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.

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