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With gratitude to Hashem, we now begin the 27th cycle of Hamaayan / The
Torah Spring. Thank you to our readers for your continued support.
R’ Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz z”l (the Shelah Ha’kadosh; died 1630) writes:
Know that Shabbat alludes to the foundation of our emunah and the foundation
of the Torah, for it alludes to the beginning of existence, which, in turn,
alludes to the presence of a Creator. That Creator is none other than He
Who always existed and always will exist, and Who caused everything else to
exist, as alluded to in His Name, Y-K-V-K, which (in Hebrew) hints at the
statements: He is, He was, He will be, and He causes everything to be.
The Shelah Ha’kadosh continues: How does Shabbat allude to the beginning of
existence? Shabbat marks the end of Creation, when G-d “rested.” If G-d
had not rested on the seventh day, He would have gone on creating forever.
This would have suggested that He similarly had been creating forever and
that there was no beginning to existence [as some Greek philosophers believed].
But, since He did stop creating new things, everything that exists is merely
a re-creation of what He created during the six days of Creation. Each week
is like the week before, which was like the week before it. In truth, G-d
creates everything anew every day, but that is only a repetition of the act
of Creation which He did in the beginning. This re-creation occurs
constantly under Hashem’s hashgachah / direction.
The Shelah Ha’kadosh concludes: Thus, Shabbat testifies to the world having
a beginning, as we read (Shmot 31:17), “in a six-day period Hashem made
heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”
(Shnei Luchot Ha’brit: Masechet Shabbat, Torah Ohr)
“God said, ‘Let us make man . . .’” (1:26)
R’ Menashe ben Yisrael z”l (Amsterdam; 1604-1658; best known for his mission
to persuade Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to live in England) writes:
Regarding all of the other creations, G-d said, “Let there be,” i.e., He did
not associate himself with them. In contrast, when He created man, He
associated himself with the act (“Let us make”) due to the man’s inherent
greatness. And, He thereby showed us a line, in the very first chapter of
the Torah, between that which is holy (man) and that which is not (animals).
The reason man is holy, of course, is because he has within him a Divine
soul. (Nishmat Chaim Part I ch.1)
“God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” (1:31)
The Midrash Rabbah states: “Good”--this is the yetzer ha’tov / man’s good
inclination. “Very good”--this is the yetzer ha’ra / man’s inclination to sin.
Why is the yetzer ha’ra called “very good”? R’ Aryeh Leib Hakohen Heller
z”l (1745-1812; author of Ketzot Ha’choshen) explains: There are some things
that become stronger when they face opposition. For example, when water is
poured on a fire, the flames shoot-up higher. Similarly, a person who faces
a challenge can become greater than a person who does not face a challenge.
Thus, the yetzer ha’tov is “good,” but the yetzer ha’ra is “very good.”
(Shev Shematita: Introduction, letter “vav”)
A related thought:
The Gemara (Shabbat 55b) states that there were four people in history who
died “by the advice of the serpent,” i.e., they died only because death was
decreed upon mankind after Chava listened to the serpent and ate from the
Etz Ha’da’at / Tree of Knowledge. These four were: Binyamin, son of Yaakov
Avinu; Amram, father of Moshe Rabbeinu; Yishai, father of King David; and
Kilav, son of King David.
R’ Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z”l (Maharsha; 1555-1632) observes that although
these four never sinned, they are not considered to be the greatest people
who ever lived; certainly not as great as Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Ha’kohen!
Why not? R’ Yisroel Reisman shlita (Brooklyn, N.Y.) suggests that it is
because Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Ha’kohen faced greater challenges than did
these four tzaddikim. Although the former two did not successfully endure
all of their challenges, they were still greater than those who never failed
because they were not challenged as much. (From a Motza’ei Shabbat Navi Shiur)
“Of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, you must not eat; for on the day
you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (2:17)
R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) writes:
If Adam had not eaten from the Tree and contaminated his soul, he would
have lived forever. The reason is that man is a combination of a spiritual,
supernatural soul and a material, natural body. As long as man did not sin,
his existence was not dependent on nature. The fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge, in contrast, was purely natural, with no spiritual content.
Accordingly, G-d directed Adam not to eat it. Adam was to trust that G-d
could sustain him. When Adam disregarded G-d’s command, he subjected
himself to the forces of nature, one of which is death. (Haggadah Shel
Pesach Yad Mitzrayim: Potei’ach Yad)
“Kayin left the presence of Hashem . . .” (4:16)
The Midrash Rabbah comments: After Kayin finished his discussion with
Hashem, he met Adam, who asked the outcome of Kayin’s judgment. Kayin
replied, “I did teshuvah and a compromise was reached [i.e., the decree that
he would have to wander for the rest of his life was softened].”
Adam replied: “Is the power of teshuvah that great?” [Until here from the
R’ Moshe Roberts shlita (Chicago, Illinois) asks: Our Sages teach that
teshuvah was created before the rest of the world, and R’ Moshe Tirani z”l
(1500-1580) explains this to mean that the possibility of teshuvah is
necessary for the world’s existence, since it is inevitable that mortal man
will sin (see Bet Elokim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah, ch.1). If so, how could Adam
not have been aware that teshuvah atones?
R’ Roberts explains: There are three kinds of teshuvah – repentance
motivated by love of Hashem, repentance motivated by fear of Hashem, and
repentance motivated by suffering. Adam was aware of the existence of
teshuvah, but only the first two types. Kayin’s teshuvah, however, was of
the third type, which is the lowest level. When Adam heard that even
teshuvah motivated by suffering is accepted to some degree, he exclaimed,
“Is the power of teshuvah that great?!” (Beit Moshe: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah, p.14)
Elsewhere in the Torah . . .
“Praiseworthy are those whose way is perfect, who walk with the Torah of
Hashem.” (Tehilim 119:1)
R’ Shmuel d’Ouzida z”l (Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael; late 1500s) writes: There are
many things which happen to be prohibited by Torah which people don’t do out
of disgust or because of social mores–for example, drinking blood and eating
rodents. This verse is teaching: “Praiseworthy are those whose way is
perfect, [but who choose that path in order to] walk with the Torah of
Hashem, [not for their own reasons].” (Peirush Mi’ktav Yad)
Letters from Our Sages
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by R’ Yissachar Shlomo
Teichtel z”l Hy”d (1885-1945), rabbi of and rosh yeshiva in Piešťany,
Czechoslovakia. He is best known for his work Eim Ha’banim Smeichah
regarding the resettling of Eretz Yisrael.
We read (Devarim 33:4), “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the morashah /
heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov.” The Gemara (Berachot 57a) comments
on this verse, “Do not read ‘morashah’ but rather ‘me’orasah’ / betrothed.”
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19b) further teaches, “In the beginning, the Torah
is called by G-d’s Name, and later it is called by man’s name, as it is
written (Tehilim 1:2), ‘His desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in his
Torah he meditates day and night’.” This means that before a person toils
in Torah study, it is not his, but after he toils in Torah study, it is his.
This is the meaning of the first Gemara cited as well: The Torah does not
start out being a person’s inheritance. First it his betrothed, and only
after hard work is it his to call by his name.
According to this, the reason the two people who receive the aliyot that
conclude and begin the Torah on Simchat Torah are called “Chatan Torah” and
“Chatan Bereishit”--“chatan” being the word for bridegroom--may be to remind
them that even though the Torah has been completed, they should know that
they are like grooms at the time of betrothal who must build their
relationships with the Torah. (She’eilot U’teshuvot Mishnat Sachir: Even
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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