Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 6 No. 3
"Someone who goes with wise men will become wise, whereas someone who befriends 'fools' will be broken" (Mishlei 13:20). Sh'lomoh ha'Melech is advocating here, writes Rabeinu Bachye, that one should follow the sages and subordinate oneself to them in order to learn from them constantly. On the other hand, one should avoid the company of 'fools', as that leads to one's downfall. Rabbi Chavel, in his commentary, connects this with the Rambam, who, explaining the same posuk, remarks how a person is influenced by his environment and by the people with whom he mixes.
Another stark contrast between a person who goes with the wise and one who befriends 'fools' is the fact that, in the former case, the wise men stand to lose nothing through the company of those who wish to learn from them (much in the same way as a visitor to a spicery will leave the shop with his clothes giving off the beautiful scent of spices, even though the owner has lost nothing). He is like a lamp from which one takes a light, without the lamp losing any of its brightness. In the latter case, however, not only does the person who joins the 'fools' sustain a tremendous loss, but so too, do the fools stand to lose from such a partnership. It is the complete antithesis of the previous case.
To what does Shlomoh refer when he speaks of 'fools'? He refers to people, explains Rabeinu Bachye, who, of their own choice, prefer despicable character-traits and material desires, whilst rejecting anything to do with wisdom and common-sense. They belong to one of three groups whom it is forbidden to rebuke: 'fools', mockers and the wicked, for the fool will despise your words of rebuke (Mishlei 23:99), the mocker will hate you for your pains (9:8), and someone who rebukes the wicked will cause himself to become tainted and blemished by their retorts (ibid. 7).
And in the same way as the company of wise men results in one's gowth and development in the service of G-d, so too does the company of the wicked bring about its decline and nullification, as the posuk writes in Re'ei "When he leads your son astray, away from Me".
Indeed, that is why Dovid ha'Melech chose to open the book of Tehillim by stressing this very point, when he writes "How praiseworthy is the man who does not go in the plans of the wicked, and who does not stand in the way of sinners" etc. - immediately adding "But his sole desire lies in the Torah of Hashem". And Shlomoh, his son, followed in his father's footsteps by opening Sefer Mishlei with the same theme.
Avrohom Ovinu wished to fulfill Torah and to serve Hashem, for Chazal have taught us in Yuma (28b) that Avrohom kept even the mitzvah of Eruv Tavshilin. It was therefore necessary to beware of his contemporaries, who were wicked and who would interfere with his choice to do good.
That is why G-d appeared to him, instructing him to move far away from them, so that he should not be influenced by them and turn to sin. (It appears that not even Avrohom Ovinu was immune to the bad influence of wicked people!)
To what can Avrohom be compared, asks the Medrash Tanchuma? To a bottle containing spices that was lying in a graveyard, and whose fragrance was not therefore appreciated. So what did they do? They removed it from there, placing it among living people who would appreciate its beautiful fragrance.
Avrohom too, was living among idolators, who did not appreciate his superlative qualities. So what did Hashem do? He told him to move far away, so as not to dirty himself together with them.
The beginning of this Medrash suggests that it was not only in order to protect Avrohom's character that G-d instructed him to leave Choron, but in order that people should learn from his extraordinary character-traits.
Interestingly, Hashem's instructions to pay strict heed to the company that he kept, must have left its mark on Lot, who initially chose to share Avrohom's destiny. Yet when it came to the crunch, and Lot was given the choice of where to live, he unhesitatingly chose the evil company of the men of S'dom (see R. Bachye 13:12). Sure enough, the second half of our opening posuk took effect: "whereas someone who befriends 'fools' will be broken" - and Lot suffered first the degradation of being taken captive, and then, having to flee the town penniless, to live in a cave.
Forever to the Right
"If you go to the left" Avrohom told Lot, "then I will go to the right. and if you go to the right, then I will go to the left" (13:9). "Right", the Meforshim point out, means the South, and "left", the north.
We cannot accept the posuk at surface value, explains R. Bachye, since Avrohom's express intention was to travel to the south (see 12:9).
Consequently, we must interpret the latter statement to mean "if you go to the right, I will make you go to the left," because of my vast flocks of sheep (which need that particular grazing-ground).
According to Rabeinu Bachye, taking the right side was a monetary consideration. The Ma'asei la'Melech on the Chofetz Chayim, quoting the same Medrash Rabah as the commentary on R. Bachye, explains Avrohom's motivation in a different light. According to him, the source of the Medrash is the posuk in Koheles (10:2) "The heart of the wise man is to the right, whilst the heart of the fool is to the left". And indeed, Chazal have taught that 'whenever a person turns, it should always be to the right' - Yuma (15b). The right has positive connotations, the left has negative ones, and, all things being equal, one should always make a point of moving to the right.
This concept has practical ramifications with regard to the general direction the Cohen takes when sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices on the Mizbei'ach - and the direction one moves when making Hakafos round the Bimah; from Avrohom we learn a new application of the principle.
The Four Exiles
"And the sun set, and a deep sleep fell upon Avrom, and behold a great dark dread fell on him" (15:12). A hint, writes Rashi, to the darkness of the various exiles that Yisroel would later suffer. It is not clear however, how.
Various commentaries offer different explanations as to how the four exiles (besides that of Egypt, that was now imminent) are hinted here. See for example, the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'lei Tosfos.
R. Bachye follows the interpretation of the Targum Yonoson. He explains that "eimoh" (dread), represents golus Bovel; "chasheichoh" (darkness), the golus of Medes (who darkened the eyes of Yisroel by forcing them to initiate fasts); "gedolah" (great), the golus of Greece, and "nofeles olov" (fell on him), to the golus of Edom.
And why did Hashem choose to show Avrohom the four exiles at this juncture?
It is because He was in the process of entering into a covenant with Avrohom here, that He would give His children Eretz Yisroel as an everlasting possession (pesukim 7-21). It was therefore necessary to stipulate that there would be four periods during which their enemies would rule over them and take their land away from them. But first, the parshah continues, they would be exiled to Egypt, as this was a punishment that had just fallen due following Avrohom's query (in posuk 8), and would serve as the forerunner of the other exiles.
"And also the nation that enslaves them I will punish" (15:14).
Seeing as G-d had decreed that we would be enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, why should Par'oh and the Egyptians be punished for carrying out G-d's decree?
According to the Ramban, Par'oh was punished for carrying the decree further than G-d had ordained. Hashem had said that they would enslave them and afflict them, but not that they would embitter their lives, or that they would drown their new-born babies. And this is what the prophet Zecharyah means when he writes (1:14-15) "I was zealous for Yerusholayim... and I was very angry with the nations ... because I was only slightly angry, whereas they helped to increase the evil".
It is however, very difficult to see how anyone can carry a Divine decree further than G-d init; nor is it clear what the limits of affliction are, or how Par'oh and the Egyptians were to know just how far they were allowed to go in putting it into effect.
Consequently, the second of R. Bachye's explanations would appear to be more feasible. R. Bachye explains that if G-d decrees on Rosh Hashonoh that Re'uven is to die in the fothcoming year, and Shimon gets up and kills him, Shimon cannot expect to get a medal for carrying out the Divine decree. Indeed, he is fully punishable for his deed (see Rashi, Sh'mos 21:13 d.h. "ve'ho'Elokim" and Devorim 22:8 d.h. "ki yipol ha'nofel"), since G-d did not ask him to take the law into his own hands. He would however, be declared innocent if he was instructed by G-d or by a prophet to put the Divine into practice. In fact, then it would even be considered a merit, for which he would ultimately receive reward.
Par'oh, not having been instructed by G-d or His emissaries to enslave Yisroel, was fully punishable for all the suffering that he caused them. The fact that G-d had ordained it was simply not his business.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
(The Mitzvos Asei)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
56. To break the neck of the first-born donkey (as a penalty) should be fail to redeem it with a lamb - as the Torah writes (34:20) "And if you fail to redeem it, then you shall break its neck ".
'Breaking its neck' constitutes hitting it with a chopping-knife until it dies. It must be with a chopping-knife, and it must be this form of death, and none other. The donkey must be buried, and one may derive no benefit from it, not even after it has been killed, and not even after it has disintegrated.
This mitzvah applies everywhere, and at all times, to men and women alike, though Cohanim and Levi'im are exempt.
57. To separate Chalah from the dough and to give it to the Cohen - as the Torah writes in Sh'lach Lecho (15:20) "You shall separate the first of your doughs' chalah"."
A dough comprising any of the five types of grain (wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt) which is at least the size of forty-three and a fifth egg-volumes (the equivalent of approximately one and a half kilos of flour), is subject to the mitzvah of Chalah.
Chalah in Chutz lo'Oretz is only a Rabbinical obligation (in order that one should not forget the institution of Chalah altogether). Nowadays, the Chalah is burnt, due to the fact that nobody knows for sure that he is a Cohen, and that chalah may not be eaten be'tumah. Consequently, it is sufficient to separate a small piece of dough - the size of an olive - and not the twenty-fourth (or in the case of a baker, the forty-eighth) that the Chachomim fixed to give to the Cohen.
This mitzvah applies primarily to women but, where there is no woman to perform it, then it must be performed by a man.
58. For the Cohanim to bless Yisroel - as the Torah writes in Nosso (6:23-26) "So you shall bless Yisroel, say to them: He will bless you ... He will cause His Face to shine ... He will lift His Face ...".
Should the Cohen add any other brochoh to these three, he will have contravened the La'v of 'not adding to the mitzvos'. And should be fail to go up to duchen together with the other Cohanim when the Shatz calls out 'Cohanim', he will have negated this mitzvah. In fact, he will have nullified three mitzvos: "Ko se'vorchu", "Omor lohem" and "ve'Somu es She'mi".
A Cohen who blesses, is himself blessed, as the Torah writes in Lech Lecho "and I will bless those who bless you".
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times.
About the Mitzvos
Performing One's Duty - Part II
Last time (in Parshas Ki Sovo), we quoted the opinion of Tosfos (who explains that performing a mitzvah that one is obligated to perform, is on a higher plane because of the worry involved) and that of Tosfos Ri ha'Zoken (who gives the reason because he is taking upon himself the yoke of mitzvos - the essence of Judaism).
A third possible explanation (that border on both of the above explanations, though both fall short of saying so explicitely) is that the very purpose of Torah and mitzvos is to overcome the Yeitzer ho'Ra, for so Chazal have said 'I created the Yeitzer ho'Ra, and I created the Torah as its antidote' (Kidushin 30b). It goes without saying that whenever one overcomes him, one has grown in stature: it is another conquest to one's credit.
A person who is commanded, is faced with the Yeitzer ho'Ra, who will do everything in his power to prevent him from successfully performing the mitzvah. Not so when, rather than having been commanded to perform it, one volunteers to do that very same act. The forces that try to hold one back are then very much weaker. As proof of this, one needs only to note how the same person who resents being asked to perform a task one day, will readily volunteer to perform that very same task on the next.
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