Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Parshas Bechukosai - Chazak!

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

This week we conclude the book of Leviticus with Parshas Bechukosai, which 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 brazenly refuse to observe the Torah’s laws. Each curse seems worse than the one before it, and indeed, throughout the generations it has always been a challenge to find someone willing to be called to the Torah for the Aliyah in which these verses are read.

However, it is curious to note that after concluding this terrifying and frightening section of rebuke, the parsha abruptly switches to a section dealing with the laws of “Arachin” – the dedication of the value of oneself or another person to the Temple. This section seems completely misplaced. What is the relevance of these laws to the rebuke which dominates the rest of the parsha?

Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky recounts an inspiring story which will shed some light on this question. During the Holocaust, when many of the horrifying curses of this week’s parsha were manifested before our very eyes, the Germans took a particularly sadistic pleasure in torturing and tormenting the great Rabbis who served as teachers and inspiration for the Jewish people. The suffering endured by these righteous leaders 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, the officers asked the bleeding and only semi-conscious Rebbe if after all of this suffering he still believed that the Jews are G-d’s chosen people. He responded unequivocally in the affirmative.

Amazed at the Rebbe’s seemingly naïve and misplaced faith, they pressed him for an explanation. He replied, “As long as I am not the cruel oppressor of innocent victims, and as long as I am the one down here on the ground maintaining my unwavering faith in my principles and traditions, I am still able to raise my head proudly and know that G-d chose our people.”

Applying the lesson of this story to our original question, the Kotzker Rebbe explains that after reading the terrifying curses contained earlier in the parsha and seeing how they have tragically been fulfilled throughout history, Jews may begin to lose belief in their value and self-worth. As a nation, we have been persecuted more than any other people throughout the ages. Such intense national suffering could easily cause a person to give up hope.

In order to counter this mistaken conclusion, the section outlining the painful times which will befall the Jewish people is immediately followed by the section dealing with the laws of Arachin. This section details how much a person is required to donate if he chooses to dedicate the “value” of himself or another Jew 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 oppressors, our intrinsic worth in Hashem’s eyes is eternal and unchanging.


וכל מעשר בקר וצאן כל אשר יעבר תחת השבט העשירי יהיה קדש לד' (27:32)

כשבא לעשרן מוציאן בפתח זה אחר זה והעשירי מכה בשבט צבוע בסיקרא להיות ניכר שהוא מעשר

כן עושה לטלאים ועגלים של כל שנה ושנה (רש"י)

Rav Shlomo Aharonson was once collecting charity for a needy individual and received a substantial donation from a wealthy man in his town, for which he thanked him profusely. The man was a bit taken aback when the Rav returned a mere three days later to ask him to contribute once again.

Rav Aharonson explained that when separating מעשר בהמה – the tithe of one’s animals – the Torah mandates a procedure which appears to be needlessly time-consuming and complicated. Rashi explains that the farmer is required to place all of the newborn animals in his flock into a pen and allow them to walk single-file through a narrow opening. As he counts them off one-by-one, he is required to touch each tenth animal with a staff dipped in paint to mark it as his tithe. If he has a large flock which grows by a substantial amount each year, this process can be quite time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be much easier to simply count the number of new animals, divide it by 10, and separate that number of animals to bring as sacrifices in the Temple, similar to the procedure used when tithing one’s produce?

Rav Aharonson answered that were the farmer to do so, he could easily focus on the enormous number of animals that he is now being required to give away all at one time. However, when he watches the animals pass him one-by-one, he first counts off nine animals which will be his to keep and only then separates the tenth one for Hashem. This procedure is much more palatable since it allows him to focus on how many animals remain for him. Similarly, Rav Aharonson advised the wealthy man to step back for a moment and reflect on how much new wealth he had accumulated in the three days since the Rav’s previous visit. This perspective would much more easily allow him to magnanimously share a bit of his profits with the less fortunate – which he was quite happy to do!


ל"ג בעומר

One of the reasons given for the happiness associated with Lag B’Omer (which this year falls out on Friday, May 23) is that on this day, the students of Rebbi Akiva, who had died en masse every day since Pesach, stopped dying. As there are no coincidences in Judaism, why did they specifically stop dying at this time?

The seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos represents a period in which we prepare ourselves to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos. The leaders of the Mussar movement point out that the Mishnah in Avos (6:6) teaches that there 48 traits by which the Torah is acquired. Since there are 49 days during which we prepare to reaccept the Torah, they maintained that it would be appropriate to use this time to develop within ourselves the qualities and attributes which are necessary to accept and acquire the Torah on Shavuos. Therefore, on each day of this period, they worked on understanding and instilling within themselves one of these qualities. Since there were only 48 traits, they used the last day for a general overview of all of them.

The Lekach Tov suggests that if the founders of the Mussar movement engaged in this commendable practice, certainly the lofty Sages of the Gemora did so as well. The 32nd trait by which the Torah is acquired is אובה את הבריות – love of one’s fellow man. The Gemora teaches (Yevamos 62b) that the reason for the death of Rebbi Akiva’s disciples was that they didn’t feel and display appropriate respect toward one another. Once they had worked on the trait of loving one another on the 32nd day, they rectified the cause of this tragedy, and indeed on the following day the students stopped dying!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!

To receive the full version with answers email the author at parshapotpourri@optonline.net.


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

1) On the blessing that the tree of the field will give its fruit (26:4), the Toras Kohanim explains that if Jews perform Hashem’s will, trees won’t give forth fruits after years of growing as they currently do, but will immediately bear fruits on the day they are planted, just as they did in the times of Adam HaRishon. In what way will this blessing be beneficial, as the fruits produced during the first three years are considered orlah and forbidden not only in consumption but in all uses? (Har Tzvi, M’rafsin Igri, K’motzei Shalal Rav Parshas Kedoshim)

2) In the blessings contained in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai for those who observe the mitzvos, no mention is made of the wealth and material success which are referred to in the blessings in Parshas Ki Savo. Why the difference? (Taima D’Kra)

3) One of the punishments in Parshas Bechukosai is that “you will flee with nobody pursuing you” (26:17). Wouldn’t it be a greater punishment if there were pursuers threatening to capture or kill them? (Chanukas HaTorah, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Imrei Shefer, Nesivos Rabboseinu)

4) Rashi writes (26:19) that in threatening to make the heavens like iron and the land like copper, Hashem’s punishment was harsher than that mentioned by Moshe (Devorim 28:23), who reversed the punishments to make them lighter. What does it mean that Moshe “lightened” Hashem’s curse, and how did a mere human have the ability to undo Hashem’s decree? (Mas’as HaMelech)

5) Rashi writes (26:25) that because it is forbidden to leave a corpse overnight in Jerusalem (Bava Kamma 82b), when people die from the pestilence which Hashem will send, they will have no choice but to carry the bodies outside to be buried, even though they will be walking into the hands of the enemy who is besieging the city. Given that the prohibition involved is only Rabbinic in nature, and even Torah commandments are pushed aside when their performance endangers one’s life, why would they risk taking the bodies outside of the city walls? (Sifsei Chochomim, Ayeles HaShachar, Taam V’Daas, Outlooks and Insights by Rav Zev Leff)

6) The rebuke contained in Parshas Bechukosai concludes with words of comfort (26:42-45), in contrast to that in Parshas Ki Savo which contains no such consolation. Why the difference? (Ponovezher Rav quoted in K’motzei Shalal Rav)


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