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Speak to the entire assembly of the Bnei Yisrael and say to them: You shall be holy. (19:2)
This pasuk does not present the order of the transmission of Hashem's word in the usual way. Moshe Rabbeinu did not teach the Torah portion to the community until he had first taught it to Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and the Zekeinim, Elders, respectively. The wording of this pasuk makes it seem as if he taught everyone at once, assembling the entire nation for this learning experience. It seems particularly odd that the injunction to "be holy" would be taught b'Hakhel, as everybody was assembled together. Kedushah, holiness, is not a spiritual plateau that is accessible to everybody. Kedushah is a virtue reserved for those who have the fortitude and purity of mind and action to achieve it. Why, then, is the teaching of to "be holy" presented to everyone together? Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, explains that Hashem purposely gave the mitzvah of kedushah to the entire klal, community. The individual has the luxury of choice. He can and should strive to achieve kedushah. It is understandable, however, that the path to kedushah is not readily accessible to everyone. We can overlook the individual's temporary lapses in his spiritual quest. We always seek to justify and help the individual who has not yet "made it." After all, do not Chazal say that "even the poshei Yisrael, Jewish sinners, are filled with mitzvos and good deeds"? Hence, we always seek to find favor and acceptability for the individual who has not attained kedushah. It is different in regard to the klal. The Nation of Klal Yisrael has a specific mandate: "Kedoshim teheyu," "You shall be holy." An individual may lapse, while Am Yisrael -- the nation - can not. We are adjured to be a "mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh," "kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." This is our national calling. As a nation, we have a G-d given imperative to be holy. We all have a collective responsibility to see to it that this mandate is fulfilled.
You shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field…for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them. (19:9,10)
We are commanded to be charitable to the poor and needy. The Torah gives many examples of appropriate laws of charity, such as: leaving over an edge of one's field unharvested; leaving the gleanings of one's harvest; not picking up the fallen twigs of the vineyard; and not retrieving the fallen fruit. We may wonder at the manner in which we are to leave our "contributions" to the poor, as well as the quality of our "donations." The Torah commands us also to "give" to the Kohen. In respect to the Kohen, our contribution must be of the highest grade, the best quality. Nothing is too good for the Kohen. For the ani, poor man, in contrast, we leave over the corner of the field upon which all of the workers have probably already tread. We give him undeveloped twigs and fallen fruit. Why is our donation so demeaning? How are we to distinguish between matnos Kehunah, the gifts given to the Kohen, and matnos aniim, the gifts left for the poor?
Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, feels that the Torah's distribution process for the various contributions is practical, given the fact that we must take into account the human nature of the donor. The individual who must part with his crops to share with the Kohen or Levi acquiesces with this requirement for two reasons: First, the Kohen and Levi did not receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael. Second, he is acutely aware that this donation is reciprocal in nature; he works in the field, and the Kohen and Levi perform the service in the Sanctuary. He can relate to the ""trade-off". Since the Kohen and Levi are performing the service of Hashem, he is proud to contribute to "Hashem's legion." Thus, he gives the finest and best of his crops.
People view the poor and destitute through an entirely different prism. The poor man has had his chance to earn a living. He received a portion in Eretz Yisrael, just like everybody else. Pure laziness must be motivating him to beg rather than to work. Why should he work and slave in his field for the poor fellow who is too slothful to work himself?
Hashem knows, of course, that poverty and wealth are Divine decrees. Due to reasons beyond our limited scope of perception, Hashem gives the poor man's livelihood to the rich man. Owing to human nature, the Torah knows it will be easier for the donor to part with his contribution to the poor if it is of an inferior grade. He will let himself think that he has "forgotten" the twigs, or he is leaving over the corner of the field, or he has dropped the sheaves because Hashem is conveying to him the message: this belongs to the poor. He will begin to realize that the poor also have to be sustained. This paves the way for the process of "parting" from one's wealth to be less painful.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. (19:17)
We must endeavor to understand the rationale behind the Torah's admonishment against hating a fellow Jew. Is this not beyond our control? Hate and love are emotions that, for the most part, are natural responses. How does one control a natural inclination? Hatred is the product of something. One does not hate for no apparent reason. Something motivates this hatred. What is it? Perhaps it is the age-old disease of kinah - envy/jealousy. Horav Gershon Liebman, zl, remarks that, indeed, jealousy fans the flames of hatred.
He cites the Orchos Chaim l'HaRosh who writes, "Do not place in your heart any form of jealousy, for this is a sickness for which there is no cure!" If jealousy is the origin of hatred, if it is an incurable disease, how can we be commanded not to hate? Is it possible not to hate? Everyone - even the greatest Torah giants - has been affected to some degree by this terrible disease. Miriam Ha'Neviah, who risked her life to see to it that her baby brother Moshe was saved, was envious of Moshe. Sforno explains that when she spoke about Moshe and added the words, "Was it only to Moshe that Hashem spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?" (Bamidbar 12:2) She was inferring, "We are also special; we are also on a high spiritual plane." Indeed, it is because one recognizes his own unique characteristics and abilities that he has little tolerance for his friend's success. Is it too much to expect us not to hate? Moreover, the Torah commands us to love our fellow man. If we are jealous of an individual, we will certainly not be capable of showering love on that person.
Horav Liebman explains that the Torah's emphasis is not as much as "Lo sisnah" - "Do not hate," as it is a focus upon "achicha," "your brother." The Torah wants us to wake up and realize whom it is that we are hating. It is our brother! Furthermore, one does not have to be born from the same parents to have feelings of brotherhood towards another Jew. Feelings of brotherhood emanate from experiencing a similar situation. During the war years, when there was little food and clothing and even less heat, the inmates in the concentration camps would cluster around each other, sharing their body heat with each other in an attempt to stay warm. This common bond generated a feeling of kinship, a feeling of brotherhood among all those who shared the same dismal situation.
The power of a chaburah, group, transcends the feelings of enmity one might harbor towards another person. We are all in this together. We must stick together as brothers, as Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. After what the Jewish nation has endured, is there any rationale for people not to get along? We are in this together; let us act that way. Rather than looking for ways to undermine another Jew who -- by the grace of the Almighty -- is doing well, we should strengthen our relationship and not act upon our foolish, petty jealousy.
David Ha'Melech and Yehonasan comprise the paradigm of a loving relationship between two friends. Yehonasan was prepared to give up the monarchy for his friend, David. This is brotherhood! Envy destroys relationships. It destroys people and families. Rabbi Akiva had tweny-four thousand students who perished because they did not demonstrate the proper kavod, honor, towards one another. They certainly did not hate each other. Perhaps a little envy had festered, precluding them from giving to one another the appropriate recognition that each one deserved. They were one group who had come from all over the country to study under the greatest sage of the generation. They died because of a lack of kinship. They did not constitute a group. They were twenty-four thousand individuals, each one studying on his own, for himself. Where was the achavah, brotherhood, that should have permeated this yeshivah? The key to understanding this, and similar situations, is envy. The way to overcome envy is to remember that you are harboring ill feelings against your own brother. That perspective might change your attitude.
You shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. (19:17)
Horav Gedalia Schorr, zl, cites the Bialostoker Magid, zl, who explains that there are two methods for reproach. One method emphasizes the positive by lifting up the sinner and asking him how a person such as he could act so reprehensibly. In this sense, he is not denigrating the person for what he is. Rather, he is pointing out to him how he has fallen short of his potential. The other manner of rebuke is to question how he could have had the audacity to sin before G-d. What gave him the right to rebel against the Almighty? The Torah responds to this form of reproval, insisting, "Do not bear a sin because of him." The word "sisah," which is translated as "bear," is related to the word "naso" which means to raise up. In this light, the pasuk has an alternative meaning, "Do not raise up his sin - do not magnify his sin more than it is." Rather than expanding the sin, focus on the sinner. Focus on the positive aspect of who he is, what he could accomplish, and what he is discarding by virtue of his sinful behavior: a person like you can do better than this form of behavior. Do not belittle yourself by acting in a demeaning manner. This is the Torah's concept of rebuke.
Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, adds another dimension to every Jew's responsibility for his fellow: not to turn away apathetically from our friend's transgression. He says that the mitzvah of tochachah, rebuke, is especially applicable before one sins - even while he is acting virtuously. If one begins to note a change, however minute, he should immediately react by bringing it to his friend's attention. Furthermore, it is important to "give mussar," lecture one another on the subject of ethics and character refinement in order to strengthen our resolve to act piously and to observe Hashem's mitzvos. Why wait until one sins? This is the Torah's hidden message: reprove your fellow while he is still observant and acting appropriately, so that he will not begin to sin. By reproving him early, we try to ensure that he will not transgress.
You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people. (19:18)
Harboring a grudge against another Jew is wrong, but it is not simple to adhere to this command. When someone hurts me, I naturally want to "get back" at him. The Torah tells us that not only are we not the ones to take revenge, but we are not even permitted to bear a grudge. It does not mean that we should lay down and be a floormat, so others will step on us. We should trust in Hashem that he who deserves retribution will receive it - at Hashem's will - not ours. We must also learn to accept that what happens to us in our daily endeavor occurs by Divine decree. The individuals who act out His decree are only His agents. In other words, if we are humiliated or hurt by someone, it was supposed to be. Rather than bear a grudge against the one who perpetrated the act, it would serve us well to introspect and think of what we could have done to warrant such a response from the Almighty.
The Yalkut Lekach Tov cites an incredible story that is worth repeating so that we might have a glimpse of the extent to which a tzaddik will stretch not to hurt someone, or to bear a grudge against another Jew. There was a great tzaddik by the name of Shimshon, who was the rav of Zivlin. He was a man of incredible humility, of remarkable holiness and purity, and of outstanding devotion to Torah and mitzvos. He passed away on the third of Elul some two hundred and fifty years ago.
When Rav Shimshon accepted the position as rav of the community, he made two stipulations: he was to be consulted concerning every communal question; he was to study all week, undisturbed, in the shul and would accept questions only on Motzaei Shabbos. Out of extreme reverence for their rav, the community acquiesced to his demands. On one occasion, the rebbetzin went to the market with her meager few coins to purchase some food for Shabbos. She noticed a large fish which was on sale for a good price. As she was reaching for it, along came the wife of one of the richest men in town and told the storekeeper to wrap it up for her. Understandably, the women were locked in dispute with each other as to who would get the fish. In the ensuing argument, the woman insulted the rebbetzin, calling her a degrading name. Word got out in the community that the rebbetzin had been humiliated. Immediately, the leaders of the community wanted to censure this woman, but alas, they could do nothing until Motzaei Shabbos, when they could speak to the rav. They spoke to the rebbetzin to "intercede" with the rav over Shabbos, laying the groundwork for their complaint.
Friday night the rav came home to find that his wife had moved her seat at the table to a small table on the side. He looked at her incredulously and asked, "Why are you not sitting with me at the table?" She quickly responded, "I am not worthy of being your rebbetzin." Once again he looked at her in total surprise and asked her to explain why she was not "worthy" of being the rebbetzin. She then explained all that had occurred, how the rich man's wife had belittled her. He wondered why nothing had been done to address this disgrace to the Torah. To denigrate the wife of the rav was to vilify the rav. To disparage the disseminators of Torah is to impugn the Torah itself. She explained that since he could not be bothered during the week, the community's lay leadership was planning to come after Shabbos to see to it that the rav censured this woman. Rav Shimshon was silent after appeasing his wife and began to recite Kiddush. He had the cup of wine in his hand and, as he was about to begin, he looked at his wife and asked, "When did this incident occur?" "It happened Tuesday afternoon," she responded. Suddenly the rav put down the cup and exclaimed, "Tuesday! Tuesday! Since Tuesday you have been bearing a grudge against a Jewish daughter, and you have not forgiven her!" Rav Shimshon was literally trembling as he uttered these words in shock and disbelief. How could his wife have let three days pass and not "made up" with another woman who had insulted her?
The rebbetzin quickly said, "I forgive her, I forgive her!" "No, this is not sufficient, If you have held a grudge against another Jew for three days, it is imperative that you go to that person and beg forgiveness. Get your coat. We are going to her house to implore her to forgive you."
Imagine how the rebbetzin now felt. Insult was added to injury. First, this lady had vilified her and now she, the rebbetzin, who had been slandered, must go to beg forgiveness from the offender! It was late at night; they had not yet made Kiddush, but the rav insisted that they implore the woman's forgiveness, and so they went. As soon as they knocked on the door of the wealthy man's home and the man and his wife heard who was there, they were overcome with fear and trembling. They feared the rav's reprisal. He could utter a few words, and they would be cursed eternally. They opened the door trembling, their heads bowed to the ground, as they begged forgiveness for their degradation of kavod ha'Torah.
"It is not you who should ask mechilah, forgiveness," said Rav Shimshon, "It is we, because my wife bore a grudge for three days." The wealthy couple could not believe their ears. They had been guilty of disparaging the rav - and he was coming to them to ask forgiveness. Was this actually happening?
Both couples were so overcome with emotion that they could not be calmed until they both forgave each other. Only then did Rav Shimshon return home, make Kiddush, and eat the Shabbos meal. This incredible story demonstrates the spiritual integrity of our great Torah giants. Rav Shimshon would not recite Kiddush because his wife, who had been disgraced by another woman, had been bearing a grudge for three days!
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
1) A. Does the mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim apply
equally to women and men?
2) Are three stalks that fall away together considered Leket?
3) To what does the "Do not steal" of the Aseres ha'Dibros refer?
4) What "lo saasei" does one transgress if he gives inappropriate advice to a person?
5) Where must the fruits of Maaser Sheini be eaten?
1) A. Yes.
3) It refers to stealing people, which carries a court-imposed death penalty.
4) "Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person."
5) In Yerushalayim.
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