V’achalta v’savata u’veirachta es Hashem Elokecha al ha’aretz ha’tovah asher nasan lach (8:10)
Parshas Eikev contains the mitzvah of reciting Birkas HaMazon (Grace after Meals), in which we thank Hashem after we have eaten a meal containing bread. Many commentators discuss the tremendous value in saying this blessing with intense concentration and the numerous benefits and blessings that a person can receive for doing so. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts an inspiring story which demonstrates the power of Birkas HaMazon to alter people’s lives in completely unintended ways.
A young Torah scholar in Yerushalayim went to a library to study a certain rare book that was not available in his yeshiva or synagogue. Since he knew that there were no kosher restaurants in the area around the library, he brought his lunch with him, and when he got hungry, he took a break to eat. At the conclusion of his meal, he recited Birkas HaMazon aloud with great fervor.
To his astonishment, the secular librarian approached him when he finished to ask him why he had said she’lo neivosh v’lo nikaleim v’lo nikasheil – we should not feel ashamed or be humiliated, and we should not stumble – when the correct wording is simply she’lo neivosh v’lo nikaleim, omitting the phrase v’lo nikasheil. The librarian explained that although she had recently abandoned the path of Torah observance, she was familiar with the text of the prayer because she had grown up in a religious family. The young man, who had been accustomed to include the phrase v’lo nikasheil in Birkas HaMazon since his youth, promised to show her a photocopy of a page of a prayer book proving that there is a text of the prayer which includes this expression. However, to his chagrin, when he attempted to locate a source for this wording by searching the relevant books in the library, not one of them contained this phrase.
After the young man finished his research in the library, he proceeded to Meah Shearim, where after many hours of searching, he discovered an old Haggadah which included the phrase v’lo nikasheil in Birkas HaMazon. Excited by his find, he photocopied the page, and he highlighted these words and drew red arrows pointing to them so that the librarian would understand the purpose of the letter. Because he did not know her name, he sent it to the library with a request that it be delivered to the young woman who was working on that day. After mailing the letter, he moved on with life and forgot about the entire episode.
Many months later, the young Torah scholar received an invitation to a wedding, but to his surprise, he didn’t recognize the names of the bride or groom or their families. Although he obviously had no intention of attending, Hashem caused him to “coincidentally” pass by the hall on the day of the wedding, so he decided to enter and quickly survey the room to see if he recognized anybody. After looking around and confirming that he did not know any of the members of the wedding party, he concluded that the invitation had been sent to him by mistake and turned to leave. However, before he could do so, somebody approached him and said that the bride desperately wanted to speak with him.
At this point, he was completely baffled, as he was certain that he had no relationship with the bride, but as he approached her, she excitedly asked him whether he recognized her. When he responded that he did not, she told him that she was the librarian who had debated him regarding the proper text of Birkas HaMazon, and she cryptically added that the entire wedding was in his merit. She explained that at the time of their interaction in the library, she was involved in a serious relationship with a non-Jewish man who wanted to marry her. Although she was no longer religious, she was still uncomfortable with the idea of marrying a non-Jew. Finally, her boyfriend grew impatient and gave her an ultimatum, demanding that she agree to marry him by a certain date, or else he would move on without her.
She went to work on the appointed day confused and tormented about what answer she would give him. When she arrived at the library she discovered the letter, which had circulated throughout the library for several weeks until finally making its way to her desk on that fateful day. She opened the letter and was astonished to see the highlighted words v’lo nikasheil – we should not stumble – which she interpreted as a Heaven-sent message imploring her not to stumble by agreeing to marry a non-Jew. This wake-up call helped her resolve her doubts, and she informed her boyfriend that she would not be marrying him. From that point onward, she slowly returned to the religious lifestyle of her family, and now she was about to get married and establish a new Jewish home, all in the merit of one passionate Birkas HaMazon.
Eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doreish osah tamid einei Hashem Elokecha bah me’reishis ha’shana v’ad acharis shana (11:12)
The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) teaches that any year which is “poor” at the beginning will be rich and full of blessing at the end. This is homiletically derived from our verse, which refers to the beginning of the year as “reishis ha’shana” (leaving out the letter “aleph” in the word “reishis”), which may be reinterpreted as a poor year (“rash” means poor). The Gemora understands the Torah as hinting that such a year will have an ending different than that with which it began (i.e. rich and bountiful).
As Rosh Hashana grows ever closer, what does this valuable advice mean, and how can we use it to ensure that the coming year will be a prosperous one for us and our loved ones? Rashi explains that a “poor” year refers to one in which a person makes himself poor on Rosh Hashana to beg and supplicate for his needs. In order to follow this advice, we must first understand what it means to make oneself like a poor person.
Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that it isn’t sufficient to merely view oneself “as if” he is poor for the day. A person must honestly believe that his entire lot for the upcoming year – his health, happiness, and financial situation – will be determined on this day. In other words, at the present moment, he has absolutely nothing to his name and must earn it all from scratch. This may be difficult to do for a person who is fortunate enough to have a beautiful family, a good source of income, and no history of major medical problems. How can such a person honestly stand before Hashem and view himself as a pauper with nothing to his name?
Rav Friedlander explains that if a person understands that all that he has is only because Hashem willed it to be so until now, he will recognize that at the moment Hashem wills the situation to change, it will immediately do so. Although we are accustomed to assuming that this couldn’t happen to us, most of us personally know of stories which can help us internalize this concept.
I once learned this lesson the hard way on a trip to Israel. Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, I took a taxi to the Kosel. My enthusiasm quickly turned to shocked disbelief when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my wallet in the back seat of the cab. Numerous frantic calls to the taxi’s company bore no fruit, and instead of proceeding to pray at the Kosel, I had to first stop to call my bank to cancel my credit cards. Looking back a few years later, I realize that I painfully learned that just because I had something and assumed it to be firmly in my possession, I shouldn’t rely on this belief and take if for granted. On Rosh Hashana, Hashem decrees what will happen to every person at every moment of the upcoming year, including what they will have and to what extent they will be able to enjoy it. Each person begins the year with a clean slate and must merit receiving everything which he had until now from scratch. If we view ourselves standing before Hashem’s Throne of Glory like a poor person with nothing to our names, we will realize that our entire existence in the year to come is completely dependent on Hashem’s kindness. A person who genuinely feels this way can’t help but beg and plead for Divine mercy. The Gemora promises that if he does so, Hashem will indeed be aroused to give him a decree of a wonderful year, something that we should all merit in the coming year.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe told the Jewish people (8:5) that just as a father will chastise his son, so too does Hashem rebuke them. Why did Moshe refer to future punishments which had yet to occur instead of to those which had already transpired and to which they could better relate? (Yalkut HaGershuni)
2) Rashi writes (9:20) that Aharon’s sons died as a punishment for his role in the sin of the golden calf. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment (Shemos 24:11) that they died for inappropriately gazing at the Shechinah at Mount Sinai and with the explicit verses (Vayikra 10:1-2) which say they died for offering a foreign fire in the Mishkan? (Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi)
3) The Gemora in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that we are required to recite 100 blessings daily. Are women included in this obligation? (Halichos Shlomo 22:25, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 5:23, Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:129, Shu”t Rivevos Ephraim 3:47, Piskei Teshuvos 46:8)
4) The Gemora in Pesachim (4a) rules that placing a mezuzah on one’s doorpost is an obligation for one who is currently in the residence. When one rents an apartment which already has mezuzos that were placed by a previous tenant, is he required to recite a blessing over them? (Magen Avrohom 19:1, Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 9 , Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 19)
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