Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Contributing Editor: Daniel Dadusc
Volume XIII, No. 29
22 Iyar 5759
May 8, 1999
Orach Chaim 95:4-96:2
Daf Yomi: Sukkah 37
Yerushalmi Shekalim 23
The second of this week’s two parashot begins: “If you will walk following My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide rain in its time and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.” Rashi writes: “Observe My commandments” clearly refers to keeping the Torah’s laws. What then is meant by “walk following My decrees”?
He answers: “Walk following My decrees” is a reference to toiling in Torah study. “Perform them” is a reference to studying the laws of the Torah in order to know how to live. [There are two components to Torah study: studying the laws in order to be able to observe them and studying for study’s sake.]
R’ Eliezer Zusia Portugal z”l (the “Skulener Rebbe”) elaborates: One who studies Torah is likened to one who plants seeds. One who also applies what he has learnt and observes the commandments is likened to one who harvests what he has planted. If, G-d forbid, a person were to study the Torah but not live a Torah way of life, he would be like a foolish farmer who plants but never harvests.
In light of this metaphor, we can understand the reward that the Torah promises for the one who walks following Hashem’s decrees and observes Hashem’s commandments – i.e., he studies Torah and applies what he has learnt. “I will provide rain in its time and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.” If we plant spiritual seeds and harvest them, Hashem will see to it that the physical seeds that we plant also will bear fruit. (Noam Eliezer)
The Midrash Sifra asks: From where do we know that a covenant has been made for the Land (i.e., Eretz Yisrael)? Because it is written, “I will remember the Land.”
What does it mean to have a covenant with the Land? How can the inanimate Land enter into a covenant? R’ Aharon Soloveitchik shlita (Rosh Yeshiva of the Brisk Yeshiva in Chicago) explains:
The covenant is not with the Land; it is with the Jewish people about the Land. Hashem has two covenants with us – the covenant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (also called the “covenant of the ancients”) and the covenant of the Land. The first covenant is a promise that Hashem will redeem us from exile if we act in the way that the Patriarchs taught us. The second is a promise that Hashem will redeem us from exile even if we do not follow in the ways of the Patriarchs, so long as we desire Eretz Yisrael.
These two possible redemptions will not follow the same course. Our sages teach that if we are deserving, the ultimate redemption will come about in a sudden and supernatural way. This is a redemption based on the covenant of the ancients. If we are not deserving, the ultimate redemption will come about gradually and through natural means. This is a redemption based on the covenant of the Land, which requires no merit other than desiring Eretz Yisrael. (From a taped lecture delivered in 1964)
Immediately following the tochachah/rebuke and the description of the horrible events that would occur if Bnei Yisrael sinned, the Torah teaches the laws of erachin. Specifically, if a person takes a vow to donate his worth to the Bet Hamikdash, he must give a certain fixed donation depending on his age.
Why are these laws found here and why is a person’s worth based on his age? It seems strange, notes R’ Pinchas Menachem Alter z”l (the “Gerrer Rebbe”; died 1996), that a 20-year old ignoramus is valued at more than a 120-year old Moshe Rabbenu. He explains:
The laws of erachin follow the tochachah because Bnei Yisrael were left dispirited after hearing the rebuke. Therefore they were told that every Jew has value; do not let your spirits fall.
In addition, these laws (like all the laws of vows) teach the power of speech. Simply because a person says certain words (for example: “My worth to the Bet Hamikdash”), he becomes obligated to take certain actions. So, too, the power of speech is powerful enough to enable us to pray and repent and thereby avoid the punishments contained in the tochachah.
And why is a person’s worth determined by his age? To remind us of the value of time and that a person’s true worth depends on how he uses his time. (Pnei Menachem)
Is Hashem so vengeful that He would put extra “effort” into creating the world for the purpose of exacting greater punishment from the wicked? Also, why does the mishnah use the passive voice (“With ten utterances the world was created”) rather than the active voice (“Hashem created the world with ten utterances”)?
R’ Chaim Szanzer z”l (1720-1783; not to be confused with the chassidic rebbe, R’ Chaim of Sanz) explains as follows:
We are unable to fathom or relate to G-d’s essence, but He wants us to relate to Him nevertheless. Each of the utterances that Hashem used to create the world represents an additional “garment” that He put on in order to disguise His essence and make it possible for us to perceive something of Him. Had He created the world with only one utterance – i.e., had He concealed Himself less – we could never come close to him.
By using the passive voice, the mishnah alludes to the fact that Hashem’s intention was to conceal Himself. It does not appear to us that He created the world, only that the world was created.
To better understand why Hashem used multiple utterances, imagine that one must climb to a certain height. If he is expected to attain that height with one step, He will surely be unable to climb. However, if he is given ten smaller steps, he may succeed in climbing.
Now imagine that a person takes an ax and destroys one step. If there was only one step in all, this person will have destroyed everything. For such a person, no punishment is severe enough, and no atonement can be obtained. On the other hand, if there are ten steps and a person destroys only one step, he can be punished and then forgiven. This is the meaning of the teaching that Hashem created the world with ten utterances in order to exact punishment from the wicked. This is for their own good, for only thus can they achieve atonement. (Peirush R’ Chaim Szanzer Mi’Brody)
R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinowitz z”l (the “Biala Rebbe”) offers the following answer to the original question: Is Hashem so vengeful that He would put extra “effort” into creating the world for the purpose of exacting greater punishment from the wicked? He explains: The mishnah does not mean that Hashem created the world with ten utterances in order to exact punishment from the wicked. Rather it means that _the_reason_we_are_told_ that Hashem (so-to-speak) “troubled Himself” to create the world with ten utterances is to teach us the extent of the punishment that awaits the wicked and the reward that awaits the righteous. [Otherwise, we would have no need for this information.] (Divrei Binah)
The following letter is from She’eilot U’teshuvot Torah Le’shmah, No. 51, by R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad z”l (died 1909), a prolific halachic authority, Torah commentator, and kabbalist. This particular work was written under the pseudonym R’ Yechezkel Kachali. (Readers having practical questions similar to that discussed here are urged to consult their rabbi.)
QUESTION: Someone who is indebted to several different people wants to add in the berachah of shemoneh esrei called “Shomea Tefilah” the following entreaty: “May it be Your will Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my fathers, that You should aid me and give me the ability ‘li-froa’/to pay off all debts that I owe to people.” He also wants to say this in the harachaman section of birkat hamazon. Is there anything wrong with this? Please teach us.
ANSWER: There is not the slightest problem with this, as it is well known that one may make personal requests in Shomea Tefilah – also in the harachaman section of birkat hamazon, “his requirement, whatever is lacking to him” [see Devarim 15:8].
However, regarding your suggestion in the question to say “li- froa,” this is not an unambiguous phraseology, because in the Torah, “li-froa” means “to uncover,” as in [Vayikra 13:45], “His head will be ‘parua’/uncovered.” Also, the word has another meaning, which is “to disturb,” as in [Shmot 5:4], “Moshe and Aharon, why do you disturb the people from its work?”
In contrast, the word “le-shalem” has no other meaning in the Torah . . . Therefore, it is more appropriate to pray as follows: “le-shalem all debts.” This is an unambiguous phraseology both in Biblical Hebrew and in Rabbinic Hebrew. Surely you know that when one begs for [G-d’s] mercy, he should do so in the clearest possible language.
Incidentally, I suggest that you tell the person who asked this question that he should add to his prayer, “and let Your name not be desecrated through me.” This is an aid to having one’s prayer answered.
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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