Saturday, May 05, 2007

Parshas Behar-Bechukosai - Chazak!!

כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לד' (25:2)

A number of commentators are bothered by the seemingly redundant twofold use of the word שבת – rest – in reference to the Shemittah year. A most novel explanation is offered by the Mateh Moshe (473), who suggests that in a regular year, even though the farmer refrains from working the field on Shabbos, nevertheless the laws of nature are such that the crop which he planted during the week continues to grow on Shabbos, thereby denying the ground the ability to rest on Shabbos along with the rest of Creation. During the course of a year, there are 52 such Shabbosim on which the land is unable to rest, and over a period of 7 years, the total number of such days which accrue for which the ground must be compensated comes to 364. As a result, the Torah decreed that once every 7 years, the land shall lie completely fallow in order to “pay it back” for all of the Shabbosim during which it was unable to rest, and it is for this reason that the Torah stresses that in the Shemittah year, the ground should rest a שבת to Hashem!

Another innovative explanation for the Shemittah year is offered by the Chida and Kli Yakar. They note that the Gemora in Berachos (35b) relates that it was customary for the yeshivos of old to provide a “bein ha’zmanim” – intersession – during the months of Nissan and Tishrei in order to allow the students time to go home and work the land sufficiently in order to sustain and provide for their families. Over the course of six years, 12 months of “bittul Torah” – time in which the students were unable to learn due to other obligations – accrued, so the Torah declared that every 7th year shall be one in which nobody is permitted to work the land so that they may enjoy an entire year of dedicated Torah study to compensate for the distractions of the previous six years!

וחשב עם קנהו משנת המכרו לו עד שנת היבל והיה כסף ממכרו במספר שנים כימי שכיר יהיה עמו (25:50)

The law is that a Jew sold as a slave to a non-Jew is obligated to work for him until the next Yovel year. Nevertheless, it is the duty of his relatives to redeem him as quickly as possible so that he not assimilate and learn from the foreign ways of his new master. Rashi explains that he is to be redeemed by dividing the amount paid for him by the number of years which remained at that time until the Yovel year, which yields the value to his master of each year of his work. This should be multiplied by the number of years he has already worked, which indicates the “value” of the work he has performed thus far. This amount should be subtracted from the original purchase price, and the remaining amount is the “balance” which his brethren must pay to his master in order to secure his freedom.

The Chofetz Chaim derives an inspiring lesson from these seemingly mundane and complex laws. A Jew living today who is told to yearn for the coming of Moshiach could easily despair and wonder how he will merit seeing the coming of Moshiach, something which was denied to so many righteous individuals in previous generations.

However, we learn from the aforementioned laws that the closer a slave gets to the predetermined time of his release (the Yovel year), the less money will be needed to purchase his premature freedom because of all of the work he has performed with the passage of time. Similarly, upon creating the universe, Hashem decreed a preordained time for the final Redemption, although He also stipulated that with sufficient merits, it would be possible to bring Moshiach before his time. In order to cause his arrival centuries in advance of the prearranged time, tremendous merits were necessary, something that even our most pious ancestors weren’t able to accomplish. As the time for the ultimate redemption draws ever nearer, however, and we continue to suffer at the hands of our non-Jewish neighbors, the remaining “balance” dwindles ever smaller, a balance which we are indeed capable of “paying off” if we only allow ourselves to serve Hashem to our maximum potential!

והשבתי חיה רעה מן הארץ (26:6)

The Toras Kohanim on our verse brings a dispute between two Tannaim as to the nature of this blessing, that “I will cause dangerous animals to cease from the land.” The opinion of Rav Yehuda is that these animals will simply cease to exist, while Rav Shimon maintains that they will continue to exist but that their natures will change so that they are no longer dangerous. While this would appear at first glance to be a technical dispute over the translation of a word, the two great Torah scholars of D’vinsk write that the opinions of the Tannaim in fact stem from their views regarding other issues.

The Rogatchover Gaon notes that the root of the word והשבתישבת – is the same root as the word תשביתו, which the Torah uses in reference to the obligation to remove all chometz from our houses before Passover. The Mishnah in Pesachim (21a) quotes a dispute about the proper way to dispose of chometz. The opinion of Rav Yehuda is that it must be burned, while the other Rabbis maintain that it is sufficient to throw it into the ocean or scatter it and disperse it in the wind. Rav Yehuda, in contrast to the other Sages, apparently understands that the only way to properly remove the chometz is to destroy it to the point of nonexistence, and it is for this reason that he translated our verse as similarly referring to the complete and utter removal of wild beasts from the land of Israel.

Rav Meir Simcha similarly suggests that the opinion of Rav Shimon emanates from his opinions in other places. The Gemora in Berachos (35b) quotes Rav Yishmoel as maintaining that a person should both study Torah and work at a profession, while Rav Shimon argues that the ideal level is to spend one’s every waking moment engaged in the study of Torah, while relying that Hashem will provide him with others to take care of his earthly needs. It was for this reason that upon emerging from his cave, he burnt the first farmer whom he encountered due to his anger over the man’s wasted time (Shabbos 33b), and the Gemora in Shabbos (11a) relates that Rav Shimon didn’t interrupt his learning even to recite the daily prayers, as he had no earthly needs and relied on his Torah study to protect him.

We find that when a Jew serves Hashem with all of his energy, Hashem in turn protects him from the natural dangers posed by wild animals. The Gemora in Berachos (33a) relates that Rav Chanina ben Dosa’s neighbors approached him in fear of a poisonous serpent in the area. He placed his foot on top of the serpent’s hole, inciting it to bite him, at which time the snake immediately died, with Rav Chanina explaining that “the snake doesn’t kill; sin kills.” Similarly, we find in the Gemora in Makkos (11a) that Eliyahu HaNavi informed Rav Yehoshua ben Levi that had he been on a sufficiently high spiritual level, he would have protected not only himself but his entire surroundings from wild animals in the area. However, this level of supernatural protection is provided only to a person who spends his entire day engrossed in the study of Torah, but one who leaves his studies to tend to his business affairs is left vulnerable. The blessings of our parsha speak to those on the highest spiritual level, and because Rav Shimon maintains that this refers to individuals who spend their entire day studying, only he can interpret the verse to mean that the wild animals will still exist but will no longer be able to cause any harm!

ותם לריק כחכם (26:20)

One of the greatest and most well-known Rishonim, whose explanations of the Talmud are widely quoted and debated until the present day, was Rabbeinu Tam, a grandson of Rashi who lived in the 12th century. However, it is interesting to note that his birth name was actually Yaakov, so how did he come to be universally known by the peculiar appellation “Rabbeinu Tam?”

In K’motzei Shalal Rav, it is related that somebody once had a dream in which he received a most fascinating answer to his historical curiosity. The law is that when a married woman dies, her husband – or his relatives – inherits her possessions. The Toras Kohanim on our verse explains that the curse of “Your strength will be spent in vain” refers to a case in which one gives a large dowry to his daughter upon her marriage, only to have her die shortly thereafter, thus causing that the possessions and money for which her father worked so hard will almost immediately be passed from his family. One of the laws which Rabbeinu Tam enacted in his lifetime was that the estate and possessions of a woman who dies within 12 months of marriage shall be inherited by her father – or his next-of-kin – instead of by her husband (Sefer HaYashar 579). Because his actions brought an end to this curse of ותם לריק כחכם , he became universally known as Rabbeinu Tam!

דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם איש כי יפלא נדר בערכך נפשת לד' (27:2)

Parshas Bechukosai is commonly referred to as the parsha of “tochacha” – rebuke. It is full of frightening threats of unimaginable punishment to be meted out to those who refuse to observe the Torah’s laws. It is interesting to note that the parsha ends with a section dealing with the laws of “Arachin” – the dedication of the value of oneself or another person to the Beis HaMikdash – a section which seems to be completely misplaced. What is the relevance of this section to the rebuke which dominates our parsha?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky tells a powerful story which will shed some light on our question. During the Holocaust, the Germans took a particularly sadistic pleasure in torturing the great Rabbis. The suffering they endured is unfathomable.

In one particularly gruesome incident, a number of merciless Nazi officers beat the Klausenberger Rebbe to the brink of death. After enduring seemingly endless blows, they asked the bleeding, semi-conscious Rebbe if after all of this suffering, he still believed that the Jews are Hashem’s chosen people. The Rebbe responded unequivocally in the affirmative. Amazed at his seemingly naïve faith, they demanded an explanation. The Rebbe replied, “As long as I am not the cruel oppressor of innocent victims, I am able to raise my head proudly and know that Hashem chose our people.”

Applying the lesson of this story to our original question, the Kotzker Rebbe and Rav Meir Shapiro explain that after reading the terrifying curses contained earlier in the parsha and seeing how they have sadly been fulfilled throughout history, Jews may begin to lose belief in their self-worth.

To counter this mistaken conclusion, the portion outlining the painful times which will befall the Jews is immediately followed by the section dealing with the laws of “Arachin.” This section details how much a person is required to donate to the Beis HaMikdash if he chooses to dedicate his “value” to the Temple. This juxtaposition comes to remind us that even in the darkest times, after enduring the most inhumane suffering fathomable, although we may not be accorded respect by our non-Jewish oppressors, our intrinsic worth in Hashem’s eyes is eternal and unchanging.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Berachos (40a) states that one is obligated to feed his animals before he is permitted to begin eating himself. When listing the order (25:6-7) in which the produce of the Shemittah year is to be eaten, why does the Torah mention the animals after the people when the order should be reversed? (Derech Sicha, Yalkut HaGershuni, Yitav Lev, K’motzei Shalal Rav)

2) Rashi explains (26:3) that אם בחוקתי תלכו – if you will walk in my laws – can’t refer to observing the mitzvos, which is explicitly mentioned elsewhere in the verse – ואת מצותי תשמרו – so it must refer to diligently studying the Torah. Isn’t this itself a mitzvah, which should therefore already be subsumed in the subsequent general requirement to observe all of the mitzvos?

3) There is a Talmudic maxim (Kiddushin 39b) that שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – Hashem doesn’t give a person reward in this world for doing mitzvos. How can the parsha state that if the Jews study Torah and perform mitzvos, Hashem will bless them in this world? (Rambam Teshuva 9:1)

4) Rashi writes (26:9) that one of the blessings for proper Torah study and mitzvah performance is that the Jews will be increased and will be able to walk בקומה זקופה – erect and with their heads held high. How can this be reconciled with the Gemora in Kiddushin (31a) which states that it is forbidden to walk in an erect posture? (Taam V’Daas, M’rafsin Igri)

5) One of the reasons given for the happiness associated with Lag B’Omer is that on this day, the students of Rav Akiva, who had died en masse every day since Pesach, stopped dying. The Gemora in Yevamos (62b) states that at this point, the world was empty of Torah scholars until Rebbi Akiva moved to the South and found five new students. How is the fact that they stopped dying a cause for celebration when they stopped dying because they were all already dead?

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Parshas Emor

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עמר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימת תהיינה (23:15)

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein relates that a sickly centenarian once approached him shortly before Pesach with an interesting halachic question. The law is that one who forgets or for any reason is unable to count even one night of Sefiras HaOmer is unable to continue counting on successive nights with a blessing, as the nightly counting over the course of the 7 weeks is considered to be one extended mitzvah. According to many opinions, the blessings which he recited until then are retroactively considered to have been in vain. The man’s doctors had told him that based on his poor medical condition, he would surely die before Shavuos, 7 weeks later. He therefore wanted to know whether he was permitted to recite the nightly blessing when beginning to count Sefiras HaOmer, as the laws of nature seemed to indicate that he would be prevented from successfully completing the mitzvah, thus invalidating his blessings.

Rav Zilberstein responded that when a clever child has a tremendous craving for a sweet which his mother refuses to give him, he will simply recite its appropriate blessing שהכל נהיה בדברו, essentially forcing his mother to give him some in order that his blessing not be in vain. Similarly, he advised the man that specifically by beginning to count with the recital of the accompanying blessing, he could in effect “force” the Heavenly Court to allow him to remain alive – against the doctor’s prognosis – until after Shavuos in order to complete the mitzvah. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to note that the man died the week after Shavuos!

דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש (23:24)

The Meiri writes in his commentary to Rosh Hashana that the story of Chana’s conception after years of enduring the pain and frustration of her inability to give birth is read as the Haftorah on the first day of Rosh Hashana as a lesson in the power of heartfelt prayer on this special day. However, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis 78) states that Chana was barren for 19 years and 6 months prior to the birth of Shmuel. It is reasonable to assume that a number of Rosh Hashanas had passed on which Chana prayed with great intensity and was nevertheless unanswered. What was unique about her petitions at this time that caused them to be answered?

Rav Aharon David answers with a beautiful insight. We are told earlier (Shmuel 1 1:3-7) that every year when her husband Elkanah would ascend to the Mishkan in Shiloh in order to bring sacrifices, he would give the best portion to his beloved Chana. Nevertheless, Chana was unable to enjoy it as Elkanah’s other wife, Penina, would provoke and anger her, leaving her crying and unable to eat. Noticing this, Elkanah asked her (Shmuel 1 1:8) why she cried and refused to eat, noting that even if she was in pain over her inability to bear him even one child while Penina had already borne him ten children, “am I not better to you than ten children?”

Until that point, Chana had always assumed that her barrenness pained Elkanah as much as it hurt her, and that he therefore prayed for her with the same intensity that she did. Although she had obviously prayed with great fervor, there was nevertheless a degree of desperation which was missing due to her reliance on the assistance of Elkanah’s prayers. Upon realizing that he had made peace with the situation by concluding that their relationship was more valuable than the birth of a child, she recognized that her entire fate was solely dependent on the power of her prayers. Armed with this newfound conviction, she prayed as never before, and it was in that fateful 19th year that her heartfelt prayers were finally answered!

דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא קדש (23:24)

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (34a) quotes various opinions regarding the sound the Torah intended when it instructed us (Bamidbar 29:1) to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In order to avoid doubt and to perform the mitzvah according to all opinions, we are accustomed to blow three different sounds: tekiah, shevarim, and teruah. The Shelah HaKadosh writes that although we sound the shofar according to each possible interpretation, there is nevertheless a specific order in which we arrange the sounds. When blowing them all together, we first blow the simple tekiah, then the three shevarim sounds, then the broken teruah’s, and finally another unbroken tekiah. This order was specifically chosen in order to symbolize for us the concept of repentance.

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Koheles (7:29) האלקים עשה את האדם ישר והמה בקשו חשבנות רבים – Hashem made man straight, but people sought out numerous complex calculations. We begin by sounding an unbroken tekiah to symbolize the simple, straightforward manner in which Hashem initially created us. Unfortunately, as the verse prophesies, we inevitably complicate situations unnecessarily, as represented by the broken sounds of the shevarim. As if that weren’t sufficient, we fail to recognize the error of our ways until we have reached rock bottom, as suggested by the short crying sounds of the teruah. Sometimes it is only after a person has reached the nadir that he is able to recognize how far he has fallen from his original heights, and it is this realization which jolts and inspires him to full and proper repentance, allowing him to return to the straight tekiah just as he was created!

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל

ושמחתם לפני ד' אלקיכם שבעת ימים (23:40)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recounted that there was a Jew who each year would bring his esrog to the synagogue and proudly show it to the other men present. After asking them to tell him how much they thought it was worth, he would proudly boast that he had actually paid only one shilling (a very small amount). When they asked him how he was able to get such a beautiful esrog for such a cheap price, he explained that most people go to shop for an esrog immediately after Yom Kippur. Because demand is so high at that time, the merchants are able to raise the prices to very high levels. He, on the other hand, would wait until the afternoon of the day before the beginning of Yom Tov. At this time, the sellers realized that they had no chance of selling their remaining inventory and were happy to receive for it at least a token price.

Rav Shlomo Zalman commented that this story bothered him greatly and he once approached the man to rebuke him. The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) tells of a dispute between Shammai and Hillel regarding the proper manner in which to honor Shabbos. Shammai maintained that one should already begin preparing for Shabbos on Sunday. Whenever he found a nice animal for sale, he would purchase it for Shabbos, and if he subsequently found a nicer one later in the week, he would buy the new one for Shabbos and eat the first one. The Gemora relates regarding Hillel that מידה אחרת היתה לו – he had a different approach – in that he trusted in Hashem each day to provide him his needs for that day. He would therefore immediately consume anything he purchased at the beginning of the week and would wait until Friday to buy his Shabbos needs.

Rav Shlomo Zalman questioned why Hillel didn’t conduct himself in the way that Shammai did, which would seem to be the preferable approach? Further, what is the meaning of the Gemora’s phrase היתה לו (he had)? The Gemora emphasizes this to teach that Hillel conducted himself with this bitachon (trust) in all areas of his life, both in mitzah performance and in his personal affairs. If he needed to purchase a new shirt, he didn’t do so in advance but waited with faith until just before the time that he actually needed to wear it. The Gemora stresses that this was his individual style across the board, even when it was directly pertinent to his personal well-being, and as a result he was permitted to apply this approach to doing mitzvos. However, a person who conducts himself differently in areas relating to his personal needs, planning and preparing in advance in order to guarantee himself the best item, but attempts to wait until the last minute in spiritual matters isn’t demonstrating financial savvy but rather his cavalier lack of respect for Hashem’s mitzvos!

בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת (23:42)

If a person’s sukkah isn’t large enough for everybody to fit in it, meals can be eaten in shifts. If people want to sleep in it, sleeping in shifts isn’t very practical. Is it permitted to wait until some of them are sleeping and then gently drag them out of the sukkah?

As far-fetched as this suggestion sounds, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach actually rules that it is permissible! He explains that the mitzvah is only to go to sleep in the sukkah, but once a person is already sleeping he is unconscious and exempt from any further obligation in mitzvos until he awakens. Although permissible, this may not be so feasible, as if the person wakes up while being moved, he must once again return to the sukkah to fall asleep, thereby defeating the entire purpose of the plan.

Nevertheless, Rav Yisroel Reisman suggests a more practical application of this ruling. If the weather forecast calls for a torrential downpour in the middle of the night and a person doesn’t want to be awakened by it, he can simply go to sleep in the sukkah and once he is sound asleep, somebody can spread a solid cover across the top of the sukkah. Although doing so invalidates the sukkah, the person is already sleeping and therefore exempt from the mitzvah, and doing so will allow him a warm and dry night’s sleep!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The mitzvah of counting the Omer requires one to begin counting the days from the 2nd day of Pesach until the day before Shavuos, which is the 49th day. If one continues counting beyond that point (e.g. with Shavuos being the 50th day), does he violate the Torah prohibition (Devorim 4:2) against adding to the mitzvos?

2) Why is the Yom Tov referred to as Rosh Hashana (literally, head of the year) instead of a seemingly more appropriate name such as Yom HaDin (the day of judgment) or the name by which it is referred in the Torah (Bamidbar 29:1), Yom Teruah (the day of blowing the shofar)?

3) Rosh Hashana is the day on which Hashem judges every person for his actions over the previous year. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to judge people on the last day of the previous year rather than on the first day of the new year?

4) Although one is forbidden to blow the shofar when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos, if he did so regardless, does he fulfill the mitzvah of blowing the shofar? (Rav Akiva Eiger in Drush V’Chiddush 8, Shu”t Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 141, Shu”t Roshei Besomim 144, K’tzei HaMateh 588, Kava D’Kashisa 99, Chochmas Shlomo and Toras Chaim on Shulchan Aruch 588, Shu”t Maharshag 1:36, Shu”t Har Tzvi 2:88, Piskei Teshuvos 588:1)

5) Is rain always considered a curse on Sukkos, and if not, under what circumstances is it deemed so? (Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Sukkah 2:9, Ritva and Meiri Taanis 2a d.h. Amar Rebbi Yehoshua, Maggid Meishorim Parshas Emor, Bikkurei Yaakov 639:39, Aruch HaShulchan 639:20, Shu”t Zichron Yehuda 183)

6) The Medrash states that in addition to their decrees against the mitzvos of Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision, the Greeks also wanted to forbid the observance of Sukkos. In response, Hashem said that because they attempted to eliminate the 8-day holiday of Sukkos, Hashem would reward us with the 8-day festival of Chanuka. For what reason were the Greeks opposed to Sukkos more than to other mitzvos, and in what way is the holiday of Chanuka considered a measure-for-measure compensation for their attempt to eradicate Sukkos?

7) We refer to Sukkos in our prayers as זמן שמחתינו (the time of our happiness). How can it be that we are expected to reach the pinnacle of joy at a time when we are required to leave all of the security and familiarity of our comfortable homes and live in crowded, unfurnished, temporary dwellings for a week? (Darkei Mussar, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik quoted in M’orei HaMoadim)

8) Rashi explains (23:36) that the festival of Shemini Atzeres is Hashem’s way of saying that after we have spent so much time together with Him in the sukkah, it is difficult for Him to separate from us and He therefore asks us to linger one more day. How will this solve the problem of the painful separation, which will presumably only become more difficult after spending additional time together? (Darkei Mussar, Tiferes Torah)

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