Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVII, No. 47
9 Elul 5763
September 6, 2003
the Sheinson family
in memory of Ronald’s father
Mordechai Yaakov ben Moshe Hakohen
Barbara and Jerry Belsh (Edison NJ)
in honor of their son Meir’s engagement to
Aliza Saltzman (Silver Spring MD)
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Zevachim 89
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Megillah 9
Rabbeinu Yonah z”l (Spain; died 1263) writes that there are three types of mitzvot: those which must be done (e.g. prayer), those which must be done if the opportunity presents itself (e.g. circumcision), and those which are optional, but may only be done according to a certain procedure (e.g. marrying a prisoner-of-war or taking an egg from a bird’s nest). These last two examples are both found in this week’s parashah, and each introduces a separate line of consequences which follows from a person’s deeds. These two lines can be traced through the parashah:
Our Sages say that if one marries a prisoner-of-war, even permissibly, he will likely end-up hating her and her son. That son may end-up stealing from his parents, and thus incur the penalty of a ben sorrer u’moreh / a rebellious son. Such a boy is executed, not for what he has done, Chazal say, but so that he may die relatively righteous. Should he live, the Sages foretell for him a future as a highwayman and murderer.
By contrast, Chazal say that if one performs the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, he will be rewarded with prosperity and will build a house. This mitzvah is therefore followed by the commandment to build a railing around a roof. Also, he will merit to have new clothes, so he is commanded not to wear sha’atnez / a combination of wool and linen, and to make tzitzit. This last is among the cheapest and easiest of mitzvot to perform, but its reward is great, for it reminds a person to keep all of the other mitzvot, and thus brings merit to the entire body. (Derashot U’perushei R’ Yonah Al Hatorah)
“When you will go out to war against your enemies and you will see a beautiful woman among the captives” (21:10)
This parashah teaches us the Torah’s attitude toward beauty, says R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l. “When you will go out to war against your enemies and you will see a beautiful woman among the captives”–when you fight your enemies–Canaanites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, or Germans–you will undoubtedly see beautiful aspects of their cultures. Therefore, you should know: You are permitted to bring home everything beautiful that you see, but don’t be fooled by external beauty. This is symbolized by the Torah’s demand that the captive woman change out of her foreign clothes. The Torah demands a waiting period after the captive woman is brought into the home–i.e., examine this newfound culture very carefully. Is it really something that you want in your home?
(Yemei Zikaron p.125)
“Do not observe your brother’s donkey or his ox falling and turn yourself away — you shall surely help it up.” (22:4)
In Parashat Mishpatim, the same mitzvah is given, but there the Torah refers to the animal of “your enemy.” Why this difference?
With regard to the verse in Mishpatim the Gemara asks: How does one have an enemy? Is it then permitted to hate another Jew? The Gemara explains that “your enemy” refers to one whom you have witnessed sinning. If he refuses to repent, you are obligated to hate him.
However, writes R’ Meir Simcha Hakohen z”l (rabbi of Dvinsk; died 1926), that was only before the sin of the Golden Calf, which is described in the Torah after Parashat Mishpatim. Before that sin, all Jews were on such an exalted level that they were able to hate someone merely because he had sinned. But today, who can make such a claim?! Rather, we are all brothers.
R’ Yaakov Yosef Hakohen of Polnoye (student of the Ba’al Shem Tov) interprets this homiletically: “Do not observe your brother’s donkey or his ox falling”–it is better not to see your brother in a state of spiritual decline (becoming like a donkey or an ox). “Turn yourself away.”
But if you do see, “You shall surely help [him] up.”
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
“He happened upon you on the way, and he struck the weaklings who were straggling at the rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d.” (25:18)
Why do we reserve special hatred for Amalek, more so than for other nations which attacked us without provocation? R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik z”l (“R’ Velvel Brisker” or the Brisker Rav; died 1959) explains:
The Gemara (Bava Kama 79) says: Why is a burglar punished more severely than is a robber? Because a robber equates G-d with man [he is afraid of neither], while a burglar places G-d lower than man [he fears man more than he fears G-d, therefore he steals when man is not looking].
R’ Soloveitchik explains: A burglar is a greater sinner than is a robber because a burglar has begun to think through the consequences of his action, but has stopped those thoughts before they can lead him to G-d. This is worse than a robber who has not thought out his actions at all–therefore he fears no one– but at least he has not snubbed G-d.
Similarly, had Amalek attacked Bnei Yisrael head-on, we would not fault him. However, by attacking only the weakest Jews, Amalek acknowledged that there is something to fear. Despite that, he showed that he did not fear G-d.
The Gemara states that Hashem gave Noach and his descendants only seven commandments and the smallest infraction of one of those laws incurs the death penalty. Bnei Yisrael, by contrast, were given 613 mitzvot, most of which carry punishments less severe than death. Furthermore, Hashem has given us a great gift: the possibility of doing Teshuvah / repenting.
R’ Moshe Mi’Tirani (the Mabit; 16th century) writes that the possibility of Teshuvah exists precisely because we have so many mitzvot; it is nearly impossible for anyone to go through life without violating a commandment now and then. This is, in fact, alluded to by the many verses (e.g. Devarim 30:2; Hoshea 14:20) which mention the name “Elokim” / G-d’s Attribute of Justice in connection with Teshuvah. Teshuvah was created because the fact that we have so many laws would likely result in strict justice being imposed against us.
However, the Torah warns (Devarim 30:2), “You will return to Hashem Elokim and heed His voice.” Do not use the difficulty of mitzvah observance as an excuse. If you want your Teshuvah to “count” you must sincerely heed Hashem’s word and do your best to observe the mitzvot in the future. In fact, the Gemara teaches that a person who tells himself, “I can sin for G-d will forgive me,” will not be forgiven.
(Bet Elokim, Sha’ar Ha’Teshuvah ch.1)
R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz z”l
born 5646 (1886) – died 3 Elul 5708 (1948)
R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz had a more profound influence on Torah education in America than almost any other person. Yet, he was not a posek, a rosh yeshiva, or a chassidic rebbe, and he insisted on being called only “Mr. Mendlowitz.”
R’ Shraga Feivel was a leading student in the finest yeshivot in Hungary before coming to the United States in 1913. After some wandering, he accepted a job in a Scranton, Pennsylvania cheder. He was laughed at, though, when he spoke of creating a full-time day school, so he quit his job and attempted to manufacture ice cream in the hopes of some day financing his own day school.
Later, R’ Shraga Feivel settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where he joined with others to found a newspaper devoted to raising the spiritual level of New York’s Jews. A new chapter opened in 1923, when he was hired as the rebbe of the 8th — and highest — grade in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Through his influence, there soon was a 9th grade, then a 10th, and so on. (His influence was felt outside the classroom as well, for example, in the dramatic increase in the market for more expensive tefilin and better tzitzit.) When his first students completed high school, he persuaded them to stay on, and thus began the new post-high school division of Torah Vodaath. This was the beginning of a Torah revolution in the Western Hemisphere- -the first post-high school yeshiva which offered no secular studies and was not devoted to producing pulpit rabbis.
Torah Vodaath was unique in another respect as well, being the first yeshiva in the world to combine the Lithuanian method of learning–R’ Shraga Feivel hired many great Lithuanian roshei yeshiva–with the warmth and teachings of chassidism. Contrary to the mood in America at the time, R’ Shraga Feivel encouraged his students to be expressive about their Judaism, including singing and dancing as a means of serving Hashem.
R’ Shraga Feivel was instrumental in the founding or growth of many other yeshivot. For example, beginning in 1938, he refused to accept students from the area of Brooklyn where Mesivta Chaim Berlin had just been founded. Later, he would send his best students to serve as the kernel of such new institutions as Lakewood and Telz. He also directed substantial amounts of money to the fledgling Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore.
R’ Shraga Feivel’s concern for his students’ growth did not end in June of each year. Accordingly, he “invented” the yeshiva summer camp.
Another legacy of R’ Shraga Feivel is Torah U’Mesorah, the umbrella organization for hundreds of day schools throughout the United States. This organization provides financial assistance, educational materials and teacher training to schools in far- flung communities which might otherwise be bereft of Judaism.
Copyright © 2002 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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