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

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Vol. 6 No. 15

Parshas Bo

To Fear Evil
(based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)

How praiseworthy is the man who is always afraid, whereas someone who is hard-hearted will fall to evil" (Mishlei 28:14).

Shlomoh ha'Melech's message here is that a person should always be soft-hearted, and that he should be constantly afraid in all his affairs and in all his deeds, to reflect on their objective, and to have that objective in mind when he performs them. And he warns that one who hardens his heart will suffer the consequences.


He uses the term 'Ashrei' (praiseworthy) an expression that never appears in the singular. Its use is confined to the plural, because one does not generally esteem a person on account of only one good deed that he has performed or only one good quality that he possesses. That one does when he has many good deeds or qualities to his credit, as Dovid ha'Melech writes in Tehilim "Praiseworthy is the person whom You choose and bring close, that he should dwell in Your courtyards" - and it is only someone who possesses many good qualities that G-d would choose and bring close. Similarly, he said "Praiseworthy is the man who places his strength (i.e. fortification) in You, the pathways in their heart". By pathways, he means the different levels of the heart connected with one's fear of G-d and one's trust in Him. And again in Tehilim, he writes "Lord of Hosts, praiseworthy is the man who trusts in You". Because the quality of trust incorporates many grades. Similarly, in the opening possuk, Dovid writes "Praiseworthy is the man who does not go" ... and he goes on to list many levels - "he did not go ... he did not stand ... he did not sit". In our case too, by "Praiseworthy is the man who is always afraid" Shlomoh is referring to the person who continually, in whatever he does, reflects carefully about their objective - before he performs them. Without any shadow of doubt, he will end up with many mitzvos by which he will be considered good in the eyes of both G-d and man.


And because the fear of G-d is acquired through one's intellect and goes against one's natural instincts, Shlomoh refers to 'odom' (the instinctive man, which stems from the word 'adomoh') rather than to 'ish' (the spiritual one), as if to say: How praiseworthy is the one who was created from earth, who is formed with physical parts! Yet he leaves his physicality, allowing himself to be drawn after his intellect, which in turn, causes him to be constantly afraid in all that he does. He carefully weighs his actions before he performs them, always having in mind the end result. In this way, he never sins.

Take for example, the issue of food. He does not eat because of the fine taste of the food, in order to satisfy his desires, because by doing so, he becomes a partner with the animals. Rather he eats, having in mind the main objective - in order to have a body that is healthy and strong, so that he will be able to serve G-d, because any other motivation is considered sinful. Similarly, when it comes to marital relations, he does not perform this merely for the physical pleasure that he derives from it, but in order to fulfil the mitzvah of having children (and the mitzvah of onoh’).

And the same applies to working for his livelihood. He sets out to earn what he needs, dealing honestly, having in mind to bring in money, both in order to sustain his body and for the success of his spiritual endeavours. In the process, he takes great care not to rob or to steal from his friend, nor to cheat him. He always bears in mind that, to the extent that his body benefits in this world through stealing and cheating his friend, his soul will lose out in the next. He knows that his desire for the money that is not his, is a sin that carries with it the death penalty, and he will ultimately pay for it with his life - just like the bird whose desire to get to the corn in the net, makes it oblivious to the fact that the net is there to catch it, and unaware that, as it flies towards the corn, it is flying to its doom. For that is precisely what happens to those who see only the temporary pleasure and not what will happen later. And that is what Shlomoh meant when he said in Mishlei (20:17) "False bread is pleasant to a man, but afterwards his mouth will be full of pebbles".

And this applies equally to everything that a person says and does.


The person who is afraid anticipates the punishment before it comes, because he is afraid of it, whereas the one who hardens his heart and is not afraid of G-d, fails to see the punishment before it is upon him.

To be constantly afraid is the result of humility. It elevates a person and that is why Shlomoh uses the expression 'Ashrei', an expression of elevation. On the other hand, he continues "whereas someone who is hard-hearted will fall to evil". His hard-heartedness is a result of pride and haughtiness, therefore he mentions the term "will fall" (measure for measure). And as opposed to the tzadik, who will rise even after he has fallen seven times (Mishlei 24:16) - he will fall and not arise again, even if he suffers only one calamity. From this and many other such pesukim, we see that the wicked man is ready for punishment and prepared for the day of evil.


"All the work of G-d is for His sake, and also the wicked man for the day of evil" (Mishlei 16:4). Even the punishment of the wicked man is also "for His sake", for the sake of the glory of G-d, in order that His Name should be sanctified, just as we find with the wicked Par'oh, who hardened his heart, which is why he fell and ultimately perished. He hardened his own heart, of his own accord, and G-d hardened it even more, in order to punish him, to increase his signs and wonders in Egypt, as the Torah writes in the opening possuk of the parshah.

Parshah Pearls
Par'oh's Teshuvah (cont.)

After the plague of locusts, the Torah again informs us that G-d hardened Par'oh's heart (10:20), and this is repeated in even stronger terms after the plague of darkness (11:9-10). Last week we discussed the two answers of the Ramban as to whether G-d literally stopped Par'oh from doing teshuvah so as to punish him for his past stuubornness, or whether He was stopping him from relenting now for the wrong reasons, and would punish him even for that, too. Both of these imply that a gentile is subject to teshuvah just like a Jew, a point of view with which not all commentaries agree, as we discussed recently.


In accordance with those commentaries, it is possible to explain that, whether he relented or not was not really a matter of remedying the past at all, but concerned only the future (i.e. if Par'oh were to relent, he would not receive any more punishment than that which was already due for his past stubbornness, whereas if he did not, he would be punished for that too). Either way, he would be punished for what he had done wrong before.


The problem with those who maintain that gentiles are not subject to teshuvah, lies in the story of Yonah, where the entire city of Ninveh did teshuvah and were saved (the question takes on a new twist when we consider the opinion which holds that the King of Ninveh was none other than Par'oh, who was spared at the Reed Sea)?

The answer must be that, whereas normally the teshuvah of a gentile is ineffective (a logical enough contention, considering that Chazal describe teshuvah, even at the hands of a Jew, as a big Chidush, that neither the Torah, nor wisdom, nor the prophets can conceive its effectiveness). Ninveh however, was different, because teshuvah there was a 'ho'ra'as sho'oh' (a momentary ruling, applicable only then), seeing as that was the very purpose of Yonah's mission.

In that case, we could well say the same by Par'oh: G-d sent Moshe to Par'oh in order to convince him to relent and to do teshuvah. There too, it was a ho'ra'as sho'oh, which explains why the Ramban speaks of teshuvah. There is no proof however, that in other cases, non-Jews are subject to teshuvah.


A Body Without a Soul

The Chofetz Chayim describes Torah and Eretz Yisroel (both among the five acquisitions that Hashem acquired) as the Soul and the body respectively. Just as the Soul cannot live without the body, and the body without the Soul, so too, can Torah not survive without Eretz Yisroel, nor Eretz Yisroel without Torah.

In exile he said, we cannot exist; here, we are not allowed to stay, and there we are not allowed to do business. In one place they murder us and in another, they libel us. Yet in spite of it all, we have survived, even if it is with dificulty - that is with Torah and without Eretz Yisroel. But Eretz Yisroel without Torah, he explains, is nothing more than a piece of earth - a body without a Soul.


From Evil Comes No Good

The Ma'aseh la'Melech relates how the Chofetz Chayim once expressed his chagrin concerning the left-wing parties in Eretz Yisroel: 'Is it conceivable,' he asked, 'that from such people, any good will emerge? That the Divine Presence will rest in the work of their hands?'


Without Torah There is No Jewish State

And when they showed him a newspaper cutting, where a correspondent had written that it is possible to be a good Jew even without Torah, the Chofetz Chayim responded with a strongly worded article which was widely publicised. This is what he wrote: 'The Jewish people exists solely by virtue of the Torah and its fulfillment, and not by virtue of its country and language.

If we fail to observe the Torah, he pointed out, our country and our language will not save us. Our fathers settled in the land, but they were exiled from it because of their sins, just like the Novi Yechezkel wrote (18:21) "And the nations will know that the House of Yisroel went into exile because they dealt falsely with Me; and I will hide My face from them and give them into the hands of their enemies."

Those who believe that Torah and Mitzvos are a side-issue and have no connection with the building up of the land are making a bitter mistake. Remember what the Torah writes: "And the land will not vomit you for defiling it, in the same way that it vomitted the nations that preceded you." (Vayikro 18:21) - if that is, you avoid behaving the way they did.

Eretz Yisroel is the palace of the King. Someone who sins there has sinned greatly - the danger is blatant!

The Chofetz Chayim might well have written that today!


A Secular State

The Chofetz Chayim’s son, Reb Aryeh Leib, used to relate how his father perceived the Balfour declaration as an awakening from above, a move towards the redemption (the coming of the Moshi’ach). However, he declared, he was afraid that the secularists would squander the Heaven-sent opportunity. On many occasions throughout our history, he added G-d had shown signs of goodwill, but the people who lived at the time had abused them!

That too, might well have been written today!

(The Mitzvos Asei)

Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.

69. To return the lost article of a Jew - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei "You shall surely return them to your brother". Someone who hides oneself from it, has nullified a positive mitzvah and transgressed a negative one (see Mitzvas Lo Sa'aseh 182). In the event that he takes the article but does not return it, he nullifies a second negative command (see also Lo Sa'aseh 35). The obligation to return a lost article applies even to one whose owner is a rosho, but not to someone who eats non-kosher foods because he couldn't care less (rather than out of convenience) or to someone who breaks Shabbos in public (in front of ten Jews). Each of these fall under the heading of 'apikores' to whom returning a lost article is prohibited.

If one finds a type of lost article which is undignified for him to return (e.g. something that is degrading to walk through the streets with), he is exempt from picking it up. If however, he wishes to go beyond the letter of the law and return it, he will receive a Divine blessing. The criterion here is whether or not he would carry the same article through the streets if it belonged to him.

The obligation to return a lost article applies only when the article has some form of identification mark. If it does not, or if the owner has been heard to despair of finding it, then the finder may pick it up and keep it.

Nowadays, the finder tends to publicise his find in the locality where he found the article, and that is sufficient. Once a person picks up a lost article, the obligation to return it remains with him until he has fulfilled the mitzvah. Unless the owner grants him permission to keep it, he will never become permitted to do so.

The mitzvah extends to any way that one can spare a Jew a monetary loss (e.g. to close the door or windows of his house to prevent thieves from entering).

Rabeinu Yonah writes that if it is a mitzvah to make the effort to save a person from a monetary loss, how much more so to save him from bodily pain (or to save him from spiritual bankruptcy). This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.

About the Mitzvos
Little Mitzvos - Part II

Rashi, at the beginning of Parshas Eikev, explains that the implementation of the covenant that Hashem made with our forefathers depends not upon our observance of the big 'important' mitzvos, but of the small ones - those that people tend to 'tread on with their heels' (i.e. that they treat with contempt).


No picture will ever be acclaimed a masterpiece, and no project will receive credit, unless one pays careful attention to all the details. Imagine a jig-saw puzzle with only a few minor pieces missing, or a car with some small screws that rattle.

Judaism without the 'small' mitzvos is a picture without the details, and a project not completed; it is a jig-saw puzzle with pieces missing, a car with rattling screws. Judaism minus the small mtizvos cannot succeed and flourish any more than a business where the managers concern themselves only with the important issues and ignore the details can.


We say every day in the third parshah of the Shema, that the mitzvah of tzitzis reminds us to perform all the mitzvos, and then we will be holy. Another reason (apart from the one that we gave above) is that who is to say that our choice of the important mitzvos is the correct one? Hashem deliberately declined to grade the mitzvos, so that we should not pick and choose the mitzvos that we feel inclined to keep.

At Har Sinai, Hashem described us as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Holiness, as we just explained, can only be attained by keeping all the mitzvos. That explains what we wrote above - that it is only when we carefully observe the small mitzvos, no less than the big ones, that G-d will fulfill His side of the bargain. By picking out the mitzvos that we consider important and dropping the others, we render the covenant that He made with our forefathers null and void.

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