Before commencing this article, and thereby launching a whole new “round” of articles for the coming year, be’ezras Hashem, I would like to pause for a moment and do two things:

  1. Apologize to those who have written me at the Gmail address this paper has created for me and whom I have not yet answered. The way my email is set up leads me to inadvertently overlook  these emails. Bli neder, I will answer those e-mails in the next few days, and take steps to correct this situation so that it not recur.
  2. Ask the readers of this column to let me know if they would prefer a “lessons from the parsha”-type column, and not have me go off-topic (in terms of the sedra, at least). Are you looking for something more closely connected to that week’s Torah-leining (as the photo on top indicates, at least to me), perhaps something to say over or discuss by the Shabbos table in the context of the week’s reading? I am not yet sure how I will react in response, but I definitely would like to know what you want, or expect.

This column is being written in honor of the ladies’ shiur given in Chovos Halevavos virtually every Sunday night. The shiur is now starting Sha’ar Habechinah. Baruch Hashem, the shiur has thus far concluded Sha’ar Habitachon, Sha’ar Avodas Elokim, and the hakdama to the sefer (i.e., the introduction, in this case written by the author of the sefer), and is now beginning Sha’ar Habechina — the Gate Of Examination, or perhaps Of Reflection, Of Contemplation, Of Observation — or perhaps Of just plain Study.

The Chovos Halevavos teaches us in this sha’ar the necessity, the importance, the essentiality, of examining the beria, all that exists within the vast Creation that Hashem created, i.e., all that exists. We will talk a bit about how the Chovos Halevavos presents this idea, and then try to apply it to what has now become uppermost in the minds of those residing in Eretz Yisroel: the phenomenon of rain.

The “rainy season,” as it is known, is “kicked off” by the prayer for rain which we all said on Shemini/Atzeres/Simchas Torah, and the beginning of our now requesting rain in our daily Shemoneh Esrei (as Chazal explain, we precede our actual request — please give us rain — by a few weeks of praising Hashem as being the source and the energy from whence the rains come with the phrase mashiv haruach umorid hageshem). The phenomenon of rain is considered so miraculous that it is actually called gevuros geshamim — the force, the strength, the energy, the might of rain. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Sha’ar Habechina teaches the methods of examining Hashem’s creations, and how to perceive through them Hashem’s goodness. The Chovos Halevavos first states that in Sha’ar Hayichud he introduced ways to perceive and be convinced of Hashem’s existence, Hashem’s reality, and His being the source of everything, whether they are things, concepts, or events. Yet that sha’ar approached this topic in an intellectual, philosophical manner, which may or may not work with some people, logical as it may be. But, says the Chovos Halevavos, in reality, the most direct way to obtain a clear understanding, perception, and awareness of Hashem’s presence and actual being is by examining the tremendous wisdom and complexity and design in every portion and in every aspect of the beria. This way, we will know of Hashem not only with our minds, but we will have an actual sense of His presence. The Rambam, living about one century after the Chovos Halevavos, writes in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, that such an examination of the beria will bring one to properly fulfill the mitzvos of ahavas Hashem — love of Hashem (when we see what He has constructed for our sake), and yiras Hashem — fear, or awe (when we stand in reverence at the immenseness and massiveness and intricacy of all He has wrought).

Another aspect of this is awareness not only of Hashem’s reality (and the resultant love and awe), but recognition of His goodness and beneficence. After all, the Torah keeps repeating throughout the story of Creation: “And Hashem saw, and it was good.” And finally, on the sixth day: “…and it was very good.” The world is full of Hashem’s goodness, generosity and benevolence. This is, as stated in the pesukimembedded in the beria, and embedded in the essential nature of Hashem (as much as we can say that anything is Hashem’s “nature”). As the possuk in Ashrei says, “Tov Hashem lakol, verachamav al kol ma’asav” — everyone is a beneficiary of Hashem’s kindness! The “trick” is to see it, realize it, internalize it, and appreciate it; and to then feel a sense of gratitude towards the Ribbono Shel Olam. And the way to start realizing it is to study the beria, much as the Chovos Halevavos trains us to in Sha’ar Habechina.

(So now we’ve covered, baruch Hashem, last week’s parsha, Parshas Bereishis, which discusses  the Creation of the world. And we have learned how that Creation tells us that Hashem is here, and that He is good.)

This week is Parshas Noach. Unbridled rain! And always coming in conjunction with Chodesh Cheshvan, the onset of the blessing of rain, and when we wish and hope for rain.

We need rain because rain keeps us alive, giving us the liquid we need to drink. Rain makes the plants and trees bloom and grow. Animals and people eat those plants and trees, and people also eat the animals that eat the plants and trees. Rain replenishes oceans, lakes, and rivers. Drought increases soil erosion. We wash ourselves and our clothing with rain. Rain cools from heat…

Next week, im yirtzeh Hashem, we will learn more about rain, the role it plays, how it is formed, how it serves us — and why Hashem compares Torah to life-giving rain.