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Parshas Eikev - Vol. 11, Issue 46
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
In Parshas Eikev, the Torah cautions against haughtiness, explaining that it can cause a person to forget Hashem and all of His kindnesses. The Gemora (Sotah 4b) cites this verse as one of the Scriptural sources for the evils of the trait of gaivah (arrogance). The Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 2:2) that regarding most middos (character traits), it is appropriate to adopt the middle path, not veering to either extreme. However, the Rambam continues and writes (2:3) that one of the rare exceptions to this principle is the middah of gaivah, regarding which a person should completely distance himself from any form of arrogance and should instead conduct himself with extreme humility.
However, the Lechem Mishneh points out that the Rambam seems to contradict himself, as he explicitly writes earlier (Hilchos Deios 1:5) regarding the character trait of arrogance that most wise people adopt the middle path, and only the exceedingly righteous elect to go to the extreme, seemingly sanctioning some degree of haughty conduct.
The Yad HaMelech resolves this apparent inconsistency with a fascinating insight into human nature. He explains that when it comes to most middos, if a person takes an honest look at himself, he is able to acknowledge his faults. A glutton is aware of how much he eats, and a person with a fiery temper is cognizant of how often he gets angry. Even though on some level we rationalize and justify our conduct, we are nevertheless capable of at least recognizing what we are doing. The middah of gaivah is an exception, because an arrogant person by definition views himself as superior to those around him and therefore deserving of additional respect and honor. He justifies his approach to the point that even in his most introspective moments, it seems completely normal and appropriate in his eyes.
With this insight, the Yad HaMelech explains that in Chapter 1, the Rambam's objective is to lay out and establish the general principle that a person should seek out the middle path with respect to every character trait, including gaivah. In Chapter 2, the Rambam proceeds to discuss how a person should act in real terms. Because it is impossible for a person to recognize that he is acting arrogantly, somebody who aims for the middle path for this trait will unwittingly end up seeking excessive honor, and therefore the Rambam writes that on a practical level, we have no choice but to adopt an extreme approach toward gaivah.
The wisest man ever to live, Shlomo HaMelech, concluded his words of wisdom (Koheles 12:13) with the following thought, "The sum of the matter when everything has been considered: fear Hashem and observe His commandments, for this is the entire person." Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains Shlomo's intent by noting that a person who isn't wise, wealthy, or attractive may be missing an important quality, but he is still considered a person. In contrast, Shlomo teaches that one's entire "personhood" is defined by the level of his fear of Hashem. Somebody who is completely lacking in fear of Heaven isn't considered a deficient person. He isn't even considered a person!
Similarly, to the degree to which somebody fears Hashem, he is a greater or lesser person. A person may possess all of the characteristics that are valued by society. He may be handsome, successful, outgoing, and kind, but if he is lacking in fear of Heaven, he hasn't even entered the realm of humanity. In the Torah's eyes, a humble, simple, and unassuming man who lives honestly and fears Hashem is infinitely superior and in an entirely different category. It is for this reason that Moshe emphasized that the most important trait that Hashem asks from a person is his fear of Heaven.
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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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