Two Types of Perfection
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeit of
father Chaim Eliezer ben Avigdor Moshe Hakohen a"h (21 Shevat)
on the yahrzeit of his father
Yeiche ben Friha a"h (25 Shevat)
The Edeson and Stern families
on the yahrzeit of Esther's mother
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 48
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Kiddushin 12
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (15:32), "He who rejects mussar /
discipline despises his soul, but he who listens to tochachah / reproof
acquires [an understanding] heart." R' Yaakov ben Chananel Sakly z"l
(Spain; 14th century) writes: In this verse, King Shlomo is instructing us
regarding two types of perfection that a person should strive to attain.
"Mussar" refers to improving one's behavior toward other people, while
"tochachah" refers to strengthening one's attachment to, and understanding
of, Hashem. This latter form of perfection is also known as "chochmah" /
wisdom, and it is found in the Torah, which is called "chochmah." We see
this, for example, in the verse (Devarim 4:6), "For it is your chochmah /
wisdom and binah / understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall
hear all these decrees and who shall say, `Surely a wise and discerning
people is this great nation'!"
Which of these self-improvements comes first? R' Sakly writes that
mussar must precede chochmah. A person must learn mussar first, for if he
cannot get along with other people, he will never have friends who will
help redirect him away from an incorrect understanding of chochmah (i.e.,
Torah). This is the meaning of the verse in Kohelet (10:3), "Even on the
road as the fool walks, he lacks sense, and proclaims to all that he
[i.e., the other person] is a fool." Since a fool has no one to direct
him, he assumes that his ways are correct and everyone else is a fool.
Alternatively, R' Sakly writes, "He who rejects mussar despises his
soul" refers to Amalek. As described at the end of last week's parashah,
Amalek typifies the person who lacks any respect for others; thus, he
burst into the camp of Bnei Yisrael uninvited. [Amalek wanted to kill Bnei
Yisrael. Apparently, then, R' Sakly views Amalek's display of bad manners
as a greater transgression than attempted murder.] In contrast, "he who
listens to tochachah acquires [an understanding] heart" refers to Yitro.
We read in this week's parashah that Yitro announced himself when he
arrived at the camp of Bnei Yisrael and waited to be invited inside. Thus
he merited to have part of the Torah associated with his name. (Torat
"Yitro heard . . ." (18:1)
R' Yehuda Leib Eiger z"l (chassidic rebbe of Lublin; died 1888)
writes: The parashah which contains the Giving of the Torah begins with
the word "Vayishma" / "He heard" to indicate that a willingness to listen
and absorb is the key to coming closer to Hashem. Even a simple person,
and even someone who is distant from Hashem, can draw closer when he is
ready to listen to, and absorb, what G-d is saying.
How do I know that this is true? asks R' Eiger. Because a person who
studies Torah constantly and performs many mitzvot realizes that he is
distant from Hashem. Why then is he considered a meritorious person?
Only because he wants to hear what G-d has to say. It follows, then, that
anyone who wants to hear what G-d has to say can likewise draw himself
closer. (Torat Emet)
"It was on the next day that Moshe sat to judge the people . . ."
What types of property disputes did Bnei Yisrael have in the desert?
R' Shalom Rokeach z"l (1803-1855; the first Belzer Rebbe) explains that
they were arguing over the booty from the Red Sea. One man said, "This
fine object washed up on the beach closest to you. It's yours." The
second man replied, "No, you picked it up. It's yours." The first man
retorted, "I picked it up on your behalf. It's yours." Pretty soon, they
found themselves in court. (Quoted in Sefer Maharash)
"Moshe's father-in-law saw everything that he was doing to the
people, and he said, `What is this thing you are doing to the
people? Why do you sit alone with all the people standing by you
from morning to evening?'
"Moshe said to his father-in law, `Because the people come to me
to seek G-d'." (18:14-15)
R' Moshe Sofer z"l (the Chatam Sofer; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in
Pressburg, Hungary; died 1839) explains this exchange as follows: Yitro
understood that there were two reasons that might have justified Moshe's
sitting while Bnei Yisrael were standing--either because of Moshe's own
greatness, or because he was speaking G-d's word to the people. However,
Yitro did not understand that the civil laws that Moshe taught immediately
after the Giving of the Torah (see next week's parashah) were of Divine
origin; he thought that Moshe had made them up for the benefit of society.
Thus, he assumed that Moshe was sitting for his own honor.
To this Moshe answered, "No, the people are coming to me to seek G-d."
All of the laws of the Torah are of Divine origin. (Torat Moshe)
"Honor your father and your mother . . ." (20:12)
R' Eliyahu Capsali z"l (Candia, Crete; died 1555) writes: Among all
the mitzvot sichliot / commandments that our intellects would have
dictated even if the Torah had not commanded them, honoring parents is the
most obvious. Indeed, writes Capsali, there is no creation more worthy of
honor and respect than parents. An indication of how lofty, yet obvious,
this mitzvah is is the fact that throughout Tanach, when a speaker wishes
to honor a person, he calls it "father" or "mother." Some examples:
The Torah says of Yosef (Bereishit 41:43), "He also had him ride in
his second royal chariot and they proclaimed before him, `Avrech!'," a
word that Onkelos translates as "Father to the king."
Later, Yosef told his brothers to tell Yaakov (45:8), "He has made me
father to Pharaoh."
In Devarim (32:7), we read, "Remember the days of yore, understand the
years of generation after generation. Ask your father and he will relate
it to you, and your elders and they will tell you." R' Capsali writes:
"Father" in this verse must mean a wise man, not a biological father, for
how can the Torah tell all people to ask their fathers about G-d's
miracles when some people's fathers are wicked? Indeed, the Gemara
(Shabbat 23a) derives the obligation to observe Rabbinic mitzvot (Chanukah
candles) from the phrase, "Ask your father." Apparently, then, the Gemara
understood "father" to mean Sages.
In Shmuel I (12:15) we read, "The hand of Hashem shall be against you
and your fathers," which some commentaries interpret as "kings."
In Shmuel I (24:12), the future King David said to King Shaul,
"Observe now, my father . . ."
When Eliyahu Hanavi ascended alive to Heaven, his disciple Elisha
cried out (MelachimII 2:12), "Father! Father!" The Gemara (Mo'ed Kattan
26a) explains that the repetition was intended to convey the meaning:
"Father and mother."
In Mishlei (1:8), we read, "Hear, my child, the discipline of your
father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother." R' Capsali
explains that "father" in this verse refers to anyone who disciplines a
person. Again, it cannot be a blanket command for all people to listen to
the discipline of their fathers, as discussed above. Furthermore, writes
R' Capsali, to interpret the verse as referring to biological parents
would imply that one must accept discipline only from parents. This is
not true, as one must even accept discipline from a gentile in the
Likewise, concludes R' Capsali, we find throughout the Talmud that
distinguished men are called "Abba" and distinguished women are called
"Imma." (Meah Shearim ch.6)
This Week in History, Halachah, and Minhag
Thursday night of the week of Parashat Yitro: It was the custom among
the Jews of Tunis to hold a "Seudat / Feast of Yitro" on this night. Some
say that the feast commemorates the feast that Yitro made in this week's
parashah (18:12). Others say it celebrates the betrothal of the Jewish
People to the Torah (see Rashi to Devarim 33:4). Finally, some say that
the occasion is a feast of thanksgiving for the end of a plague that
attacked the community's children at an unspecified time in history.
(Luach Davar B'ito p.554)
The Jews of Algiers also celebrated this day with a feast, which they
called, "The Feast of Siyum"--an acronym in Hebrew for Seudat Yitro
v'Moshe. (Luach Davar B'ito p.554)
Shabbat Parashat Yitro: It was the custom in Yemen to call all of the
children in the congregation to the Torah for the sixth aliyah (which
contains the Aseret Ha'dibrot). (Luach Davar B'ito p.357)
22 Shevat: Asher the son of the Patriarch Yaakov was born on this day,
and he died on this day 123 or 126 years later. He was buried in Kedesh
Naftali together with his half-brother whose name the place bears. (Seder
23 Shevat: Some people fast on this day, which is the anniversary of
beginning of the civil war described in Shoftim, chapter 20. (Shulchan
Aruch, O.C., 580:2)
On this day in 4509 (749 C.E.), a deadly earthquake struck the
Kinneret region of Eretz Yisrael. (Luach Davar B'ito p.564)
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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