Parshas Vaeschanan 5760
Outline Vol. 4, # 5
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
The Ancient Mourning
Yom Kippur and Tisha B'av have certain similarities in their practices, yet
they are essentially different. Although both are full day fasts and have
similar prohibitions, they stand for different ideas. Laws which
illustrate the differing functions of the two days include the following:
On Tisha B'av, learning Torah is basically not allowed, and we sit on the
ground as mourners. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, represents the day in
which the Torah was given the final time (following the Eigel Hazahav --
the Golden Calf).
The reason for similarity of practices of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'av is that
both are days of introspection and self-improvement or "Teshuva;" however,
Tisha B'av is a time of mourning over the past, while Yom Kippur is a time
of rejoicing over the future.
Since the Gemara says that the first Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because
they did not say the brocha for the Torah properly, it is fitting that
Torah learning would be forbidden at the time commemorating the
destruction. This is not a time of connection, of spiritual attachment,
but a time to reflect and consider our ways.
Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is the greatest time of connection and
spiritual attachment -- the day the Torah was finally given to Yisrael.
In the recorded lectures of Rav Yerucham Levovitz, we find that Tochacha --
ethical reproof -- deals with past events. The worst thing is for a person
to see himself as righteous. He should learn to constantly see his errors,
until he realizes that he is not the tzadik (righteous leader) that he
thinks he is.
Moshe reproved the people, time and again, without break. He had nothing
positive to say about them. In reality, over the course of many years,
they made very few mistakes. However, Moshe would not give them the benefit
of the doubt, but contantly reminded them of their errors. This is the
goal, actually -- to constantly remember our mistakes, as Dovid Hamelech
(King David) said: "My sin is always before me."
The Medrash states: "One who reproves a person, will afterwards find favor,
more so than one of smooth speech..." The verse is praising Moshe, who
reproved Yisrael and kept them from haughtiness. The opposite is true of
Bilam, who praised the people sweetly, and brought them to pride and
Midos Chamura Me'aveiros
Nesivos Shalom described why Pirke Avos is studied. People think that the
main requirements of the Torah are its mitzvos. Although we often hear
about the middos -- qualities of character -- these seem to be too subtle
for the common man. It is enough to work on the basic Torah requirements.
This is what people feel, but it is not so. Just as we will be judged for
fulfilling the mitzvos, so, too, we will be judged for our qualities of
character. In fact, the Rabbis were more stringent with middos than with
mitzvos. So we find, "Anyone who becomes angry, it is as if he served
idols." "Regarding someone who is haughty, Hashem says, 'There is not room
for both of us.' " Such strong statements were not said in relation to
The Daas Torah has an entire section on this subject (end of
Bamidbar). Rav Moshe Cordevero showed that the Torah is addressed to the
intellectual soul; therefore, it mainly discusses mitzvos. The character
qualities are based on the animal soul. However, the animal soul is more
fundamental; hence, character qualities are more stringent than
mitzvos. The Daas Torah compares it to a house. We normally look at the
house by the external aspects visible to the eye. However, a beautiful
house with poor foundations is not very valuable. Damage to the surface
may destroy the entire house. Correcting flaws in the foundation will be
costly, difficult work. However, a house with a strong foundation will
withstand damage and continue to be useful for generations.
Similarly, the animal soul and the character qualities are the foundation,
and are more basic than performing the commandments.
The Daas Torah advances an idea as to why the Torah rarely commands
character qualities. The Torah is essentially needed for those things that
we would not have thought of on our own. However, character attributes are
common sense. There is no need to make commandments for them. In a
similar manner, the people of the world are judged for character qualities,
even though most of the Torah does not apply to them. If they are not
warned, how can they be punished? The answer is that moral qualities are
common sense, logical matters, and everyone is obligated to be aware of them.
The second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of "sinas chinom" --
baseless hatred. Such a horrible tragedy occurred, because of faults of