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

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Vol. 7   No. 49


It's Not in Heaven!

The Gemoro in Bovo Metzi'a (59b) cites a B'raysa: On that day, Rebbi Eliezer brought them many proofs (that a certain oven is tohor), but they did not accept them.

'If the halochoh is like me,' he said, 'let this carob-tree prove it!' The carob-tree moved a hundred amos, but they declared 'One cannot bring a proof from a carob-tree.'

'If the halochoh is like me,' he continued, 'let this stream of water prove it!' Immediately, the stream began to flow in the opposite direction, but they declared 'One cannot bring a proof from a stream of water.'

'If the halochoh is like me,' he persisted, 'let the walls of the Beis-ha'Medrash prove it!' At once, the walls of the Beis-ha'Medrash began to cave in ... , but they declared 'One cannot bring a proof from the walls of the Beis ha'Midrash'.

'If the halochoh is like me,' he said finally, then Hashem Himself should prove it!', at which a Heavenly Voice proclaimed 'Why do you start with Rebbi Eliezer, like whom the halochoh is - every time?' Upon hearing this, Rebbi Yehoshua stood up and announced "It is not in heaven!", which Rebbi Yirmiyah explained to mean that the Torah was given to us at Har Sinai and we do not take cognizance of Heavenly Voices!


One can ask on this, says the Gro, that once Rebbi Eliezer saw that the Chachomim did not acknowledge his first sign, why did he persist in bringing the second sign, and the third ... ? And why did the Chachomim respond with the words 'One cannot bring a proof from a carob-tree ... from a stream of water ...'? Why did they not just say 'One cannot bring a proof from miracles' (irrespective of what the miracle is)?


It is well-known, explains the Gro, that Torah can only be acquired with three character-traits:

Frugality - Chazal taught 'This is the way of Torah - Eat bread with salt ...' (Ovos 6:4) and 'Chanina My son, makes do with a kav of carobs from Friday to Friday' (B'rochos 17b).

Humility - as Chazal said, in explaining why the posuk compares Torah to water: 'Just like water leaves a higher location to go down to a lower one, so too, do the words of Torah only remain with a person who is humble' (Ta'anis 7a).

Diligence - as Chazal said 'With whom will you find Torah? With someone who arrives in the Beis- ha'Medrash early and stays until late' (Eiruvin 21b). These three precious characteristics serve as large gates by which to enter the holy precincts. All of them were to be found with Rebbi Eliezer, which explains what made him worthy of having the halochoh fixed like him - every time.

That is why Rebbi Eliezer brought his first proof from a carob-tree, symbolising his frugality, as we cited above from the Gemoro in Ta'anis 'Chanina My son makes do with a kav of carobs ...'.

But the Chachomim replied that this was insufficient proof that he would not err in a matter of halochoh.

So he brought them a proof from the stream of water, to demonstrate to them that his rulings were also based on humility, reason enough to rule like him (like we find by Beis Hillel, like whom we rule against Beis Shamai - for this very reason - Eiruvin 13b).

They were still not satisfied however, that that was sufficient reason to rule like Rebbi Eliezer. So he proved to them that he also possessed the third of the above character-traits, from the walls of the Beis-ha'Medrash (which could testify as to the long hours that he spent there - and would therefore do his bidding).

When they were not satisfied that the halochoh should be like him (though it is not clear at this stage why not - perhaps due to logic or tradition), he requested Divine intervention ... And Rebbi Yehoshua objected because - "It is not in heaven" ...


To understand Rebbi Yehoshua's final statement, let us turn to the Medrash Rabah (Bereishis 8:5). The Medrash relates that when G-d contemplated creating man, 'Chesed' agreed, but 'Emes' did not. Emes disagreed because man is full of lies.

So what did G-d do? He threw 'Emes' down to earth, as the posuk writes in Tehilim (85:12) "Emes will sprout from the earth, and tzedek will look down from the heaven".


What the Medrash means is that, whereas there is only one absolute truth, that point of truth is so obscure, hidden as it is by so many perplexities and doubts, that it is nearly impossible for man to attain it. And it is on account of man's difficulty in attaining the truth that 'Emes' objected to man's creation. So G-d threw 'Emes' down to earth. In other words, it would be man (the Chachomim) who would decide the emes arbitrarily, using the rules handed down to Moshe at Har Sinai, irrespective of the ultimate truth, which lies with G-d (which can no longer determine the Halachah).

And that is why, when the Heavenly Voice vindicated Rebbi Eliezer, who, due to his outstanding characteristics, had arrived at the absolute point of truth, Rebbi Yehoshua stood up and announced that the Torah was no longer in heaven.

The truth lies here on earth with the Chachomim. Consequently, applying the principle of following the majority, they were obligated to rule that the oven in question was tomei - because Torah (the truth) no longer lies in heaven. We take no notice of Heavenly Voices (even though we know that what they declare is the absolute truth). Adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro.


Parshah Pearls

Adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro
Miracles in Chutz lo'Oretz

"And I will hide My face from you on that day ... " (31:18).

'Where is Esther hinted in the Torah?' asks the Gemoro in Chulin (139b), and it goes on to quote our posuk "ve'Onochi Haster Astir Ponai Ba'yom ha'Hu," which clearly hints at Esther.


It is not at first clear, asks the Gro, why Chazal ask specifically about Esther, and not the many other tzadikim with whom major miracles occurred.


Most other miracles, he replies, took place in Eretz Yisroel, where they are not so uncommon. It is the miracle of Purim that Chazal found extraordinary, because it took place in Chutz lo'Oretz. (Perhaps they were less concerned with the miracles of Daniel and of Chanayoh, Misho'el and Azaryoh, which also took place in Chutz lo'Oretz, because they were personal miracles, that directly affected the people concerned, but not the whole of Yisroel.) And it is for this reason that they considered the miracle of Purim greater than that of Chanukah.


That is why they asked 'Where do we find Esther in the Torah?' What they really meant to ask was, where the Torah hints that even when Hashem's Face is hidden from us (when we are in exile), he still performs miracles with us.

And the Gemoro answers with the posuk "ve'Onochi haster astir Ponai ba'Yom ha'Hu", meaning that on that day, when I will hide My face from them, I will send them Esther. This hints at the miracles that took place then - hidden miracles, because they occurred in golus, during an era when Hashem's face was hidden from us.


Hiding the Hidden

One might well ask why the Torah changes the format of the word from "hastir" to "Astir"? It should either have written "haster hastir" or "haster astir", but why "haster astir"?


It is well-known, explains the Gro, that the Jews are a holy nation, who are able to avert evil decrees, and to break down the iron walls that divide between them and their Father in Heaven with their prayers, as many Medroshim relate. The reason that they sometimes fail to do so is because they ascribe the punishments of G-d to natural phenomena, against which prayer is ineffective, so they do not bother to pray.

And that is what is meant by "Haster astir Ponai meihem" - meaning that Hashem will hide from them the fact that their suffering is the result of Hashem's having hidden His face from them. He will lead them to believe that it is caused by natural circumstances, depriving them of the incentive to pray. That is Hashem's way of ensuring that when Yisroel drive Him out of their lives, they receive the full retribution that they deserve.


The Testimony of Ha'azinu

"And now, write for you this song and teach it to the B'nei Yisroel ... in order that it shall be a testimony against them" (31:19).

The Gemoro in Nedorim (38a) proves from this posuk that it is not only the Song of Ha'azinu that was given to Yisroel (and not just to Moshe), but the whole Torah. It is not clear however, how.

Rashi explains that what the Torah is saying is that Ha'azinu is a testimony that Yisroel are obligated to learn Torah and to teach it, but his explanation is very difficult to understand, points out R. Yosef Shaul Natanson.

The Ran adds that unless the Torah was referring to the rest of the Torah, what would the testimony be referring to? His words certainly appear to clarify Rashi's explanation. What does the Ran mean, asks the Maharsho? The testimony does not refer to the Torah and mitzvos, but to the punishments that Yisroel will have to endure?

The Maharsho might have concluded that unless Yisroel had been commanded all of Torah and mitzvos, what would be the point of the testimony (seeing as they could hardly be taken to task for having contravened what they had not been commanded. But he does not do so. In fact, that may well be what the Ran means.


All The Mitzvos in Ha'azinu

R. Yosef Shaul Natanson cites a Gro, who points out that the parshah of Ha'azinu contains six hundred and thirteen words, and that each word hints at one of the Taryag mitzvos. And the Seifer Shiroh la'Chayim elaborates, and explains how each word, by means of an acronym, hints at one of the mitzvos as listed by the Rambam - in the order that they appear in the Torah. With this, he explains, the Gemoro in Nedarim fits like a glove. Because what the posuk is saying is that the Song of Ha'azinu is a testimony that all the Taryag mitzvos were given to the whole of Yisroel.


We also have here a clear indication that there are Taryag mitzvos, as agreed upon by the Behag and the Rambam, though the Ramban has doubts about the matter, suggesting that Rebbi Simlo'i in Makos (23b), who specifically says there are, is an individual opinion. (It should be noted though, that at the end of the day, the Ramban is strongly inclined to agree with the Behag and the Rambam.)


(Part 1)
Kindness and Truth

Rabeinu Bachye observes that all the thirteen attributes of Hashem are contained in 'chesed' and 'emes'. On the one hand, he explains, a King needs to show mercy to his subjects and to deal with them beyond the letter of the law. On the other, there are times when he must judge them strictly in accordance with the law, as Shlomoh wrote in Mishlei (20:28) "Kindness and truth guard the King ... " because his kingdom is established on account of them, and they protect him when he adheres to them.


The Gemoro in Rosh Hashonoh (17b) cites Ilfa, who asks how these two midos, which seem to clash, both appear here together among Hashem's attributes.

Initially, he explains, Hashem applies the Midas ha'Din and then (when He sees that the world cannot live up to such high standards) He switches to kindness (to deal with mankind beyond the letter of the law) - see Rashi Bereishis, end of 1:11).


In that case, one may well ask, what is the significance of the midah of emes?

There are two explanations to this:

First of all, there are rare tzadikim, such as Ya'akov Ovinu (who specifically asked Hashem to judge him with Midas Elokim - the midas ha'din - and who suffered accordingly, but who survived) who are able to live with it.

And secondly, 'emes' has other connotations too. It also implies that Hashem's word is sacrosanct and is not subject to being broken - a connotaion which continues to apply even when the previous one does not.


Hashem, Hashem

There are two opinions as to whether the first "Hashem" of the thirteen Attributes is one of the attributes, or simply the subject, and translates as "And Hashem passed in front of Moshe and called out, 'Hashem, Keil ...' ".

The latter is the opinion of R. Nisim Gaon quoted in Tosfos Rosh Hashonoh (17b), who supports this with the fact that there is a 'p'sik' (a verticle line) between the first Hashem and the second, indicating that the first Hashem does not belong to the list of Attributes. To make up for the missing Attribute, R. Nisim divides 'Notzer chesed la'alofim' into two: 'Hashem plants the chesed that a person performs, to reward him later when it, is needed is one midoh; and that He allows it to grow up to two thousand generations (five hundred times more than punishment ever does) is another.


Mercy Before the Sin

Rashi and Rabeinu Tam however, subscribe to the first opinion - one of the Names of Hashem pertains to before a person has sinned, and the other, to after he has sinned and has done teshuvah - and both are Attributes.

But surely, the commentaries ask, a person who has not sinned does not require Divine mercy to spare him from suffering?


The Torah Temimah explains that indeed he does. He needs G-d's Divine mercy to help him not to sin (for so Chazal have said 'If not for Divine assistance, one would be unable to overcome the Yeitzer ho'ra' - Kidushin 30b).


The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos and the Rosh that a person needs the Divine mercy even before he has sinned, because Hashem knows that he is going to sin, and would be perfectly justified in withholding His mercy from the potential sinner there and then. But He does not! The Or ha'Chayim questions this explanation, however. He claims that, if it was at all feasible for Hashem to punish for sins that have not yet been performed, then, based on His knowledge that "there is no man who does only good and does not sin", why does He create him in the first place?

Instead of posing this question on the Rosh however, the Or ha'Chayim could have asked it on Chazal, who learn from the phrase "ba'asher hu shom" (Bereishis 21:17 - see Rashi there) that Hashem does not punish a person before he has sinned. Here too, the Or ha'Chayim could have posed the question that he posed on the Rosh.

It therefore seems to me that inherent in the creation (which, as Chazal have said, was created with chesed), lay the fact that Hashem does not contend with a man's sins before he has actually performed them.

The angel who told Hogor that Hashem had heard Yishmoel's cries "ba'asher hu shom" was merely reiterating this same concept. And Hashem finally formulated it in the word "Hashem". All three are part and parcel of the adage 'Olom chesed yiboneh'.


Devoid of Merits Too

The Or ha'Chayim himself explains that when Chazal speak about before a person having sinned, they are referring not only to someone who has not sinned, but to someone who, due to circumstances beyond his control, has not performed mitzvos either. Such a person does indeed have need of Divine mercy.

Alternatively, when Chazal say that that one "Hashem" speaks before a person has sinned and the other, after the sin, what they mean is that when Hashem deals kindly with a person after his sin, He continues to treat him in exactly the same way as He did before it. He does not, as a rule, retaliate one iota for his having sinned against Him. This explains, he concludes, why we see wicked people continuing to succeed after they have left the fold, just as they did beforehand.

According to this explanation however, "Hashem, Hashem" is counted as one midoh, and not two.


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