Vol. 6 No. 28
The Kiss of Life
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"The one who answers correct words will kiss the lips" (Mishlei 24:26).
Shlomoh ha'Melech is teaching us the supremacy of the talmid-chochom, whose words are well-received by the people. Everyone wants to listen to him, because he speaks correct words, answering the questions of all those who pose them.
This possuk is not coming to tell us that it is befitting to kiss the talmid chochom's lips, since what would be the significance of such an act? And besides, it should then have said "the lips shall be kissed", rather than "the lips shall kiss".
What Shlomoh is telling us here is that people listen carefully to the words of a talmid-chochom, and their hearts are atuned to what he has to say. Consequently, due to his popularity and, because his words are accepted by everyone, when he speaks, it is as if he was kissing the lips of those who listen to him.
By way of Kaboloh however, "the correct words" refers to words of wisdom, the expression of "kiss" to a spiritual communion, and "the lips" to the banks of the river (which has the connotation of 'a border').
What the possuk now means is that the wise man who reflects about the major issues of the upper wisdom, from which his mind never departs, will cleave to the extremiy of that wisdom, and in his craving to attain it, he will merit death by a kiss from G-d; he will not die at the hand of the Angel of Death like his contemporaries. That is the level of craving described by Dovid ha'Melech in Tehilim (91:14) "Because he craved for Me, and I will save him".
Moshe, Aharon and Miriam earned the merit to die in that way, since the Torah mentions at their death "by the mouth of G-d", which refers to 'death by a kiss'. When Miriam died, the Torah does not use that expression, since it is not respectful to Hashem to write such a thing. Nevertheless, Chazal derive from a Gezeirah Shovoh that Miriam died in the same way as her brother Moshe.
The Ovos too, by whom the Torah writes "ba'kol", "mi'kol" and "kol" respectively, died by a kiss from G-d. And so did Rabeinu Hakodosh (Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nosi), due to the fact that he attained the highest levels of wisdom, as we explained earlier.
The Gemoro in Kesubos (104a) relates how, at the time of his death, Rebbi raised his ten fingers heavenwards, and declared 'Master of the World, You know full-well how I toiled with these ten fingers, without deriving benefit from this world as much as my little finger. May it be Your will that I rest in peace'. At these words a Heavenly voice proclaimed 'He will come in peace, and rest on his bed!'
And the Yerushalmi adds that when Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nosi died, Rebbi Yanai announced that on that day, the prohibition of Tum'as kohanim was nullified (i.e. the Kohanim were permitted to bury him). The reason for this is because, normally the Kohanim, who are the servants of the High G-d, are sanctified to His service and are forbidden to desecrate their Kehunah by becoming tomei meis. But when Rebbi died, because his death was not brought on by the Angel of Death, but by G-d Himself, there was no tum'ah, the laws of Kehunah were waived that day and the Kohanim were able to participate in his burial.
Adapted from the Chofetz Chaim and the Ma'asei la'Melech
Even One Mitzvah
"And don't desecrate My Holy Name" (22:32).
The Chofetz Chayim would often cry when quoting the words of the Seifer Yerei'im, who wrote that Chilul Hashem has many connotations, one of them being that anyone who despises even one mitzvah, or who deals light-heartedly with the honour of Hashem, is termed a desecrator of G-d's Name.
No Quarter Given
The Mishnah writes in Pirkei Ovos (4:5) that, even if one desecrated Hashem's Name in secret, he will be punished in public, and it adds that one receives the punishment for Chilul Hashem that one transgressed inadvertently as if he had transgressed deliberately.
To Sin Without Any Gain
Another connotation of Chilul Hashem, says the Chofetz Chayim, is someone who sins without gaining any benefit from his sin. In that case, anyone who speaks loshon ho'ra or who accepts it, transgresses, not only the many la'avim connected with loshon ho'ra, but also that of Chilul Hashem, since there is nothing to be gained in speaking loshon ho'ra or to listening to it - it is a pure act of rebellion, and therefore constitutes Chilul Hashem.
All this pertains to an ordinary Jew. With regard to a Talmid-chochom, anything that he does that will cause others to think that he is sinning, even if he is not, is considered Chilul Hashem (as the Gemoro in Yuma 86a points out, citing a number of examples to prove it).
That is why the Chofetz Chayim would rebuke the Yeshivah students who would shave their beards very close to the skin, giving the impression that they had used a razor, even when they had not. And the Chofetz Chayim himself would not skip any part of Pesukei de'Zimra, even when the halochoh permitted it (see Orach Chayim, Si'man 52), so that no-one should suspect him of omitting parts of Pesukei de'Zimra without justification. Consequently, on the rare occasions that he arrived late for davening, he would make a point of waiting for the next minyan, or he would go and daven in another shul.
An Officer With Stripes
A talmid-chochom, the Chofetz Chayim used to say, is like a high-ranking officer in the king's army, wearing his uniform and stripes. When he behaves in a dignified manner, he brings honour to the king, but when he does not, he brings him disgrace - even though this would not be the case if an ordinary soldier were to behave in exactly the same way.
One should never forget that neither teshuvah, nor Yom Kippur, nor even suffering, can atone for Chilul Hashem - only death.
And one should bear in mind that when one's mitzvos and aveiros are weighed, even assuming that they are equal, should the scale of aveiros contain even just one Chilul Hashem, the scale of aveiros will weigh down.
Missing the Train - for the Sake of G-d
The Chofetz Chayim was once hurrying with his case to the station in Vilna to catch the train, when someone stopped him and asked him to make up a minyan in the house of an ovel.
In spite of the fact that he had already davened and in spite of the urgency of his mission, he made up the minyan - even though he knew that it would mean missing his train - to avoid creating a Chilul Hashem.
And You Will Gather Your Corn ...
... provided, that is, you perform the will of Hashem, the Gemoro explains in B'rochos (35b) - if you do not, then not you will gather your corn, warns the Novi in Hoshei'a, but Hashem!
And in a B'raisa there, Rabbi Yishmoel and Rebbi Akiva dispute how to reconcile the possuk here with the possuk in Yehoshua (1:8), which exhorts us not to allow the Torah to depart from our mouths (i.e. that we are to study Torah incessantly).
According to Rebbi Yishmoel, the possuk in Yehoshua must be taken with a pinch of salt - even at the best of times, when we adhere to the mitzvos of the Torah (the scenario currently under discussion in the second parshah of the Shema), we cannot expect miracles. Sure, we will be blessed with a lot of time to learn Torah, but at the same time, we will be enjoying Hashem's bountiful blessings and we will have to spend some time in the fields tending to our harvest.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai however, is not happy with this explanation. If we are expected to gather our own harvest, then what will happen to our Torah-learning? How will we be able to fulfill the possuk in Yehoshua, to spend day and night studying Torah, he asks?
He therefore establishes our possuk when we listen to Hashem and obey his commandments, but not to our utmost ability; the Torah speaks, in other words, of when we observe but we do not excel.
When we excel and perform the mitzvos to perfection, we will not need to gather our corn, because then, others will gather it for us, as the Novi Yeshayah writes (61:5). Then, the possuk in Yehoshua will be realised and others will gather our corn for us.
And the Gemoro goes on to describe these two categories of people, when it laments how the later generations would search for ways to avoid having to give Terumos amd Ma'asros (even though what they were doing was one hundred per cent halachically justified), whilst the earlier generations would make a specific point of giving them, in order to fulfill the mitzvah. The former observed, but the latter excelled!
Until now, the B'raisa has only discussed two eras in the history of Klal Yisroel: when they observe and when they excel. But there is a third category: namely, when they sink to such low levels that, not only will others not gather their corn, but they will have to gather the corn of others, as the Torah warns in Ki Sovo(28:48).
Many did like Rebbi Yishmoel and succeeded, Abaye concludes; like Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, and did not. Indeed, immediately after this, the Gemoro relates how Rovo would instruct his disciples to tend to their harvests throughout the months of Nisan and Tishri, so as to be free to study Torah with him during the rest of the year - like Rebbi Yishmoel.
From Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, we learn that a Jew can perform many mitzvos, and even earn himself the description of 'observant', yet he can improve on his level of observance, to strive for even greater excellence in the fulfillment of mitzvos, to rise from one who observes to one who excels. That is why we have ' borrowed' the following article (which really belongs with The Mitzvos of Today), and placed it in this issue.
About the Mitzvos
Performing Them With Conviction - Part I
It is of utmost importance to perform a mitzvah with great care and forethought, because it is not just for the mitzvah that one will be rewarded, but also for the way in which one performs it. Without doubt, that is why the preparation before performing a mitzvah is so vitally important.
The Medrash tells us that, if Reuven would only have known that the Torah would record how he saved Yosef from the brothers, by suggesting that they throw him into the pit, with the intention of retrieving him later, he would have placed Yosef on his shoulders and marched him back to his father (and it makes a similar comment about Aharon going to meet Moshe when he was first chosen as leader of Yisroel, and about Bo'az, who was kind to Rus).
Reuven saved Yosef's life by standing up to his brothers and convincing them to change their plans and not kill Yosef. There can be no doubt that this was a tremendous mitzvah for which Reuven earned great reward. Yet the Medrash testifies that he could have done a lot better - he could have saved Yosef (not to speak of his father Ya'akov) untold anguish, by doing what he believed to be the right thing with a lot more conviction. The truth of the matter is that, had he done so, he would not only have spared Yosef and Ya'akov all the ensuing suffering, but he would have spared the whole of Yisroel the bitter golus Mitzrayim with all its consequences. Not only could he have done so, but he would have, had he but realised that the Torah would record it.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos writes that all our deeds are written in the Book. They are all recorded before Hashem. Surely that is reason enough to shun evil deeds for which we will eventually have to pay a heavy price. But it is also good reason to examine carefully our good deeds, to see if they cannot be improved upon and performed with greater perfection and devotion. Because in that way, we will be rewarded, not only for our good deeds, but also for the enthusiastic and convincing way in which we perform them.
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