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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Parashas Behar

Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow. (25:17)

The phrase here refers to not hurting people with words. Chazal teach us that it is forbidden to remind a person of his past if it was slightly checkered or to give advice that is not really beneficial. It is worse to hurt someone with words than to hurt him financially. One can always repay the money that he has taken or has caused the other person to lose. The hurt and humiliation, however, that the individual sustains as a result of a shtoch, jab, does not disappear.

Not only should one not denigrate his fellow, he should go out of his way to make him feel good publicly. For instance, if a group is sitting together, and a member of the group makes a statement which lacks erudition or common sense, it is wrong to degrade the statement or the individual who has made it. The best response is no response. If you cannot say something nice, keep quiet. This applies equally to facial expressions and other bodily language that allude to one's displeasure with the speaker or the speech. Regrettably, some of us have a serious problem with complimenting another person. It is almost as if saying something nice to someone constitutes a form of personal affront.

David Hamelech says in Sefer Tehillim 22:7, "But I am a worm and not a man." Horav Baruch zl, m'Meziboz explains this homiletically. There are people who are very careful not to eat any forbidden insects. They shudder at the thought that they may bite into a fruit or vegetable that has a chashash tolaim, suspicion of insects or worms. Immediately, upon discovering anything suspicious, they spit the fruit out of their mouth. Heaven forbid should they transgress this prohibition. On the other hand, if these same individuals were to become involved in a disagreement with another person, they would apparently have no problem doing whatever they deem necessary to prove that they are right. This self-righteous attitude, whereby they would never eat a worm, but would readily swallow up a man, is to what David Hamelech is alluding. He says, "I am but a worm - not a man." Treat me as a worm; you would never swallow a worm. Therefore, do not devour me.

A similar interpretation is attributed to Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl. It was at a time when the Eidah HaChareidis instituted its own supervision on the shechitah, ritual slaughtering, in Yerushalayim. A young man whose wife had just given birth to his firstborn son was arranging a seudas Pidyon HaBen, feast in honor of the Redemption of the Firstborn. He insisted that he would only use the shechitah of the Eidah HaChareidis, while his mother-in-law refused to allow that shechitah into her home. She ordered meat from the local shechitah and prepared it for the feast. Her son-in-law was beside himself. What should he do? He turned to Rav Yosef Chaim, who replied, "David Hamelech says, 'I am a worm and not a man.' This implies that it is better to eat a worm than to suck the blood of a man. In other words, one does not hurt another person if there is any way to circumvent the issue."

This does not mean that, if one sees or hears about something inappropriate that is being done, he should ignore it, or if someone makes a statement that goes beyond the parameters of common sense, he should ignore it. If he knows that the individual in question is happy to acknowledge his shortcomings, and has a willingness to listen to and accept constructive criticism, he should, by all means, tender his feelings - in private and in a respectful manner.

Concern for the feelings of the individual applies even if the subject of one's critique is a person who is infamous for his malevolent behavior, or whose hashkafos, outlooks on life, are not synonymous with Torah dictate. In Pirkei Avos 4:3, Chazal say: "You should never treat any person as if he is worthless… for there is no person who does not have a time when he is needed."

The Koznitzer Maggid, zl, interprets this Mishnah in the following manner: Do not be loathe to any man - regardless of his literacy and behavior. Even if he is a rasha, a wicked man, you should not be condescending towards him. Why? Because, there is no man she'ein lo shaah, which is usually translated as, "having his moment." In this instance, the word shaah means "turns to listen", as we say in Tefillas Retzei, in the Shemoneh Esrei, V'lisfilasam she'eih, "and to their prayer You shall listen." Everyone has his moment when he is in need, when he turns to Hashem. This does not have to be a long, penetrating prayer. It could be a simple conversation. At that moment, however, he is sincere, and Hashem listens to him. Indeed, if the rasha would have no redeeming value, Hashem would not keep him around.

Therefore, we are admonished to respect all men and to treat them with dignity - regardless of their position, religious affiliation, or level of observance. This applies even if their actions are contemptible. One may censure their actions, but he should not denigrate the individual. Indeed, it is recorded concerning the Chasam Sofer, that when the secularists began to undermine the Torah community, acting in a manner that was reprehensible and antagonistic to the Torah, the Chasam Sofer would certainly speak out against them and deride their activities. He was, however, extremely careful not to embarrass anyone publicly. After all, if Hashem has created a person and He sustains him, he must be performing a vital function. Who are we to decide otherwise?

You shall perform My decrees… then you shall dwell securely on the land. The land will give its fruit… you will dwell securely on it. (25:18,19)

The above two pesukim are redundant. In both, Hashem promises us that we will dwell securely. Rashi explains that the first v'yeshavtem betach assures Klal Yisrael that, as a result of their Shemittah observance, they will not be exiled. In the second pasuk, they receive affirmation that those who let their land lie fallow during the Shemittah year will not lose out. They will not go hungry and be forced to travel to other countries in search of sustenance. The Kesav Sofer offers an alternative explanation. Two dangers confront a country during troubling times. First, in a time of travail, when hunger is taking its toll on the people, there is usually widespread depression and anger. Second, the bitterness that prevails causes people to do strange things. Rebellions and uprisings are commonplace.

On the other hand, when a country enjoys a period of abundance, when peace and prosperity reign, it may not have to worry about trouble from within, but it has reason to be concerned about its external neighbors. Jealousy is an issue among countries and communities as well as with individuals. Someone is always envious of the individual who is successful. This envy breeds contempt and discord, which, eventually, can lead to war.

This is the underlying meaning of the two assurances. First, Klal Yisrael will be blessed with material abundance, whereby the nation will have inner peace and harmony. Satisfaction will reign throughout the people. Second, the fear from without that emerges under such circumstances, an external attack brought on by malicious envy, will also not be reason for concern, because Hashem will see to it that they remain secure.

For you are sojourners and residents with Me. (25:23)

We should never forget our position on this world. We are travelers passing by with a focus on reaching a more lofty and meaningful destination. This is what Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos 4:16, "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall." This statement implies that during his stay in This World, the individual is like a traveler, passing through a strange land. Therefore, one should be sure to focus his attention on his goals and objectives for the future. He should make his Torah study fixed and regular, while his mundane pursuits should be of a transient, provisional nature. The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno explains that this is the message of the pasuk. A ger is a sojourner, while a toshav is a resident. These two meanings contrast one another. Therefore, Hashem tells us that if we view our position in this world as that of a sojourner, then Hashem will be to us as a toshav, resident. In order to develop a permanent relation with Torah and mitzvos, one must view his presence on this world as nothing more than a sojourn.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, offers the following analogy to bring the idea into greater perspective. One does not build a house by himself. He lacks the skill necessary to bring this project to fruition. He hires an architect who will draw a blueprint, followed by a builder, who does the final construction. Obviously, the dimensions allotted for the various rooms and entranceways are designed to coincide with the available space and function of the room.

There was once a wealthy man who commissioned an architect to prepare the blueprint for a magnificent home. He instructed the architect to lay out the home for him in such a manner that the entryway would be large and roomy and to do likewise for the dining area. This was all fine and well until the architect saw the size of the lot. It was not nearly as large an area as the owner had indicated. There was no way that both the entryway and dining area could be as large as he wanted. Something would have to be compromised. He presented the problem to the owner, explaining, "While the final decision is yours, I suggest that you change your dimensions for the entryway, so that the dining area can be a nice size. This is what most people do. The entryway is only of secondary significance to the dining area. If you do otherwise, you will be the joke of the community."

The nimshal, resemblance, is unambiguous. During our stay on This World, we occupy ourselves with building our great dining hall in Olam Habah. Some of us, however, are more concerned with the entryway, i.e., This World, thereby neglecting to build a sizable dining hall. We act like that foolish man who wanted to build a large vestibule at the expense of his dining room.

Parashas Bechukosai

If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them. (26:3)

Study leads to observance, which leads to performance. Shemiras hamitzvos, observance of mitzvos, is for the most part a rhetorical phrase, since what purpose is there in "observing" a mitzvah if one does not carry it out? Mitzvos were given to us to be fulfilled. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to shemiras hamitzvos. A shomer is a guard, a watchman. He makes sure to guard and protect whatever is in his possession, whatever has been entrusted in his care. Hashem enjoins us to guard His mitzvos, to make sure that they are not being ignored, that they are carried out to the fullest detail. It is all in the attitude one manifests towards mitzvah performance. If it is a mitzvah he cares about, he does not simply perform the mitzvah; he takes care of it, looking forward to carrying it out, making sure that everything leading up to its actual performance is properly prepared. When one guards Hashem's mitzvos, Hashem sees to it that the mitzvos serve as a protection for him. Yes, mitzvos protect the individual who cares about them. The following story demonstrates this idea.

Two Jews from a small town in Poland attached themselves to a band of Polish partisans, who were waging war with the German Army. They lived in the forest, hiding in places that were unnoticeable to the casual view of the human eye. There was always one partisan who hid in the trees outside the camp's perimeter to warn the partisans of an enemy approach. One day, the lookout gave an emergency call to break camp. He noticed that, in the distance, a German column was on its way into the forest. Immediately, they broke camp, concealing any sign that would reveal their presence, and left for the other end of the forest. Because of the tumult, the two Jewish partisans did not realize until they reached safety that they had left their Tefillin in the camp. What were they now going to do? To return to their camp meant placing their lives in danger. If they were discovered by the Nazis, they would immediately be put to death. To live without Tefillin meant a life that had very little meaning. They decided that they would return for their Tefillin.

They prayed to Hashem saying, "Ribono Shel Olam, please protect us. We are returning for our Tefillin, only so that we may serve You properly." Miraculously, they were able to avoid the German army. After they located their Tefillin, they davened and rested for a short while and prepared to return to their group at the other end of the forest. When they arrived, they were confronted with a grizzly scene: every member of their group was dead. Apparently, the Nazis had been able to locate and ambush them. Because they had returned for their Tefillin, the two Jewish partisans were spared. The mitzvah of Tefillin had protected them. It was reciprocity for the attitude they had manifest for this mitzvah.

And you behave casually with Me. I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness. (26:27,28)

Rashi translates keri as "casually", meaning that - despite the punishments that Klal Yisrael will sustain - their performance of mitzvos will remain haphazard, erratic and, at best, complacent. They will view mitzvos as a matter of choice, not as a Divinely ordained decree. Other Rishonim, such as Ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Bachya, define keri as happenstance. Klal Yisrael will refuse to recognize the source of their misfortune. Rather than attributing it to Hashem's displeasure with them, they will view their punishment as coincidental or the result of natural causes. They will shut out G-d from their lives.

The punishment for this form of behavior will be reciprocal. Hashem will shut them out. If we continue to interpret Hashem's messages as coincidence, then Hashem will conceal Himself from us, so that it will be more difficult to perceive the truth. We will not see that Hashem is the cause of all causes and that He is behind every event that occurs. We will be lost, because we will not have someone to whom to turn.

Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, suggests that the word keri is derived from kar, cold. The people will lose their passion in their relationship with Hashem. They will become cold and distant, aloof and remote. Rav Yisrael emphasizes the severity of this kerirus, frigid, reticent and emotionless attitude. Water is considered ritually pure and clean and is not mekabel tumah, cannot become ritually contaminated. When water turns into ice, however, its nature changes and it now can become tamei.

People are no different. When the passion is there, it binds them to the source and protects them from harm - both spiritual and physical. When the warmth is gone, they lose that protective ingredient that distinguishes them from the other lost souls.

The sound of a rustling leaf will pursue them… they will stumble over one another. (26:36,37)

The pasuk addresses the pirud levavos, separation of the hearts of Jews, whereby the harmony and unity that should exist among brothers does not exist. As difficult as exile is to bear, it is that much more overwhelming when one does not have the support of his compatriots. Earlier (Ibid 33), the Torah writes, "And you, I will scatter among the nations." Rashi explains that it will be similar to one who scatters barley. Due to the nature of the grain of barley, none will stick to the other. Likewise, even when they are in exile, in a circumstance which usually brings out the best in people, in which one usually empathizes with his fellow, Klal Yisrael will be different. The individual Jews will isolate themselves from one another.

In a way, the Jew in exile suffers both from within and from without. As a stranger in a strange land, he is at the mercy of his host country, who is far from benevolent to him. Indeed, the Jew is, for the most part, held in contempt. That is to be expected. After all, he is in exile. What makes things worse, however, is that when a Jew is persecuted by his host, he takes it out on his fellow Jew! This is similar to reeds being blown by the wind across the water. First, they are struck by the wind. Then, as a result, they strike each other, so that the reeds are doubly struck. This causes them all to bang into each other.

The Kli Yakar explains this parallel to the Torah's analogy to a rustling leaf. The leaf is very light and weak and, thus, easily blown against the next leaf. Likewise, the Jews in exile are blown by their persecutors, and, in turn, strike each other. This assault takes the form of lashon hora, slanderous speech, and other forms of misuse of one's G-d-given power of speech. They hurt each other using their tongues as potent and malicious weapons. This is the "sound" of a rustling leaf, a reference to the sound caused by their evil speech against one another.

The Kli Yakar concludes with the following statement: "And in our generation, this negative character trait is in itself sufficient reason for the extension of our stay in galus, exile."

The Kli Yakar lived some four hundred years ago. What should we say?

Va'ani Tefillah

Hafachta mispedi l'machol li
Pitachta saki va'teazreini simchah,
You have changed for me my lament into dancing, You undid my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.

Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, explains that David Hamelech is teaching us a valuable lesson concerning our obligation to express hakoras hatov, appreciation and gratitude, to one who benefits us. Usually one who is weighed down with financial constraints, such that he cannot seem to extricate himself from the pressure of earning a living quickly forgets about his present troubles as soon as something new takes their place. In other words, if he were to become seriously ill, he would no longer be concerned with his financial troubles. He has new worries. When Hashem listens to his prayers and he is healed, he will return to worrying about money. Now, when Hashem listens to him again and responds favorably, blessing him with wealth, he quickly forgets the days of poverty, certainly not remembering the days when he lay ill and in pain. His gratitude is only for his most recent challenge. David Hamelech teaches us that one must offer gratitude for every situation that he has survived. Poverty, illness, enemies - every situation that life brings with it - are all to be included in his latest praise to Hashem. One should never forget the travail - regardless of how remote in time it is. The Psalmist's praise traverses from Pitachta saki, "You undid my sackcloth," to Va'teazreini simchah, "And (You) girded me with gladness," from the very latest deliverance back to the earliest defense: "Forever I will thank You."

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