Vayachi: What’s in 17 Years?

Rabbeinu Bechaye presents a preface to each Torah reading.  These introductions are based around a verse from Mishlei, applying a central theme for each Parsha, feeling that Chazal divided up the parshiot in such a way so as to emphasize a particular educational concept.  In his introduction to this week's Parshah, he relates on importance of tzedakah.
Tzedakah Saves Life
Rabbeinu Bechaye begins with the following verse from Mishlei:
In the way of righteousness (charity) is life, and in its path there is no death.
בְּאֹרַח צְדָקָה חַיִּים וְדֶרֶךְ נְתִיבָה אַל מָוֶת
Mishlei 12:28
He explains that the attribute of Tzedakah, as it says in Tehilim"for in observing them there is great reward", explaining that a person's days on this earth are determined from the outset however through intervention by higher powers (koach elyon) that time can be altered for good or even for bad.
Shlomo Hamelech, the author of Mishlei, says that Tzedakah is an exalted and powerful attribute, it's power is great and can impact our lives.  So the verse "In the way of righteousness (charity) is life" is interpreted as being: Tzedakah holds the power to add onto the already determined years of life.
And so the phrase "and in its path there is no death" since applying the Tzedakah approach is certain, one will not find death on this path.  No death at all? As it says in Mishle "but charity will save from death," (וּצְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת) That is to say all who are particular in tzedakah will not know death before their designated time.
Levels of Tzedakah
Tzedakah can be fulfilled at various levels.
·         Simplest level: To give to a stranger, even a non-Jew (according Ran, but according to the Rambam if the non-Jew comes with a Jew)
·         Higher: To give to another poor Jew in a different town
·         To give to a poor Jew in your own town
·         To give to a poor Jew that is close to you, that you have a relationship with.
·         To support the poor Jew's children
·         To support one's parents, for that is fulfilling 'honor thy father and mother'
This is a great act of Tzedakah that has no greater, for that we are promised long life as it says "Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened" (Shmot 20:12)

Yaacov's Years in Egypt
So how does this come out in our Parshah?
We see in the earlier encounter that when Yaacov arrives in Egypt he shares his age:
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojournings are one hundred thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojournings."
וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם
Then in this week's parshah we see:
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Jacob's days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty seven years.
וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה וַיְהִי יְמֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה
We could have figured out for ourselves that Yaacov was in Egypt for 17 years.  So why does the Torah have to specify "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years"?
Measure for Measure
The Rabbeinu Bechaya says there isn't a phrase or letter that is not used to serve a purpose in the Torah. So this verse must come show significant.  Rabbeinu Bechaya  explains the verse from Mishlei "In the way of righteousness (charity) is life" can be measure for measure. Just as we saw Yosef support his father for 17 years , seemingly in parallel for Yaacov had supported Yosef for 17 years, as we saw in Vayeshev "These are the generations of Jacob: when Joseph was seventeen years old" (Breisheit 37:2)
And this is what the verse "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years" brings to our attention, showing measure for measure, as explained in the opening, and in return the 17 years Yosef supported his elderly father.
Why Egypt?
The Netivot Shalom takes another perspective asking why does the verse have to specify that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years?
Yet in considering this question, the Netivot Shalom raises another issue. Why did Yaacov have to go down at all?
It wasn't foretold in the covenant that proclaimed Am Yisrael would be in Egypt for 400 years. Netivot Shalom explains that in the brit bain habitarim, Hashem explains to Avraham that for his offspring to be worthy of standing at Har Sinai they will have to undergo a 'polishing' through slavery and suffering, in order to subdue the materialistic and physical sides of their nature.  And specifically Hashem chose Egypt, the worst possible place, known as an impure place steeped in lewd behavior, to subdue the physical and to polish our 'midot' in preparation of receiving the Torah. The approach was that living in an impure place would mean that they would have to work extra hard to remain at their initial level of holiness, and thus they would leave Egypt fortified in holiness and purity.
Descending into Egypt
Yet for Am Yisrael to be in this environment, would mean that they would not have far to fall to be in an unrecoverable state.  
We see that different patriarchs and matriarchs went down to Egypt. The patriarchs and matriarchs needed to lessen the intensity of this impure environment, and infuse it with an initial level of holiness. Avraham and Sarah go to Egypt, and their presence there lays the path, bringing some holiness to Egypt. Yoseph spent most of his life in Egypt, at great personal sacrifice and facing enormous personal tremendous challenges. This adds more of a holy presence to Egypt. Then Yaacov came down to Egypt.
Netivot Shalom suggests that Yaacov's mission in coming down Egypt was to further enhance the holiness and subdue Egypt's inherent  impurity.
This plays a key role in paving the way for the People of Israel to eventually to settle in Egypt. The Avot's holy presence in Egypt is meant to transmit holy sparks and infuse the atmosphere of Egypt with a holiness that was not there. This is meant to create the foundations for an environment that would  enable the People of Israel to survive their sojourn and suffering in Egypt.
Why 17
Yet this doesn't address the main question. Why does the Torah have to stipulate that Yaacov was in Egypt for 17 years?  The Netivot Shalom emphasizes that this figure is critical. The gematria of 17 is:
ט ו ב
2 + 6 + 9 = 17
What is this? This is goodness (טוב). Goodness is critical in conquering (or correcting) specific character traits. Good opposes Bad (רע), making up the evil force confronting us in the Yetzer HaRah (יצר הרע).
Personal Descent to Egypt
Yaacov's descent to Egypt can be seen as a metaphor for the life experience. Yaacov sitting in the promised land, is that place on high where souls are hewn. So like the patriarchs and matriarchs bringing holy sparks to Egypt, we need to work on our souls in the same way in this world.
This is the path for each of us to reach our destiny, what he calls our own personal Har Sinai, and to ultimately feel connected on a personal level to The Chosen People. This means to not only to be a Jew in the sense that we are born to Jewish parents but more importantly in a spiritual sense. That is to focus on subduing our connection the physical and material and polishing our 'midot'. That all the time that we are still consumed by the material, even while engaged in Torah study and the service of Hashem, we will not bring reach our spiritual destiny.
That is ultimately what the verse is saying "And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years" for the Torah is not simply telling stories, but conveying deeper messages, teaching us that the Jewish soul comes from a high place down into this world, an imperfect world, filled with destructive, distracting elements to the lowly physical world, full of desires and base inclinations.
This descent is like Yaacov's descent to Egypt, teaching how we also need to focus on fixing our souls, polishing them from the influence of material and physical desires of this world.  

Sukkot - A Time for Happiness

Sukkot 2000.
I was in reserve duty stationed at The Erez Checkpoint on the border of the Gaza Strip. I was serving in a unit composed of heavy duty combat soldiers from some of the most hardened fighting units of the Israeli Army. They had all done at least 5 to 7 months of basic training, followed by additional training courses in tactics and weaponry.

I had completed basic training in 2 weeks, and spent most of service on guard duty.

I couldn't shoot, attack an enemy position, drive an armored personal carrier, drive a HumVee, throw a grenade, operate a communications radio, or carry a jerrycan.

But I could do kiddush.

In the Israeli Army one of the hardcore rules is that on every Friday night, or every eve of a holiday, kiddush must be done. Every platoon, unit, and battalion, must do kiddush.

This stint of reserve duty was particularly tough. Several weeks earlier Ariel Sharon and gone onto the Temple Mount, which was followed by Palestinian rioting that became known as The Second Intifada. In our particular base on The Erez Checkpoint we faced daily bombardments of stones by hundreds of Palestinians surrounding our position. It got so bad, that one day when a canister of tear gas was shot at the crowd, they managed to toss the canister back into our base and fill the area with tear gas.

So after all that, on the night of Simchat Torah, the entire unit gathered in the dining hall. Our commander asked me to perform kiddush before starting our festive dinner. I delivered an intense kiddush, with strong concentration and enthusiasm, emphasizing the words 'Zman Simchateinu' (Time of our Happiness).

A few hours later, we were all woken up and instructed to take up positions on the outer rim of the base overlooking the surrounding area. Helmets on, flackjackets zipped, weapons loaded, the entire unit stood poised and ready. A report had come in that a massive funeral procession, going in the middle of the night,  had gotten out of hand, and the crowd was whipped into a frenzy ... and they were coming straight for our position. We had been briefed that the confrontations with the Palestinians were intensifying. The other bases bordering the Gaza Strip further south were taking less hits from rocks and facing live arms fire.

The commander made rounds to everyone in position. When he came to me, he leaned forward and said to me, "Hey! I liked your kiddush!"

An hour later, the alert was called off. The crowd had dispersed and was no longer approaching the base.

Now I can't claim that my kiddush had an impact on these events, but for every subsequent reserve duty that I was called up through the years, I was always asked to do kiddush on Friday night or holiday eve.

Chag Sameach!

Ha'Azinu - Little Miracles

I will see what their end will be, for they are a generation of changes;
 אֶרְאֶה מָה אַחֲרִיתָם כִּי דוֹר תַּהְפֻּכֹת הֵמָּה
Devarim 32: 20

The Kli Yakar explains that there are 3 names for the Jewish People. The names are 
  • Yisrael (ישראל)
  • Yaacov (יעקב)
  • Yishurun (ישורון)

When you take the last letters of these three names you get the word Lavan (לבן), which refers to whitening or bleaching, inspired by the idea that 'on the merits of Yaacov, Hashem whitens our sins'  (מזכויות יעקב הקב"ה מלבין עונותיהם של ישראל). However, when we mix up the order of the letters in this word, we get Naval (נבל), which can mean disgusting, and was referred to earlier in this parshah in the pasuk this disgraceful, unwise people (עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם) [Devarim 32:6].

The Generation of the Messiah
We learn in Talmud Sanhedrin about the generation of the Messiah.

It has been taught, R. Nehemiah said: in the generation of Messiah's coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted, the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear, and the Kingdom will be converted to heresy with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What verse [proves this]? it is all turned white: he is clean. (This refers to leprosy: a white swelling is a symptom of uncleanliness; nevertheless, if the whole skin is so affected, it is declared clean. So here too; when all are heretics, it is a sign that the world is about to be purified by the advent of Messiah.)
Sanhedrin 97a

The time preceding the Messiah will be a time of opposites and mixed up perceptions. We see in the words of Rava the turning of white, which is Lavan (לבן) and we learn out our idea of turning around the letters of this word to Naval (נבל).

Days Preceding the Messiah
So when we go back and look at the verse here, we learn out several ideas.
  • אֶרְאֶה מָה אַחֲרִיתָם: Show what is there end refers to the last letters (end) of the names of Israel and to end of days (prior to the coming of the Messiah). From the last letters we get the LAVAN (לבן).
  • כִּי דוֹר תַּהְפֻּכֹת הֵמָּה: Since it is a generation of changes (mix ups), refers to mixing up the letters of the word LAVAN to be NAVAL (נבל) and the mixed up state of the generation that will precede the Messiah. 

What is Disgraceful (NAVAL)?
The Kli Yakar earlier in this parshah explained the meaning of the phrase  this disgraceful, unwise people (עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם) as meaning a time when money and materialism is prized while justice is held in disdain. As it says in the verse (Yirmeyahu 17:11): The cuckoo calls but has not laid, so it is he who gathers riches but not by right; he shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end he stands dishonored

So we see here how this verse hints at the state of society just prior to the arrival of the messiah. May we speedily see in our days the arrival of the Messiah.


Shoftim - Fighting the Eternal War

Who Is the Or HaChaim HaKadosh
Rabbi Chaim ben Atar (Sale, Morocco, 1696 - Israel, 1743), was the Rabbi of Sale  and spent the majority of his time engrossed in Torah study, His saintly way of life gained him the name Ohr HaCaim HaKadosh (The Light of Life). Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (The Chida), a student of the Ohr HaChaim, wrote the following: “Atar’s heart pulsated with Talmud; he uprooted mountains like a restless torrent; his holiness was that of an angel of G-d ... having severed all connection with the affairs of this world.”
He established a major yeshiva in Israel, Knesses Yisroel Bais Midrash (~1742), after moving there from Morocco. Chassidic tradition holds that the main reason the Baal Shem Tov twice tried so hard (and failed) to get to the Holy Land was that he said if he could join the Ohr HaChaim there, together they could bring Moshiach. The Ohr HaCaim HaKadosh is buried outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Due to his extensive knowledge, sharp intellect, and extraordinary righteousness, he was received with great honor everywhere he went. (Source)

Re'eh - How can Blessing and Curse be Together?

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה
Dvarim 11:26
The Kedushat Levi raises the question: why does the opening verse mention “blessing and curse” together?
Rather, these two concepts could be presently separately, like in the midrash - Dvarim Rabbah.
של הקב"ה, ראה כמה דברים משמרים אותו, אימת, בשעה שאת משמר דברי תורה, הוי נתתי לפניך ב' דרכים ברכה וקללה, ברכה אם תשמעון וקללה אם לא תשמעון.

Striving to not Make a Habit of our Service
In order to understand why Blessing and Curse are presented together, the Kedushat Levi explains that we must first explore a major concept in how man serves Hashem. One should not allow their heart to become haughty and one should not even perceive in his own eyes his service of Hashem. For Torah, Mitzvot, Love and Fear of Hashem are our ways for relating to Hashem, and one feels these ideas in their soul, then one’s service may fall (G-d forbid) from a high level to another level, dropping further  until one comes to simply desire material things.

The Nothingness of Being
Rather our thoughts should be to the opposite, and one should not dwell upon their service as being anything (but nothing) and one should have no feelings towards their service to Hashem. One’s heart should be hollow, and broken from the sense of distance felt at not yet having really started to serve Hashem at all.

When we set ourselves in concentration on the greatness of Hashem, how He is the essence, source for the whole world and surrounds and fills the world, that no thought can sufficiently grasp this idea at all. All of the worlds, souls, angels, and holy spiritual elements (Seraphim, Ofanim, Chayot) – all of these are made insignificanse (reduced to nothing) before Him, and are as if there is nothing before Him.

Like it is written on how the heavenly elements praise Hashem:
"כולם אהובים, כולם ברורים, כולם גיבורים, כולם קדושים וכולם עושים באימה וביראה רצון קונם"
"והאופנים וחיות הקודש ברעש גדול מתנשאים לעומת שרפים לעומתם משבחים ואמרים"

Then one will be awakened as it says in Tehilim:
“My soul yearns, yea, it pines for the courts of the L-rd; my heart and my flesh pray fervently to the living G-d”
נכספה וגם כלתה נפשי לחצרות ה לבי ובשרי ירננו אל א-ל חי  
Tehilim 84:3
This is meant to create a sense of excitement in our relationship with Hashem, that it should be a mixture of sweetness and friendship.

Always Feeling New
We should be driven to yearn and to desire to fulfill the service of Hashem all the time, yet still be at a state where we feel as if we have never served Hashem at all.

When one dives deep into these thoughts and concentration, this is can result in reaching a great spiritual level.

Hashem will come and bring excitement to one’s heart. While in one’s own eyes, one should see themself as nothing, and have no feeling towards one’s service. One’s heart should be broken in considering how far away we are from Hashem. Our of perception of His greatness, we will not start serving Him at all, rather just consider how great He is, what He is, and what it really means to serve Him.

As it says in Tehilim:
Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival.
  תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו
Tehilim 81:4
One who serves Hashem can be known by the nickname of Shofar (שופר). This comes to be represented by the expression of “שיפרו מעשיכם  (Improve your actions).

‘Tiku’ comes from language in the verse:
When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob's hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him.
 וַיַּרְא כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ וַיִּגַּע בְּכַף יְרֵכוֹ וַתֵּקַע כַּף יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ
Breisheit 32:26
So your service to Hashem should always be ‘blown’ (like a Shofar) in your heart, and should always be new (חודש), just as though you have never served (תקע) Hashem at all.

Sing a New Song
This idea is of singing a new song to Hashem, is seen the verse in Tehilim:
A song. Sing to Hashem a new song, for He performed wonders; His right hand and His holy arm have saved Him.
 מזמור שירו לה  שיר חדש כי נפלאות עשה הושיעה לו ימינו וזרוע קדשו
Tehilim 98:1
That is to say, one should always sing a new song, or for us make our tefillah and brechot, and ultimately our divine service new and fresh. How can we get inspiration to accomplish this? From deeply concentrating on the wonders and greatness of HaKodesh Baruch Hu, by grasping how His amazing yet hidden presence, and expanding our perception to how high and lofty Hashem truly is, that none of the worlds, angels  and souls can even grasp this at all.

This is what should excite our souls, where we come to a point that we don’t even consider any of the service that we have done, rather and we should always sing a new song, as if we have never served Hashem at all, as if right now, this is the first time we are approaching Hashem.

Like New
This is like an explanation brought from the Baal Shem Tov,
He was accustomed to walk a child slowly. Then the more one grows up, our behavior turns to routine. Yet really we should walk in such a way by which we perceive Hashem as wondrous and hidden and that no thought can truly comprehend Him. However we have become too accustomed, habituated, in our service to Hashem and we have lost the perception of the wondrousness of Hashem. Rather, by being in awe of Hashem, we can then step back and sense just how we have not yet started to serve Hashem. Everyday  divine service should be something new. That is the significance of the ‘new song’ that every day should be perceived as brand new.

Not Yet Started
Now we can understand this in the context of what Chazal says in Ketubot.

Whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a G-d,
but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no G-d.
Ketubot 110B 

Here The Kedushat Levi gives an interesting twist on this piece, explaining that anyone that lives in the (metaphorical) Land of Israel  is in gashmiut (the physical, material realm).  To what is this compared to? This is the person who perceives what he has and realizes what he possesses, that he is satisfied with how he serves Hashem. This can be considered as one who has G-d.

However for the one that lives in the (metaphorical) Chutz L’aaretz (outside of Israel),  this refers to the person that is disconnected from the material and physical, and perceives himself as despicable and is truly insignificant, having not yet established his divine service. This is the meaning of has no G-d, that is to say one who has not yet started to serve Hashem.

Renewing and Invigorate
This is the meaning of the verse in Yesheyahu:

But those who put their hope in Hashem shall renew [their] vigor, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire.
  וקוי ה יחליפו כח יעלו אבר כנשרים ירוצו ולא ייגעו ילכו ולא ייעפו  
Yesheyahu 40:31

“Shall renew” refers to recharging, to an energy that is constantly changing, that doesn’t stand still. This is the approach for making one’s service new everyday.

“Not tire” this comes from the language of “OAF” – a bird, or to fly higher. That is to say to not perceive oneself as having become a servant of Hashem yet, rather the opposite that we must strive to climb higher and higher.

“Not weary” that in our own perception, we have still not reached any level for how properly serving Hashem and have not yet started to serve Him, at all.

This is represented by the eagles as seen in the verse in Tehilim:
Who sates your mouth with goodness, that your youth renews itself like the eagle
 הַמַּשְׂבִּיעַ בַּטּוֹב עֶדְיֵךְ;    תִּתְחַדֵּשׁ כַּנֶּשֶׁר נְעוּרָיְכִי
Tehilim 103:5

That our divine service and relationship with Hashem should not become stale, but in a state of renewal.

Mitzvah from Sin
If one person of the people of the land commits a sin unintentionally, by his committing one of the commandments of Hashem, which may not be committed, he incurs guilt;
וְאִם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת תֶּחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מֵעַם הָאָרֶץ בַּעֲשֹׂתָהּ אַחַת מִמִּצְוֹת ה אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה וְאָשֵׁם:
Vayikra 4:27

What is the sin referred to here? That is carrying out a negative commandment. In other words when one does a mitzvah, it can appear as though he has transgressed a negative commandment. The Kedushat Levi means to say that by doing a mitzvah, one’s own sense of importance grows, and that haughty self-perception in and of itself is a sin.

This is can be compared to the discussion in Sukkah “A stolen or a withered palm-branch  is invalid.  It would be a mitzvah fulfilled through a transgression [which is forbidden]” (Sukkah 30A)

Sin from Mitzvah
Here Chazal brings the concept of ‘mitzvah habah m’aveirah’ – a mitzvah that comes from a transgression, just as a stolen offering is despised on the alter. So where one’s sense of self-importance grows from the performance of mitzvoth, this leads to arrogance and is really considered to be a transgression. We have the opposite of the situation from Gemarrah Succah, rather than a mitzvah from a transgression, we see here how a transgression comes out of performing mitzvoth.

The concept that Hashem ‘despises stealing in this world’ applies to our discussion, where  through the performance of mitzvoth one’s sense self importance can grow, and become satisfied with our own sense of importance. This is like stealing. How? Stealing is the act of coming into possession without exerting effort (you didn’t plow the field and nurture the product, you just stepped over the fence and stole the produce). Likewise we really only perform mitzvoth because they came from Hashem, and He chose us, and He gave us His Torah. We have merited to perform mitzvoth, and His Laws and to enlighten our eyes through his Torah. Ultimately mitzvoth have been given to us with the purpose of giving us the tools to be able to grasp His service and how to serve Him, and enhance our relationship with Hashem.

Answer:  Why is Brecha and Klala Together?
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.
רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה
Dvarim 11:26
-        ראה : seeing or having clarity for achieving
-        אנוכי נותן לפניכם : according to your capability you should serve a complete service by way of blessing
That is to say that you will continue to carry the yoke of heaven upon yourself, since blessing is from the language of “המשכה” (continuation) like “בריכות מים” (pools of water). Pools of water remain full even as we scoop buckets of water out. This is applied to how by way of deep concentration on Hakadosh Baruch Hu – how He is the essence and source of everything and surrounds and fills all the world and all the souls, angels, and heavenly spirits are insignificant before Him, like absolute nothingness. Out of this our souls should grow excited, reaching out to connect to Hashem.

-        קללה  : that is to say by way of the blessing it continues to impact one’s soul and by virtue of his great achievements in connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, thus we have ‘the curse.’
That is to say that one should not consider themselves as being anything, rather regard oneself as despicable and having not accomplished and or reached a meaningful place in one’s existence.  One should remain in the direction of self-degradation, and then one will be cursed in one’s own eyes. This ultimately makes the individual into the right vessel for eternally receiving the influence of Hashem, since only an empty vessel can properly receive Hashem’s influence.

The blessing gives us the strength and drive to carry the yoke of heaven on our shoulders, while accompanying curse keeps our own sense of self-importance in check and serves as the foundation for our relationship with Hashem.

Eikev - One Small Change

Every commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that Hashem swore to your forefathers.
כָּל הַמִּצְוָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם תִּשְׁמְרוּן לַעֲשׂוֹת לְמַעַן תִּחְיוּן וּרְבִיתֶם וּבָאתֶם וִירִשְׁתֶּם אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה" לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם
Dvarim 8:1
 Asks the Kli Yakar, why does the verse begin in the singular (אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ) and then end in the plural ( וּרְבִיתֶם וּבָאתֶם וִירִשְׁתֶּם)? Why the switch?

Power of the Tzaddik
Says the Kli Yakar, the Tzaddik has a special role in this world. His unique level and stature make a difference so that his actions change the balance of things, and can impact the fate of the world. 

Yet we know the unique abilities of the Tzaddik and how this can influence the world. But what does this contrast of singular to plural mean to us?

Power of the Individual
Continues the Kli Yakar, when an individual does tshuvah, not only does the individual change but the whole world changes. I suggest that tshuvah can be a profound act like changing from non-religious to completely religious, or even for a religious person to give greater attention to the performance of mitzvot. This can be realized by studying and learning how to carry out a particular mitzvah much better, or even applying greater concentration in prayer.

But how does this action of the individual impact the entire world?

The Butterfly Effect
How does the behavior and changes by just one person have the power to impact the entire world? This, I believe, is expressed well in the theory of the butterfly effect. Essentially this theory suggests that when a butterfly flaps it's wings on one side of the world, a hurricane starts on the other side of the world. This is just as mind-boggling. How does the subtle actions of one creature on one side of the planet, impact the rest of the world?

The movement of the butterfly wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, but it starts a chain of events: moving pollen through the air, which causes a gazelle to sneeze, which triggers a stampede of gazelles, which raises a cloud of dust, which partially blocks the sun, which alters the atmospheric temperature, which ultimately alters the path of a hurricane on the other side of the world.

This is same as the individual who makes a change in his life, does tshuvah, commits himself to improving his performance of mitzvah, raises his concentration in prayer. This small change ignites a chain of events in the world that can have global impact we don't expect.

Just One Mitzvah
The Kli Yakar also observes the verse has another interesting wording:
Every commandment that I command you

כָּל הַמִּצְוָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ     
Why does it say every commandment (every mitzvah) in the singular? Why not say every one of the commandments (mitzvot)? There is an answer in Mesechet Sanhedrin:
What is the meaning of Amen?
(When one responds ‘Amen’ after a benediction, how does it suggest ascent thereto and the acceptance of Hashem's yoke?)
R. Hanina said: G-d, faithful, King (אמן is an abbreviation of קל מלך נאמן)
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: Resh Lakish said: [It means] for him who leaves undone even a single statute.(Giving חק, translated ‘measure’, its usual meaning. Maharsha softens the severity of this statement by referring it to one whose evil deeds would be exactly counterbalanced by good deeds — in which case he would be saved from Gehinom — had he but fulfilled one more precept. But R. Johanan observed that even this is too harsh.) R. Johanan said to him: It is not pleasing to their Master (Israel's) that you say thus to them. But [say], who has not studied even a single statute (But the study of a single statute saves one from Gehinom).

Sanhedrin 111A (Soncino Edition)

The study of a single mitzvah can save a person from the fate of Gehinom. How? What is the significance? The Kli Yakar explains that this comes from the concept of Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah, the performance of one mitzvah brings you to the performance of another. As we have already seen, how the small actions of one person can impact the world for the good, it is not surprising to see how the study of just a single statute can save one from Gehinom. 

This is why the verse uses the singular, showing the power of just one mitzvah.

One Mitzvah Leads to Another
How does one mitzvah lead to the performance of another?
The Kli Yakar explains this concept in the Torah portion of Shlach in the section about techelet and Tzitzit.
Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner.
דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת
Bamidbar 15:38

Asks The Kli Yakar, how can one be reminded of all the mitzvot simply by looking at a single blue thread (techelet)?
Explains The Kli Yakar that the mitzvot are like a piece of clothing, as it says in Kohelet: 
At all times, let your garments be white, and let oil not be wanting on your head.
Kohelet 9:8

Rashi explains the significance of the words "At all times, let your garments be white", meaning "Prepare yourself at all times with mitzvot, so that if you die today, you will enter in peace. And Shlomo likened this to a man whom the king invited for a day of feasting, without setting a time for him. If he is wise or clever, he will immediately launder his garments, and bathe, and anoint himself. So did our Rabbis expound it in Shabbat 153a."

Yet Kohelet is referring a full piece of clothing, while verse in Shlach is referring to just a single blue thread! A single thread is not enough to cover a person! 

However 'clothing of soul' does not work like that, rather in matters of the soul even a single thread is enough to provide covering. This is as we saw in Sanhedrin that when one's fate is held in the balance, the fulfillment of just one more mitzvah can make the difference.

Explains The Kli Yakar, this comes out of the principle that a Mitzvah begets another Mitzvah. How? 

When one performs a single mitzvah, he has the power, the potential, to perform all the mitzvot. Even though this was not actually translated to action, he is accredited with as if he fulfilled all the mitzvot.

Power of the Blue Thread
This is the power, the underlying secret meaning, of the blue thread, techelet. For by virtue of a single thread, we are reminded of all the mitzvot of Hashem, and thus a complete piece of clothing is created for the soul, out of a single thread. And one is not put to burial naked (since he has mitzvot) unless he is like Adam, who was commanded with the observance of just one mitzvah, which he lost, and was left naked (bereft of the mitzvah).

So if by virtue of a single thread, man can come to profound action, this is the meaning of the commandment for doing techelet. Concludes The Kli Yakar, this is one of the most fundamental and underlying principles of the Torah.

Eikev - Examining Our Speech

This is a drashah from Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk.
Who Was Reb Elimelech?
Reb Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk (1717–1787)  one of the great founding Rebbes of the Hasidic movement, and learned under the Maggid of Mezeritch.

He developed the Hasidic theory of the Tzaddik into a full doctrine that has come to be known as "Practical Tzaddikism". According R. Aryeh Kaplan this means that “The role of the Tzaddik was not only to serve as a spiritual guide, but also to take care of even the most mundane needs of his flock. The Tzaddik became the channel for all of G-d’s blessings, both spiritual and material. Rebbi Elimelech “reminds us that even to achieve a state of constant availability of Hashem, a constant state of vigilance must be maintained. Hashem is everywhere but sin separates man from Hashem. In order to relate to Hashem absolutely, one must be ready to renounce everything, whether it is his attachment to human relationships or to temporal matters.”
Noam Elimelech
Rebbi Elimelech was the author of the classic commentary Noam Elimelech, and has asterisks or stars placed in random places by words. Tradition has it that these stars have some meaning. The Klausenberger Rebbe once said that the stars in the heavens are a commentary to the stars in the book Noam Elimelech. As such, all subsequent printings have included these stars.
Reb Elimelech and Reb Zushya
Rebbe Elimelech  was brought under his tutelage by his illustrious brother the famous Tzadik and Rebbe, Reb Meshulam Zushya of Anipoli. The two offered a contrast in the model of the Hasidic Rebbe, with Reb Elimelech the ascetic scholar, and Reb Zushya giving the impression of the charismatic "saintly simpleton".

On one occasion Rabbi Elimelech and Reb Zushya were staying at an inn. Each night non-Jewish peasants would enter their room and jestingly beat the one who lay nearest the fireside, Reb Zushya. One night, Rabbi Elimelech offered to change places with his brother so that he could take the beatings instead. Suggesting that Reb Zushya had suffered enough of this "Divine admonishment" the agreement was made and Rabbi Elimelech lay next to the fire instead. That night, the common gentiles again entered to begin their jest. This time, however, one of them said that the one by the fire had taken his fair share of the treatment, and now it would be better to jest with the other one! Again Reb Zushya took the beatings. Afterwards, he told his brother that whatever is decided in Heaven transpires!
Prayer Before Praying
Reb Elimelech published a brief essay or supplication for putting one in the right mindframe before prayers, known as the Prayer Before Praying. What is interesting is the story for how this publication came about.

The Sabba Kaddisha of Radoshitz, in his sefer, Niflaos (vol. 1, pp. 21–22), recorded an amazing story about the formulation of this “Prayer Before Praying.” The story goes like this:
When he was a child, the Sabba Kaddisha was once visiting Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. He was conversing with chassidim from the Rebbe’s inner circle in front of the Rebbe’s home when several extremely tall men came and hurried into the house. When they reached the doorway, they had to stoop down to enter since they were so unusually tall. The holy Rebbe closed the door behind them before the chassidim could catch a glimpse of their faces. They waited outside until the visitors left to see if they could recognize them. Again the chassidim were astonished when the men left. They did so in such a hurry that they could not make out the men’s features and just saw their backs; they left so fast they almost vanished. The chassidim realized that something unusual had just taken place, and they decided to investigate and find out what had occurred. The elder chassidim among them approached the Rebbe and asked him to explain the strange incident. This is what the Rebbe told them: “When I realized that most people cannot concentrate properly on their prayers anymore due to the awesome burdens of earning a livelihood, and they lack the time and the understanding to concentrate fully, I decided to rewrite the standard formula for the prayers. I would write a new, short and concise version that would be equally understood and grasped by everyone. “The holy Members of the Great Assembly, the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (the original authors of the standard prayers from the time of the Talmud), realized what I intended. They came here to ask me not to change even one prayer from their established formula. I took their counsel and discussed the matter with them. They advised me to establish a prayer to pray before the formal prayer service. This would help anyone who lacks the concentration and proper devotions that are necessary for all formal prayers.” This “prayer before prayers” is the Yehi Ratzon prayer printed in many siddurim in the name of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk.
Listen to My Commandments
And it will be, if you listen to My commandments that I command you this day to love the L-rd, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.
   וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹתַי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה אֱלֹקיכֶם וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם
וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ
Dvarim 11:13-14

Says the Noam Elimelech, one needs to apply oneself to learn Torah for it’s own sake with great intensity and concentration. Every single word that comes out of one’s mouth requires consideration, that there should not be something of inconsequence, and that one’s speech should be ultimately connected to the upper worlds.

No Sterile Male or Barren Female
And that is the meaning of what  Chazal said, in the interpretation of the verse:

You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.
בָּרוּךְ תִּהְיֶה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ עָקָר וַעֲקָרָה וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ
Dvarim 7:14

The talmud in mesechet Bechorot explores the deeper meaning of this verse:

Said Resh Lakish: What is the interpretation of the Scriptural text: There shall not be male and female barren among you or among your cattle?
[It is as follows]: When there will not be a male barren among you? If you put yourself on a level with an animal (As regards urinating in any place, even in public, like the animal which does not possess a sense of decency.).
Said R. Joshua b. Levi: The words ‘There shall not be male barren’ mean that your house shall not be deprived of scholars. The words ‘Or barren female’ mean that your prayers shall not be fruitless before the Lord (When praying for children, you will be answered).  And when will this be the case? If you place yourself on a level with an animal (Prayer in general must be offered up in a humble spirit. One must therefore put himself on a level with an animal regarding himself as an insignificant creature (Tosaf.).
Bechorot 44B

Rashi explains that עקר  literally means to produce offspring. For everyone, prayer serves as a language of connection. The verse says “There will be no sterile male” is interpreted as representing prayer, that is to say the words that come out of one's mouth can connect to the upper worlds (to heaven), that they shouldn’t be a ‘barren connection' (קשורה עקורה). This means that your words (if not invested with meaning), G-d forbid, could become meaningless. This is exactly what the commentary of Rashi refers, not producing offspring, that is to say that your speech does not produce any offspring, does not provide any improvements to the world.

Sanctify Yourself in Learning and Prayer
In order to make your speech/prayer meaningful you need to sanctify yourself in your learning and [this ] speech [prayer].

You need to examine your words and see what benefit can come from them. That something of no importance should not be the result of your words.

This is what the Tanna meant in Pirkei Avot:
"He [the son of Azzai] used to say, do not be disrespectful of any person and do not be dismissing of anything, for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is nothing which does not have its place."
אל תהי בז לכל אדם, ואל תהי מפליג לכל דבר,  שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה  ואין לך דבר שאין לו מקום.
Avot 4:3

As mentioned previously, this is explained as meaning to not let your words come out of your mouth for no reason, for then you will be ‘dismissed’, heaven forbid, from the upper worlds.

That is the meaning of the words “ואל תהי מפליג לכל דבר”, that is to say “לכל דיבור”, that you need to strongly concentrate on your speech to be able to ulitmately connect to the upper worlds.

All speech that comes out of one’s mouth should be filled with holiness, where a special world is created from speech, this world is connected our actions and influences our behavior.
Conclusion: If you listen…
Here we understand the meaning of “והיה אם שמוע” and we see this in the commentary by Chazal in Mesechet Megillah in the discussion of how to fulfill the commandment of saying Shema:

‘For the recital of the Shema,’’ it has been taught: The Shema must be recited as it is written, said Rebbe. 
The Sages, however, say: It may be recited in any language.
What is Rebbe's reason? Scripture says , [And these words] shall be, which implies, they shall be kept as they are. 

And what is the reason of the Sages? Because scripture says, Hear (Shema), which implies, in any language which you understand.
How then can Rebbe [hold otherwise], seeing that it is written, ‘Hear’? He applies that word for the injunction, ‘Let your ear hear what you say with your mouth’.
Megillah 17B

That is to say that you should concentrate so that the words that come out will come out with meaning and that our ears will only hear pure, elevated speech. This is as opposed to how a person may have become accustomed to speaking, leaving their ears plugged, thinking about other things and making their speech meaningless with no impact on anything.

As Rashi says on our verse:
והיה אם שמוע תשמעו: אם שמוע בישן תשמעו בחדש. וכן (דברים ח, יט) והיה אם שכוח תשכח, אם התחלת לשכוח סופך שתשכח כולה, שכן כתיב במגלה אם תעזבני יום יומים אעזבך
Rashi is coming to say that the “ישן” is the Torah that we learned in the desert and at Har Sinai.

if you listen to…” that refers to learning for its own sake with pure thoughts, and “תשמע חדש  that refers to that by virtue of this approach (learning for its own sake with pure thoughts)  we learn new things (create good offspring in the world).

Practical Tzaddikism
The verse continues and says “וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם” followed by “וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ” – why does the verse change from using the plural “אַרְצְכֶם”, to the singular “וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶך”?

This applies to the Tzaddik and how he wants to have a positive impact in this world. Thus the tzaddik, for any of his Torah, needs to conceal his speech  from the prosecutor (the yetzer harah). The tzaddik needs to be extremely modest and not talk about his accomplishments, learning, or scholarship. Adds Reb Elimelech, you should be so lucky to find in your city a Tzaddik like this.

That is why the verse uses the singular tense on the one side with “וְאָסַפְתָּ” that refers to how a Tzaddik should conceal his speech, but rather only take action, so that he shouldn’t be noticed by the prosecutor (and stopped). 

Talking a lot about our accomplishments, even noble actions like learning Torah and doing mitzvot, bring ourselves to the attention of the prosecutor (the yetzer harah). Then we are at risk of failing, and not being able to continue to do these things. When we talk more about what good things  we do rather than focus on just our actions, we expose ourselves and set ourselves up for a fall.

By staying 'under the radar' of the prosecutor (the yetzer harah) the Tzaddik can have great impact on all of Israel. That is the significance of use of the plural language in the verse “וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם”  meaning for all, that is to say by remaining short of words and long on action the special Tzaddik can have a powerful and positive impact on all.