured shame. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 4) tells all the humiliating words the donkey told him. And when one is shamed, even someone like Bilaam becomes pure (at least for that moment) and he can see angels. The Chofetz Chaim zt'l said that if a person would know beforehand when he was going to be shamed and embarrassed, it would be proper that he go to the mikvah to prepare himself for that great moment. The Sfas Emes compared staying silent when shamed or when angered to a steam engine that runs on the pressure that’s contained inside. Containing your anger and burning emotions will bring you to great places.
Someone once dreamed that people were hitting him. He woke up alarmed. "Where is he? Where’s that hooligan that hit me?" "It was just a dream," someone told him. "I know it was just a dream," he replies, "but what difference does that make. Someone hit me in my dreams, and I want to take revenge." This is nonsensical, but this is how people are when they are shamed and desire to answer back. We can speak common-sense with them, but they don’t understand. We tell them, "You will gain so much from remaining silent. It will purify you, it’s an eis ratzon for your prayers, and you will reach very high levels. And, why should you want to answer back anyway? Don't you know that everything is from Hashem, and if you were shamed it was obviously meant to be?" The person replies, "Everything you say is true, but right now, I want to take revenge and answer back…"
There's a certain bird that builds its nest on the peak of high trees, where snakes can't get to. So what do the snakes do? A snake stations itself at the bottom of the tree, and waits there with its mouth wide open. The bird doesn’t realize that it's safe, perched high in the tree. It becomes paralyzed by fright and gazes in terror at the snake's open mouth. It loses its balance, and falls directly into the snake's mouth. This wonder of nature is brought down in a sefer to express a technique the yetzer hara uses. The yetzer hara causes people to be afraid — either about finances that they won't have enough money, or they fear something else — and the fear paralyzes them, making them vulnerable to the yetzer hara. Haman also understood that to destroy the Jewish people he had to frighten them first. Therefore, it states, "He cast the lot to frighten them and to destroy them" (Ester 9:24). Similarly, the Zohar [3:199] states that the first two letters of Balak and Bilaam spell confusion, and the last letters spell Amalek. This can hint that Balak and Bilaam wanted to confuse and to frighten the Jewish nation, which is the essence of Amalek.
Hashem said to Moshe and to Elazar HaCohen, "Count the heads of the entire Jewish nation" (Bamidbar 26:2). It can also be translated, "raise their heads." Moshe and Elazar HaCohen were to elevate the nation's awareness that everything is from Hashem. With this awareness, they will not be frightened by the various challenges in life.
It states in Pirkei Avos (4:12), "Work less and study Torah." This Mishnah is teaching people to spend less time working, and more time learning Torah. Although parnassah is a necessity the time spent learning Torah will not detract from their parnassah. When the Or HaChaim HaKadosh zy'a lived in Morocco, he taught this Mishnah to his community, and advised them to follow this path. He said, "The week has six workdays. It's sufficient to work on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Leave Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for Torah. I guarantee that your parnassah won't be less because of it." His community followed his advice, and indeed, they had parnassah just like before. They saw that they could spend a substantial amount of time learning Torah each week, and Hashem supports them. This went on for many years. Then the Or HaChaim left Morocco, and moved to Eretz Yisrael. The community in Morocco gradually began to work more, and eventually, they were back to a six day workweek. But they admitted that that working extra didn’t grant them more money. They were just as well off during the years they followed the Or HaChaim's (and the Mishnah's) counsel to "work less and to study Torah."
The Mishnah (Pei'ah 8:9) teaches, "Whoever needs charity, but doesn’t take, will support others in his old age. The Tosfos Anshei Sheim asks: This verse indeed praises those who trust in Hashem, but where does this verse state that in his old age he will support others? To answer this question, the Tosfos Anshei Sheim quotes the following Midrash: This is a surprising Midrash, for what does it mean to be "like Hashem"? The Tosfos Anshei Sheim explains that it means just as Hashem provides sustenance to the world, a person who has trust will also give parnassah to others. The Mishnah is saying, whoever has trust will support others in his old age. As it states, he will be like Hashem, because he will be wealthy and he will be supporting others.
The Baal Shem Tov explains: Many people trust in Hashem, but they think that Hashem will help them solely through certain means. For example, a shopkeeper believes that Hashem will send him customers. A shadchan trusts that Hashem will help him close many shidduchim. A real estate broker trusts that Hashem will help him earn parnassah in that venue, and so on. They forget that Hashem can help in other ways too. Hashem will help him, as He sees fit. A real estate broker shouldn’t think, "I trust that Hashem will help me close good deals so I can have parnassah." He should think, "I trust that Hashem will give me parnassah any way that He desires to." Similarly, the storeowner shouldn’t think, "I trust that Hashem will send many costumers to my store." He should think, "I trust Hashem will bestow me with parnassah." And Hashem will bless him with parnassah either through his store, or some other venue.
A primary approach towards attaining bitachon is by reflecting and remembering the wonders Hashem has performed for you, in your lifetime. Think about your successes — spiritual and material — recognize that you wouldn’t attain those by your own might, and then you will know that it's good to trust in Hashem (Tehillim 118).
We are now in the Three Weeks, days of mourning. The devastation of exile is felt profoundly these days. But there are moments when we escape the exile — at least, to a certain extent. One of those times is on Shabbos.
The highest point of Shabbos is in the afternoon, at Shalosh-seudos time. This is because the afternoon is a time of din (harsh judgment) and Shabbos turns it into compassion and whenever judgment turns into compassion it’s a very special time. The Yid HaKadosh zy'a taught that in the Three Weeks all twenty four hours of the day are times of judgment, and Shabbos turns them into compassion, so the entire Shabbos is special and sacred, similar to Shalash seudos time.
Another way to escape exile is to study Torah. Rebbe Aharon of Belz said that when a Jew learns Torah there is no exile. An indication to this is that it is permissible to eat meat and drink wine at a siyum celebration during the Nine Days. Similarly, the Chozeh of Lublin zt'l said: Halachah states that at a bris in the Nine Days, only ten people may eat meat and drink wine at the meal. But if there's a siyum in the nine days, there is no limit to the amount of participants. Even more than ten people can have meat and wine at the meal. What's the difference? The Chozeh explains that the churban came about because they weren't studying Torah, as it states, (Yirmiyahu 9:11), "Why was the land destroyed? It is because they abandoned My Torah." Therefore, when one finishes a masechta and makes a siyum he amends the cause of the churban, and a scent of the redemption is in the air. Therefore, all participants can partake in the meal. One of the reasons Torah study is so special and important in the Three Weeks is because on these days Hashem, as it were, is sad, and we should study Torah to make Hashem happy.
The Mishnah says, "be diligent to study Torah" (Avos 2:14). During the Three Weeks devote yourself to studying Torah." The Avodas Yisrael explains, "It is the way of kings to…have musicians. When the king is happy, he doesn’t need a band to play for him, because he’s happy regardless. But when the king becomes sad he will call for his musicians to play music and make him happy. Likewise, as it were…the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and there's sadness… Someone who cares should come before the King, free from all depression, and he should make the King happy…" by studying Torah with joy.”
During the Holocaust, people were amazed to see Rebbe Pinchas of Ustila zy'a (the son-in-law of Rebbe Yissacher Dov of Belz zy'a) learning Torah with immense hasmadah. How did he have the stamina to put aside all the pain and devastation and delve into Torah study? People asked him about this, and he replied, "People asked my father-in-law this very same question in World War I. People couldn’t understand how he had the peace of mind to study Torah then. He explained that during hard times it’s even more important to study Torah. Because the Mishnah says, 'When a person has pain… the Shechinah says, 'My head hurts. My arms hurt, which means Hashem suffers together with us. We are living in a time when Klal Yisrael is in distress, and Hashem is certainly suffering together with us. It’s our obligation to make Hashem happy, and nothing brings joy to Hashem like a Jew who learns Torah." May these days of mourning become days of happiness, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days, amen.