Vol. 6 No. 17
The Healing Tongue
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"The tongue that cures is a tree of life, and someone whose tongue is crooked will become broken of spirit" (Mishlei 15:4).
We see from this possuk just how beneficial the tongue is, for it cures the sicknesses of the soul, and its healing-powers are superior to all other cures. It is by no means certain that all other cures - such as balms, healing foods and herbs, will prove effective; in addition to which, they certainly do not have the power to prolong life. But the cure of the tongue is different - not only is its ability to heal absolute, but it also has the power to add years on to a person's life, for it is a tree of life, a life-giving agent.
On the other hand, "someone whose tongue is crooked will become broken of spirit" because in the same way as the healing-powers of the tongue are superior to those of other cures, so too are the sicknesses caused by it more damaging - disgrace, scorn and mockery, the results of one person despising, deriding or mocking another, or of putting him to shame in public (of which Chazal have said in Bovo Metzi'a [59a] 'Someone who shames his friend in public, has no share in the World to Come'). So you see how much worse is the malaise of the tongue than those of the rest of the body!
Shlomoh ha'Melech too, writes in Mishlei (18:14) "The spirit of man sustains his illness, but who will carry a broken spirit?" The spirit, he is saying - referring to the soul - carries the body when it is ill. It sustains a person when he is ill, even though he is unable to eat or drink for a few days. But when the soul is sick, who carries it? So we see that the sickness of the soul (meaning a broken spirit) is infinitely worse than that of the body. In general, we can learn from here, that there is such a thing as a sickness of the soul, which refers to sins and lack of faith in G-d. And it is the latter that Shlomoh has in mind when he writes (ibid. 2:16) "To save you from an evil woman, from a stranger who trips you with her words". He compares a lack of faith to a strange woman who destroys a man in the end. That is why he writes there (5:3-4) "For the lips of a strange woman are the drippings of the honey-comb ... but the end is as bitter as gall, as sharp as a double-bladed sword". And he continues (5:5) "Her feet lead down to death, her footsteps support hell (for her victim to fall into)".
Man can use the power of speech with which he is endowed, and which gives him the advantage over the animals, to cure a person with an ailing soul, to bring him under the wings of the Shechinah and to inherit him everlasting life. This is what Avrohom Ovinu did, when he used his power of speech to attract many people to monotheism - and that is what the Gemoro in Bovo Basra (16b) refers to, when it speaks of a jewel that hung round his neck, and which cured every sick person who looked at it. When he died, the Gemoro continues, Hashem took the jewel and suspended it from the ball of the sun.
Chazal compared the quality of bringing people close to G-d to a shining jewel, because it enlightens the eyes, and they described it as hanging round the neck, because the power of speech is based in the throat. Someone who was stricken with a sickness of the soul had but to hear the words of Avrohom Ovinu and he was cured. And when Avrohom died, he left behind him no successor who was able to teach others about the unique qualities of G-d and His Oneness. So Hashem took this trait and suspended it from the ball of the sun, about whom it is written "The Heavens relate the glory of G-d" (Tehillim 19:2).
And that is what Shlomoh is referring to when he writes "The tongue that cures is a tree of life" - the power of healing of the tongue of Avrohom, which was the cause of many entering under the wings of Shechinah, which served them as a tree of life - as the Torah writes "And the souls that he made in Choron" (Lech Lecho). And the power of healing of the tongue of Moshe, who told Yisro about all the signs and the wonders that G-d had wrought with Yisroel, which caused Yisro to convert.
Yisro was an eminent personality in Midyon, the head of his entire family, and a priest, yet he took leave of his wealth and his family, and separated from civilisation, to travel into the desert - in order to place himself under the wings of the Shechinah - the moment he heard about the Exodus from Egypt, as the Torah records in the opening pesukim of the parshah.
Adapted from the Chofetz Chaim
Yisro advised Moshe what he should do, in order to survive. He concluded "And you should warn them about the statutes and the laws, and you should instruct them the way in which they shall go and the deeds that they should do" (19:3).
The Gemoro in Bovo Metzi'a (30b) explains almost the entire possuk with regard to mitzvos between man and his fellow man: "And you shall inform them" - refers to learning a trade or a profession; "the way" - to the performing of kindness; "(on which) they shall go" - to visiting the sick; "on which" - to burying the dead; "and the deeds" - refers to doing what is right; and "that they shall do" - to going beyond the letter of the law.
It emerges that virtually all the advice that Yisro offered was confined to mitzvos between man and man, and concerned ethics and derech eretz, stressing the idea of foregoing one's rights and going beyond the letter of the law. And if Moshe will teach Yisroel these things, over and above the statutes and the laws, then he will be successful in his leadership.
Chazal too, on many occasions, stress the importance of those who learn Torah to ensure also that deeds in the area of human relations should be above board. See for example, the Gemoro in Yuma (86a) which discusses the tremendous responsibility that a talmid-chacham carries on his shoulders and how he makes a deep impression on people - to create either a Kiddush Hashem when the impression is positive, and a Chilul Hashem when it is not.
At the Foot of the Mountain
The Gemoro in Shabbos (88a), interprets the possuk "and they stood at the foot of the mountain" to mean that G-d actually held the mountain over their heads (as if the Torah had written "And they stood underneath the mountain"). He then warned them that if they would accept the Torah, then all would be well and good; but if not, they would all be buried there (when G-d would let the mountain drop on them).
It is a fallacy to believe that it was only Yisroel who would perish, and the rest of the world would survive. Not at all, says the Chofetz Chayim. Without the Torah, the whole world could not exist - as our Sages, commenting on "the sixth day" (Bereishis 1:31), explained - that if Yisroel would not accept the Torah, the world would be restored to the null and void that it was prior to the creation. And as the Novi wrote in Yirmiyah "If not for My covenant of day and night (the Torah), I would not have put in place the laws of nature that govern heaven and earth."
Here too, the Torah may appear to be addressing Yisroel, but really it is speaking to the entire world. And that is hinted in the words "shom tehei k'vuraschem" - 'there will be your grave' (when grammatically, 'poh tehei ke'vuraschem" - 'here will be your grave' would have been more appropriate). The Torah is saying that wherever you will be, there will be your grave, because the whole world will cease to exist.
For honouring one's parents the Torah prescribes long life (20:12), and it does the same for the mitzvah of 'Shiluach ha'Kan' (sending away the mother bird before taking its feldgelings).
This does not refer to any form of reward in this world, the Chofetz Chayim explains, since the Gemoro in Kidushin (39b) has already taught us that there is no real reward for mitzvos in this world. It refers rather, to the reward that we are due to receive in the world where to live long can be understood literally - in the World to Come.
Any semblance of reward that Hashem pays us in this world is not really reward at a. It is in the capacity of soldiers of the king who eat at the table of the king. We work for the King and He feeds us - but that has nothing at all to do with the remuneration that He is going to give us when the time falls due.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
The Mitzvos Asei
70. To unload a fellow-Jew's animal, which is crouching under its load - as the Torah writes in Mishpotim (23:5) "When you see the donkey of your enemy crouching under its load ... you shall surely help him (to unload)".
This applies even if the load on the animal's back is excessive. One is obliged to unload without payment. An elder or any other man who would consider unloading undignified, are both exempt from the mitzvah. The criterion here is whether he would unload the same animal if it belonged to him. If it is a mitzvah to unload an animal that needs help, then how much more so to help a fellow-Jew carry a heavy load.
If one helped to unload and then, after the owner reloaded it, it fell again, he is obliged to unload it again - even as many as a hundred times, as the Torah writes "You shall surely help ... ". One is obliged to accompany the re-laden animal as far as one parsah (four mil - approximately four kilometres) unless the owner expressly absolves him from doing so.
One is only duty-bound to help unload an animal, if the owner helps too (or if he is unable to do so), but not if he sits himself down so that his friend can get on with the mitzvah.
The mitzvah (which is twofold - to assist the owner and to alleviate the animal's pain ['tza'r ba'alei chayim']) applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
71. To help one's fellow-Jew load his animal (or car), or to load onto his fellow Jew's back - as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (22:4) "You shall surely load with him". Should one leave him to do it alone, he has negated a positive mitzvah. An elder for whom loading is undignified, is exempt from this mitzvah (see previous mitzvah).
Someone who is faced with two mitzvos - that of unloading one Jews's animal, and of loading the animal of another, should preferably unload first, because of the additional mitzvah of 'tza'r ba'alei chayim'. But if the animal that needed loading belonged to someone whom he hated, and the one that needed unloading, to a friend, then he should preferably load first. This is because the greater priority of the two is to overcome one's Yeitzer Ho'ra (one of the prime reasons that we are here in the first place).
Who is the hated person of whom we are speaking? (Since when is it permitted to hate a fellow-Jew?) We can only be referring to the owner of a donkey whom one saw performing a sin, and whom he warned, but to no avail. Such a person it is permitted, and even a mitzvah, to hate. Nevertheless, he should help to load or to unload with him, in case he is delayed because of his money, and finds himself in a situation of life-danger - and one is obligated to save him from that, seeing as he believes in the fundamentals of Judaism. (It is not clear why one needs to come on to this reason - see opening paragraph of mitzvah 69).
The mitzvah of loading (unlike that of unloading) only applies if the owner is willing to pay for one's services. One is not obligated to load free of charge.
This mitzvah applies everywhere, and at all times, to men and women alike.
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