Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc
Volume XIV, No. 30
1 Iyar 5760
May 6, 2000
Orach Chaim 289:1-290:1
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Ketubot 37
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Nazir 33
Our parashah opens: “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d. Every man: Your mother and father shall you revere and My Shabbat shall you observe, I am Hashem, your G-d. Do not turn to the idols, and molten gods you shall not make for yourselves – – I am Hashem your G-d.” What is the message in the threefold repetition of the phrase, “I am Hashem, your G-d” (or a slight variation thereof)?
R’ Avraham Abale Posveler (1764-1836; dayan/rabbinical judge in Vilna) explains: These verses allude to various types of Jews. There are Jews who are holy, i.e., who limit their pursuit of even permitted pleasures. Of them, Hashem certainly says, “I am Hashem, your G-d.”
There are also Jews who do not qualify as “holy” but who observe all of the mitzvot (e.g., honoring their parents and keeping Shabbat) meticulously. Of them, too, Hashem says, “I am Hashem, your G-d.”
Finally, there are Jews who observe no mitzvot. However, lest you think that it is your duty to pursue such Jews and seek their destruction, the Torah tells you, “So long as they do not turn to the idols or make molten gods, I am Hashem, [their] G-d.” (Quoted in Itturei Torah, Vol. IV, p. 105)
R’ Moshe Feinstein z”l writes: This verse commands us to be aware of the holiness that we possess by virtue of being Jews. It is because of this holiness that we are commanded to fulfill mitzvot, as indicated by the phrase (in the berachot that we recite over mitzvot), “Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot.”
This concept, writes R’ Feinstein, serves to answer a question on a Tosfot (to Shabbat 118b), as follows: Tosfot states that there appears to be no prohibition for a non-kohen to ascend to the bima to recite Birkat Kohanim except for the fact that this non-kohen would thus recite a blessing in vain. (The blessing referred to is the berachah before Birkat Kohanim, “Who has sanctified us with Aharon’s sanctity and commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.”) R’ Feinstein asks: Why would the blessing be in vain if a non-kohen recited a berachah over a mitzvah which he is not obligated to observe? After all, halachah permits women to recite blessings over mitzvot that they are no commanded to observe, such as, the mitzvot of sukkah and lulav!
The answer is that one needs the special holiness of Aharon to perform Birkat Kohanim, as alluded to in the blessing itself (quoted above). A non-kohen has no such holiness, and his blessing over Birkat Kohanim would be in vain. A woman, on the other hand, does possess the holiness of Yisrael, and therefore she can say, “Who has sanctified us.”
Every Jew must remain aware of this holiness. Furthermore, one must be aware that this holiness is subject to being profaned. (Darash Moshe, Vol. II)
Regarding the above Tosfot, R’ Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z”l (the “Maharsha”; 16th century) writes: The prohibition that a non- kohen violates if he recites Birkat Kohanim is the verse (Bemidbar 6:23), “So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael,” from which we infer, “You, the kohanim, shall bless, but someone who is not a kohen shall not bless.” Tosfot does not disagree with this; rather, Tosfot means only that a non-kohen who ascends to the bima but does not recite Birkat Kohanim and does not recite the blessing does not transgress any prohibition. (Chiddushei Halachot, Shabbat 118b)
“Derech eretz” can mean either “work” or “good manners.” R’ Samson R. Hirsch z”l (Germany; 19th century) explains why the same expression is used for both:
“The term “derech eretz” includes all situations arising from and dependent upon the circumstance that the earth is a place where the individual must live, fulfill his destiny and dwell together with others, and that he must utilize resources and conditions provided on earth in order to live and accomplish his purpose. Accordingly, the term derech eretz is used primarily to refer to ways of earning a living, to the social order that prevails on earth, as well as to the mores and considerations of courtesy and propriety arising from social living, and also to things pertinent to good breeding, and general education.”
R’ Hirsch continues: “We believe that the explanation, ‘for the exertion of them both’ implies that the term derech eretz as used here denotes, above all, the business and occupational activities carried out for purposes of earning a living. We are not told that the exertion of them both keeps away sin, but that it causes sin to be forgotten, that it keeps sinful thoughts from arising. By this, we believe, is meant that only a way of life devoted to the pursuit of study as well as of economic independence can take up our time to such a degree that there will be no unoccupied hours during which we could indulge in thoughts that are far from good and that could make us drift away from the path of goodness.” (The Hirsch Siddur p. 434)
R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai z”l (the “Chida”; died 1806) writes that the mishnah’s primary concern is that a Torah scholar have a means to support his family. Thus, he writes, “Torah with derech eretz” can be accomplished through a so-called Yissachar/Zevulun relationship, whereby a Torah scholar and a businessman contract that the latter will support the former and receive a share of the reward for the scholar’s Torah study. (Petach Einayim)
R’ Menashe, the son for R’ Yosef ben Porat Ha’dayan, was born in Smorgon, Lithuania in 5527/1767 and died there in 5531/1831. (He was known as R’ Menashe “of Ailya” after his wife’s town.) His first teacher was his father, and he was quickly recognized as a child prodigy. It is reported that he knew the basic concepts of Choshen Mishpat/civil law by the age of seven or eight.
R’ Menashe developed a unique style of learning, which was reinforced once he began visiting the Vilna Gaon annually. In particular, he did not refrain from interpreting the gemara differently from the Rishonim/medieval commentaries (e.g., Rashi) when it seemed to him that their interpretations deviated from the peshat of the gemara.
Unlike the Vilna Gaon and most of his students, R’ Menashe refused to ostracize the chassidic movement. When he was asked why he did not follow his teacher’s (i.e., the Vilna Gaon’s) ruling, R’ Menashe reportedly said, “A judge must hear the arguments of both parties, and I have not yet heard the arguments of the chassidic movement.” Eventually, R’ Menashe paid a visit to R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi (then living in Liozna), the founder of Chabad. Following this visit, R’ Menashe declared: “R’ Shneur Zalman is indeed a great gaon/sage, both in Torah and Kabbalah. Also in his practices and actions he is a perfect tzaddik, and through Chabad chassidut one can certainly achieve wisdom.”
A number of times, R’ Menashe himself was nearly ostracized because of his independent views, but his closest colleagues among the Vilna Gaon’s students came to his defense. Nevertheless, R’ Menashe’s ways made it difficult for him to hold down jobs, both in business and as a teacher. He was offered several rabbinic posts, but only near the end of his life did he accept a position, in Smorgon, his birthplace. He held that position for a year-and-a-half until he was forced out of it by the Russian government.
R’ Menashe published a number of works, of which the best known is Alfei Menashe. His first work, published in 1807, was Pesher Davar, a plea not to rush to condemn chassidut without investigating or understanding it. (Most of the copies of this work were promptly burnt.) In Pesher Davar, R’ Menashe calls for a meeting of Europe’s sages to work together on finding answers to questions of Emunah/faith, but he warns that it is difficult to dissuade even tzaddikim (and certainly ordinary people) from viewing their own long-held opinions as “Torah from Sinai.”
Notwithstanding the controversy that surrounded him in his own lifetime, later generations of sages praised R’ Menashe. R’ Chaim “Brisker” Soloveitchik (1853-1918) reportedly said that two students of the Vilna Gaon stood out in their greatness – R’ Chaim of Volozhin and R’ Menashe. R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzenski (the unofficial rabbi of Vilna; died 1940) wrote: “It is unnecessary [to give an approbation to someone publishing a work by R’ Menashe], for the name of the gaon R’ Menashe is known in the entire breadth of the diaspora as a mighty sage and an investigator [of matters] to their end.” (Sources: Gedolei Ha’dorot p. 512; Yeshurun: Ma’asaf Torani, Vol. V, p. 191)
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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