Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 9   No. 30

This issue is co-sponsored
l’iluy Nishmas
William (Velvel) ben Harold zt'l
and by an anonymous sponsor

Behar-Bechukosai

A Fetus Learns Torah!
(adapted from the P’ninim mi’Shulchan ha'G'ro)

In explaining the Pasuk "Im be'chukosai teileichu, ve'es Mitzvosai tishmoru ... ", Rashi comments that the first phrase refers to toiling in Torah, whilst the second phrase makes this conditional to the performance of Mitzvos. In other words, Torah must be studied in order to be put into practice. Study alone, is not an end in itself.

*

The G'ro cites a Medrash Tanchuma in Eikev, which states 'If someone studies Torah without practicing it, it would have been better had his 'placenta been turned upside-down' (i.e. that he would have been born as a miscarriage).

And he explains this seemingly strange Medrash in the following way.

As a fetus, says the G'ro, the baby may well be able to study Torah, but how will he fulfil the Mitzvos? For him to do that, he needs to be born. That is why the Torah ends the creation with the words " ... which He created in order to do". Indeed, the purpose of the Creation is not to study what is right and good, but to practice it.

What the Medrash is therefore saying is, that in order to study Torah, the fetus does not need to leave his mother's womb. After all, he was studying diligently before his birth. When he does therefore emerge and enters the physical world, a world of actions and deeds, it is in order to put what he studies into practice. In that way, he fulfils the purpose of the creation, his own as well as that of the world.

Hence the Medrash states 'If someone studies Torah without practicing it, it would have better had his placenta been turned upside-down'. He may as well have remained where he was.

*

As long as a baby is still in its mother's womb, he is taught the entire Torah, says the well-known Gemara in Nidah (30b). The moment he is born however, an angel slaps his face and he forgets it all (perhaps that is why a baby cries at birth - either because of the physical pain caused by the slap, or as a result of the anguish at forgetting all the Torah that he learned).

But what is the point of first teaching a fetus the entire Torah, and then making him forget it all, asks the G'ro? Conversely, if G-d intends a Jew to study Torah, what is the point of studying it first as a fetus?

To answer this question, the G'ro explains that if he did not, he would be unable to comprehend the holy Torah after his birth. For the sinful environment in which he subsequently finds himself would render it impossible to fully grasp the lofty and sacred texts and deeper secrets contained in it.

That is why G-d in His infinite mercy, gave every person the opportunity to study the entire Torah whilst he is still in his mother's womb, whilst he is still unaffected by the world of sin and has no contact with it. Having once acquired the Torah in a state of purity, it becomes feasible for the soul to recall what it has already learned once, when it enters this world.

*

The Alshich ha'Kodosh, commenting on the prayer that we recite at the end of the Amidah ' ... and place our portion in Your Torah', explains how each Neshamah that stood at Har Sinai received a portion of Torah that was specifically his.

And with this he explains the Gemara in Megilah (6b), which states (in connection with someone who has difficulty in understanding a particular aspect of Torah) that when he claims 'I toiled and I found', believe him. 'I found' implies that he is searching for something that he lost, which indeed he is, because when a person makes the effort to understand Torah, he is really seeking to find his portion, the portion that was given to him at Har Sinai, and that he was taught before he was born.

On the other hand, if he were not made to forget what he had learned, he adds, he would not need to toil in order to recover it, and he would not receive the great reward in the World to Come that awaits someone who does.

This too, explains adequately why one needs first to be taught the entire Torah (his portion of Torah), and then made to forget it.

***

Parshah Pearls
Behar

(adapted from P'ninei Torah)

Sh'mitah from Sinai

"And G-d spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai saying" (25:1).

Rashi comments that just as Sh'mitah was said at Har Sinai, its general rules and its intricate details and all, so too, were all the other Mitzvos said at Sinai, their general rules and intricate details and all.

*

Why, asks the Chasam Sofer, is it more obvious that Sh'mitah was said at Sinai than all the other Mitzvos?

The answer, says the Chasam Sofer, is that Sh'mitah is the ultimate proof that Torah was given by Hashem at Sinai, and that it was not a book written by Moshe.

How is that?

Because no human being, even Moshe, would have dared issue an assurance that if Yisrael observe Sh'mitah, they will merit three years crops in the sixth year. This can only be a Divine promise, and proves beyond the least shadow of doubt, that the Torah was indeed handed down to Moshe at Sinai - from Hashem.

*

Strangers and Residents

" ... because you are strangers and residents with Me" (25:23).

This describes the deal that G-d struck with Yisrael, says the Dubna Maggid. When Yisrael take up residence in this world, then Hashem alienates Himself from them and acts towards them like a stranger. But when they alienate themselves from this world and behave like strangers here, then Hashem behaves towards them like a resident.

Chazal make a similar comment on the Pasuk in Vayeishev (37:1) "And Ya'akov settled down in the land where his fathers were strangers" (see Rashi there, Pasuk 2).

*

Seventy Faces

On the same phrase, the Peninei Torah cites the R'tza Shapiro from Dinov, who (perhaps based on the Pasuk in Tehilim "Hashem is Your Shadow at your right-hand") explains that G-d and Yisrael are either strangers together or residents together. When Yisrael are settled in Eretz Yisrael, then G-d is settled there too. But when they are sent into Galus, then, as Chazal have said, He goes into Galus with them.

*

D.I.Y.

"And a man who has no-one to redeem him (from his gentile master), and obtains funds ... " (25:26).

If a person has a rich uncle to redeem him, then that's fine, says Rebbi Moshe Cheifetz. But if he doesn't, then he should learn the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 'If I don't do it myself, then who will do it for me'? And if he puts his mind to it, he can be rest assured that he will succeed. Because someone who applies is sufficiently determined to perform a Mitzvah is rewarded with the means to carry it out.

And that is how we might re-interpret the Pasuk " ... if a man has no-one to redeem him, then he will obtain funds to redeem himself".

*

Pay Now or Go Out Later

"And if he does not obtain sufficient funds to redeem himself, then he will go free in the Yovel year" (25:28).

It is well-known what Chazal (based on the Pasuk in Yeshayah 60:22, "I am Hashem, in its time I will hurry it") say about the coming of Mashi'ach. If Yisrael are not deemed worthy, Hashem will bring him in his time, but if they are, then Hashem will bring him sooner.

From our Pasuk it seems that Hashem applies the same tactics to a single Jew who is in Galus as he does to K'lal Yisrael as a whole says the No'am Elimelech. If he pays earlier, he goes out sooner. Otherwise, he will only go free when the time falls due.

*

Parshas Bechukosai
(adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)
The Mitzvah of Chalah

"And I will visit on you confusion (behalah), swelling and fever, and you will sow your seeds in vain, because your enemies will eat it" (26:16).

By switching the 'Hey' in "behalah" to a 'Ches' (in which case "be'halah" becomes 'be'chalah'), Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Yehudah (in Shabbos 32b), extrapolates that as a result of the sin of not taking Chalah, there is no b'rachah to be found in one's stores, and the seeds that one sows will be eaten by strangers.

*

What did Chazal see here to change the plain meaning of the Pasuk from 'confusion' to 'Chalah' (from punishment to cause)? Simple, says the G'ro! If by "behalah", the Torah had meant 'confusion', then, following the pattern of the subsequent words in the Pasuk, it ought to have written "es ha'beholoh" (like it goes on to write "es ha'shachafas ve'es ha'kadachas").

Changing "beholoh" to "be'chalah" dispenses with this problem.

*

Why is No-one Chasing Us?

"Your enemies will dominate you and you will flee, but there is no-one pursuing you" (26:17).

The last phrase in the Pasuk is puzzling to say the least. What sort of curse is the fact that no-one is in hot pursuit when we flee? Would it have been better if they had been?

*

The G'ro answers this question with a Medrash. Commenting on the Pasuk in Koheles (3:15) "And G-d pursues the one who is being pursued", the Medrash explains how He always defends the one who is being pursued, even if it is a Rasha who is being chased by a Tzadik. (Note that there are obviously exceptions to this principle).

The Chafetz Chayim goes so far as to say that there are times when G-d deliberately allows our enemies to pursue us, so that he can intervene and save us.

In any event, the ramifications of our Pasuk now become clear. In times of K'lalah, G-d not only allows our enemies dominion over us, but He also allows them to torment us to the point of fleeing. Then He makes sure that they do not chase us, so that He should not be forced to keep His promise, by having to offer assistance to the one who is being pursued.

*

Keri or be'Keri; Es or be'Es

"ve'Im Telchu imi keri . ve'holachti af Ani imochem be'keri" (26:21/ 24). There is a Mesorah (tradition) which reads 'the first and second time the word is "keri", and the third time, "be'keri". The fifth time it is "keri" and the sixth and seventh, "be'keri". "es" corresponds to "keri", "ve'es" to be'Keri". The final part of the Mesorah appears meaningless. It is what we call a Medrash P'li'ah (a seemingly undecipherable Medrash).

The G'ro however, refers to two Pesukim in Melachim (1 8:63/64), which describe the Korbanos that Shlomoh brought when he inaugurated the Chatzer of the newly-built Beis Hamikdash. There too, like here, the Pasuk uses the word "es" (sometimes with a 'Vav', sometimes without) seven times ("va'Yizbach Shlomos es zevah ha'Shelamim ... ki osoh shom es ho'Oloh ve'es ha'Minchah ... ").

*

What the Mesorah is therefore teaching us, is that the sequence here follows the same pattern as the sequence there. One might add that the connection is not haphazard, if we bear in mind that the Beis-Hamikdash and the Korbanos that were brought there are the very antithesis of the concept that we are independent of G-d (which is what going with G-d "be'keri" signifies). Serving G-d is the antidote to that sin.

Nor is the 'seven times' haphazard either, when we remember that seven is the number that signifies nature. And the power of nature is the essence of the Pasuk under discussion, to which sacrificing to G-d is the antidote, as we just explained.

*

Two No's Make a No-No

"And in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not despise them and I will not reject them, to destroy them" ('lo me'astim ve'lo ge'altim lechalosam') 26:44.

If someone says 'No' (I will not) or 'Yes' (I will) twice, the Gemara states in Shavu'os (36a), it has the stringency of an oath.

That is why Hashem said "I am Hashem, I will not change, and you sons of Ya'akov, will not terminate" (Malachi 3:6). That may be the simple meaning of the Pasuk. However, the words "lo shinisi" (I will not change) can also be translated as “I repeated the word "lo", says the G'ro. And where did He repeat the word "lo"? In our Pasuk "lo me'astim ve'lo ge'altim lechalosam".

What the Pasuk in Malachi is therefore saying is that because G-d repeated the word "lo", Yisrael (even when they are on the lower-level of 'B'nei Ya'akov) will never cease to exist.

*

And by the same token, says the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro, we can explain the Pasuk in Yeshayah "Because this is the water of the Flood to me, where I swore never to bring the water of No'ach again on to the world. So did I swear not to vent My anger on you or to scold you" (54:9), in the same way.

There too, such an oath is not mentioned specifically anywhere. The only possible source for it is the repetition of the word "lo" in No'ach (9:11) "ve'lo yikoreis kol bosor ... ve'lo yihyeh od mabul ... ". Clearly then, that is the oath referred to by Hashem in the Pasuk in Yeshayah, based on the Gemara in Shavu'os.

*

What Yeshayah is now saying is that just as Hashem swore that He would not bring another flood on the world (by means of the double "lo"), so too did He swear (by means of the double "lo" in the Pasuk Bechukosai) that He would not vent his wrath or scold Yisrael (to destroy them).

***

TEFILLAH

The Amidah
(based largely on the Siddur “Otzar ha’Tefillos)
(Part XXI)

The B'rachah of Refo'einu (cont.)

ve'Ha'aleh ... le'Chol Makoseinu

Until now, the Brachah has referred to the healing of our physical ailments, 'and bring a complete cure for all our ailments', comes to include the spiritual sicknesses, explains the Iyun Tefilah, which require Divine assistance no less that the physical ones.

Interestingly, the Eitz Yosef explains the repetition in the same way, but in the reverse order. The latter phrase, he explains, comes to include physical sicknesses, whereas the first part of the B'rachah refers to our spiritual ailments. And he says this as an alternative explanation for the double expression 'Heal us and we will be healed (see previous issue). In fact, he compares it to the Pasuk in Eichah "Bring us back to You Hashem, and we will return", which signifies that Teshuvah needs the impetus of a Divine push, and we follow it up with our own efforts. In the same way, we are asking Hashem here to make the first move and cure our sick souls, and once that has been done, we will ensure that there will be no relapse.

*

... a Faithful and Merciful G-d and King

The Iyun Tefilah compares this expression with the Tefilah of Rav Hamnuna Zuta on Yom Kipur (cited in B'rachos, 17a) 'and that which I sinned before You, cleanse in Your great mercy, but not through terrible illnesses and suffering'.

The Eitz Yosef connects it with the Pasuk in Ki Savo "and terrible and faithful illnesses", which therefore require a Faithful and Merciful Doctor to heal them. Indeed, the Avudraham inverts the order - 'a Merciful and Faithful G-d and King' (following the same order as the description of the illnesses in the Pasuk).

*

There are many sicknesses which require treatment that is painful or that entail evil-tasting medicines, that have painful after-effects or that leave scars. The best doctor might be quite prepared to eliminate whichever of these will accompany the cure that he administers. But he knows that if he intends the cure to be fully effective, the patient will have no alternative but to suffer, even as he is being cured. To be sure, it is possible to prescribe an alternative medicine or cure, that will perhaps be less painful, but then it will also be less effective.

*

It is only Hashem, unhampered by which method of treatment to employ, and brimming over with love for every Jew, who is free to cure faithfully and mercifully, whenever He chooses.

And that is why the Torah refers to Hashem's cures with a 'Fey' (a mild-sounding letter), explains the G'ro, whereas when it speaks about a doctor healing, it writes 've'rapo yerapei', with a 'Pey' (a harsh-sounding letter).

***

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