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

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Vol. 10   No. 50

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Parshas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

It's Not In Heaven
(Based on the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro)

On that day, says a B'raisa in Bava Metzi'a (59b), Rebbi Eliezer brought numerous proofs, but the Chachamim did not accept them. So he said to them 'If the Halachah is like me, let the carob-tree prove it!' All at once, the carob-tree moved a hundred Amos from its place. 'One cannot prove anything from a carob-tree', they said.

So he said to them, 'If the Halachah is like me, let the stream of water prove it'. Immediately, the stream of water began to flow in the opposite direction.

'Neither can one bring a proof from a stream of water', they said.

'If the Halachah is like me', he continued, 'let the walls of the Beis-Hamedrash prove it', and the walls of the Beis-Hamedrash began to cave in ... . 'Nor can one bring a proof from the walls of the Beis-Hamedrash', they argued.

Finally, he asked for Divine support, at which, a Heavenly Voice proclaimed 'Don't argue with Rebbi Eliezer, because the Halachah is like him at all times!'

In response, Rebbi Yehoshua stood up and announced 'It (the Torah) is not in heaven!' What he meant, Rebbi Yirmiyah explains, is that since the Torah was given to us at Har Sinai, we take no notice of Heavenly voices (but rather, we follow the Halachic process, as handed to us together with the written Torah).

The question arises, that once Rebbi Eliezer's colleagues perceived the first sign and dismissed it, what did Rebbi Eliezer think he would achieve by adding more signs? What was the point of any subsequent miracles, once they had refused to acknowledge the first one?

And furthermore, why did they refer specifically to a carob-tree, a stream of water and the walls of the Beis-Hamedrash, as if it was these particular items that hindered the proofs? Why did they not just refer to miracles in general, which cannot influence the Halachic process, irrespective of what they comprise?


However, the G'ro explains, there are three attributes that one needs, in order to acquire Torah - making do with a minimum (histapkus), humility (anavah) and studying with extreme diligence (sh'kidah).

In connection with making do with a minimum, Chazal said in Ta'anis (7a) 'Chanina My son, makes do with a kav of carobs from one Erev Shabos to the next'.

They describe humility by comparing it to a stream of water. For so they said, 'Just as water will always leave a high place and flow to a low one, so too, do words of Torah only exist in a humble person' (ibid.).

Whereas in connection with diligence, they said 'Where does one find Torah? There where someone studies it in the Beis-Hamedrash from early morning until late at night' (Eiruvin 21b). And each of these three precious traits existed in Rebbi Eliezer, rendering him worthy to fix the Halachah like him, as the heavenly voice announced.


That is why Rebbi Eliezer's first proof consisted of uprooting a carob-tree, to demonstrate his Midah of histaspkus. And when that proved insufficient, he made the water reverse its original course, demonstrating that he was genuinely humble too, and was worthy to have the Halachah fixed like him (in the same way as the Halachah is fixed like Beis Hillel, for that very reason).

And when his colleagues retorted that the Halachah is not like everyone who lives modestly and who is humble, he further demonstrated that in addition, his Shekidah in Torah was exemplary, as the walls of the Beis-Hamedrash testified. And with such a combination he figured, they were bound to concede that he was right.

But they did not, and what's more, Rebbi Yehoshua even went on to deny the bas-Kol (the Heavenly Voice), because 'Torah is no longer in Heaven.


The G'ro explains this with a Medrash. The Medrash Rabah writes how, at the time of the creation, 'Emes' objected to the creation of man, on the grounds that he is full of lies. So what did Hashem do? He cast Emes to the ground.

Emes' objection, he explains, is based on the fact that the truth, buried beneath thousands of problems and doubts, is beyond man's natural reach. So Hashem cast 'Emes' to the ground, by which Chazal mean that He placed it in the domain of the princes of Torah. Wherever there are doubts, their decision is final. It is the ultimate truth (even if they call 'left' what we think is right, and 'right' what we think is 'left') and that is what we have to accept.

That is why the Torah writes in Shoftim (17:11) "according to the rulings that they teach you".

And that is why Rebbi Yehoshua announced 'Lo ba'Shamayim Hi'. The Torah itself having given the Chachamim the exclusive rights to declare what is the truth, their decision is the only one which we are obligated to abide by. And just as the layman is obligated to obey the decisions of the Talmidei-Chachamim, so too, must the Talmidei-Chachamim bow to the majority, in accordance with the principles that oral tradition dictate.

Their word is final!


Parshah Pearls
(Based on the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'G'ro)

The Two Goods and the Two Bads

"See I have given before you that which is life and that which is good, that which is death and that which is evil ... and you shall choose that which is life" (30:19).

There are two kinds of Yeitzer-Hara, explains the G'ro, one is called 'death', and the other, 'evil'. When one person performs or speaks something bad to another, that is called 'evil'. Infinitely worse than that is when he speaks to him nicely, as if he was a friend, whilst his heart schemes evil against him. That is called 'death'.

Correspondingly, there are two kinds of Yeitzer Tov, one is called 'life', the other, 'good'. 'Life' refers to someone who learns Torah 'lish'moh' (for its own sake), and 'good', to someone who learns she'lo lish'moh (for ulterior motives).

Indeed, both are depicted in the Pasuk in Mishlei (3:16) "Long life in its right-hand, and in its left, riches and honor". Certainly, the two in the first pair ('life and good') are preferable to those in the second ('death and evil'), yet if one has to choose between the two, the Torah states clearly that one is well-advised to choose 'life'.


Parshas Va'Yeilech

Better a Thousand Deaths

"And G-d said to Moshe, 'Behold your days are running out. Call Yehoshua!" (31:14).

The Medrash relates how on the day that Moshe died (but prior to his death), G-d spoke (for the first time) to Yehoshua. When Moshe asked Yehoshua what G-d had said, he asked Moshe whether, when G-d had spoken to him throughout the forty years in the desert, he had asked him what G-d had said.

At that moment, Moshe felt a twinge of jealousy. 'In that case', he decided, 'a thousand deaths are better than one jealousy'.

This Medrash is incredible, the G'ro declares. Is this the sort of (insensitive) behaviour one would expect from a man of the calibre of Yehoshua?

And he answers that this was all part of G-d's plan to persuade Moshe to discard his desire to enter Eretz Yisrael, and to convince him to die willingly.

Moshe had already Davened five hundred and fifteen Tefilos to induce G-d to repeal his decree. He now believed that even if, as he had been informed, he could not encroach on Yehoshua's leadership, he would at least be permitted to enter a his Talmid. In his supreme humility, he did not mind in the least changing roles with Yehoshua, as long as he was able to enter the land and perform the Mitzvos there.

G-d knew however, that this would not really give him nachas. And it was to demonstrate this to Moshe that he instructed Yehoshua to give the above reply to Moshe, when he asked him what G-d had told him.

And that is precisely what happened. It must have caused Yehoshua extreme anguish to have to say that to his beloved Rebbe. But to his credit, he did so nonetheless. Moshe got the message, and his reaction could not have been clearer. Never mind how many Mitzvos he might be able to perform in Eretz Yisrael, he decided, if such a life would result in the slightest lapse in Midos, then a thousand deaths were preferable.


Idolatry and Adultery

"And this people will arise and go astray (ve'zonoh) after the foreign gods of the land" (31:16).

The G'ro had a tradition going back to Moshe Rabeinu, that each and every form of idol-worship was attached to immoral practices. And that explains why the Torah always uses an expression of 'z'nus' (adultery) when referring to this sin, such as we find in Shoftim (8:33) "and they went astray (va'yiznu) after the Ba'alim".


It all Depends on the Motivation

"And this 'song' will testify before them as a witness, because it will be forgotten from their children" (31:21). This is an assurance, Rashi comments, that Yisrael will never totally forget the Torah (to which "this song" refers). The Gemara in Bava Metzi'a (85b) tells the story of Rebbi Chiya, who made great efforts to ensure that Torah should not be forgotten from Yisrael. What did he do?

He planted flax-seeds. With the flax he made nets which he used to trap deer, whose meat he distributed to the poor, and whose skin he used to manufacture 'K'laf' (parchment) on which he wrote the five books of the Torah. These he took to towns where there were no Melamdei-tinokos (children's Rebbes), and used to teach the Jewish children Torah.

The G'ro observes that Rebbi Chiya could have saved himself much time and effort, by purchasing the skins from a skin-dealer, and commissioning a Sofer to write the five Chumashim for him.

Why, he asks, did he go to so much trouble to do everything himself?

And he points out that the reason that Torah nowadays (with reference to the period in which he lived, more than two hundred years ago) does not flourish, is because it is based on a flimsy foundation. The father wants his son to learn, in order to become a Talmid-Chacham (rather than for the knowledge and his self-perfection), and the Rebbe wants only the money.

Had Rebbi Chiya done what we suggested, he would have had the same success rate as we sadly find in today's generation. In fact, by performing every stage of his endeavour himself, he made sure that every act from the planting of the seeds, was performed purely le'Shem Shamayim. In this way, he succeeded in transforming an entire generation of potential Amei-ha'aretz into one of Torah-scholars.


In another version, it is said in the G'ro's name that if the Shuls were built from scratch le'Shem Shamayim, (that is to say that even the axes that were used to chop down the trees from which the wood to build them was taken, were manufactured by people whose sole intention was le'Shem Shamayim), then nobody who Davened in such a Shul would ever entertain a foreign thought during Davenning.

Because we can learn from Rebbi Chiya, how intrinsically bound are the thoughts that go into the preparation of a Mitzvah, with the level on which the Mitzvah is ultimately performed.


Davar be'Ito Le'David, Hashem Ori ve'Yish'i (Tehilim, Kapitel 27)

In This I Trust

In "le'David, Hashem Ori ve'Yish'i", David first describes how his individual enemies stumbled and fell, and then refers to armies that attacked him. About them he declares that he was not afraid, because he trusted "in this". According to most commentaries, 'in this' refers to his opening words "G-d is my light and my salvation", reason enough not to be afraid. The Medrash connects the word "with this" (be'Zos) with the "be'Zos yovo Aharon el ha'Kodesh" in Acharei-Mos, referring to the Korbanos of Yom-Kipur. David was actually expressing his firm belief in the power of Yom-Kipur. He reckoned that he had sinned, and that he deserved whatever punishment G-d had in store for him, but he knew that come Yom Kipur, the one day in the year when the Satan does not operate, he was given the chance to do Teshuvah. And above all, he knew that G-d was bound to accept that Teshuvah and atone for his sins. That is why he was not afraid.


Yet a third explanation appears in the Ib'n Ezra, who connects "be'Zos" with David's request to dwell in the house of Hashem, which follows in the next Pasuk.

He knew that if G-d would grant his request, and allow him to become attached to Him, and to delve into the esoteric aspects of G-d's existence, he would enjoy Divine protection, safe from the clutches of his enemies. This is reminiscent of the advice given by the Gemara in Gittin 'Go early to the Beis-Hamedrash and stay late, and your enemies will fall away automatically!'


Learning from One's Rebbe

David Hamelech begins by asking for only one thing, namely, to sit in the house of Hashem all the days of his life. Yet he continues "to perceive the sweetness of Hashem and to visit His Heichal (Temple)".

The Medrash relates how Hashem actually queried David over this seeming discrepancy. And David's remarkable reply was that he had taken his cue from Hashem Himself. Had Hashem not told Yisrael that the only thing He expected of them was "Yir'as Hashem", but then gone on to add 'to go in G-d's ways, to love Him and to serve Him ... ". And what is good for the Rebbe, David concluded, is good for the Talmid!


That's all very nice. But the question remains unanswered. If anything, the fact that G-d did the same thing makes it even more difficult to comprehend. And in any event, since when do two wrongs make a right!


To solve the problem (both promlems) let me give two Meshalim (parables).

A king commissioned a palace, but on his list of requirements, he included the number of wings, how many rooms in each wing, the number and sizes of the courtyards, and details concerning the doors, the windows, the chandliers and all the trappings.

Sure it was only one palace, but palaces come with many component parts, and one would expect the builder to anticipate all of that and more when he received the plans from the architect.

Likewise, when Hashem told Moshe that all He was asking was for Yisrael to fear Him, that was the palace, all the rest was accessories, which one would anticipate to be part of the contract.

In His capacity as our Creator and our King, G-d might well have asked us to climb to the Heaven or to travel overseas (as the Pasuk writes in Nitzavim). He would certainly be entitled to demand that we go to great expense (seeing as all that we own is His) in His service. Yet all He asks of us is to serve Him with our mouths, with our hearts and with our deeds - hence the phrase "What does Hashem ask from you other than to fear him ... ". It is one relatively modest request, but it does comprise a number of components.


The second Mashal concerns someone who ordered a top-quality car from the manufacturer. Again, it was only one car that he ordered, and only one car that he intended to pay for, yet it was not so much the car that interested him, as the use he intended to put it to. For you see, he had aging parents who lived in a distant town whom he meant to visit regularly, as well as numerous Tz'dakah projects that required extensive travel, all of which could not possibly be achieved without the car.

When David Hamelech informed G-d that his only request was to dwell in the house of Hashem - that was the car. But that was only the vehicle, to arrive at his other destinations, 'to gaze at Hashem's sweetness and to visit His Sanctuary'. He knew full well, that these goals were attainable only as long as he dwelt in the house of G-d. Because in more mundane surroundings, there wasn't the least chance that he would be able to achieve it.


Keep on Hoping

"Hope for Hashem', the Kapitel concludes, 'be strong and courageous, and hope for Hashem". To explain the repetition, the commentaries stress that one's trust in G-d should be ongoing, and should never waver. The Gemara in B'rachos (32b) learns from here that if one Davened and one's prayers were not answered, one should Daven again. When G-d sees that our prayers are genuine, and that we really means what we say, then He will respond favourably.


The Chofetz Chayim asks a similar Kashya with regard to Rosh-Chodesh Benshing, where we ask G-d for a life of Yir'as Shamayim and Yir'as Chet, and then again for a life of love of Torah and Yir'as Shamayim?

When we ask for Yir'as Shamayim for the second time, he explains, we have just asked for 'osher ve'chavod' (wealth and honour). After asking for osher ve'chovod, it becomes necessary to repeat one's request for Yir'as Shamayim, since there are few things that stand in the way of Yir'as Shamayim like they do.

Perhaps we can explain the repetition of 'hope for Hashem' in a similar fashion. We said it the first time, before the statement 'be strong and courageous'. But having asked for strength and courage, it becomes necessary to repeat the request to hope for Hashem, because once a person becomes strong and courageous, he is likely to begin trusting in his own strength, rather than in G-d .


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