One of the mitzvot in this week's parashah is Brit Milah /
circumcision. In the additional Harachaman prayers recited in
Birkat Hamazon following a circumcision, we ask G-d to send us
"His anointed one who walks with wholeness." This is a reference
to mashiach. We then ask Hashem to send "the righteous priest
who was taken to concealment." This is a reference to Eliyahu
This requires explanation. Is not Eliyahu supposed to come
before mashiach? Why, then, is the order of the supplications
R' Moshe Zvi Neriyah z"l explains: Eliyahu will indeed appear
before mashiach, but the Ikvita D'meshicha / footfalls of
mashiach will be felt before Eliyahu comes. Specifically, the
beginning of the material aspects of the redemption, the building
of the land and its agricultural development, will appear before
the spiritual awakening heralded by Eliyahu is felt.
This sequence of redemption is alluded to in the verse (Tehilim
28:9 -- the well-known 10-word pasuk used to count Jews), "Save
Your people and bless Your heritage, tend them and carry them
forever." First, "tend" to their material needs in a rich
pasture; afterwards, "carry them" - raise them and elevate them
spiritually. (Mo'adei Hare'iyah)
"Speak to Bnei Yisrael saying, `When a woman conceives and
gives birth to a male...'" (12:2)
Rashi quotes a midrash: "Rabbi Simlai said, `Just as the
formation of man took place after that of every cattle, beast and
fowl when the world was created, so the law regarding man is set
forth after the law regarding cattle, beast and fowl," i.e.,
after the laws of kashrut which are found in last weeks parashah.
R' Simcha Zissel Broide z"l (Rosh Hayeshiva of the Chevron
Yeshiva in Yerushalayim; died 2000) observes: The midrash is not
merely telling us about a "cute" parallelism in the verses. The
Zohar teaches: "G-d looked in the Torah and created the world."
The world was built from a blueprint - the Torah - no differently
than the way buildings are constructed. It necessarily follows
that the formation of man took place after that of every cattle,
beast and fowl just as the law regarding man is set forth after
the law regarding cattle, beast and fowl.
A related thought:
R' Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht z"l (founder and Rosh Hayeshiva of
Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh) writes: We are used to thinking that
some mitzvot are logical and we would observe them even if the
Torah had not commanded us to do so, while other mitzvot are kept
only because G-d has so commanded. (Examples of the former are
the prohibitions on theft and murder.) But this is not so!
Rather, the Torah is the blueprint of creation. Society abhors
theft and murder because that is Hashem's Will.
We read in Pirkei Avot (Ch. 2): "Make His Will your will...
Nullify your will before His Will..." Asks R' Goldvicht:
Aren't these two statements redundant? He explains: "Make His
Will your will" instructs us that we should have no desires other
than to do what Hashem wants (and not to do what He doesn't
want). However, I still would not know what my motivation in
observing the mitzvot should be - perhaps it is sufficient if I
do not steal or murder because such acts are abhorrent to
civilized man. Thus the mishnah teaches us: "Nullify your will
before His Will." Whatever you may think are logical reasons for
the commandments, set those reasons aside and keep the mitzvot
solely because that is Hashem's Will.
(Asufut Ma'arachot: Vayikra p. 222)
"`When a woman conceives and gives birth..." (12:2)
What is added by mentioning that a woman conceives before she
gives birth? asks R' Mordechai Ze'ev Margulies z"l (died 1893).
This is obvious!
The Midrash Tanchuma states: "After G-d created the animals,
birds, reptiles and insects, He created man. Similarly, as long
as a baby is in the womb, G-d teaches him and tells him, `Eat
this; don't eat that. This is pure; that is not, etc . . .'" The
message of the midrash, and of our verse, R' Margulies explains,
is that G-d's involvement with man begins in the womb, at the
time of conception, long before birth. Just as G-d took six days
to create the animals, birds, reptiles, insects and everything
else that man needs in his environment, so He takes nine months
to prepare the baby for entry into the world.
"If a person shall have on the skin of his flesh a s'eit, a
sapachat or a baheret..." (13:2)
There are three kinds of tzara'at wounds mentioned in this
verse: s'eit, sapachat and baheret. R' Moshe Sternbuch shlita
writes that these allude to three types of people who speak
lashon hara (the sin for which tzara'at comes).
S'eit is related to the Hebrew word for "uplift." This refers
to people who put down others in order to uplift themselves and
increase their own importance.
Sapachat is related to the Hebrew word for "attach." This
refers to people who speak lashon hara as a result of keeping bad
Finally, baheret is related to the Hebrew word for "clear."
This refers to people who think they know everything.
The common denominator among these three types of people is
that the Torah calls them tamei / impure.
"The kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated."
A person is not considered to have tzara'at until a kohen
declares that he is "tamei." If the kohen declares, "tahor,"
then the person, by definition, does not have tzara'at.
Why? R' Aharon Lopiansky shlita (Yeshiva of Greater
Washington) explained: Tzara'at is a punishment for speaking
lashon hara. Whether you see bad in another person and thus come
to speak lashon hara is dependent on how you look at that person.
You can look at him in a good light and give him the benefit of
the doubt, or you can look at him badly.
The Torah drives this message home through the tzara'at-
examination process. The fate of the lashon hara speaker is
placed in the hands of someone (the kohen) who must look at him
and must make a decision about him. [Literally a hairsbreadth
separates a lesion which is tzara'at from one which is not.]
(Heard from R' Lopiansky)
Chazal teach that "lashon hara" is worse than murder, adultery,
and idolatry. Why, asks R' Shimon Schwab z"l, is it so terrible?
Imagine, he says, that you have witnessed another Jew sinning,
and that he knows that you saw him. If this person later regrets
his act and wishes to repent, he will be hindered by his
knowledge that somebody saw him sin and will surely relate it to
others. Knowing what he has done, he is convinced that everyone
who observes him (after his repentance) will think that he is a
phony. Thus the yetzer hara tells him, "You are lost! Nobody
will believe that you have repented, so why bother?"
On the other hand, if this hypothetical sinner could be
absolutely certain that word of his transgression will never
cross the witness' lips, the sinner will then feel more secure.
Thus he will be able to repent.
What will happen if his fear causes him not to repent? Feeling
that he is lost, he will stray from Judaism, and, within a
generation or two, his children will be completely lost to our
nation. On the final day of reckoning, the person who spoke
lashon hara will be held accountable for all those children and
grandchildren who were estranged from Judaism because of his
gossip. On the other hand, again, if the sinner does repent
because he knows that his secret is safe, all those children and
grandchildren who do grow up as Jews will be credited to the
witness who held his tongue.
(Selected Speeches p.90)
R' Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l
In 1931, R' Soloveitchik married Dr. Tonya Lewitt (1904-1967).
The following year, they emigrated to the United States, where R'
Soloveitchik's father, R' Moshe, had been Rosh Yeshiva of the
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, or RIETS, since 1929.
(RIETS was part of Yeshiva College, which in 1945 became Yeshiva
University.) The younger R' Soloveitchik and his family were
brought to the U.S. by the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago,
but that yeshiva was, in the end, unable to offer the young
scholar a position.
On December 11, 1932, R' Soloveitchik was installed as rabbi of
the Va'ad Ha'ir of Boston. (The Va'ad Ha'ir was an organization
that united many of that city's congregations.) R'
Soloveitchik's main responsibilities in that position were to
provide spiritual leadership for the community and to deliver
derashot in various shuls on appropriate occasions. The new
rabbi soon encountered opposition and resentment from some of his
older colleagues as he tried to standardize and raise the kashrut
standards in Boston's meat and poultry industries. For example,
R' Soloveitchik instituted the use of plumbas (metal tags) to
identify meat slaughtered according to his standards, and he
demanded that the cost of the plumbas, one cent each, not be
passed on to consumers. So vicious were the attacks on the rabbi
that the Massachusetts Attorney General appointed a judge to
investigate R' Soloveitchik's activities. Although the judge's
final report cleared the rabbi entirely and commended him for
"his honesty of purpose and the order which he brought out of the
chaos" in the shechitah industry, R' Soloveitchik reportedly said
that this experience led directly to his decision to devote his
life to teaching, rather than to more public activity.
In 1935, R' Soloveitchik visited Eretz Yisrael as a candidate
for the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv. While in Eretz Yisrael, R'
Soloveitchik met Chief Rabbi Kook, who passed away soon after,
and delivered a lecture in his yeshiva. This was the only time
in his life that R' Soloveitchik visited Eretz Yisrael.
In 1937, R' Soloveitchik founded the first Jewish Day School in
New England. For many years, he not only guided the school's
religious curriculum, but was involved in its day to day affairs
and was also its fundraiser. In 1939, at the urging of his
father, R' Soloveitchik also organized an advanced yeshiva for
arriving European immigrants. To be continued...