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Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar-Bechukosai: Six heavenly questions
Most people do not like to think about what will happen after they pass away, and they live as if we are in this world forever. "Can anyone live forever not to see the grave? He sees wise men die, the fool and the boor perishing as well. And they leave their possessions for others …" Our sages instructed us to repent a day before we pass away, indicating that we never know when that day is, so we must repent every day. Six questions will be asked when we appear before the Heavenly Court. Both the seller and the purchaser must be honest regarding the price of an item. Rabbi Salanter responded to the Shochet in wonderment, "If you are concerned to take responsibility for slaughtering where you are only dealing with one prohibition, how do you dare to enter a business where there is a host of prohibitions involved?" "Walking with My decrees" refers to delving into Torah study in depth. The ignorant cannot be pious. We will have to take the responsibility for our actions and only excuses valid before the Heavenly Court should be used now.
Not live forever
The forty nine days between Pesach and Shavuous are observed as days of mourning. All 24,000 students of the great Rabbi Akiva passed away during this period. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) explains that despite their greatness these students perished due to a flaw in their mutual respect. Besides the lesson on how we must take utmost care when we deal with our fellow human beings, these days of mourning also remind us that our lives in this world are not eternal. One day we all have to face the Heavenly Court before entering into the World to Come. Most people do not like to think about what will happen after they pass away, and they live as if we are in this world forever. The Chofetz Chaim used to say that people returning from a funeral would sub-consciously fool themselves by thinking that the deceased was part of a group of people who do not live forever, a group to which they do not belong.
This issue is not new and was already addressed by King David when he said: (Tehillim 49) "Those who rely on their possessions, they praise themselves and their great wealth … Can anyone live forever not to see the grave? He sees wise men die, the fool and the boor perishing as well, leaving their possessions for others. [However] they imagine that their houses are forever and their dwellings for all generations … At his death he cannot take anything with him, his honour will not descend after him … Man is glorious but he does not understand."
Repent every day
Our sages want us to live with a constant awareness of the World to Come, as it says in Pirkei Avot (3:1): "Reflect upon three things and you will not come into the grip of sin. Know where you came from and where you are going and before Whom you will stand in judgment and reckoning … before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He." They further instructed us (Ibid 2:15) "Repent a day before you pass away", indicating that since we never know when that day is, we must always be ready and repent every day.
Our sages even revealed to us the questions we will be asked when we appear before the Heavenly Court. The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) tells us that we will be confronted with six questions: "First, were you honest in your financial affairs? Second, did you fix time to study Torah? Third, did you involve yourself in reproduction? Fourth, were you longing for the salvation? Fifth and sixth, did you delve into the depths and wisdom of the Torah?"
Financial dealings and toil in Torah
In the two portions this week, the Torah teaches us how we are expected to conduct ourselves in our financial dealings as well as how we are obligated to toil into the depths of the Torah. In Parashas Behar it says (Vayikra 25:14) "When you make a sale to your fellow, or you purchase from the hand of your fellow, don't act unjustly one to another."
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 51a) learns from here how both the seller and the purchaser must be honest regarding the price of an item. Neither may utilize the ignorance of the other to either sell at too high a price or purchase below the value of an item. There are many details how to apply these laws in practical life outlined in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat Chapter 227). Later in the Parsha it says (ibid 35) "When your brother becomes poor … and you should strengthen him, a convert or a resident [this refers to a gentile who lives in accordance with the seven Noachide commandments] and he shall live with you. Do not take from him interest … and your brother shall live with you." The Talmud (Ibid 60-62) elaborates on the laws of the prohibition of both taking and giving interest and in many places discusses the obligations of supporting the poor, helping them to make a living, and providing them with their needs. There are different sections in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah) dealing with the intricate laws of these issues. Both the laws of giving charity and the laws of interest are relevant to every individual. Many people are not aware how the laws of interest affect every part of business in different ways. For example, there is an issue with the practices of reducing the purchase price for early payment, or charging a penalty for a late payment. Almost every transaction and practice can be done in a permissible way, but if one does not consult a competent halachic authority one can easily come to transgress the prohibition of either accepting or giving interest.
The Shochet (ritual slaughterer) of Salant who was a great and G'd fearing scholar once came to Rabbi Israel Salanter to inform him that he was planning to quit his job. He felt it was too much of a responsibility to make sure that every animal was properly slaughtered and checked to guarantee that the meat was kosher. The Rabbi asked him, "So what are you planning to do for a living?" The Shochet answered that he was thinking of opening a store and go into business. The Rabbi responded in wonderment, "If you are concerned to take responsibility for slaughtering where you are only dealing with one prohibition, how do you dare to enter a business where there is a host of prohibitions involved?" A similar story is related about Rabbi Eliyahu Rogular from Kalish who was once visited by a disciple who came to tell him that he planned to go into business. The Rabbi asked his student if he was well prepared to enter the business world, to which the student answered that he had spoken to several business people and it did no appear to be too difficult. To this the Rabbi responded, "You do not understand, I meant to ask you whether you have studied all the relevant parts of Shulchan Aruch so that you will know all the laws pertaining to doing business."
Delving into Torah
Parashas Bechukosai opens with the words (Vayikra 26:3) "If you walk with My decrees, and you keep My commandments, and you will perform them, and I will give you rain in its time and the land will give its produce …" Rashi quotes from our sages you question the triple expression of "walking with My decrees", "keeping My commandments", and "performing them." Our sages explain that "walking with My decrees" refers to delving into Torah study in depth. Later in the portion it says (Ibid 14) what will happen if we do not listen and do not keep the commandments. Here again, our sages explain that the expression of "not listening" refers to if we do not delve into Torah study in depth.
The ignorant cannot be pious
It is obvious that studying Torah in depth is not sufficient, as our sages say (Pirkei Avot 1:17): "Studying is not the main priority but the fulfilling of the commandments." On the other hand, we see that just fulfilling the commandments without Torah study is also not acceptable. The reason for this is, as our sages point out (Ibid 2:6):" The ignorant cannot be pious." If a person does not constantly study, it is impossible to know and remember all the details of the law (Halacha). Even after studying, one may not always know how to practice the commandments (mitzvot), but at least one knows when there is a need to ask a competent rabbi how to conduct oneself.
Heavenly Court excuses
Nowadays, with so many books both in Hebrew and English explaining the mitzvot of the Torah and their applications, no one has a valid excuse for being ignorant. The great Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Eliazar Schach, used to say to his students, "If you are in a situation and you come up with an excuse, analyze in your mind whether this excuse would be acceptable when you eventually will stand in front of the Heavenly Court." This applies both to our financial dealings and our in depth study of the Torah. We must always bear in mind that whatever we do, we will have to take the responsibility for our actions and only excuses valid before the Heavenly Court should be used now.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network