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This shall be the reward when you will hearken to these ordinances. (7:12)
The commentators offer a number of definitions for the word "eikev," Most understand it as a word which is used to associate reward with positive action. The Midrash makes use of another definition for "eikav": heel. They interpret the pasuk to be alluding to those mitzvos which short-sighted people might regard as being less significant than others. They tend figuratively to "step on" these mitzvos with their heels. The Torah is telling Klal Yisrael that by giving equal time to all mitzvos, ascribing equal significance to every mitzvah, they will warrant a special reward.
In a simile quoting Hashem's praise of Klal Yisrael, Shlomo Hamelech says in Shir HaShirim (6:11), "I went down to the garden of nuts," referring to Hashem's "descent" to the Bais Hamikdash. Regarding the comparison of Klal Yisrael to nuts, the Midrash comments, "One may remove any type of fruit from a sack without affecting the remaining fruits. Once one takes a nut, however, the others are disturbed." Likewise, if one Jew sins, the sin leaves a stain upon the entire tzibur, community. In his sefer, Takanos Ezra, Horav Ezra Altshuler, zl, writes that this idea applies equally to mitzvos. If one were to be "pogea," breach one mitzvah, over time it will have a profound effect on the rest.
At first glance, one would think that the reason for using nuts as an example of a fruit which affects the space, is their physical structure: They are round. Thus, when one is removed, the others are compelled to fill its space. If so, why is a nut chosen rather than any other "round" fruit? Horav Alshuler explains that nuts manifest another feature which distinguishes them from other "round" fruits. The shell of the nut does not always contain a nut within it. Yet, when one moves a particular nut, it still affects the rest of the nuts in the sack. A similar idea applies to mitzvos. If one were to be lax in regard to the observance of even a seemingly insignificant mitzvah -- even a minhag, custom, which might seem negligible to the uneducated, it could signal the end of his Torah observance altogether.
Many personal anecdotes demonstrate the allegiance to every mitzvah and every minhag of our gedolei Yisroel, Torah leaders, who are never willing to compromise their service to the Almighty. Yalkut Lekach Tov cites the Dvar Avraham who related that Horav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector, zl, refrained from being mesader kiddushin, conducting the marriage ceremony, as he advanced in age. When one of the distinguished lay leaders of Kovno asked him to conduct the wedding of one of his children, he agreed to his request. The father added that, instead of having the chupah in the usual place in front of the courtyard of the main shul, he would rather have it in his own courtyard which was more spacious and elegant. Rav Yitzchak Elchonan refused to accede to his new request, maintaining that he would not be party to an infringement upon a custom. If an individual would breach a Jewish custom - today, he is vulnerable to desecrating Shabbos - tomorrow. His future commitment to the entire Torah and mitzvos hinges on his commitment today. We have only to turn back the pages of history to witness the veracity of this statement.
You shall observe the commandments of Hashem, to go in His ways and fear Him. (8:6)
The Torah enjoins us three times to walk in Hashem's ways. The Chafetz Chaim zl, explains that each command to go in Hashem's way prepares us for a specific spiritual plateau in avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty. He adds that it is not possible to achieve spiritual ascension unless one walks in Hashem's ways. Chazal interpret this to mean that he is to act in a manner similar to Hashem. As He is compassionate and caring, so must we follow suit. In other words, the bein adam l'Makom, achieving a plateau in one's relationship with Hashem must first be preceded by developing our bein adam l'chaveiro, relationships with our fellow man. We must empathize with the needs of others, caring for them, sensitizing ourselves to the concerns of our fellow Jew.
Ostensibly, feeling the pains and frustrations of others will take its toll on an individual. How much more so, a gadol, Torah leader, and tzaddik who bears the burdens of Klal Yisrael, both physically and emotionally. The following story shows the care and concern the Chafetz Chaim demonstrated for an individual. Undoubtedly, this is but only one episode in the life of a person whose heart beat with the pulse of Klal Yisrael.
It happened that a student who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness came to his rebbe, the Chafetz Chaim, for a brachah, blessing. According to the medical authorities, there was no cure for his ailment. The Chafetz Chaim listened carefully to the broken-hearted young man and told him that he would advise him, provided that he never reveal the advice to anyone. The student immediately agreed. The Chafetz Chaim then instructed the student to go to a certain Torah scholar in a small village to ask for his blessing. "He will give you a brachah and you will recover," said the Chafetz Chaim. The bachur, young man, followed his rebbe's advice, and received the blessing. In a short while, he recovered. He eventually married and raised a family, all the while never revealing to anyone the events surrounding his illness and miraculous recovery.
Twenty years later, this man's sister-in-law became ill with an illness similar to the one sustained by him many years earlier. He kept his word to the Chafetz Chaim and revealed nothing about his recovery. His wife, however, remembered that he had once spoken about a mysterious illness that had afflicted him many years before they had met. When she questioned him about it, he suddenly became evasive and quiet. The more vague he tried to be, the more she pressed on, demanding an answer that might save her sister's life.
He could take it no longer; both his wife and sister-in-law pleaded with him to reveal what had occurred many years earlier and how he had been cured. He tried to keep the secret, but to no avail. He finally gave in, rationalizing that the Chafetz Chaim did not really mean forever. He told his wife and sister-in-law about his visit with the Chafetz Chaim and his instruction that he go see a certain talmid chacham to ask for a brachah. When they heard this, they became hopeful for a cure.
After a short while, the man himself became ill with symptoms similar to those of his previous illness. His worst fears had been realized. He had broken his word, and he was now being punished. He decided that he could do nothing else, but go to his rebbe.
He made the long journey to the Chafetz Chaim's home and entered his rebbe's home to find a frail old man. After listening to his student's heart-rending pleas, the Chafetz Chaim turned to his student and said, "My son, I wish I could help you, but I am no longer physically able. When you came to me last time, I was much younger and stronger. I was then able to fast forty days on your behalf, so that you would be cured. Today, I can no longer do that."
This remarkable narrative teaches us the love and devotion a rebbe had for his student. To fast forty days on behalf of a student indicates the overwhelming loyalty and love the Chafetz Chaim manifest for him. That is probably secondary to the Chafetz Chaim's humility in creating the ruse. Telling the bachur to seek a brachah from a tzaddik in order to conceal the real reason for the miraculous recovery. This is but a glimpse of the character of this outstanding tzaddik.
And what he did to Dasan and Aviram…when the earth opened its mouth wide and swallowed them, and their households and their tents and all the sustenance which was at their feet, in the midst of all Yisrael. (11:6)
Many things happened to Klal Yisrael during their sojourn in the wilderness. At times they sinned, challenging Hashem in a manner unbecoming their noble stature. There were individuals whose malicious intent motivated their insurrection. Among those were Dasan and Aviram, Moshe Rabbeinu's antagonists yet in Egypt, whose archeotypical evil "earned" them everlasting condemnation in the annals of Jewish history. In Parashas ha'Yiraah, Moshe Rabbeinu impresses upon Klal Yisrael the concept of yiraas ha'onesh, fear of retribution. He uses the punishment meted out to Dasan and Aviram as an example.
Veritably, Dasan and Aviram received a terrible punishment for the evil which they wrought. We wonder why they were singled out more so than Korach, the leader of the incursion against Moshe and Aharon. Korach's sons repented; his descendants stood at the spiritual helm of our people. Dasan and Aviram were lost to posterity - forever. What lesson may we glean from here?
The Panim Yafos posits that in the parashas ha'yiraah, the Torah focuses upon two forms of fear: fear of Hashem; and by extension, fear of a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. The parsha begins with Moshe's declaration: "And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you but to fear Hashem," (10:12). It concludes with the words, "Hashem, your G-d you shall fear," (10:20) which Chazal interpret to include talmidei chachamim. When one fears a talmid chacham, he is actually in awe of the Shechinah that rests upon him. Regarding fear of the Almighty, Moshe recounts the various miracles that Hashem performed for us which demonstrate His awesome power. Now, Moshe adds the punishment meted out to Dasan and Aviram as an indication of what can occur to one who trespasses the honor to be accorded a Torah scholar.
The fear and awe one must display for a Torah scholar is not a simple virtue to access. While it is true that we do often fear human beings, we are usually afraid of their power over us. Wealth, brute strength, political power are areas which contribute to one's dominion over others. A Torah scholar, however, has little power, to the uneducated mind.. He rarely has material wealth, as he is usually relegated to living on the lower strata of financial accomplishment. Physical strength or power is a rare commodity among Torah disseminators. Indeed, they are so dedicated to spiritual achievement that material/physical success has little meaning to them altogether.
It takes a great man, a perceptive individual, one who views the physical/material dimension for what it is really worth, to stand in awe of a Torah scholar. Only one who has a profound understanding of spiritual achievement will bow his head in fear and awe of a Torah scholar - even if he does not dress impressively or exhibit physical prowess.
This is why the Torah makes a paradigmatic statement by mentioning the punishment meted out to Dasan and Aviram. They superceded all others in sheer insolence. They spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu with a brazenness that was unimaginable. What was it that gave them the gall, the unmitigated audacity, to speak to Rabban Shel Kol Yisrael with such shamelessness, to talk to the man who was prepared more than once to give up his life for us, with such effrontery? It was their wealth. Their material excess went to their heads. They foolishly thought that, because they had untold wealth, they reigned over everyone - including Moshe Rabbeinu. They were punished, middah k'negged middah, measure for measure. Nothing was left of them and their physical possessions in order to demonstrate the futility and worthlessness of their material possessions. It was all swallowed up into the earth, as if it never had existed. Its real value was shown for all to see.
How meaningful are the words of the Panim Yafos. We live in an age in which one's status is determined in accordance with his material success. The reverence accorded to a talmid chacham who has devoted his life to accumulate possessions that are eternal, has reached a new low. Is it because so many people are themselves proficient in Torah, that they have less respect for others who also happen to be devoted to it? Could it be that once one has succeeded in both worlds, having done well financially after having achieved proficiency in Torah, that he has less respect for his counterpart who is totally dedicated to Torah? Could it be that financial success does go to one's head to the point that nothing else matters? One would not think so, but the Torah seems to disagree. Apparently, some who achieve material success undergo a metamorphosis whereby their seichal ha'yashar, common sense, becomes overwhelmed by their wallet. They cannot handle the nisayon, challenge, of material wealth. Neither could Dasan and Aviram.
"To love Hashem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him. (11:22)
To walk in Hashem's ways, is to act as He acts; as He is merciful, so should we act with compassion. As He bestows kindness, so should we be kind to others. While it is possible to follow in some of Hashem's ways, there certainly is a limit to a mortal's abilities. Hashem is, after all, mechaye meisim, resurrects the dead. Ostensibly, this is not something a human being could do - or can he? I once heard that, indeed, a caring, sensitive human being has the ability to be mechaye meisim in a figurative sense. Let us take a moment to observe the people around us. While it is true that they appear to be alive, are they really alive or are they just existing? Do they enjoy life? Do they have a zest for living?
Regrettably, we know the answer to these questions. Many people are beset by problems, be they personal, family, or work-related which take their toll upon their outlook on life. It is difficult to be happy when problems are gnawing away at one's mind. These people walk around as in mourning - for themselves. Yes - they appear to be alive, but if one penetrates beneath the veneer of existence, we note a totally different picture. These people live by rote. They have lost their vivacity; they have lost their life.
One who goes over to say, "Hello," or "How are you?" - or simply offers to listen to help out in some way -- is mechaye meisim, gives them life. It gives them hope; it encourages them and, quite possibly, may be the turning point for them between living and giving up altogether. Rav Nachman M'Breslov says, "There are people who are in great pain. They cannot share this pain with others. They would like to talk about it, but they do not have anyone to whom to turn. They walk around in deep depression, waiting, seeking, looking for that one person who will lend them a listening ear. That person can save their life."
When we think about it, we all know someone in need. Yet, we do nothing about it. We conjure up any of a number of excuses to validate our passivity. Perhaps, if we would realize that it takes so little to accomplish so much, we might be less inclined to shirk our duty towards our fellow man.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1. A. Who concerned himself with the bones of Yosef Hatzadik?
1. A. Moshe Rabbeinu.
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