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Vol. 13 No. 42
Pesach ben Afrayim Shimon z.l.
It is not feasible, comments the Sifri, for one person to demand love from another. If Reuven loves Shimon, then it is superfluous to ask him to do so. Whereas if he doesn't, then no amount of pleading will change his sentiments. One can ask him for affection, for assistance, for mercy and for understanding. But not for love.
In that case, asks the Sifri, why does the Torah write "And you shall love your G-d ... "? Irrespective of how the Torah views someone who does not love G-d, how can it expect a person to change his sentiments on the basis of a command?
That is why, says the Sifri in answer to the question, the Torah continues "And these words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart". It is through the Mitzvah of Torah-study that a person can get close to G-d, to perceive the superlative qualities in a 'Being' that is brimming with goodness and kindness, the epitome of a perfection which leaves one with no alternative but to love Him.
The commentaries divide the Mitzvah of Torah-study into two categories, the one, as a means to become conversant with the Mitzvos and to observe them; the other, as an independent Mitzvah via which one is able to obtain the highest levels of saintliness and sanctity. Hence the statement 'and Torah-study equals them all', together with its Halachic ramifications, giving precedence to Torah-study over all other Mitzvos (provided the Mitzvah on hand can be performed by somebody else). For if it was no more than a means to observe the Mitzvos, it would be extremely difficult to understand why this is so.
And they also explain with this, the two consecutive statements in the B'rachah of 'Ahavah Rabah': 1. ' ... and place in our hearts (the means) to understand ... to observe, to perform, and to uphold all the words of the Torah with love'; 2. ' ... and enlighten our eyes in your Torah, and let our hearts cleave to your Mitzvos, and unify our hearts to love and to fear Your Name, so that we should never be ashamed or embarrassed'. Clearly, the former pertains to learning Torah in order to fulfill it, the latter, to attaining higher levels of sanctity.
The latter list talks of loving and fearing G-d. Evidently, this is the result of learning Torah for its own sake (incidentally, this may well be the real meaning of 'Torah li'Sh'moh'). In all likelihood then, that is the level of learning the Sifri is referring to, when it connects the love of G-d with the Mitzvah of Torah-study, since that is the category of Torah-study which elevates the learner to such heights.
Another possible answer to our original question is based on the Pasuk in Mishlei (27:19) "As water reflects a face back to a face, so is one's heart reflected to him by another", which means that one person generally reciprocates the disposition of another towards him (hatred for hatred, love for love). Bearing in mind then the concluding words of the B'rachah that precede the Sh'ma ('who chooses His people Yisrael with love'), Yisrael should have no difficulty in reciprocating G-d's love, and the Mitzvah of loving G-d becomes perfectly feasible.
If learning Torah really has the power to demonstrate G-d's intense love towards K'lal Yisrael, then the two answers are really one and the same. G-d loves us and it is only natural that we in return, love Him. Yet we need to study Torah in order to realize that He does indeed love us, and to appreciate the intensity of His love, so as to increase our own recipricocity. In this way, it is learning Torah that turns our recipriocity into a reality.
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(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah)
No Hermits Thank You
"See I have taught you statutes and judgements, like Hashem my G-d taught me, in the midst of the land ... " (4:5).
Many of the early philosophers believed that in order to adopt a holy lifestyle and attain spiritual perfection, it was necessary to leave inhabited areas and to move far away from civilization, to live a life of deprivation and abstention from all worldly matters.
What does the Torah say about that? The Torah orders us to observe Torah and Mitzvos "in the midst of the land". It expects us to live with other people, and to strive towards spiritual growth, not in spite of them, but together with them - perhaps even because of them.
A Great Nation
"For which is a great nation that has a G-d who is close to it! And which is a great nation that has righteous statutes and judgements?" (4:7/8)
Indeed, the Rashbaz concludes, what is the definition of a great nation? One that has a G-d like ours, and one that has statutes and judgements like ours!
Body and Soul
"Only (Rak) guard yourself and beware for your Soul very much, lest you forget ... " (4:9).
Based on the principle that the word "Rak" always comes to exclude (i.e. to minimize), the Kotzker Rebbe explains the Pasuk like this:
One should look after one's body minimally. But when it comes to the Soul, one must go to great lengths to keep it in good shape .
Healthy Bodies, Healthy Souls
"And you shall beware greatly for your souls ... " (4:15).
The Torah's words are "Ve'nishmartem me'od le'nafshoseichem", and they come to teach us the Mitzvah of guarding one's health.
What it really ought to have said, the Or la'Tzadikim points out, is "U'sh'martem me'od nafshoseichem" (or "U'sh'martem nafshoseichem me'od"), using the (active) Lashon 'Kal'. Why does it use the (passive) nif'al, and why does it add a 'Lamed', he asks?
Had the Torah used the Lashon 'Kal', he replies, then it would merely have been instructing us to look after our health for the sake of being healthy. Our bodies after all, are a deposit (as the Gemara explains in Shabbos), and we are obligated to keep them in good shape.
There is however, a deeper meaning behind this Mitzvah. We are obliged to look after our bodies in order be able to serve Hashem properly (as one is supposed to actually say before eating). A weak body, when all's said and done, is unable to perform the Mitzvos to the same perfection or with the same enthusiasm as a strong one is.
That is why the Pasuk says "Ve'nishmartem me'od - and keep your bodies in good shape ... le'nafshoseichem" - for the sake of your Souls.
The Besht used to say that when the Yeitzer-ha'Ra cannot find a way to entice a person to sin, what does he do?
He convinces him what a good thing it is to indulge in fasts and other forms of self-infliction, in order to make him tired and weak. In that way, the person will stop serving Hashem properly, and the Yeitzer-ha'Ra will have notched up another victory.
Imposters are the Worst
"Lest you act corruptly, and you make for yourselves an image, a picture of everything" (4:16).
This Pasuk, says the Berditchever Rebbe, refers to imposters, who turn themselves into (mirror) images to suit the circumstances. When they find themselves among secularists, they make themselves out to be secularists, and when they are in a group of Chasidim, they behave accordingly.
This is what the Torah describes as corrupt. Notwithstanding circumstances of life-danger, a Jew must maintain his level of observance and of Yir'as Shamayim, wherever he is.
The Three Mistakes ...
"Then Moshe set aside three towns ... for a murderer who killed his friend be'Shogeg to flee there ... Betzer in the desert ... And this is the law which Moshe placed before B'nei Yisrael" (4:42/3/4).
The Gemara in Makos (12a) informs us that, in time to come, when G-d comes to punish the Angel of Edom for having murdered His people, he will escape to Batzrah (in Edom), in the belief that Batzrah is a city of refuge. But in so doing, he will be guilty of three mistakes.
1. He will be confusing Batzrah with Betzer;
2. The cities of refuge can protect someone who killed be'Shogeg, but not someone who killed be'Meizid (as he did).
3. Human murderers are safe from the next of kin in a city of refuge, but not angels.
All three mistakes are hinted in the current Pesukim, observes the Ne'im Z'miros Yisrael. ...
1. "To flee there the murderer who killed be'shogeg" (but not if he killed be'meizid).
2. "Betzer in the desert" (but not Batzrah).
3. "And this is the law which Moshe placed before B'nei Yisrael" (but not before angels).
Never Enough Money
"And you shall love Hashem ... with all your money" (6:5).
The word the Torah uses for 'your money' is "me'odecho", and the question arises, says the Chafetz Chayim, as to why money is translated as 'me'od'?
He answers that with regard to all other physical pleasures, there are times when a person becomes satiated, and has no desire for more, at least for the time being.
Money, he says, is different, as Chazal say 'Someone who has a Manah, wants two, and when he has two Manah, he wants four. Of all the physical and material benefits, it is the only one that however much one possesses, one always wants more. Hence the word 'me'od' in connection with money is most appropriate.
Alternatively, says the Chafetz Chayim, "be'chol me'odecha" refers to whatever a person loves very much, be it money or anything else (just as Chazal explain "be'chol me'Odecha" - 'be'chol midah u'midah she'Hu modeid lach'). Whatever that anything may be, one is obligated to give it away to Hashem for the sake of his love (i.e. in order to fulfill his will). In that case, he concludes, someone who loves the Torah, must gladly forego even Divrei Torah if necessary, for the sake of Hashem.
If I Were the Only Man in the World
"And these words that I am commanding you today shall be on your heart" (6:6).
Imagine, says the Chafetz Chayim, if G-d commanded the only person in the world, to read the only book that exists, and that this was the last day of his life. Imagine the devotion and concentration that he would apply to fulfill that one, solitary request.
Well, says the Chafetz Chayim, he did! And that person is none other than oneself!
For that is what the Pasuk under discussion means: "These words" - the only book; "which I am commanding you" - yes, 'you', the only existing person in the world; "today" - for by tomorrow, it assume that it may be too late. Now go and learn!
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The Writing On The Wall
(A revised and updated version of part of
last week's article of the same title)
The Gemara in Yuma (38b) relates that in 3298 (forty years before the destruction of the second B.H.), six things occurred that ought to have served as a warning light for the people to do Teshuvah:
1. The lot (that determined which goat was to be sacrificed for Hashem, and which for Azazel) came up in the left hand, year in, year out, until the destruction of the B.H. This was an ominous sign, indicating that from now on the Midas ha'Din would prevail - constantly.
2. The 'tongue' of red wool which was tied around the Sa'ir la'Azazel's horns as it was pushed off the cliff, no longer turned white (with similar connotations to the previous item).
3. The 'western lamp' (i.e either the second lamp from the left of the Menorah or the middle one, depending on whether the Menorah faced from east to west, or from north to south, respectively) was the first to go out every day.
Regarding these three, it should be noted, that during the forty years that Shimon ha'Tzadik served as Kohen Gadol, the lot always came up in the right hand, the 'tongue' of red wool always turned white and the western lamp always burned longer than all the others. Whereas from the death of Shimon ha'Tzadik and onwards up until the last forty years, the Gemara there (39a) informs us, the situation fluctuated; sometimes this way, sometimes that way.
4. The doors of the Azarah began to open by themselves - as if inviting the enemy to enter and do as they pleased ... until Raban Yochanan ben Zakai, who was Nasi of the Beis-Din at the time, admonished - 'Heichal, Heichal, why do you frighten yourself? I know that eventually you are going to be destroyed, since the Navi Zecharya ben ... Ido already prophesied "Open Lebanon, your gates, and let the fire burn your cedars".'
And the Gemara there (39a) lists two additional miracles that ceased to operate at that time ...
1. That whereas, with the exception of the Mitzvah of placing two blocks of wood on the Mizbei'ach (each morning and afternoon), they never needed to replenish the stock of wood on the Mizbei'ach from the time it was lit, this sometimes now became necessary, with the result that the Kohanim had to spend much of the day lugging wooden blocks on to the Ma'arachah.
2. That the two-fold B'rachah pertaining to the Lechem ha'Panim (the loaves that were placed on the Shulchan every Shabbos), the Omer (the barley-offering that was brought on Pesach) and the Sh'tei ha'Lechem (the two wheat loaves brought on Shavu'os), ceased to operate. Irrespective of how many Kohanim were serving on any particular day, each and every one not only received a k'Zayis, but felt as satisfied when he ate it, as if he had eaten a full meal.
Forty years before the Churban was also the year when the Sanhedrin ha'Gadol moved from the Lishkas ha'Gazis (which was situated in the Azarah) to an area on the Har ha'Bayis known as 'Chanuyos' (because shops were actually stationed there).
This was the first of ten exiles, which began primarily, to signify that from now on, Beis-Din (incorporating the Sanhedrin ha'Gadol and the Sanhedrin ha'Katan [any Beis-Din comprising twenty-three Dayanim]) would no longer judge matters of life and death (something they were authorized to do only as long as the Sanhedrin ha'Gadol sat in the Beis-Hamikdash).
And here's one final miracle listed in the same Gemara, which continued beyond the fateful year currently under discussion, right up to the actual Churban ...
When Sh'lomoh built the Beis-Ha'mikdash, he planted a variety of golden fruit-trees, which actually bore golden fruit, which, in turn, would fall from the tree in season. This provided the Kohanim with a valuable source of income, as they were able to distribute the 'produce' among themselves and sell it.
That miracle continued to function right up to the moment the enemy entered the Azarah.
When the third Beis-Hamikdash is rebuilt, this miracle will be reinstated. The Gemara does not say this about the other miracles. Presumably, that is because, unlike this one, they are merely facets of the existing Avodah. Consequently, if this independent miracle will be reinstated, it goes without saying that they will too.
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