The second of this week's two parashot begins: "If you will
walk following My decrees and observe My commandments and perform
them; then I will provide rain in its time and the land will give
its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit."
Rashi writes: "Observe My commandments" clearly refers to keeping
the Torah's laws. What then is meant by "walk following My
He answers: "Walk following My decrees" is a reference to
toiling in Torah study. "Perform them" is a reference to
studying the laws of the Torah in order to know how to live.
[There are two components to Torah study: studying the laws in
order to be able to observe them and studying for study's sake.]
R' Eliezer Zusia Portugal z"l (the "Skulener Rebbe")
elaborates: One who studies Torah is likened to one who plants
seeds. One who also applies what he has learnt and observes the
commandments is likened to one who harvests what he has planted.
If, G-d forbid, a person were to study the Torah but not live a
Torah way of life, he would be like a foolish farmer who plants
but never harvests.
In light of this metaphor, we can understand the reward that
the Torah promises for the one who walks following Hashem's
decrees and observes Hashem's commandments - i.e., he studies
Torah and applies what he has learnt. "I will provide rain in
its time and the land will give its produce and the tree of the
field will give its fruit." If we plant spiritual seeds and
harvest them, Hashem will see to it that the physical seeds that
we plant also will bear fruit. (Noam Eliezer)
"And I will remember My covenant with Yaakov and also My
covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham I
will remember, and I will remember the Land." (27:42)
"I will remember for them the covenant of the ancients ..."
The Midrash Sifra asks: From where do we know that a covenant
has been made for the Land (i.e., Eretz Yisrael)? Because it is
written, "I will remember the Land."
What does it mean to have a covenant with the Land? How can
the inanimate Land enter into a covenant? R' Aharon Soloveitchik
shlita (Rosh Yeshiva of the Brisk Yeshiva in Chicago) explains:
The covenant is not with the Land; it is with the Jewish people
about the Land. Hashem has two covenants with us - the covenant
of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (also called the "covenant of the
ancients") and the covenant of the Land. The first covenant is a
promise that Hashem will redeem us from exile if we act in the
way that the Patriarchs taught us. The second is a promise that
Hashem will redeem us from exile even if we do not follow in the
ways of the Patriarchs, so long as we desire Eretz Yisrael.
These two possible redemptions will not follow the same course.
Our sages teach that if we are deserving, the ultimate redemption
will come about in a sudden and supernatural way. This is a
redemption based on the covenant of the ancients. If we are not
deserving, the ultimate redemption will come about gradually and
through natural means. This is a redemption based on the
covenant of the Land, which requires no merit other than desiring
(From a taped lecture delivered in 1964)
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: If a man articulates
a vow to Hashem regarding a valuation of living beings. . ."
Immediately following the tochachah/rebuke and the description
of the horrible events that would occur if Bnei Yisrael sinned,
the Torah teaches the laws of erachin. Specifically, if a person
takes a vow to donate his worth to the Bet Hamikdash, he must
give a certain fixed donation depending on his age.
Why are these laws found here and why is a person's worth based
on his age? It seems strange, notes R' Pinchas Menachem Alter
z"l (the "Gerrer Rebbe"; died 1996), that a 20-year old ignoramus
is valued at more than a 120-year old Moshe Rabbenu. He
The laws of erachin follow the tochachah because Bnei Yisrael
were left dispirited after hearing the rebuke. Therefore they
were told that every Jew has value; do not let your spirits fall.
In addition, these laws (like all the laws of vows) teach the
power of speech. Simply because a person says certain words (for
example: "My worth to the Bet Hamikdash"), he becomes obligated
to take certain actions. So, too, the power of speech is
powerful enough to enable us to pray and repent and thereby avoid
the punishments contained in the tochachah.
And why is a person's worth determined by his age? To remind
us of the value of time and that a person's true worth depends on
how he uses his time.
With ten utterances the world was created. What does this
come to teach us? Indeed, could it not have been created
with one utterance? It is to exact punishment from the
wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten
utterances, and to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous
who sustain the world that was created by ten utterances.
(Chapter 5, mishnah 1)
Is Hashem so vengeful that He would put extra "effort" into
creating the world for the purpose of exacting greater punishment
from the wicked? Also, why does the mishnah use the passive
voice ("With ten utterances the world was created") rather than
the active voice ("Hashem created the world with ten
R' Chaim Szanzer z"l (1720-1783; not to be confused with the
chassidic rebbe, R' Chaim of Sanz) explains as follows:
We are unable to fathom or relate to G-d's essence, but He
wants us to relate to Him nevertheless. Each of the utterances
that Hashem used to create the world represents an additional
"garment" that He put on in order to disguise His essence and
make it possible for us to perceive something of Him. Had He
created the world with only one utterance - i.e., had He
concealed Himself less - we could never come close to him.
By using the passive voice, the mishnah alludes to the fact
that Hashem's intention was to conceal Himself. It does not
appear to us that He created the world, only that the world was
To better understand why Hashem used multiple utterances,
imagine that one must climb to a certain height. If he is
expected to attain that height with one step, He will surely be
unable to climb. However, if he is given ten smaller steps, he
may succeed in climbing.
Now imagine that a person takes an ax and destroys one step.
If there was only one step in all, this person will have
destroyed everything. For such a person, no punishment is severe
enough, and no atonement can be obtained. On the other hand, if
there are ten steps and a person destroys only one step, he can
be punished and then forgiven. This is the meaning of the
teaching that Hashem created the world with ten utterances in
order to exact punishment from the wicked. This is for their own
good, for only thus can they achieve atonement.
(Peirush R' Chaim Szanzer Mi'Brody)
R' Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinowitz z"l (the "Biala Rebbe") offers
the following answer to the original question: Is Hashem so
vengeful that He would put extra "effort" into creating the world
for the purpose of exacting greater punishment from the wicked?
He explains: The mishnah does not mean that Hashem created the
world with ten utterances in order to exact punishment from the
wicked. Rather it means that _the_reason_we_are_told_ that
Hashem (so-to-speak) "troubled Himself" to create the world with
ten utterances is to teach us the extent of the punishment that
awaits the wicked and the reward that awaits the righteous.
[Otherwise, we would have no need for this information.]
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter is from She'eilot U'teshuvot Torah
Le'shmah, No. 51, by R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad z"l (died
1909), a prolific halachic authority, Torah commentator, and
kabbalist. This particular work was written under the
pseudonym R' Yechezkel Kachali. (Readers having practical
questions similar to that discussed here are urged to
consult their rabbi.)
QUESTION: Someone who is indebted to several different people
wants to add in the berachah of shemoneh esrei called "Shomea
Tefilah" the following entreaty: "May it be Your will Hashem, my
G-d and the G-d of my fathers, that You should aid me and give me
the ability 'li-froa'/to pay off all debts that I owe to people."
He also wants to say this in the harachaman section of birkat
hamazon. Is there anything wrong with this? Please teach us.
ANSWER: There is not the slightest problem with this, as it is
well known that one may make personal requests in Shomea Tefilah
- also in the harachaman section of birkat hamazon, "his
requirement, whatever is lacking to him" [see Devarim 15:8].
However, regarding your suggestion in the question to say "li-
froa," this is not an unambiguous phraseology, because in the
Torah, "li-froa" means "to uncover," as in [Vayikra 13:45], "His
head will be 'parua'/uncovered." Also, the word has another
meaning, which is "to disturb," as in [Shmot 5:4], "Moshe and
Aharon, why do you disturb the people from its work?"
In contrast, the word "le-shalem" has no other meaning in the
Torah . . . Therefore, it is more appropriate to pray as
follows: "le-shalem all debts." This is an unambiguous
phraseology both in Biblical Hebrew and in Rabbinic Hebrew.
Surely you know that when one begs for [G-d's] mercy, he should
do so in the clearest possible language.
Incidentally, I suggest that you tell the person who asked this
question that he should add to his prayer, "and let Your name not
be desecrated through me." This is an aid to having one's prayer