Hamaayan / The Torah Spring Edited by Shlomo Katz
Eikev: Don’t Tread on Me! Volume XVI, No. 40 18 Av 5762 July 27, 2002
Today’s Learning: Horiot 2:3-4 Orach Chaim 692:4-693:2 Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Batra 129 Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shabbat 4
Horiot 2:3-4 Orach Chaim 692:4-693:2 Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Batra 129 Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shabbat 4
Our parashah opens: “Ve’hayah eikev / It shall follow when you hearken to these ordinances, and you observe and perform them: Hashem, your G-d, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” Literally, the word “eikev” means “heel,” leading our Sages to comment that we must observe even the seemingly small mitzvot that many people “walk all over” with their heels.
R’ Aryeh Leib Zunz z”l (1765-1833; rabbi of Plock, Poland and prolific author) observes that this idea may explain the connection between the first verse of our parashah and the final verse of last week’s reading. That pasuk states: “You shall observe the commandment, and the decrees and the ordinances that I command you today, to perform them.” Say our Sages: “Today – in this World – to perform them, and tomorrow – in the World-to- Come – to receive their reward.” Generally speaking, man is not rewarded during his lifetime for his good deeds. But more than that: the Torah does not even tell us what the rewards for the various mitzvot will be. Why? Because if we knew the rewards for the mitzvot we would ignore the “small” ones and do only the “big” ones. “Today to perform them – even the ones upon which other people tread.”
There is another reason that the reward for the mitzvot is not – indeed, cannot be – spelled out in the Torah. The Midrash states that Hashem rewards for each mitzvah “on the heel” of the one who does it. R’ Zunz explains: The reward for a mitzvah depends on many factors including, for example, the love and enthusiasm with which one does it. The reward for a particular mitzvah may be different for different people; it follows in the footsteps of the person doing the good deed. (Kometz Haminchah)
“Not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” (8:3)
“You shall teach them to your children to discuss them . . .” (11:19)
R’ Aharon Berachiah of Modena z”l (Italy; died 1639) writes: Hashem has given us three specific mitzvot corresponding to three specific favors that He does for us. Those three favors are that He gives us children, life, and sustenance.
Corresponding to the gift of life, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of Machatzit Ha’shekel / giving half a shekel to the Temple to buy communal sacrifices. The Gemara (Niddah 31a) teaches that there are three partners in creating a life: a mother, a father and G-d. Our Sages teach further that a person’s mother and father each contributes five major characteristics to their child, while G-d supplies ten attributes. This is alluded to by the mitzvah of Machatzit Ha’shekel, for one shekel equals twenty gera (smaller coins); thus, half a shekel equals ten gera.
Today, in the absence of the Bet Hamikdash, the Machatzit Ha’shekel is replaced by other forms of charity. Charity, too, is related to life. In fact, we are taught in Mishlei (10:2), “Charity saves from death.” [Ed. note: R’ Aharon Berachiah discusses many other connections between the Machatzit Ha’shekel, charity, and life.]
Corresponding to the gift of children, G-d gave us the mitzvah of Torah study. This is alluded to by the verse (Hoshea 4:6): “As you have forgotten the Torah of your G-d, I, too, will forget your children.” Also, there is a clear connection between Torah study and having children, for one must study Torah in order to fulfill the commandment quoted above, “You shall teach them to your children . . .”
Finally, corresponding to the gift of sustenance, we were given the mitzvah of building the Temple. Today, we have the mitzvah of building shuls in which to pray. This reminds us that it is not our food that sustains us. As the verse says, “Not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” Sometimes, eating makes a person ill or even poisons him. However, we pray to Hashem for the fulfillment of the verse (Shmot 23:25), “He shall bless your bread and your water, and shall remove illness from your midst [or `your insides’].”
(Derashot Ma’avar Yabok: Parashat Ki Tissa)
“And you will eat, and you will be satiated, and you shall bless Hashem your G-d . . .” (8:10)
In his work on Torah-derived table manners, Rabbenu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) writes:
When one finishes eating he should remain at the table for some time. Chazal teach (Berachot 54b), “If one extends his meal, his life will be extended.” Why? Because the longer a person sits at the table, the greater the likelihood that a poor person will chance by and will be fed. The prophet (Yechezkel 41:22) teaches this same idea by using the words “altar” and “table” interchangeably. Chazal explain that just as one’s sins are atoned for upon the altar, so they are forgiven when one feeds the poor at his table. (So great is this mitzvah, writes R’ Bachya, that some people had their coffins built from the wood of their table so that the boards could “testify” on their behalf before the Heavenly court.)
One is obligated to speak divrei Torah while sitting at the table. Our Sages teach (Avot, ch.3) that if one eats at a table where divrei Torah are said, it is as if he has eaten at G-d’s table. However, if he eats at a table where no divrei Torah are spoken, it is as if he ate from sacrifices brought before idols. Why such harsh words? To teach man that he was not created in order to eat and to drink, but in order to study Torah.
(Shulchan Shel Arbah)
“And He will restrain the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the earth will not yield its produce.” (11:17)
There is a Midrash called Perek Shirah that lists the songs “sung” by various animals and even inanimate creations. In his commentary to that Midrash, R’ Moshe of Trani z”l (“Mabit”; 16th century; Tzefat) writes that there are two ways to understand the idea that non-speaking creatures and inanimate objects praise G-d.
First, Chazal say that every blade of grass has an angel in heaven that tells it to grow. Presumably, this is true of other creations as well. Perhaps the Midrash does not mean that plants and animals literally praise G-d. Rather, it is that angel which sings praise to Hashem on behalf of the plant or animal which it represents.
Alternatively, the above verse from our parashah can help us understand that plants, animals, and even inanimate objects literally praise G-d. The Gemara (Ketubot 112a) relates: R’ Yehoshua ben Levi went to Gavla (a place), where bunches of grapes grew to the size of calves. R’ Yehoshua asked, “Why are there calves among the vines?”
“Those are not calves, they are grapes,” he was told.
Addressing himself to the fruit, R’ Yehoshua ben Levi said, “For whom are you growing – for the Arabs who surround us? Hold back your fruit!”
The following year, the sage R’ Chiya visited Gavla and saw bunches of grapes the size of small goats (smaller than calves). “Why are there kids among the vines?” he asked.
“Be silent,” he was told, “lest you do to our grapes what your friend did.”
Mabit comments: As both our verse and the foregoing story demonstrate, plants and the heavens are capable of obeying commands from Hashem and from tzaddikim, and they are capable of altering their behavior accordingly. We also know that every plant and animal possesses basic “knowledge” about itself [its genetic code] that enables it to grow and even to respond to various stimuli. While plants, animals and the heavens obviously do not sing in any language that we can understand, is it far- fetched to believe that they possess “knowledge” of their Creator, and that they “praise” Him for His deeds?
(Be’ur Ha’Mabit Le”Perek Shirah)
[Ed. note: Yet a third possible way to understand the "songs” of the plants and animals is that these creations inspire us to reflect upon the ideas expressed in each song or verse listed in Perek Shirah.]
In this parasha, the Torah refers to Eretz Yisrael as “the land in which you will not lack anything.” The Gemara in Berachot (36b) states that this is because the Land itself lacks nothing.
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l writes: The ultimate level that one should attain in Eretz Yisrael is that not only will material wealth and luxuries not injure his spiritual standing, they (i.e., wealth and luxuries) will strengthen one’s service of G-d. Therefore, the Land contains a sample of everything, even that which, by nature, should only grow at the end of the earth.
Similarly, R’ Kook continues, all of the world’s wisdoms also must be present in Eretz Yisrael, even those which should belong to the nations of the world. This is why the Midrash (Eichah Rabati) calls Eretz Yisrael, “The land which is many in wisdoms.”
Igeret Ha’Ramban / Nachmanides’ Letter is an example of the class of writings that has become an important part of our Mussar / ethical “library.” The works in question are the “farewell letters” and “ethical wills” of our sages.
R’ Moshe ben Nachman z”l (Ramban; 1194-1270) sent this letter in 1269 from Akko (Acre), Israel to his son, Nachman, in Catalina, Spain. In this brief epistle, Ramban exhorts his son to pursue spiritual greatness and, particularly, to act with humility. Ramban promises his son that adherence to the instructions of the letter will ensure that his prayers will be answered. As the letter’s commentators note, this result will not be miraculous or supernatural. It is simply Hashem’s design for the world that the prayers of the righteous are answered.
Many commentaries have been written on this work. These include the works of R’ Yechezkel Sarna z”l (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chevron; died 1965) in Hebrew, and the English translation and the exposition by R’ Avrohom Chaim Feuer shlita (A Letter for the Ages, Artscroll, 1989).
Probably the second most famous letter-turned-Mussar classic (after Ramban’s letter) is the Igeret Ha’G.R.A. The G.R.A. (acronym for “Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu”, also known as the Vilna Gaon z”l; 1720-1797), wrote this letter to his wife and mother as he set out on a visit to Israel. (At the time, such a trip took many months or even years. In fact, the Vilna Gaon never reached his destination).
R’ Yechezkel Sarna notes three major points in the letter of the G.R.A. First, the obligation and need to study Mussar is not fulfilled by a quick, cursory reading of the text. The Vilna Gaon compares such behavior to sowing without plowing; the seeds that are sown will quickly blow away in the wind. So too, any lessons that might be gleaned from reading a Mussar text will soon be lost unless one reviews constantly, letting each word impress him. (R’ Eliyahu recommends that one’s primary Mussar texts be the books of Mishlei (Proverbs) and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), as well as the Pirkei Avot.)
Second, it is not enough to study Mussar in an academic setting. One must understand how the Yetzer Hara / evil inclination exploits real-life situations, and must learn to deal with these.
Finally, the Vilna Gaon writes that one should not pursue every bodily luxury that his body craves.
Copyright © 2002 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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