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

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Vol. 6 No. 46

Parshas Nitzovim (Vayeilech)

An Open Rebuke
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)


"An open rebuke is better than hidden love" (Mishlei 27:5).

Shlomoh ha'Melech teaches us in his Seifer many of the basic principles of rebuking. In fact, life itself depends largely upon rebuke, and death upon those who hate it, and there are many pesukim in Mishlei that reiterate this concept. That is why elsewhere he writes "Bad suffering for the one who has forsaken the path, but death to the one who hates rebuke". Someone may have left the trodden path, but as long as he can take rebuke, G-d will rebuke and chastise him in order to bring him back. Not so the person who hates rebuke. There is no point in rebuking or chastising him, since rebuking and chastising him will not move him to mend his ways. This leaves Hashem with no choice but to kill him.


The love of rebuke is a sign of good midos, and hatred of rebuke, of a bad character and bad midos. And it is in this connection that the posuk in Mishlei writes "Do not rebuke a mocker, lest he hates you (for it); (but) rebuke a wise man and he will love you".

The rebuker for his part, should speak the truth, and not withhold it in order to flatter the person whom he is rebuking. He should condone what he did right and comdemn what he did wrong. Because a tzadik and a rosho stand at two opposite ends of the scale, and someone who is saved from being a rosho is not yet a tzadik, but a 'beinoni' (in the middle). The ideal method of rebuking is therefore to reveal to the person who is being rebuked the exact truth concerning his deeds. That is why Shlomoh said "An open rebuke is better than hidden love". It is better that one rebukes one's friend, speaks to him harshly, telling him the absolute truth and speaking with him words that appear hateful, than one who shows him a hidden love from the bottom of his heart, whilst declining to rebuke him for the wrong that he does.

Others explain that open rebuke is good when it stems from a hidden love. And the Redak, quoting his father, explains the latter part of the posuk to mean that, if the rebuke stems from love, then it needs to be done in private, so as not to embarrass the person.


The Medrash Rabah connects "an open rebuke" to Moshe, who reprimanded Yisroel openly and honestly, and "hidden love" to Bil'om, who blessed Yisroel as if he loved them, but that is not what he thought in his heart. He wanted to say "How good are your tents Mo'ov, your dwellings, sons of Amon!", but Hashem twisted his mouth and made him say "How good are your tents Ya'akov, your dwellings, Yisroel!". But Moshe's rebukes were open, conforming exactly with what was in his heart.


It is also possible to explain the posuk to mean that a revealed rebuke (referring to the rebukes of Bechukosai and of Ki Sovo) is good, because it comes from a hidden love (the Shechinah, which is called 'Love' [twice in Shir Hashirim]). And why is it good? Because it (each of the rebukings) materialised, the former in the first Beis ha'Mikdosh and the latter in the second, and achieved the positive good that Hashem had intended, as the Torah writes in Eikev "in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to do good to you in the end". Clearly, this is so, because the curses have passed, and Yisroel have survived.

Furthermore, the Medrash Tanchuma writes that, whereas the nations of the world fall only once, never to rise again, Yisroel fall many times, but each time they fall, they rise once more. That is why, explaining the posuk in Ha'azinu "I will finish My arrows on them" (32:23), the Tanchuma writes 'My arrows will finish, but they will not'. It is like a marksman who places a beam and proceeds to shoot arrows at it; he will run out of arrows, but the beam will still be standing. So it is with Yisroel, they fall many times, and they experience many sufferings. The sufferings pass, but they remain. And that is what Yirmiyah meant when he wrote in Eichoh "He drew His bow and He placed me like a target for His arrows". And this too, is what Moshe meant when he wrote "You are standing today, all of you ... " (see Rashi, posuk 12).


Parshah Pearls

(adapted from the Chafetz Chayim)


Words and Thoughts

"Because the thing is very close to you, with your mouth and with your heart, to do it" (30:14).

The Torah incorporates all categories of mitzvos here: those connected with action, those connected with speech and those connected with thought, points out the Chofetz Chayim. Many people tend to speak and think freely, on the understanding that what is important is what one does, and that what one says and what one thinks are of no consequence.


The truth of the matter is, says the Chofetz Chayim, that there are mitzvos that are connected with speech and mitzvos that are connected with thought, and that those mitzvos require at least as much care and attention as those to do with action - perhaps even more so, seeing as one is so easily influenced to treat them lightly (perhaps they are included among the mitzvos that people tread with the heel, about which Rashi speaks at the beginning of Eikev).

And it is to these mitzvos that the Torah in Ha'azinu refers when it writes (32:46) "Put your heart to all these things ... because that is your life". The Torah is instructing us there to teach our children to observe all the mitzvos to do with speech and with thought, for they constitute life, and everyone needs life.


Alternatively, we could explain "your mouth" and "your heart" differently; they could well pertain to the mitzvos of action too: to be sure, the mitzvos of action are performed by the limbs of action - the hands, the feet. Nevertheless, negative speech and negative thoughts can interfere with the performance of the mitzvos, and in the same way, positive speech and thoughts can enhance the performance of the mitzvos. What the Torah is therefore saying is that we should adjust our mouths and our hearts, to speak and to think positively, in order to perform the mitzvos to perfection, even those mitzvos that are performed primarily by actions.

And that is also what the posuk in Ha'azinu means: since the performance of mitzvos constitute our life, it is worthwhile investing time and effort in them to see to it that our mouths and our hearts combine with our bodies, to serve G-d in perfect harmony.



Lighting Up the Darkness

"And now, write for yourselves this song, teach it to the B'nei Yisroel, place it in their mouths" (31:19).

Even though this posuk seems to be referring to the song of Ha'azinu (which follows it almost immediately), it refers also to the mitzvah of writing a Seifer-Torah (the last mitzvah in the Torah).


It is most significant, points out the Chofetz Chayim, that this mitzvah appears in the Torah immediately after the posuk in which G-d describes how He will hide His face from us when we are in exile.

The Gemoro in Sotoh (21a) commenting on the posuk in Mishlei "Because a mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah, light", explains that just as light shields (or shines) forever, so too, does the Torah shield forever. The other commentaries there (6:23) add that Shlomoh ha'Melech is actually comparing the Torah to a natural light that lights up the darkness. That explains the juxtapositioning of the mitzvah of writing a Seifer-Torah next to the troubles of the golus, the Chofetz Chayim continues. The light of the Torah is so powerful that, even when Hashem hides His face, and the darkness of golus falls, the light of the Torah will light up the darkness, to show us the way that we should go.


The Chofetz Chayim would sharply criticize those people who wasted their time with pastimes which were totally inconsequential, and were of no spiritual advantage whatsoever. He would quote Rebbi Yishmoel in the Gemoro in Menochos (99b), who once told his nephew Domoh ben Nesinah that, though he had learned the entire Torah, he was only permitted to study Greek chochmah in a period of time which was neither day nor night. And he based this ruling on the posuk in Yehoshua (1:8) "This Seifer-Torah shall not move from your mouth" - which means that there is no time that we are ever exempt from studying the Torah.


In any event, every Jewish man should take care to learn at least a little each day, and a little each night, as the posuk writes in Yehoshua (1:8) "And you shall study it by day and by night" - and this is how the Rambam rules.


About The Mitzvos

The More People, The Better
(Part II)

The more people who perform a mitzvah, the better, for so Shlomoh ha'Melech writes in Mishlei "The glory of the King is enhanced by a multitude of people" (14:28).

Perhaps the most common ramification of this principle is with regard to Tefilah, and indeed, the Gemoro in Rosh Hashonoh (18a) teaches us that whereas the Tefilah of a community is always answered, an individual can only expect his Tefilah to be answered during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. Elsewhere, Chazal inform us that a prerequisite of the tefilah of an individual is Kavonoh (devotion), whereas the tefilah of a community is answered anyway.


It would be a fallacy however, to restrict the posuk in Mishlei to a distinction between davening on one's own and davening with a minyan. In fact, the obligation to daven with a minyan applies independently of that posuk, seeing as a communal davening attains a level of sanctity that that of an individual cannot possibly attain, thereby placing it on a higher plain. The posuk in Mishlei speaks for example, when there are two shuls, one which is frequented by twenty people, the other, by a hundred. Intrinsically, the two tefilos are no different from each other - both are on the same level of sanctity, yet Shlomoh wrote "The glory of the King is enhanced by a multitude of people". The more people there are, the greater is the honour of the King.


(The Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh)

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

23. Not to persuade any Jew to serve idols - as it is written in Re'ei (13:7-12) "When your brother ... persuades you saying 'Let us go and serve other gods' ... and all Yisroel will hear and be afraid, and will not continue to do these evil things".

Someone who persuades another Jew to serve idols, whether it is one person that he entices or many, is due to be stoned, even if neither of them actually worshipped the idol.

The one who persuaded is guilty, and receives the death-penalty, even if there was no warning.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


24, 25 & 26. That the person who is being persuaded (to serve idols) may not empathise with the one who is persuading him, repress his hatred or do anything to save him from being put to death - as the Torah writes in Re'ei (13:9) "Do not agree with him, do not listen to him and do not take pity on him".

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


27. Not to prophesy in the name of an idol - as it is written in Ki Seitzei (23:13) "And do not mention the name of other gods".

Someone who transgresses is due to die by strangulation - even if what he prophesied conformed with the halochoh (e.g. to proclaim [in the name of the idol] tomei what is tomei and tohor what is tohor).

This mitzvah applies everywhere, and at all times, to men and women alike.


28. Not to scratch one's flesh for idolatrous purposes or on account of one's dead relative - as it is written "Do not cut yourself" (Re'ei 14:1).

Someone who cuts himself because of his dead relative transgresses this la'av, irrespective of whether he does so with his hand or with an implement; whereas if he does it for idolatrous purposes, he only transgresses if he uses an implement, but not if he does it with his hand (in which case he is not punishable 'min ha'Torah').

Included in this la'av is the prohibition of splitting into factions (i.e. organising two Botei-Din in one town, each with its own customs).

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


29. Not to swear falsely/in vain by the Name of G-d - as the Torah writes in Yisro (20:7) "Do not swear by the Name of Hashem falsely/in vain".

This la'av has four branches: 1. Swearing to change the identity of something which is known (e.g. that a certain man is a woman or that a stone is a piece of gold; 2) Swearing in vain (e.g. that a certain man is a man, or that a stone is a stone; 3) Swearing to negate a mitzvah; 4) Swearing to do something that is impossible (e.g. that he will not sleep for three days, or eat for seven). In each of these cases, someone who swore deliberately (knowing the relevant facts) is due to receive malkos, but not if he erred in the facts.

Someone who recites a b'rochoh that he should not be reciting, also transgresses this la'av, and the Rabbonon also forbade even the mention of G-d's Name in vain. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


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