To Apologize or Not Apologize: When You're Not Sure If You're Reading the Situation Accurately
Hashem really does help us when we yearn to do the right thing.
For example, I found myself in an uncomfortable situation with a neighbor in regard to shidduchim.
I wasn't sure if I handled a situation properly, with proper respect & derech eretz.
I asked my husband & someone else, both of whom said I handled it just fine & the neighbors understood just fine, no problem.
I wasn't so sure.
Unfortunately, based on the dynamics & personalities involved, it was a situation in which apologizing or even just asking about the issue could make things worse; bringing it up could create a problem that, for the moment, existed only in mind.
So I spoke to Hashem about it a couple of times, requesting that He enlighten me about what I needed to do (if anything) and whether the situation really lay at rest or not.
I didn't invest hours of hitbodedut in this; just briefly explained my concerns & doubts, and asked for help, for a sign one way or the other.
And I did this only a couple of times.
The first happy indication occurred when I went to knock on another neighbor's door to request something—and right then, the married daughter of the neighbor (about whom I felt concern) came down the stairs with her young children.
She greeted me with cheerful warmth, giving no vibes of coldness or hesitancy.
This was the first sign that as far as this young woman went, everything was fine.
(The situation primarily involved her & her mother, so the fact that Hashem brought us to the stairwell at exactly the same time showed me how much He cares & orchestrates things to the second.)
But still unsure how my neighbor felt, I briefly asked Hashem again to help me figure things out.
A knock on the door Rosh Hashanah morning brought me face to face with that same neighbor. She held a platter of homemade dairy delicacies, which she handed to me with a gracious smile & a warm wish for a good year.
Thank you, Hashem—thank you for both the reassuring answering to my quandary and also for all the lovely cheesecake & alfajores!
Later, she sent her teenage daughter with a platter of succulently prepared meat, chicken, and rice.
What a delicious relief!
Why This Works for EVERYONE
Despite the influence of a culture that insists we be totally confident at all times & that many issues we encounter with others should be dismissed as "their problem" (as long as we've done our best—or at least assume we've done our best, even if maybe we haven't)...it's okay to feel nagging doubts.
We don't always know.
And that's okay.
Sure, the problem might lay within ourselves. Maybe insecurity, overanxiety, a sense of over-responsibility, and so forth.
But maybe not.
While society is quick to label such a person as "overthinking things," "overanxious," "co-dependent," "needy," "obsessive," "neurotic," "too sensitive," and so on, you are who you are & whatever level you happen to be on now.
And you need to deal with yourself where you are right now & sort things out in a way YOU can understand.
Side point: I also noticed that simply calling people names—including psychology labels—has never been helpful. It's not like people who, say, overthink things magically stop overthinking just because you tell them. Most people need help & strategies to overcome a behavior, and not just be told, "Here—this is what's wrong with you."
And that is indeed if there is actually something "wrong" with you, and not just that the other person finds you annoying because he or she resists thinking about others or examining their own behavior, and therefore accuses anyone who does of "overthinking things."
Reaching out to Hashem & saying, "Help me. I don't want to be a source of pain for another person. Please show me the truth of the matter"—this usually brings an answer because THIS is one of the things Hashem wants most.
He wants us to be nice to each other—sensitive, compassionate, and caring.
Hashem also wants us to make amends when we've stumbled.
It's important to know that Hashem helps regular flawed people, as shown above, and even without investing hours of prayer in the issue.
Sometimes, people don't bother trying because it seems too confusing or too complicated, or too much trouble.
And yes, sometimes it IS pretty confusing or complicated.
But before dismissing something as too confusing, complicated, or too much trouble, it's worth turning to Hashem as you would a truly trustworthy Best Friend, a Best Friend Who can & wants to help you with anything & everything.
Just a few brief words, expressing, "I feel bad about this, not sure if it's just me, and not sure what to do about it, but would really like some kind of indication how I'm supposed to proceed. If everything really is okay, then I'd like to know that for sure. If everything is not okay, then I'd like to know what's wrong & how to fix it."
So I didn't invest in the conventional methods to work out the above issue because I needed to know FOR CERTAIN, and no method was going to give me that certainty—except asking Hashem for help.
And I'm far from being on a high level, so I don't deserve direct intervention, but Hashem gave it to me anyway because He truly helps us do the right thing.
He's Compassionate like that.
For 2 other examples of how this works:
Malbim Dictionary Definitions: The Differences between Hebrew Words for "Judgement" & "Law" & "Remember"
Today, with the help of the commentary of Malbim*, we're going to look at common Hebrew words that seem synonymous, but contain nuanced differences.
You'll also see that the same word sometimes contains different (yet interconnected) meanings, depending on how it's used.
These words occur commonly in prayer and Tehillim (Psalms), and it helps to know what you're really saying when you use them.
Note: All the definitions come from Malbim. The definitions of torah, mitzvah, edut, & pikud come from Malbim on Tehillim 119:1.
Din, Dinim — דין , דינים
Din (often translated as "judgement") means hearing out the claims & accusations.
It's basically the judicial proceedings.
In connection to that idea, din often means "consequences," whether positive or negative.
We often speak of harsh din or sweetened din—meaning that the claims, accusations, and consequences end up harsh or sweetened.
Mishpat, Mishpatim — משפט , משפטים
Mishpat (often translated as "judgement" or "law" or "ordinance" or "statue") is the conclusion of the din.
In other words, mishpat is the verdict. (Or, in the case of its verb shafat, the act of reaching the verdict.)
Its root is shafat--שפט—often translated as "judged."
Shofet--שופט—is "a judge."
Mishpat also means the person-to-person (bein adam l'chavero) laws.
The reasoning behind a mishpat is understandable to the human mind (as opposed to chok, a law in which its reason is not comprehensible).
This is why, in Tehillim for example, different kinds of mishpatim are mentioned.
There is mishpat b'tzedek (laws & verdicts conducted with fair justice), like the mishpat of Hashem.
Then there is mishpat formed according to the social mores of a particular culture—and these mishpatim aren't always just.
Tzedek — צדק
Tzedek (often translated as "righteousness" or "judgement" or "justice") is an act, a deed.
It oversees the mishpat, the verdict, so that the mishpat concludes in justice and not corruption.
Torah, Torot — תורה , תורות
Obviously, Torah often means the Bible.
But it's also used to mean "law" or "commandment," especially in its plural form, torot.
When used colloquially, torah includes all the teachings of Hashem: beliefs, instructions, character traits, and all the behaviors applicable to a person.
Mitzvah, Mitzvot — מצוה , מצוות
Mitzvah (translated as commandment) are the general commandments of the Torah (Bible).
Chok/Chukim — חוק , חקים
Chok (often translated as "law" or "statute") is a commandment whose reason isn't known, except to Hashem.
Edut — עדות
Edut (often translated as "testimony") means the stories & events that testify on behalf of Hashem's Greatness.
In particular, edut means the events of Beresheit: the Creation of the Universe & its continuing functions (like how the Sun always rises in the East & sets in the West, the Moon always remains in more or less the same place relative to the Earth & with predictable phases, the Earth spins at a consistent speed on its tilted axis, etc.)
This infuses renewed conviction into the verse edut Hashem ne'emanah—the edut of Hashem is faithful; the functions of the Universe remain stable & reliable (Tehillim 19:8).
Pikud, Pikudim — פיקוד, פיקודים
Pikud (often translated as "statute" or "commandment," etc.) is a mitzvah (commandment) designated to commemorate individual matters.
(Please see its root below--pakad—and note how they go together to embrace the full meaning.)
Zachar — זכר
Zachar (often translated as "remember") includes all its forms: zecher, zikaron, zechirah, yizkor, etc.
It also implies a meaningful act—meaning, there's a purpose to remembering; it needs to be remembered.
Pakad — פקד
Pakad (often translated as "remember") follows on the heels of zachar.
It includes the action of actually doing what was remembered—like when Hashem pakad et Sara: He not only remembered what He promised her, but also fulfilled it.
It also means "commemorate," which is an act of remembering—again, "commemorate" follows on the heels of "remembering;" it acts on what was remembered.
(Please see above for how it relates to pikud.)
For more "dictionary definitions" of Hebrew synonyms by the Malbim, please see:
*The Malbim (1809-1879) was Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel who was born in Russia and served as rav all over Eastern Europe. He was bitterly fought by the Reform Movement for most of his adult life, even suffering a brief imprisonment under a false accusation in Rumania by wealthy German Reformers. Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Torah among the other valuable works he composed.
Rav Avigdor Miller on Everything to Do With Yom Kippur, including Breaking the Fast Motzaei Yom Kippur, Plus the #1 Focus for Yom Kippur
Please see Rav Avigdor Miller's answer to the question:
What should we think about on the night after Yom Kippur?
(Meaning, when you break the fast.)
On the same topic, please see Rav Itamar Schwartz on:
Motza'ei Yom Kippur: Go Eat Your Bread with Joy
And please also see Rav Avigdor Miller's answer to this all-important question:
What does it really mean when we ask for life for "Your Sake"? (L'ma'ancha Elokim Chaim)
And now we come to Rav Avigdor Miller's big lecture for Yom Kippur:
Rav Avigdor Miller on Yom Kippur: Asking for Life
Note #1: It's very worth reading the original at that link. Because of the long summary here, it looks like you're getting the dvar Torah here, but really, so much is missing. Please read the delicious original.
Note #2: All boldface emphasis & words in square brackets  are mine.
YOU are the Prime Witness in a Case of Universal Importance!
Rav Miller lauds the greatness of doing mitzvot, but encourages us to take our frumkeit up to the next level.
Even learning Torah isn't enough if it's only an intellectual exercise.
Rav Miller points out that Yeravam ben Nevat, Achitophel, and Doeg Ha’edomi were all great talmidei chachamim.
Yet they lost their portion in the World to Come.
"So we see it’s possible to be a big talmid chacham and to miss the entire point of doing mitzvos," says Rav Miller.
So what's the solution?
The solution is found in Yeshayahu 43:10:
"Atem edai neum Hashem - You are My witnesses, says Hashem."
We, the Jewish people, are Hashem's witnesses.
And what do witnesses do?
They tell the facts of what they see.
Rav Miller elaborates:
And that’s our purpose – we have to speak up about Hakadosh Baruch Hu in the world.
Who Needs to Sing Hashem's Praises? EVERYONE. No Exceptions.
Leah Imeinu prophesied about Yehudah as the progenitor of Mashiach.
"This time, I'm going to praise Hashem," said Leah when she named Yehudah, which carries the root for Hashem's 4-letter name, plus the words for "thank" and "confess."
Then Rav Miller points out that Leah's descendant via Yehudah was David Hamelech. And who sang praises to Hashem more than David Hamelech, what with all the Tehillim?
As Rav Miller put it, David Hamelech lived a life of singing songs to Hashem — and that's what Leah Imeinu foresaw when she named Yehudah.
Yes, this is a very special tafkid of the Jewish people, who are mostly from Shevet Yehudah today with a few from the sons of Rachel Imeinu (so says Rav Miller).
But we know from our davening that ki ken chovat kol hayetzurim — singing praises of Hashem is the duty of all those created by Hashem (which is everyone, obviously).
Rav Miller explains:
And the gentile world understand this also.
How to Achieve that Overflowing Cup
Several sources in Judaism (Tehillim being one) speak of "overflow."
Your cup can overflow. (And that's a good thing!)
First of all, your cup should not have a hole in the bottom.
If it does, then all the Goodness of Hashem gets drained down into that hole.
Secondly, in addition to your hole-less cup, you should allow Hashem's Goodness to keep pouring in.
Rav Miller explains that this is the secret to a happy heart.
Remember the car that almost hit you? Nearly everyone has a story like that. This is mine:
When I was in elementary school, I was walking for the first time (usually, I took the school bus) with a friend to her home.
For some reason, rather than crossing the street to get closer to her street, we continued walking on the same side of the road through a gravelly ditch.
We both realized we weren't behaving logically and we kept looking to the other side of the road, knowing we should really be over there.
Suddenly, a car appeared out of nowhere, lost control, and zoomed over the side of the road directly across from us — meaning, the exact place we SHOULD have been.
Without missing a beat, the car righted itself back into its lane and kept on zooming away.
We stared in shock at the place we should have been, then whipped our heads around to look at each other. Then we started exclaiming about the miracle that had occurred.
(Despite us both being relatively secular, we instinctively understood that we'd experienced a miraculous salvation.)
It's also interesting that she was one of the only Jewish students at our elementary school, and that this event occurred to us together.
Thank You, Hashem! Yishtabach Shemo!
Rav Miller also reminds us of those minor yet irritating illnesses that seem to hang around forever.
I've had that too: the cough that just won't shake, the prolonged back pain, the eternally stuffy nose...and then one day, they're gone!
We're grateful for a moment, then it's life as usual.
But no, Rav Miller emphasizes that we should be REALLY grateful. And then keep on feeling that gratitude.
Furthermore, if there is anything in our body that works right, we must be grateful for it. (Think of the asher yatzar bracha, for example.) It's easy to forget what life would be like if one were dependent on a kidney dialysis machine to clear one's kidneys or on a colostomy to clear one's bowels, may Hashem please keep us all in excellent health.
And once our heart is filled with gratitude & joy, it naturally overflows to others.
What is Our Main Purpose on Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur is the day where we nullify ourselves to Hashem.
THIS is what cleanses us from our sins & sweetens our New Year.
In Woman's World: Teshuvah, Rav Itamar Schwartz points out that even the happy mitzvah of eating Erev Yom Kippur is so that we have the koach and focus to pray & nullify ourselves properly on Yom Kippur itself.
Even people who fast so terribly that they must lie in bed rather than pray are nullifying themselves to Hashem. (I'm not talking about life-endangering fasting, which demands drinking or eating, but weakness-inducing fasting.) Yom Kippur is the only fast that makes such demands on people. And that's why: We nullify our bodily desires and our emotional desires to Hashem's Desires.
So on Yom Kippur we bow a lot.
And we speak to Hashem the entire time, whether in formal prayer, formal Confession, or with our own words.
Rav Miller reminds us:
And that’s the argument, the fundamental argument, that everyone should use on Yom Kippur, only he must be aware of the obligation that this entails for him. לא המתים יהללוי-ה, the dead will not praise Hashem, ולא כל ירדי דומה, and not those who go down into silence.
It's much more difficult in This World to praise Hashem and to be grateful for all that we have.
There's a heavy curtain over the spiritual reality of This World.
So we get tremendous reward for opening our mouths within the darkness underneath that smothering curtain & singing our praise of Hashem.
How to Avoid Korach's Fate
Around three-fourths of the way through this dvar Torah, Rav Miller provides a scary description of Korach and his followers in Gehinnom.
He also reminds us that Korah and his followers believed in Hashem 100%! They also shouted "Na'aseh v'nishma!" And They merited to be among the 20% who left Egypt.
So what happened?
Rav Miller states that even great tzaddikim need to watch out for any tendency toward unhealthy jealousy.
And here's how regular people like us can utilize this idea:
How important it is for all of us to say in this lifetime משה אמת ותורתו אמת [Moshe Emet v'Torato Emet - Moshe is Truth and his Torah is Truth].
Be a Secret Propagandist for God!
Rav Miller quotes Shaarei Teshuvah (The Gates of Repentance):
"All of the creatures were created only for one purpose, for kavod Shamayim" (to give honor to Hashem).
Before you go out where you'll meet other people, Rav Miller recommends you do your best to contemplate & answer the following questions (or at least 1 of them):
(Personally, I'd assume this applies to writers, speakers, bloggers, etc. as well.)
Rav Miller offers some concrete suggestions which include, but are certainly not limited to:
Now, because the secular-influenced social norm regarding being all sunny about Jews and Judaism is considered "covering up the truth" and all that, I want to point out that having lived among all types of different frum groups, I can certainly tell you the failings in each group, whether it's according to ethnicity, nationality, or hashkafah.
And unfortunately, there are Jewish media & Jewish websites dedicated to not only pointing out these flaws, but magnifying them & even exaggerating these flaws to the point that they actually LIE (whether by omission or by addition).
It's worth noting that according to the Chafetz Chaim, the actual laws of lashon hara state that even when you are permitted to say lashon hara, you must only do so with the purest of intentions (i.e., no malice or revenge intended) and you must not embellish. There are other conditions too, and each situation needs to be examined individually with expertise in this area of Jewish Law.
But these frum communities also contain tremendous positives.
Sure, if you have to focus on a negative aspect in order to eliminate it, then that's the same as focusing on a stain to cleanse a garment.
But most of the people calling attention to stains within the frum communities don't actually do anything to remove those stains.
(Yes, they CLAIM that's what they are doing with all their calls to action, but please notice that all their declarations & accusations don't actually help things one whit. It's all talk and posturing, even if they sincerely think they're doing something productive. The people who are actually doing good are not screaming about it, but they're getting their hands dirty and scrubbing through the stains.)
So that's why I'm not presenting the negatives. I can daven to Hashem about fixing the negatives, but I'd rather not bellow about them from this blog as if the negatives outweigh the positives.
Anyway, Hashem really doesn't like it when people overemphasize the negative. That's not how a loving Jew behaves.
And even though every person in the world in obligated to praise Hashem, we Jews have been charged with a special mission to praise Hashem.
Each Jew is a special agent of Hashem.
What was So Powerful about the Ketoret?
Rav Miller discusses the Ketoret Offering at length.
But in short, the beautiful Ketoret aroma had the power to inspire within a person feelings of love & admiration for Hashem.
And that led to the power of Ketoret, like stopping plagues, and the like.
That's one of the big things we are missing today.
Saying Parshat HaKetoret (found in every Orthodox prayerbook) with heartfelt kavanah can harness some of the power of Ketoret today.
How to REALLY Sweeten Life for Everyone
In sum, our big goal for this coming year is to praise Hashem & anything related to Hashem.
And that's exactly what merits us a new lease on life.
It's what merits us a sweetening of din.
It's what merits us a better & sweeter year, b'ezrat Hashem.
As always, all quotes are credited to Toras Avigdor, may they merit a sweet year for all the ways they benefit the Jewish People.
P.S. I'm not familiar with Rav Miller's posters. I managed to find this, but I'm not sure if it's Rav Miller's creation, or someone created it using Rav Miller's ideas. Either way, it's a nice poster!
What is the Point of Doing Teshuvah Yet Again When You've Already Failed So Many Times - And Maybe Your Sin Really is Too Much This Time?
Here is Netivot Shalom in the section Bein Keseh L'Asor, Ma'amar 5, Shuva Yisrael:
...the yetzer hara especially overwhelms a Jew so that he won't do teshuvah because it knows how great is the power of teshuvah and therefore it stands itself before a Jew as if he can't do teshuvah.
The solution is the verse:
"Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha — Return in repentance, Jew, until Hashem Your God."
A part of Hashem is always with you.
Likewise, a Jew is one part of Above, in the words of Netivot Shalom. Therefore:
And in any case, there is no place for all these cheshbonot (considerations) that hold him back from doing teshuvah....All the natural chesbonot do not apply to a Jew, that he has done teshuvah so many times, and it hasn't been effective for him and what is the point of him doing teshuvah again?
Pretty heady stuff.
Netivot Shalom goes on to explain that if even at the time of a sin, you can remember Hashem and think in your heart "Behold, I'm disconnecting myself from the root" — And Hashem? He'll fulfill the verse: "Lo hibit aven b'Yaakov — He does not look at evil in Yaakov" (Badmidbar 23:21).
Simply put, Hashem considers all sin as stumbling. You're not evil or hopeless, you just tripped up. Your yetzer overcame you.
YOU are GOOD. You are holy.
For a Jew is one part from Above and his essence is that he wants only good — only the evil inclination provokes us.
(Please notice how the Slonimer Rebbe ztz"l describes the yetzer hara as provoking us. He includes himself — as if! But really, he was a big tzaddik.)
He goes on to explain that if we could really feel how much Hashem loves us, we could connect to him and not WANT to sin out of our great love for Him.
The main part of teshuvah, states Netivot Shalom, is to return to Hashem and not feel yourself so far or disconnected from Hashem. Just return to him and feel that Hashem is YOUR God.
Because He really is.
The Netivot Shalom on Doing Deep-Rooted Teshuvah by Utilizing Shabbat as the Day of Love
For a couple of years now, I've been wanting to take a look at the famous collection of volumes called Netivot Shalom by the late Slonimer Rebbe Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky ztz"l.
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller gave a lecture series on it and Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz called Netivot Shalom her "best friend," plus Rav Itamar Schwartz named it as one of his recommended mussar sefarim for women to learn.
I don't know how much I can get through it at this point, but I figured it would help me out during the 10 Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur.
And it has!
I haven't completed its section for these 10 Days of Teshuvah (called Bein Keseh L'Asor), but here is the little bit I've gotten out of it and found so helpful.
(It's mostly from Ma'amar 4, Shabbat Shuva is the Root of Teshuvah.)
First of all, Rosh Hashanah renewed us all.
We are totally new creations, the Universe is new, everything is new.
This is what enables you to do teshuvah right now and transform yourself deep within.
You literally are NOT the same "you" you were last year — which was only a few days ago.
You are different and NEW. So you can do different stuff than you did even just last week.
And with this new & improved you, we cruise into Yom Kippur.
The 2 Most Powerful Aspects of Shabbat
Shabbat is the most amazing way to do teshuvah.
Shabbat can even forgive a Jew who "worshiped idols like the generation of Enosh."
How is that remotely possible?
Shabbat does 2 incredibly powerful things:
When you keep Shabbat, you are completely nullifying yourself to Hashem, which is what cleanses you from avodah zarah and other frightfully yucky stuff.
Netivot Shalom enthuses a lot about doing teshuvah on Shabbat.
But how can you really do teshuvah on Shabbat?
After all, thinking about your sins makes you depressed — a big no-no on Shabbat.
There is no vidui on Shabbat, and the sections of confession don't appear in the Shabbat Amidah.
It seems that Netivot Shalom mentions teshuvah as coming close to Hashem.
FEELING close to Hashem. Thinking about Him whenever you can on Shabbat.
If you imagine that Hashem is your zivug, like the most loving & cherishing spouse you could imagine, then you should speak & relate to Hashem in that way.
Go to Where Your Heart is
There's a famous verse in Shir HaShirim:
Ani yeshena v'libi er — I am asleep, and my heart is awake.
The mundane flawed you is the "I am asleep."
Shabbat is the "my heart is awake."
You might be asleep, so to speak, but Shabbat is your aroused heart; it's the neshamah that clings to Hashem.
Now, Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur) is the most powerful Shabbat for neshamah-cleansing and deep-rooted teshuvah.
But hey, I missed it too because I didn't get to this part of the sefer before then.
Still, it's good to know that ALL Shabbatot produce this wonderful cleansing & forgiving effect.
As Netivot Shalom states:
The teshuvah of Shabbat is not teshuvah on sins and deeds.
But what if you're just not feeling it? What if your 10 Days of Teshuvah seem to be the 10 Days of Blah-Blah?
But What If You're Just Not Feeling It?
Don't despair if you're not feeling it during this special time.
It simply means that you haven't succeeded in completely rectifying your distance from Hashem.
You may have rectified some of it, but not completely.
So what should you do?
Take upon yourself this idea of Shabbat Kodesh.
As Netivot Shalom says:
And when a Jew does his cheshbon nefesh, when he already passed his days of teshuvah, the month of Elul and the 10 Days of Teshuvah and all the great days within that time.
Shabbat is the time to get back in touch with your soul-root. It's the time to really cleave to Hashem.
Right now, you can think about Hashem or talk to Hashem as there is "no curtain" between you.
You can also think about how to improve your future Shabbatot.
Bringing Shabbat in a little earlier, adding a special food, setting some time aside to think about Hashem, to focus on that emotion of closeness & deveikut, to just feel happy even for a few moments...
These are all ideas that effect powerful transformation at the soul level.
And if you haven't been keeping Shabbat?
Now is the time to decide to keep whatever you can throughout Shabbat, whatever you know about keeping Shabbat.
And try your best to get that feeling in there too, even if it's only for a moment.
Shabbat is all about the deepest, purest kind of love there is.
And that is exactly what rectifies your neshamah and brings the real you back to your soul-root.
Rav Avigdor Miller on Parshat Vayeilech: Why is Material Abundance So Incredibly Dangerous? And What the Heck are We Supposed to Do About It?
In this week's Parshas Vayeilech – Test of Abundance, Rav Avigdor Miller offers some very interesting insights.
First of all, he explains that the Chivi nation (one of the 7 Canaanite nations within Eretz Yisrael before the Jews entered as a Torah Nation) were soil-experts.
Different kinds of vegetation needs different kinds of soil. Some need more alkaline soil, some need more acidic soil.
Chivi comes from the Aramaic word for "snake": chivya. These Chivim would taste the soil (like how snakes lick dust) and based on that, they decided what to plant there.
Rav Avigdor Miller paints a picture of this ancient Eretz Yisrael (pg. 2):
And so, in Cana’an were found the biggest agricultural experts that ever lived.
And this was precisely the problem for Am Yisrael.
What is an Even Bigger Threat than the & Canaanite Nations?
What was the biggest danger Am Yisrael faced upon entering the Land?
The occultist human-sacrificing warrior Canaanite nations?
Nope. Hashem dealt with them.
The biggest danger was being given this botanical Land flowing with milk and honey, this fruitful Land dotted with beautiful homes.
As it says in the parsha to Am Yisrael: You'll eat. You'll even be satiated. And you'll be able to eat so much, you'll get fat.
And then you'll turn to the gods of others.
"Hishamru! Watch out!" says Hashem in the parsha. "Lest your minds will be led astray."
Rav Miller comments (pg. 3)
When there’s plenty to eat, that’s when people have to watch out.
Then Rav Miller enumerates different societies: the Mayans, the Ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, the Romans...they all self-destructed after they got wealthy.
It's true that when Americans needed to work for their food, they were better off, ethically speaking.
Prior to the 20th century, Americans loved Mishlei/Proverbs & Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, naming their children from Tanach or after middot lauded in Mishlei. ("Charity" & "Patience" used to be popular names for girls, while "Reason" & "Truth" were popular for boys.)
Basic manners were prized, as were the embodiment of Mishlei middot like humility, honesty, and integrity.
Women provided a natural barrier to negative social behavior, with men curbing their behavior and speech around females, and the expectation to behave with chivalry meant that men needed to treat women with extra courtesy & selflessness - and sometimes, even with courage in situations which demanded the protection of females.
Women too were expected to behave in a dignified manner with appearance, which encouraged dignified male treatment.
All this is looked down upon in modern society, to the harm of both men & women, though most won't admit this.
And while so many old-fashioned names have come back in style (including Biblical ones like Elijah and truly strange ones like Atticus), the "virtue" names are some of the only old-fashioned names NOT being used.
And while people will name their children any other name, no matter how strange, people just aren't interested in naming their children Patience or Reason. Scarlet? Yes. Chastity? No.
(In fact, one baby-name website discourages people from using the name "Chastity," calling it "so weird, it's cruel," while another insists that it will cause the child deep psychological problems later in life. Yet the first website sees nothing wrong with the "L" name of a well-known demoness, which has become increasingly popular for American girls in recent years. And yes, the origin of the name is clearly stated, yet apparently it's not considered weird or cruel to call your daughter that name.)
It's a sign of the times.
Furthermore, it's ironic that amid the greatest food abundance in history, eating disorders like anorexia & bulimia have become serious threats. You'd expect obesity in a society bursting with easy access to abundant food, but starvation and purging?
Only societies with an overabundance of food can afford such eating disorders in such large percentages.
What is the Big Danger of Material Abundance?
At the same time, Rav Miller cautions us to appreciate America for all it has given the Jewish people: the freedom to build kosher shuls, kosher schools, and walk as a Jew down the street.
(Unfortunately, this is changing in America. But at the time of Rav Miller it was still true and let's face it: The current upswing in hateful acts against Jews is still not what it was in many places in Europe in the 20s & 30s.)
But throughout the dvar Torah, Rav Miller emphasizes that material abundance is a terrible danger.
Material abundance even causes people to forget Hashem.
They rebel against Hashem.
And if you look at the children of billionaires, you see a lot of issues with drugs, eating disorders, petty crime, and wanton behavior.
Even princesses have had children out of wedlock and it's no longer something they need to hide.
And with so much money at their disposal, why don't they make major donations to change lives?
I don't mean show-donations (where the money gets funneled into the pockets of the organizers or stolen by thugs) or creating not-terribly-useful make-me-look-good charities; I mean really changing lives & even societies for the better by channeling their money and their skills in the right way.
But no, they focus on their hobbies and their parties and, for some of them, their celebrity status & their brands.
The Callow Kasha
I admit that when I first became frum, I didn't understand making a shehechiyanu on a new outfit.
"You just go into a store, try it on, pay for it, then take it home and wear it. What's the big deal?" I didn't understand how it was different than buying a bakery cake.
(I'm a bit embarrassed now by my naive lack of understanding & appreciation back then.)
I expressed my puzzlement to a couple hosting me one Shabbos, and they chuckled good-naturedly, then explained that in the not-so-distant past, a new piece of clothing was a big deal. Accessing & choosing fabric, plus all the manual labor than went into it — it was a VERY big deal.
The metaphorical light bulb snapped on, and I immediately understand how callow I was — without even realizing or meaning to be.
My family was "just" suburban middle-class, but even that was too much in the sense that Rav Miller means. Because I didn't appreciate exactly what a new outfit meant, I couldn't understand thanking Hashem for it in a whole special bracha. (Back then. Now I get it.)
And that's just a small example of how material abundance distances you from Hashem if you're not careful.
When "Kosher" Mediocrity isn't Enough
On page 10, Rav Miller explains the main name for the yetzer hara: chatat. (Or chatas, if you're Ashkenazi.)
You come across the word cheit a lot in Torah literature. It's usually translated as "sin."
But these related words (chatat & cheit) actually mean:
“to miss out” — to not utilize the opportunity of life to become something.
Rav Miller stresses that if you're not trying to achieve personal completion in life, if you're not trying to intensify your awareness of Hashem, then you're missing out.
You can really end up sinning when you just settle for "kosher" mediocrity.
Rav Miller explains that experiences like Yom Kippur & teshuvah cleanse you of sin. Gehinnom also cleanses you of sin. It's painful & takes a while, but it cleanses.
Yet being clean isn't enough.
To really make it into Gan Eden, we need to step up our game.
On page 11:
To live in the World to Come you must have accomplishment. And that’s the big test, the most important test in this world — are you making something from yourself? If a person fails to accomplish, for that he can never atone!
He doesn't mean you can't do teshuvah for not living up to your full potential.
You can always change yourself for the better!
He means that at the end of the day, if you were meant to be a big baalat chessed or write sparkling chiddushim, yet you were texting or surfing instead, atonements cannot turn you into a baalas chessed or a talmid chacham. They can only cleanse you of the sin.
But they can't accomplish what you could have had you made the effort.
A List of Meaningful Activities
On page 12, Rav Miller elaborates on the types of meaningful things people could do with their time:
For women specifically, he adds:
Rav Miller adds:
The Gra told his daughters to learn mussar seforim. Absolutely; it’s very important. A girl, a woman can become very great in acquiring a Torah mentality, a Torah mind, no less than a man.
Following the above, it should be emphasized that Rav Miller was no apologist.
He said whatever he understood was the Torah truth, even if it made people mad, even if they rejected him, left his shul, stopped talking to him, and wrote him angry letters or subjected him to angry phone calls or subjected him to public disagreement carried out in a disrespectful manner or called him names.
He was like a superpower locomotive charging down the iron track of daas Torah; nothing could stop him or derail him.
So when Rav Miller states that, just by virtue of learning whatever she should learn and coming close to Hashem, a woman can become very great in acquiring "a Torah mentality, a Torah mind, no less than a man"...you can certainly take him at his word.
He's not blubbering up to the feminists. He darn well means what he says.
What is a Cheit?
The great sin we need to teshuvah for on Yom Kippur, says Rav Miller, is the tragic cheit of not accomplishing enough spiritually.
Yes, he asserts that forgetting to say ya'aleh v'yaavo in Rosh Chodesh davening or letting grumpy word slip to your spouse are indeed sins for which we must regret and ask forgiveness (also from the spouse).
All the things we did wrong or forgot must be included in Yom Kippur.
But the main thing, the big life-transforming cheit, is that of missed opportunity.
It is all the times we could have done something good, but didn't.
It is all the times we could have spent our time meaningfully, but didn't.
It was all the opportunities we had to increase our closeness to and awareness of Hashem...but didn't.
More Than Just Frum: How to be a Real Success
Then Rav Miller elaborates on the lifestyle of kosher entertainment.
This is the big challenge of our generation.
We have so much. What do we do with it?
For those who can afford it, there are kosher cruises with "kosher" entertainment. There are 5-start hotels glatt l'mehadrin. There are amazing European vacations — all glatt l'mehadrin, no gebruchts, separate swimming, Shabbos locks on the doors, etc. etc.
We have kosher movies, kosher novels, kosher circuses, kosher comedy, kosher designer clothing and accessories, kosher treifus (if you know what I mean).
Women can totally knock your eyes out today (according to the creme de le creme of goyishe standards), while technically covering her knees, elbows, and hair. She may not even look frum or like she's covering her hair.
American have Sundays to fill. Many frum schools make Sunday a half-day of learning for the boys (which comes with its own challenges, BTW), but Sundays can still offer frum families the opportunities for glatt entertainment & other activities.
Boating, fishing, shopping — these aren't evil or sinful, but are these really activities a Torah Jew should be indulging on a regular basis? (I mean as regular lifestyle and not as an occasional rejuvenating activity.)
In the modern Orthodox community from which I initially entered into Orthodoxy, Motzai Shabbos was definitely movie night, either going out to the theater or renting a video at home.
Of course, it stands to reason that a person might occasionally need a kosher venue as a break from a truly stressful life. People struggling with family illness might take advantage of Sukkot in a hotel with all the amenities, for example.
The phenomenally hospitable & unmaterialistic Machlis family spent Pesach in a hotel in order to have true family time together & to really pass on the Pesach mesorah.
But pages 10-14 elaborate on all the ways many precious Jews get caught up materialism. Even when it's combined with spiritual meaning, it doesn't always justify the means or the ends. Sometimes, yes. But not always.
On page 14, Rav Miller states:
In order to make something out of yourself, you need time; you need a mind, you need to be free to work on thinking about Hakodosh Boruch Hu, thinking about all of the great Torah principles we talk about in this place.
Live So You'll Have No Regrets in the Next World
On page 15, Rav Miller describes what Hashem will ask us:
And Rav Miller urges us to think about the consequences of our answers, like if we say, "I was traveling, I was on the phone, I was so busy shopping for a new outfit for Yom Tov!"
If you've ever felt regret in This World, imagine what regret in like in the Next when you have no screen of denial, no unconscious back-of-the-mind in which to bury it, no excuses...
Happily Ever After? Living Without Gets You There.
Rav Miller makes a statement that he admits many will find extremist, but he says that whatever you can accustom yourself to living without, you should live without.
Sure, there are some things you need to make life easier. A big enough washing machine, a dryer when you have several children — all these make a massive difference.
I've lived with a too-small washing machine and no dryer, so I saw that these things aren't luxuries per se. It depends. Sometimes, it makes the difference between a well-run home and a poorly-run home. Same thing with air-conditioning — mothers have personally told me that they speak & behave so much more nicely when the air-conditioning is on during a hot humid day. These aren't ladies who need custom shaitels or cars (in Eretz Israel, of course; cars are a necessity in the USA).
On pages 17-18, Rav Miller describes what was considered wealthy back when he was in Lithuania pre-WWII. (Lots of challah in milk — a sure sign of abundance!) And poor meant that a child could not have a second slice of bread. And that's how it was.
As an aside, I remember it took me years to get out of the habit & mentality of "going out" Motzai Shabbos. Not movies or anything unkosher at all, just going out.
Again, there's nothing innately wrong with it, and it can even be a good refreshing activity when necessary, but it's like Rav Miller said: If you don't need it, try to wean yourself off it.
Ultimately, it wasn't my choice.
I was in a place in which nothing was open Motzai Shabbos, and sometimes I felt like I would jump out of my skin or scream if I couldn't go out somewhere.
Sometimes, I went walking Motzai Shabbos, either by myself or with my husband or a friend. And that was really good exercise, plus air after being in the house most of the day.
And now, I rarely have the urge to "go somewhere" Motzai Shabbos.
Frankly, I don't think it would have been so bad if I would've gone out somewhere during those times I was jumping out of my skin, but it just wasn't an option.
And now it's fine.
On pages 18-19, Rav Miller explains the symbolism of bowing in Shemoneh Esrei.
It's very worth reading the entire dvar Torah. If you don't get a chance to read it before Shabbat, at least read it before Yom Kippur.
It's very, very helpful.
As always, all credit for all quotes goes to Toras Avigdor.
By the way, the Pele Yoetz states the following in the chapter called Atonement/Kippur:
"We must conclude that Yom Kippur is efficacious and effects some degree of purity even for people who do not repent -- the special quality of the day itself causes it to happen."
So if you feel you missed out on Yom Kippur this year for whatever or reason, or you feel like you just didn't make it what it could have been, please know that you still benefited and you should definitely keep on going with any teshuvah you can manage because as the Pele Yoetz continues:
"However, it achieves only a lesser degree of purity, and when a person resumes his depravity after Yom Kippur, everything returns to its prior state."
But you don't need to let that happen.
Whatever degree of purity you achieved without even realizing it -- simply by virtue of it being Yom Kippur -- can be utilized now to forge a new path.
Therefore, regardless of how you feel Yom Kippur went, you still benefited.
So don't give up.
Just take that increased degree of purity & forge onward.
In case you missed them, here are some past posts for Sukkot inspiration:
Judaism: The REAL Religion of Love
Special Sukkot Yahrtzeits
Parshat Emor - The Kli Yakar
(Delves into the beautiful symbolism of the 4 Minim, plus other powerful aspects of Sukkot that impact the rest of the year, including other chagim.)
Upon checking the dry government storm tracker (National Hurricane Center) on Wednesday, one could see a system forming right over southern Florida and the Caribbean again.
Every 12 hours, it was jumping. At first it had a 20% chance of developing into a full-fledged tropical storm or hurricane in the next 5 days, then that chance rose to 40%. With its counterclockwise rotation, steepening pressure, and increasing wind speed, things didn't look good. Right before Yom Kippur, the chance of a major storm developing within the next two days rose to over 50%.
But when I checked it Sunday morning after Yom Kippur, the chance of cyclone formation had dropped to...zero percent.
(In general, you can see all current updates here: Atlantic 5-Day Geographical Tropical Weather Outlook.)
At present condition, there is suddenly no chance of a storm; not in the next two days and not in the next 5 days.
The weeks I spent in southern Florida showed me that it is an awful place to live and even after some intense questioning of Floridians, I still have no idea why pioneers moved there nor why anyone chooses to live there now. The weather, services, and culture are among the most unpleasant I've ever encountered...the Jewish community being the happy exception. Whether they were secular or frum or anything in between, almost all the Jews I met were extremely likable.
And Southern Florida hosts one of the more significant frum populations in America, meaning that quite a few people were steeped in tefillah and teshuvah during that critical time.
Did their Yom Kippur tefillot sweeten the churning din winding up above their heads?
I like to think that yes, their tefillot and teshuvah dissipated this potential storm.
Prayer works, even if we don't see it.
Hebrew contains a lot of different words for sin, joy, light, serenity, and much more.
And despite the excellent English translations that abound, it's hard to encapsulate what a Hebrew word really means within its English equivalent.
On Yom Kippur, we say Vidui (The Jewish Confession) to God.
But do we know what we're really saying?
Whether we say chatiti, aviti, u'peshati in Hebrew or I've erred, I've sinned, and I've transgressed...do we really know what we're saying?
By taking a look at the Malbim on Neviim & Ketubim (Prophets & Writings), you can find the true definitions of thousands of words.
I haven't found the Malbim's definitions of all the words to Vidui. But I thought I'd share the ones I have found up until now.
For most, I didn't note the original source of the definition in my notes. But the one or two I did note are cited below if you want to look it up for yourself.
(Because the words appeared in Neviim & Ketuvim in a different tense than they appear in Vidui, I've included the original root word found within the Malbim's commentary in order to be true to the Malbim's definition.)
If you'd also like a PDF version to print out, please press the blue button:
Chatati – חטאתי
חוטא (choteh) – accidental sinner, pulled by his desires
Aviti – עויתי
עוון (avohn) – sin from corrupted thinking
עיוה (ivah) – more severe than the other synonyms for sin, includes confusion and madness, one confuses the bodily kochot (pressures) with the derech hayashar (straight path)
Pashati – פשעתי
פשע (pesha) – rebellion performed with the powers of intellect and insight
אשם (asham) – one who is chayav (legally deserving of) punishment for his sins
עיוה (ivah) – more severe than the other synonyms for sin, includes confusion and madness, one confuses the bodily kochot (pressures) with the derech hayashar (straight path)
רשע (rasha) – sins intentionally against Man and God
זד (zed) – The zed is one who disagrees over the ways of wisdom and over the truth with protestations and inferences and plots to transgress it with repugnance (shiat nefesh), and it is the opposite of the modest one (tzanuah) who covers his face degrees within degrees and knows the "fluff" of his value like “and Moshe covered his face.” (Malbim, Mussar Chachma, Mishlei 11:2)
זדון (zadon) – He who opposes Hashem and the ways of Torah b’mezid and publicly, as is written: “And the man who will do b’zadon against Hashem—he is the reviler (megadef)”, and if it’s accompanied by excess pride, he makes fun of wisdom and chachamim, as is written: “the arrogant zed--letz is his name”...the zed creates schemes to commit evil against his fellow. (Malbim, Mishlei 11:2)
שקר (sheker) – its truth can be clarified immediately
כזב (kazav) – its truth can be clarified only later
לץ (letz) – inactive, doesn’t do any evil, but doesn’t do any good, either. Just pursues wind and nothingness and frivolousness and jokes; doesn’t involve himself with Torah
ניאץ (ni’atz) – degrades and scorns something
עוון (avohn) – a sin from corrupted thinking
פשע (pesha) – rebellion performed with the powers of intellect and insight
צורר (tzorer) – active enemy (as opposed to one who just hates you in his heart)
רשע (rasha) – sins intentionally against Man and God
משחית (mashchit) – wants to destroy for no reason
The Malbim (1809-1879) was Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel who was born in Russia and served as rav all over Eastern Europe. He was bitterly fought by the Reform Movement for most of his adult life, even suffering a brief imprisonment on a false accusation in Rumania by wealthy German Reformers. Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Torah among other valuable works he composed.
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