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Vol. 12 No. 47
Pesach ben Efrayim Shimon z.l.
For This is All of Man
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)
"If only their hearts would always fear Me in this way" (5:26).
Koheles ends with the (repeated) Pasuk "In the end, everything will be heard, G-d will be feared and His Mitzvos kept, for this is all of man".
Over and above the simple explanation (the fear of G-d is the most important objective in man's life), this is how R. Yosef Chayim explains the final phrase.
Each and every person has a sphere in which he is superior to his peers - one sings beautifully, another is a talented painter and a third, a brilliant mathematician. It is a Divine gift that the Creator bestows upon every individual.
And when, after a hundred and twenty years, a person appears before the Heavenly Court to give Din ve'Cheshbon, will they ask him why he did not sing like Ploni or paint like Almoni? Certainly not!
It is like the Rebbe, R. Zushe once said 'In heaven, they will not ask me why I did not achieve what this Gaon or that Tzadik achieved. They will ask me why I did not achieve what Zushe was meant to achieve'. And so Chazal have said in Kesubos (67a) 'According to the camel, is its load (large camel, large load; small camel, small load)'.
The above is true in every area of material endeavor, but not when it comes to Yir'as Shamayim. The fear of G-d is open to all ("Ki zeh kol ha'adam"), and everyone can help himself to as large a helping as he likes. This is the one sphere which depends solely on one's own free choice and subsequent efforts, for this too, is clearly stated by Chazal in B'rachos (33b) "Everything lies in the Hands of G-d except for Yir'as Shamayim".
Throughout the book of Koheles, Shlomoh Hamelech has declared everything in this world, futile. Being told by the wisest of men that no matter what we do or achieve, it is "Hevel havolim" might easily lead a person to sink into a deep depression. The realization that one's life is empty and valueless is hardly conducive to cheerfulness and is bound to result in despondency.
The last Pasuk however, changes all that. It is like the well-known interpretation of the Pasuk in Tehilim (87:6) "G-d counts like the nations of the world". And how do the nations of the world count? The answer is that a number preceding so many naughts indicate the size of the total. One naught on its own is indeed naught, and so are two or three ... . Place a one in front of a number of naughts however, and the more naughts that follow it, the larger the number.
And this is how the commentaries explain the second last Pasuk in "Eishes Chayil" "Chein is false and beauty is futile, But a woman who fears G-d is praiseworthy". Charm and beauty (on their own) are naughts, they say, and the fear of G-d, one. A woman who possesses only Chein and beauty has nothing but two naughts. But if she also possesses the fear of G-d, then she has two naughts which are preceded by a one, because just as the two naughts enhance the one, so too, does the one enhance the two naughts. No less than a woman's Chein enhance her Yir'as Shamayim, does her Yir'as Shamayim enhance her Chein and beauty, turning them into assets.
And that is what Koheles is coming to teach us. Every asset in this world is of no value, unless it is preceded by Yir'as Hashem. When it is, then the more naughts that follow, the more total assets one ultimately ends up with.
The bad news is that without Yir'as Shamayim, one's life is a total failure; the good news, that every item that one strives for in this world with Yir'as Shamayim, is a success story in itself.
The choice lies entirely with us.
* * *
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)
The Ambiguous Comma
"Ascend to the top of the mountain and lift up your eyes west, north, south and east ... and see (the Land) with your eyes, because you will not cross this Yarden" (3:27).
This is the simple way of translating the Pasuk (based on the fact that the 'Esnachto '(the comma) is placed after "eyes" and translating "ki" as' because'). There is however, another way of punctuating and translating it, says R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld.
Chazal have said that if Moshe had crossed the Yarden and built the Beis-Hamikdash, Yisrael's very existence would have been jeopardized. This is because when they sinned, G-d, unable to destroy the Beis-Hamikdash (since that would compromise Moshe's Midah 'Netzach'[eternity)], would be forced to annihilate Yisrael completely; whereas now that he did not, G-d was able to 'pour his wrath on the wood and stones', and destroy them instead.
Based on this Chazal, we can explain the opening Pasuk like this "Ascend the Mountain, and see with your eyes that you will not cross this Yarden".
G-d wanted Moshe to understand himself that it was for the good of Yisrael that he was not permitted to cross the River Yarden.
by Modern Inventions
"Has such a great thing ever happened before, or was such a thing ever heard?" (4:32).
"That what was will be, and that what was done, that is what will be done" (Koheles, 1:9).
R. Yosef Chayim was not impressed by modern technology, which was constantly producing new inventions. He maintained that the secrets of modern technical advances were all known to Chazal, only, wary of their potential dangers (both material and spiritual) to mankind, they declined to reveal them.
When, in the year 5697, the German Zeppelin flew its maiden voyage over the Jerusalem skies, everybody, men women and children, ran up onto the roofs to see this modern wonder with their own eyes. Everybody that is, except for R. Yosef Chayim, who refused to move from his Sefarim even for one moment. He murmured to himself the Pasuk "How great are Your wonders Hashem ... ", and continued learning.
At the other end of the spectrum, he never failed to express his wonder and admiration upon hearing a Chidush from an Adam Gadol.
In keeping with R. Yosef Chayim's theory, the story appeared in last week's 'Hamodi'a' of a doctor, who had many discussions with his patient, ha'Rav Sinai of Zhemigrad. These discussions included an ongoing debate about the earlier part of the same Pasuk in Koheles "There is nothing new under the sun". Every time the doctor would inform the Rav of a new invention, the latter would cite him a Chazal where it was already mentioned. He was never able to best the Rav, until one day, convinced that this time, he had found a genuine innovation, he ran in triumph to the Rav's hospital bed and informed him about the radio, which enables people to hear each other half way across the world.
'R, Sinai did not hesitate for a moment', the doctor concluded. 'It says in Chazal (Yoma 20b) that "three sounds travel from one end of the world to the other ... and some add a fourth ... the Radia" '.
So impressed was the doctor, that he vowed to give all Zhemigrad descendants free medical care for the rest of his life!*
A Rare Midah Indeed
"And you shall love Hashem your G-d, with all your money" (6:5).
This is one of Chazal's two interpretations of "be'chol me'odecha".
This phrase only appears in the first paragraph of the Sh'ma, but not in the second, even though "be'chol levovcho" and "be'chol nafsh'cho" appear there too.
R. Yosef Chayim explains that it connects with the fact that whereas the first paragraph is written in the singular, (to the individual,) the second one is written in the plural (to the community).
There may be a few rare individuals who will give up all their money and possessions for the sake of G-d, but an entire community - to give up their lives yes, but all their money, no!
One such individual, he says, was R. Yosef Levi Chagiz, who was prepared to lose everything he owned rather than to transgress Shabbos by asking a gentile to perform something for him on Shabbos that would normally be forbidden, even though the prohibition was no more than an Isur de'Rabanan.
"And you shall love Hashem ... with all your heart ...And these words shall be ... on your heart ... and you shall teach them to your sons and speak about them ... " (6:5-7).
With reference to the last phrase, the Sifri comments that the words of Torah should be the mainstay of one's life, and that one should not combine them with anything else. One should not say 'Having studied the Chochmah of Yisrael, I will now go and study other Chochmos'. Therefore the Pasuk in Bechukosai writes "to go in them (and never to relinquish them)". And the Pasuk in Mishlei writes "They (words of Torah) alone shall be with you and not those of a foreign culture".
We see from the above that the key to Ahavas Hashem is learning Torah, first oneself, and then to pass it on to one's children, as the Pasuk "ve'Shinantom" indicates.
R. Yosef Chayim maintained that this is the chief purpose of man's creation. As immediately after the Mitzvah to accept the yoke of Heaven, the Torah commands us to love Hashem, and goes on to command us to place the words of Torah on our hearts and to teach them to our children. Can anything be clearer than that?
And he cites the Malbim, who states that one's love of G-d needs to be expressed in thought, in speech and in deed. Based on that, he explains that one loves Him in thought, by not thinking of anything else other than words of Torah, in speech, by speaking Divrei Torah constantly; and in deed, by teaching and educating one's children to do the same thing. To rear one's children in Torah and Kedushah, R. Yosef Chayim maintained, gives Hashem more pleasure than anything else that we do!
* * *
From the Haftarah
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
The Greatest Consolation
"Take comfort, take comfort, my people (ami)" (Yeshayah 40:1).
In a world which insists that G-d has long forsaken us and that we are no longer His people, G-d's use of the word "ami" is in itself, the greatest consolation, says the B'nei Yisaschar.
Whose People, Did You Say?
When Yesahayah said the words "Nachamu, nachamu ami", the people wanted to kill him. And it was only when he continued "yomar Elokeichem", making it clear that his opening words were not his own, but those of G-d, that they desisted.
To explain this strange Medrash, the Tzavrei Shalal reminds us that when Yisrael sin, G-d refers to them as "amcho" ("your people" [like we find after the sin of the Golden Calf, when He told Moshe to descend the mountain "because your people have sinned"]), and it is only when they do His will, that He refers to them as "Ami" (My people).
When the people heard Yeshayah use the word "ami" in his opening phrase, they thought that he was speaking in his own name, and calling them his (Yeshayah's) people (which would be equavilent to 'amcho'), and they were angry with him, since what sort of a consolation was it that implied that G-d was angry with them?
So he added the words "says Your G-d", thereby reassuring them that these were not his words, but the words of G-d, that they were indeed G-d's people ('ami'), and that He was on good terms with them.
* * *
AND THEIR MEANING
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article
reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch
and are not necessarily Halachah.
To Learn Torah and to Teach It
It is a Mitzvas Asei to learn the Chochmah of the Torah and to teach it. This entails learning how to perform the Mitzvos and how to avoid doing what G-d has forbidden us to do, and also to know the true interpretation of the judgements of the Torah. And it is in connection with all this that the Torah writes in Va'eschanan "And you shall teach them to your 'sons', which the Sifri interprets as 'your disciples'. And we find elsewhere that disciples are referred to as 'sons', when in Melachim (2) 2:3, the Pasuk writes "And the sons of the prophets went out". The Torah uses the word "ve'Shinantom", which means that the words of Torah should be so clear that, if someone asks you something, you should be able to answer him immediately, without hesitation. This Mitzvah is repeated in a number of places - in Va'eschanan (5:1) it writes " ... and you shall learn them ... ", in Sh'lach L'cha (15:39) "and in order that they shall learn", and in Eikev (11:19) "And you teach them to your sons".
The reason for the Mitzvah is self-understood, for, somebody who learns will know the ways of G-d. If he does not, he will not know and not understand, and will remain ignorant, just like an animal.
Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... The Chachamim have said that from the moment one's son is able to speak, he should teach him the Pasuk "Torah tzivoh lonu Moshe ... " and that of "Sh'ma Yisrael". From then on, he teaches him Pesukim from the Torah little by little, until he reaches the age of six or seven, when he hands him over to a Rebbe to learn with. One should take care not to overburden one's son with too much learning whilst he is still tender and immature, until he grows up and becomes stronger and more mature, and able to bear the rigours of long hours of Torah study, without wearing himself out from the strain ... Once however, he reaches that stage, and he understands the importance of listening to his Rebbes, then he should be made to accept the yoke of Torah to the full, without letting go as much as a hairsbreadth. From then on, he should give him to drink the spiced wine of Torah and feed him with its honey ... The Gemara in Kidushin explains that a man is obligated to teach his son Torah like Zevulun ben Dan, who taught his grandson Mikra, Mishnah, Gemara, Halachos and Agados. In fact, the Gemara concludes, the Chiyuv is only to teach one's son Mikra, even though Zevulun ben Dan taught his grandson more than that (for which he earned himself Divine Blessing). Someone whose father and grandfather failed to teach him, remains obligated to teach himself when he grows up and becomes aware of his obligation to do so, as the Torah writes " ... and you shall learn them and practice them" ... If both a father and his son need to learn Torah, and the former is unable to afford both, then the father takes precedence. However, if the son is cleverer than him, and he retains what he learns more efficiently, then the son comes first ... A person is obligated to learn Torah until the day he dies, as the Torah writes in Devarim (4:9 [in connection with words of Torah]) "and lest they depart from you all the days of your life" ... Furthermore, the Chachamim, stretching the point a little, stated by way of Musar that one is Chayav to learn even on one's dying day, as the Pasuk (taken out of context) writes in Chukas (19:14) "This is the Torah, a man who dies in the tent" ... Everyone is obligated to learn Torah, irrespective of whether he is poor or wealthy, healthy or ailing. In fact, the Chachamim have said that when somebody studies Torah, all his ailments will be cured. Even a poor man who begs for alms, and even a man with a large family is obligated to fix times to learn Torah both by day and by night, as the Torah writes in Yehoshua (1:5) "And you shall study it by day and by night" ... The first thing for which a man is taken to task when he appears before the Heavenly Court after his death is for being idle from Torah-study, as the Pasuk writes in Mishlei ("Poter mayim reishis modon"), which the Chachamim translate in this way. They base this on the maxim that 'Mayim means Torah', which they learn from the Pasuk in Yeshayah (5:1) "Hoy kol tzamei l'chu le'mayim".
The reason for this is because Torah, like water, which does not remain on top of a mountain, but flows down to the valley, is not to be found by a vain person, only by someone who is humble ... Chazal also said in Kidushin (30a) that one must divide one's (learning) time into three - a third, for the written Torah, a third, for the oral Torah (i.e. to gain a wide knowledge of the Mishnahs and Beraisos), and a third, to delve into their roots (Gemara). The three together form the entire Torah, and one should not concentrate on one (or even two) of them, because without each one of them, one's knowledge of the others will inevitably be incomplete ... The Gemara in Bava Basra (21b) obligates the community in every town to set up a Cheider (Rebbes who teach the children Torah), and forewarns that any town that does not open one will be destroyed. And the Gemara limits each class to twenty-five Talmidim ... One should never say that one will learn Torah when one has spare time, seeing as one does not know what will happen to him. Perhaps his business will surge or decline, leading him from one crisis to another, until in the end, he will not have any spare time. The only thing is to make time, and fix a period to learn, even though he is hard-pressed. Someone who does this will receive Divine assistance. G-d will lighten his load. He will remove some of the heavy burden from his shoulders. He took upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, G-d will free him from the yoke of man, enabling him to live happily all his life ... The remaining details are discussed in the first Perek of Kidushin and in other places scattered throughout Shas (Yoreh De'ah 246).