The midrash on this week's parsha teaches: We read in Tehilim
(99:4), "Mighty is the King Who loves justice. You founded
straight ways. The justice and righteousness of Yaakov, You have
made." What is meant by "You founded straight ways"? Rabbi
Alexandri said, "Two donkey drivers who hated each other are
walking on the road, and one of the donkeys collapses under his
load. The other donkey driver sees this and says to himself,
'Does it not say in the Torah (in our parsha, 23:5), "If you
see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden,
would you refrain from helping him?"' He helps his enemy reload
his donkey and he accompanies his enemy on the way. They begin
to converse. Eventually, they enter a tavern, they eat and drink
together, and they become friends. This is the meaning of 'You
founded straight ways'."
R' Chaim Elazary z"l (rabbi in Canton, Ohio) explained this
midrash as follows: The gemara asks about the verse, "If you see
the donkey of someone you hate crouching . . . " - Is it
permitted to hate another Jew? The gemara explains that this
verse refers to someone you hate because you have seen him sin.
It follows from this, R' Elazary writes, that the midrash quoted
above encourages us to make peace even with those that we are
permitted by halacha to hate, i.e., sinners.
King Shlomo writes (Mishlei 3:17), "Her [the Torah's] ways are
pleasant." This means that all mitzvot must be performed in ways
that are pleasant, including the mitzvah of rebuking another Jew.
R' Elazary writes that he once met a non-observant Jew who
stopped smoking on Shabbat because once, when he was passing by a
synagogue as the congregation was exiting, he hid his cigarette
behind his back in shame, and a young man said to him in a
pleasant way, "Be careful, you might burn your hand." He had
expected the youth to shout, "Sinner! Go away from here!"
Instead, the genuine concern that the young man expressed caused
this person to change his ways, at least slightly. (Netivei
"But if the slave shall say, 'I love my master, my wife, and
my children - I shall not go free.' Then his master shall
bring him to the court . . . and his master shall bore
through his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him
Why? Rashi explains: The ear that heard at Har Sinai, "You
shall not steal," and he stole, let it be bored through.
R' Gavriel Ze'ev Margolis z"l (1847-1935; Boston and New York)
asks: Why do we wait until after the thief has been enslaved for
six years before boring his ear? Based on the reason given by
Rashi, we should do so immediately!
He answers: We read in Mishlei (6:30), "A thief is not scorned
if he steals to satisfy his soul when he is hungry." While we do
not condone such behavior, we understand it. Indeed, some
commentaries explain, the real sin of such a thief is not that he
stole but that he failed to place his trust in Hashem. Rather
than taking what belongs to another, he should have trusted that
Hashem would provide for him through legal means.
Because we understand and sympathize with the thief's pain, we
do not bore through his ear immediately. Instead, we give him an
opportunity to reform. However, if, after six years, he refuses
to go out in the world and to fend for himself, then we know that
he has not yet learned to trust in G-d and that he has not
repented for his earlier sin. At that point, we exact punishment
from the ear that failed to heed the commandment: "You shall not
"But if the slave shall say" -
If a servant of Hashem will say,
"I love my master" -
"my wife" -
the Torah, which is called (Mishlei 31:10), "Eishet Chayil/
A woman of valor,"
"and my children" -
the good deeds that I do (see Rashi to Bereishit 6:9);
"I shall not go free" -
I do not wish to throw off the yoke of Heaven and be "free."
"Then his master" -
"shall bring him to the Elokim" (literally: "to the elokim/the
Hashem will support such a person in his spiritual quest;
"and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost" -
this alludes to Hashem's statement, cited in the midrash:
"My sons! If you open the door of teshuvah a crack, I will
open it wide";
"and his master shall bore through his ear with an awl" -
He will open his ears wide to hear the words of the Torah,
"and he shall serve him forever" -
Hashem will enable this person to serve Him forever.
(R' Binyamin David Kornet: Kibbutz Mezareh Yisrael)
"Do not accept a false report." (23:1)
Rashi writes: This is a warning not to accept lashon hara.
R' Dov Berzon z"l (rabbi in various American communities
beginning with Bangor, Maine in 1935) asks: Why is it forbidden
to accept lashon hara?
The answer is simply that one who accepts lashon hara is an
accomplice to the sin of speaking lashon hara. If no one would
listen to lashon hara, no one would speak it.
Rambam (Hil. Teshuvah 4:3) writes: There are five sins that if
one commits one of them, complete repentance is impossible. One
of these is "sharing with a thief" (i.e., fencing stolen goods),
because one who shares with a thief enables the thief to steal.
R' Berzon explains that if thieves had no means to dispose of
what they stole, they would be less likely to steal.
People frequently argue, "Who am I hurting by listening to
lashon hara?" This argument is mistaken; one who listens to
lashon hara causes others to sin by speaking lashon hara.
(Dovaiv Meisharim p.245)
"The entire people responded with one voice and they said,
'All the words that Hashem has spoken we will do'."
There is a similar verse in last week's parsha (19:8): "The
entire people responded together and said, 'Everything that
Hashem has spoken we will do!' Moshe brought back the words of
the people to Hashem."
Rashi asks: Did Moshe need to report their response to Hashem?
[Hashem certainly knew what they had answered!] The Torah is
teaching us, Rashi explains, that it is derech eretz/proper
etiquette for a messenger to report back to the sender regarding
the mission's outcome!
R' David Leibowitz z"l (see page 4) observes: At that lofty
moment, at the moment when Bnei Yisrael uttered the most
important words in Jewish history, the Torah is concerned with
teaching us derech eretz! And, what was the etiquette that the
Torah teaches us? Not that one should take care not to harm
another person, not that one should be concerned with another
person's feelings, but that one should report back to the one who
sent him regarding the mission's success! Something seemingly so
mundane also falls within the definition of derech eretz. (The
lesson is made even starker by the fact that Hashem already knew
the outcome of Moshe's mission.)
Why did the Torah choose this moment to teach us something so
insignificant? The answer, obviously, is that derech eretz is
There is another lesson here, R' Leibowitz continues: Many
people claim that the parameters of proper etiquette depend on
the times or on the sensibilities of the people involved. The
Torah teaches us here that this is not so. Rather, Hashem has
decided what derech eretz entails and what is proper.
(Kuntreis Zichron Le'David: Ma'amar Derech Eretz)
Rabbis of the New World
R' David Hakohen Leibowitz z"l was born in 1890. In his youth
he was known as "R' David Warshawer." As a teenager, he studied
in the yeshiva of Radin, where he held private study sessions
(twelve hours daily!) with his great-uncle, the Chofetz Chaim.
(They learned the laws of sukkah together at the time that the
latter was writing the portion of the Mishnah Berurah relating to
that subject.) In 1908, R' Leibowitz transferred to the Slabodka
yeshiva, where he became a favorite disciple of the mussar giant,
R' Nosson Zvi Finkel (the "Alter").
In 1915, R' Leibowitz succeeded his father-in-law as rabbi of
Selechnik. After six years, however, he returned to Slobodka as
a founding member of the Slabodka Kollel. In 1926, R' Leibowitz
came to the United States as a fund-raiser for the kollel and was
invited to become rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath. R'
Leibowitz would later write of the scene that he encountered in
How painful it is to see the degradation of the Torah's
status in general, and particularly here in America. How
despised is she, and forlorn. No one seeks her out, no
one inquires of her welfare. How estranged she is!
People relate to the abandonment of Torah as something
entirely acceptable. They look at people who learn with
derision and loathing.
Although a distinguished position awaited R' Leibowitz in Warsaw,
he remained in New York with his great-uncle's blessing. Among
R' Leibowitz's students were R' Gedalya Schorr z"l and R' Avrohom
Pam shlita (both future roshei yeshiva of Torah Vodaath).
In 1933, R' Leibowitz founded Yeshivat Rabbenu Yisrael Meir
Hacohen (better known today as the Chofetz Chaim
Yeshiva/Rabbinical Seminary of America in Forest Hills, N.Y.)
There he transplanted to the United States his unique style of
Talmud study as well as the Slabodka school of mussar.
R' Leibowitz died on 15 Kislev 5702/1941. The yeshiva he
founded has been headed for the past half-century by his son, R'
Henach Leibowitz shlita. (Source: Torah Luminaries, p. 160;
Gedolei Hadorot p. 1125; Otzar Harabbanim No. 4893)
Sponsored by Elaine and Jerry Taragin
on the yahrzeits of Mrs. Shirley Taragin a"h
and Mr. Irving Rivkin a"h
Robert and Hannah Klein on the yahrzeit
of father Meir ben Kalman Klein a"h
Bobbi and Jules Meisler
in memory of mother Anne Meisler a"h
Rochelle Dimont and family
in memory of father-in-law and grandfather,
Rabbi Shmuel Elchanan Dimont a"h