Friday, May 15, 2020

Parshas Behar and Bechuksai 5780

בּ״ה
Parshas Behar

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‘And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying:  Speak to the Bnei Yisroel, and you shall say to them; ‘When you will come to the Land that I give to you, and the land shall rest a Shabbos to Hashem.’ (Vayikra 25:1-2)
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Here the Torah tells us about the Shemittah (Sabbatical year).  But asks Rashi from Toras Kohanim:  Why is the matter of the Shemittah year coupled with Mount Sinai?

And the answer he brings is that it teaches us that just as the Shemittah was told over to us at Har Sinai with all its generalities, specifics, and fine points, so too with all the other Mitzvos.  

But still, the question asked by many is; why specifically is this lesson taught with the Shemittah?  Why here?

Explains the Chasam Sofer {HaRav Moshe Sofer zt”l}; it is because the Shemittah is a proof to the fact that the Torah is from Hashem.  The Torah promises us that there will be a great blessing in the sixth year, and the produce of that year will last until into the year after the Shemittah even. Meaning that we will have plenty enough to eat during the Shemittah year, even though we are not allowed to sow, work the field, or do a harvest during it.

Thus, says the Chasam Sofer, the Shemittah proves that the Torah was given to us at Har Sinai by Hashem Himself.  Because no human being would be able to make the promise mentioned above, as obviously, they couldn’t fulfill it.  Only Hashem can.

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And a man shall not wrong his fellow, and you shall fear from your G-d. . .’ (Vayikra 25:17)
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The Torah is talking here about about wronging someone with words.  

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai:  Wronging someone with words is worse than wronging someone in money matters, because regarding wronging someone with words it says ‘and you shall fear from your G-d’, and concerning wronging someone in money matters, it doesn’t.

And Rabbi Elazar says:  Hurting someone with words is worse because it affects the person themselves, whereas wronging in money matters affects their money.1

(Gemara Bava Metzia 58b)

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1 Of course, this is in no way be taken to downplay the badness of wronging someone in monetary matters.

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And if you will say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? -- Behold we will not plant and we will not gather in our produce!” And I [Hashem] will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will make produce for three years.’ (Vayikra 25:20-21)
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Here the Torah reveals to us the wonderful truth and realization that when we keep Hashem’s Commandments, we will never lose out, no matter how things seem.  Naturally, a person would think that if they don’t plant or harvest for a full year, things would get very serious in regards to food shortage.  But Hashem tells us otherwise:  If we keep the laws of the Shemittah year, we will be taken care of completely and actually get more (see Ramban and Sforno to 25:3) -- and further yet, as is known, we will also earn great eternal reward for it!  Such is the case as well for the other Laws of the Torah. . .

(Tal U’Matar)

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For you are sojourners and residents with Me (Vayikra 25:23)
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Rebbe Yudele of Dzhikov zt”l explains that if we make ourselves like sojourners on this world -- meaning that we realize that it is just our temporary dwelling place, and all the “gleam” of its pleasures really are meaningless, and only the Torah and Mitzvos are eternal -- then we will be residents with Hashem.  In this world and the Next.

(Heard from my Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shulman shlit”a)

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My Sanctuary you shall revere’ (Vayikra 26:2)
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Says the Sforno zt”l:  This also applies to the sanctified places in our Exile -- the Shuls and Houses of Study, even though the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed.

We must be careful to behave in a dignified and respectful manner in Shul.  The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 151:1) rules that we are not supposed to act frivolously in it, such as joking around, or engaging in idle speech.

Regarding such, HaRav Shimon Schwab zt”l writes: “For Hashem’s sake, let us be quiet in our Beis HaKnesses.  Our reverent silence [from any other speech] during the Tefillah will speak very loudly to Him Who holds our fate in His hands.  Communicating with Hashem is our only recourse in this era of trial and tribulations.  There is too much ugly noise in our world today.  Let us find peace and tranquility while standing before Hashem in prayer.” (Selected Writings).

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~ Maasim Tovim ~  

One night, the Alter of Novhardok {HaRav Yosef Yozel Hurwitz zt”l} was sitting in his house of solitude in the forest, when his candle burned out.  This wouldn’t have been a problem -- except that he didn’t have any other candles there at the time.  He was very distressed about the fact that now he didn’t have the light to be able to learn Torah!  But he had very strong Bitochon (trust in Hashem) that he would be helped speedily.  

The Alter opened the door of the little house, and went outside.  And at that very moment, someone -- most likely an Angel or Eliyahu HaNavi -- approached him, presented him a candle, and disappeared!  Hashem had truly justified his trust in Him, and now, the Alter was able to go back to his learning.

(HaMeoros HaGedolim)

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The Rebbe Reb Zusia of Anipoli zt”l, after Shacharis, would go up to his study, and say to Hashem “Zusia is hungry”, and the Gabbai would take that as the sign to bring his breakfast in.  This happened just about every day, until the Gabbai thought to himself, “Does the Rebbe really think that this is coming straight from Hashem?  I just hear him, and bring in the food.” He decided that the next day, when the Rebbe said ‘Zusia is hungry’, he wouldn’t bring in the food, and he would see what happens.  

There was a certain wealthy man who came to Anipoli, and he wanted to receive the Rebbe’s bracha, meet him, etc. The next morning, when he was walking along, he encountered Reb Zusia on the street, but he didn’t know that it was the Rebbe, as Reb Zusia dressed in simple garb.  They crossed paths at a juncture in the road where a board had been placed over the puddles to bridge them, and the wealthy man decided to play a small prank on the poor man -- and he pushed him into the puddle!  

The wealthy man went about his morning as usual after that, and he came to the Beis Midrash for Shacharis, and was hoping to see Rebbe Zusia there.  But when he beheld the Rebbe, he was shocked and mortified to see that the man whom he had pushed into the puddle was none other than Reb Zusia himself!  He asked people what he could do to fix his mistake, and they told him that he should, after Shacharis, go and bring some cake and drink to the Rebbe, and ask his forgiveness.  

So after Shacharis, the Rebbe went up to his study as usual, and he did whatever kind of preparations he would usually do, and then he spoke to Hashem and said “Zusia is hungry.” The Gabbai was sitting there, and he smiled, knowing that he wouldn’t bring the food in this time, and his “test” would soon be vindicated.  How surprised he was to see the door burst open, and a wealthy man walk in carrying cake and some drink for the Rebbe!  It now became quite clear that Hashem was literally the One providing for the Rebbe -- and truthfully, for all of us.

(Heard from my Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shulman shlit”a)

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In Lev Eliyahu, it is related that one of the bochurim who learned in the yeshiva where HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l served as mashgiach, came to him and told him that he was going to leave the yeshiva. “Why would you leave yeshiva?” Rav Lopian asked him. “I need to start making a livelihood.” replied the bochur

“And how do you know you are going to continue to live?” Rav Lopian prodded.

“Hashem will give me life, Rebbe.” the bochur answered. 

“But for one person you need such a big livelihood?” 

“Well, soon I’m going to get married, Rebbe.”

“And who says you’ll get married?”

“Hashem will help me that I will find the right girl, and we will get married.”

“But still,” the Rav pressed, “For only two people, is there a necessity for a big amount of money?”

“Well, soon enough we will have children.  And then we will have all those expenses.”

“And who says that you will have children?”

The bochur was confused. “Please don’t curse me, Rebbe!” He said. “B’Ezras Hashem, I will be able to have kids.”

Now they had come to where the mashgiach was trying to get at: “I don’t understand,” he said. “Hashem will give you life; He will help you to get married, and even have children, but He can’t help you have enough money to live on?!”

(Related by the mashgiach, HaRav Mordechai Finkelman shlit”a)

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בּ״ה
Parshas Bechukosai

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If you will go in My Decrees (Vayikra 26:3)
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If you will go in My Decrees -- that you should toil in Torah. (Rashi zt”l from Chazal).

My Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shulman shlit”a explained that ameilus (toil) baTorah means not just to read whatever it is you are studying, and try to understand it.  It means to put your entire mental capacity and focus into the Torah.

The mashgiach, HaRav Mordechai Finkelman shlit”a elucidated further that what a person cares about most, and what they really consider important, they work for.  They will toil in it.  If someone toils in the Torah, that shows that they realize the importance of Torah.  But toiling is more than just learning.  It will do more than teach you what the Mitzvos are and how to do them.  It elevates and perfects a person.  Learning Torah b’Iyun and toiling in it transforms a person into a ben Torah, and leads to performing the Mitzvos in an elevated and better way.  One’s entire attitude and direction in life will be different -- and better.  This is what the passuk actually implies when it says ‘If you will go’, because toiling in Torah improves a person’s entire life -- everywhere they go.  Consequently, if we don’t toil in Torah, the results are clearly quite negative, as we see. . .

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And I will put My Dwelling Place in your midst, and My “soul” will not abhor you.’ (Vayikra 26:11)
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The Torah speaks here about people who are toiling in Torah, fulfilling all of the Mitzvos and doing the will of Hashem.  Hashem says that He will bless them with rains, fruitful bounties, peace, security, the Beis HaMikdash, and many, many other blessings.  One of these other blessings is, ‘My “soul” will not abhor you.’ Rashi zt”l explains this in its plain meaning, ‘My soul will not despise you.’   

The Ramban zt”l asks on Rashi:  What is the meaning of blessing a people who are fulfilling all the Mitzvos and doing His will, with the blessing that He will not despise them?  Is then the reward for being Tzaddikim and doing all of the Mitzvos, nothing more than the passive negative fact that Hashem will not despise them?  

Furthermore, the Ramban asks, even when the Bnei Yisroel transgress, Hashem promised them, ‘I shall not despise them, and I will not abhor them’ (Vayikra 26:44).  Surely, should not the reward for fulfilling the Mitzvos be more substantial than “My soul shall not despise you!”

HaRav Ovadiah of Bartenura zt”l wishes to give a new perspective on Rashi, thereby answering both of the above questions:  The Bartenura states that, in fact, Rashi himself, in-between the lines means to ask the Ramban’s questions.  Rashi addresses himself to this and answers that, indeed, the meaning of “My soul shall not abhor you” is that Hashem shall not despise you, but with an entirely different focus.  The Torah speaks in the language that people generally employ.  It is common for a person who loves his friend dearly to eventually tire of him and despise him because of his constant proximity to him, for “familiarity breeds contempt”.  Therefore, Hashem tells us that He will never despise us nor become tired of us.  The Ramban’s questions on Rashi are now beautifully answered, since the new meaning of “My soul shall not abhor you” is that Hashem is actually promising a positive reward for those who fulfill His Mitzvos.  This reward is that His love for Klal Yisroel shall never wane nor erode, forever enduring with all its inherent vitality.

Thus, according to Rav Ovadiah of Bartenura, Hashem is promising and assuring all those who toil in Torah and observe His Mitzvos that, “My Love for you shall never wane.” Hashem is saying, “I am not like a human being, whose love for his friend wears off through frequency of interaction and acclimation.” A human relationship can decline over time, and lose its vitality and vigor.  Even the best of friends can tire of and become bored with each other with the passage of time.  By contrast, Hashem is confirming to us that His boundless love for us will endure forever, never lessening nor eroding even one iota.  

(From a Dvar Torah of Mori v’Rebbe, HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt zt”l)

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In the famous Tochachah (Rebuke), where we read about the bad things that will befall us if, Chas V’Shalom, we do not listen to Hashem and keep His Commandments, there is a phrase that appears various times:  Hashem warns us what will happen if we go עמי קרי -- with Him in a “chance-occurrence” way (see Rashi zt”l to 26:21), קרי being a language similar to מקרה, ‘happening’.  

But there is another possible meaning of the word קרי; various later Gedolim explain that it can be related to the word קר -- ‘cold’, thus translating the above phrase as speaking about if we go with Hashem coldly. (This is actually somewhat similar to Rashi’s translation).

The truth is that coldness, in whatever manner it manifests itself, is something we must personally strive to overcome in our own lives.  For, Judaism is not about just mechanically “going through the motions” of the Mitzvos:  There needs to be a holy fire and passion with them -- a burning desire to do the Will of Hashem!  We must also work to cultivate varmkeit (warmness) towards others, and overall in our Service of the Blessed Creator.

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The Gemara tells us in one place (Berachos 33b) that everything is in the Hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven (i.e. that everything is in Hashem’s control, except for the choice of our actions, as He gives to us free will), but in another (Bava Metzia 107b) it says that everything is in the Hands of Heaven except for blowing cold.1

There appear to be a couple of difficulties here:  Firstly, is anything beyond Hashem?  Yes, He has granted us free choice over our actions, but blowing cold?!  And secondly, if the first passage we quoted from the Gemara said that everything is the Hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven, then how can another come and say an additional thing?  It said ‘everything except for…’!  So the two teachings would seem contradictory!  

Truly though, there is no contradiction or problem whatsoever:  The blowing cold that the Gemara speaks of we may understand homiletically, and actually to be within the overall meaning of ‘fear of Heaven.’ That is, ‘blowing cold’ coming over a person -- a wave of coldness and lack-of-feeling towards Hashem and people.  That is within the realm of our free choice, and thus it is up to us, with the Help of Hashem,2 to overcome any waves of “blowing cold” that the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) throws at us, and not, Chas V’Shalom, fall into ‘going coldly’.

(Tal U’Matar)

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1 According to Rashi zt”l.  According to Tosafos, however, it is ‘cold and heat’.  And our explanation that follows fits for this translation as well, Baruch Hashem.
2 Of course, although He has granted us free will, He inspires us and aids us in things.

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And every tithe of herd and flock; all that pass under the staff, the tenth shall be holy to Hashem.’ (Vayikra 27:32)
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Says HaRav Avraham Yaakov HaKohen Pam zt”l:  The Mishnah in Bechoros (9:7) describes the procedure for tithing new born animals; the entire flock of animals born during the past season is put into a corral.  A narrow opening is made to assure that the animals can only be counted one at a time.  Then the owner begins to count them with a staff:  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.  The animal which exits tenth is marked with a red dye and the owner announces, “This one is maaser (the tithe).”

This procedure is followed whether one has ten new animals or ten thousand.  The flock is lined up and tallied in this time-consuming manner.  Couldn’t a more efficient way be found to calculate the maaser?  This question was posed by HaRav Eliezer Gordon zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe in Lithuania.  On a fundraising mission, he once approached a wealthy industrialist, seeking a donation for his Yeshiva.  The man gasped in disbelief when Rav Gordon asked for a five hundred ruble donation. “Rebbe, do you know how much five hundred rubles is?  I can give you fifty rubles, or maybe even one hundred.  But five hundred?  How can you request so much?” asked the man.  

Rav Gordon replied, “Are you familiar with the procedure of taking maaser from newborn animals?” 

“Surely, Rebbe,” he answered.

“Listen, you’re a businessman,” said Rav Gordon. “Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to first count all the animals and then deduct one tenth of them for maaser?  Why does the Torah require the owner to count them one at a time?. . .” The rich man was at a loss to answer this question.  

Rav Gordon replied, “Let me explain it to you.  If the Torah would tell a wealthy Jew to add up all his animals and then remove 10% of them, the person would be hard pressed to comply.  Therefore, the Torah prescribes the method of counting one’s flock. ‘One for me, two for me, three for me, four for me. . . eight for me, nine for me. . . and one for Hashem.’ The same procedure starts again. ‘One for me, two for me. . . nine for me. . . and one for Hashem.’ After a while, the owner will even feel a bit ashamed at taking so much for himself and giving so little to Hashem.  That will motivate him to separate the maaser with a joyful heart, in gratitude for how much he himself has.  This psychological insight will make it easier for the person to willingly fulfill his obligation.  

“My friend,” the Rav continued, “Hashem has blessed you with great wealth.  Among your many assets are factories, real estate, and shipping lines.  Look how much you have.  So why can’t you give 500 rubles “back to Hashem”?”

Concludes Rav Pam zt”l; there are people who find it difficult to be charitable and share their good fortune with the needy.  By contemplating the many blessings that they have, it wouldn’t be so hard for them to part with some of these blessings to help the less fortunate.

(The Pleasant Way)

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There are 78 verses in Parshas Bechukosai, which is the Gematria (numerical value) of the word חמל -- similar to חמלה, ‘compassion’.  This alludes to the blessings we will get if we keep the Torah, and the curses we will get if, Chas V’Shalom, we don’t, which are talked about in much of the Parsha.  They both truly come from -- and are manifestations of -- Hashem’s great compassion for us.  

(Tal U’Matar)

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~ Maasim Tovim ~  

It was a cold, snowy winter afternoon in Mezibuzh, Ukraine, and the holy Baal Shem Tov zt”l was with his students when he made this very strange request: “Get the wagon ready -- I want to go down to the lake.” No one dared question their holy Rebbe’s intentions, and they quickly readied the wagon and rode down to the lake.  As they approached the ice-covered lake, they could see children playing on the ice.  As they got closer, they saw that the children were etching a big image of a cross into the ice.  The Baal Shem Tov departed the wagon and sat down to watch the children playing.  The Chassidim couldn’t understand why their holy master wanted to sit and look at a bunch of children etch a cross into an ice-covered lake!  But still, they dared not question their Rebbe’s intentions.

After a few minutes, the Baal Shem Tov signaled that it was time to leave and they all boarded the wagon and rode back to town.  At this point, one of the students had the nerve to ask, “Rebbe, what was that all about?!” The Baal Shem Tov simply replied in a very somber voice, “When a Jew is icy-cold, it doesn’t take long before a cross is etched into his heart.”
(From a Dvar Torah of my Rebbe, HaRav Binyomin Goldstein shlit”a)

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HaRav Chaim Vital zt”l said that the Arizal used to learn with so much passion and energy, that he would literally sweat, as if he was lifting a heavy weight.

(Heard from my Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shulman zt”l)

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Someone once came and asked HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l a shaila, and Rav Moshe gave an answer from a Bach in Shulchan Aruch.  The man was amazed and commented how impressive it was that Rav Moshe remembered that Bach so well.  Rav Moshe tried to make light of it, saying in a nonchalant voice, “It’s not so hard to remember something when you’ve learned it 60 times.”

(Related by my dear chavrusa, Reb Yitzchok Kahn shlit”a)

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Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik!  Gut and meaningful Shabbos to all!

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