Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVII, No. 3: Don’t Walk in Front of Me (Anymore)
13 Marcheshvan 5763
October 19, 2002
The Edeson and Stern families
on the 58th anniversary of Jacob S. Edeson’s bar mitzvah
Rabbi and Mrs. Sam Vogel on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Aharon Shimon ben Shemaryah a”h (Arthur Kalkstein)
Aharon Yehuda ben Yisrael a”h (Leon Vogel)
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Sanhedrin 38
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Shabbat 87
In this week’s parashah, we begin to become acquainted with our forefather Avraham. The Torah tells us that Hashem said to Avraham (17:2), “Walk before Me.” Rashi (to Bereishit 6:9) contrasts this with what was said about Noach, i.e., “Noach walked with [not before] G-d.”
What is the difference between walking “with G-d” and walking “before G-d”? And, surprisingly, the Torah commands us (Devarim 13:5), “After Hashem, your G-d, shall you follow.” What does this mean?
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l explains: After Adam sinned, the spiritual standing of all of creation was dramatically lowered. Mankind’s task became to raise the world’s spiritual level back to where it had been. Hashem, in His Wisdom, decreed that this would be a long process. The key step in that return, the giving of the Torah, would not take place for more than 2,000 years. In the meantime, there were two ways that a person could contribute to the world’s improvement. He could, like Noach, walk with Hashem. Walking with Hashem means doing all that is expected of a person, but no more. Noach, we are taught, made no effort to raise the spiritual level of his contemporaries. Personally, however, he was an exceedingly righteous person.
Or, a person who lived before the Torah was given could walk before Hashem. Avraham, was such a person. He not only did what was expected of him, he reached out to others. Most importantly, the Torah tells us (Bereishit 18:19), Avraham laid the groundwork for his descendants to serve Hashem. He even kept the entire Torah, ahead of its time, so-to-speak. In all his actions, he was out front, taking the initiative. Thus, he walked “before G- d.”
After the Torah was given, mankind was still responsible to return creation to its status of before Adam’s sin, but the way to do that was different. Now, the most that can expected of a person is to keep the Torah. That is no small challenge, especially after the spiritual devastation wrought by the sin of the golden calf. Stated differently, the most that can be expected of a person now is to “follow after Hashem.” (Midbar Shur: Parashat Noach)
“Malki-Tzeddek, the king of Shalem . . .” (14:18)
“Shalem” is the city that we now call Yerushalayim. Our Sages teach that the city’s present name is a combination of the name “Shalem” given by Malki-Tzeddek, and the name “Hashem Yireh” given by Avraham (Bereishit 22:14). R’ Moshe Eisemann shlita (Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva Ner Israel) observes that these two names reflect the different world views of the people who gave them. Chazal say that Malki-Tzeddek was none other than Shem, the son of Noach. Although he was an exceptionally righteous person, he was content with his spiritual standing. He saw himself as “Shalem” / “whole.”
This is not the Jewish way. Our philosophy, and Avraham’s, is that one must be constantly growing. “Hashem Yireh” / “G-d will yet see.” The best is yet to come.
(A Machzor Companion p. 66)
“He [Avraham] said, `How shall I know that I am to inherit it?'” (15:8)
Was Avraham challenging Hashem’s promise that Avraham’s descendants would inherit Eretz Yisrael? Surely not! Rather, R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; prominent Hungarian rabbi) explains Avraham’s question as follows:
The Gemara teaches that when the Torah refers to the descendants of the Patriarchs, it does not refer to all of their biological offspring but only to their righteous offspring. Thus, for example, Avraham is told later (Bereishit 21:11), “Through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours.” Thus, when Hashem promised Avraham that his offspring would inherit Eretz Yisrael, Avraham understandably wondered: How do I know that any of my descendants will merit to inherit the Land?
Hashem answered (in verse 15:13): Don’t worry! “Know with certainty that your offspring will be aliens in a land not their own, they will be slaves to them, and they [the masters] will oppress them for 400 years.” I, Hashem, will take this step to prevent your descendants from intermingling with the nations of the world and disappearing even before the time comes for them to inherit the Land.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Chasdei David p. 9)
“One should take care on every Erev Shabbat to pay the salaries of his children’s teachers. Those who expound on allusions [in the Torah] have stated that `Shabbat’ is an acronym of the commandment (Devarim 24:15): `B’yomo teetain secharo’ / `On that [same] day you shall pay his wages.’ Furthermore, Kabbalists wrote that the punishment of one who neglects the mitzvah to pay his workers wages on time is that he will not merit the neshamah yetairah / added holiness of Shabbat.”
(Siddur Otzar Tefilot: Arugat Ha’bosem p. 291b)
What is the connection between paying a worker’s wages on time and Shabbat? R’ Zev Hoberman shlita (Lakewood, N.J.) explains as follows:
Our sages teach that the reward for performing mitzvot is not paid in this world, only in the World-to-Come. In the Gemara’s words (Avodah Zarah 3a), the mitzvot “are to be performed today, and their reward is to be received tomorrow” – i.e., in Olam Haba.
It appears at first glance that Hashem himself does not observe the mitzvah: “On that [same] day you shall pay his wages.” But there is a part of our reward that is paid in this world! Chazal say that Shabbat is a taste of the World-to-Come. Shabbat is our chance to experience in this world a hint of the reward that awaits us “tomorrow” in Olam Haba. But who can taste this reward? Only one who himself pays his workers on time will receive this partial payment of his own wages.
R’ Hoberman adds: Many commentaries struggled to understand the Gemara’s teaching that a righteous person is inscribed in the Book of Life on Rosh Hashana and a wicked person is inscribed in the Book of Death. After all, we see ourselves that many righteous people die every year and many wicked people live the whole year through! This difficulty led some commentaries to say that the Books of Life and Death refer to life and death in Olam Haba. However, this explanation presents its own difficulty: Why judge the quality or quantity of a person’s share in Olam Haba every Rosh Hashanah? Why not wait until he dies and judge him only once?
Based on our Sages’ teaching that Shabbat is a taste of the World-to-Come, R’ Hoberman answers this question. Every Rosh Hashanah, a person is judged to determine his share in the World- to-Come, for that will determine as well how much he will enjoy Shabbat throughout the year. G-d must determine each person’s share in Olam Haba if He is to give each person a taste of it.
(Ze’ev Yitrof: Rosh Hashanah p.9)
R’ Moshe Chaim Lau was born in Lvov, Galicia, Austria in 1893. From a young age, R’ Lau was recognized as a born leader. He studied under R’ Shalom Mordechai Schwadron (the first, known as Maharsham) and received semichah / ordination from his teacher at age 17. He also received semichah from other leading sages of the time.
While still in his late teens or early twenties, R’ Lau began organizing outreach activities for youth. In 1919, he was elected rabbi of Shatz, Bukovina, and he soon organized a yeshiva and a Bais Yaakov in nearby Czernowitz. His activities also included publishing articles in several Jewish periodicals, in Hebrew, Yiddish and German, and he undertook lecture tours throughout Romania and Poland. In 1928, he assumed the rabbinate of Prasov, Czechoslovakia, and there too he opened a yeshiva, which eventually boasted 150-200 students from several countries.
R’ Lau was a cousin of R’ Meir Shapiro, the founder of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, and R’ Lau was actively engaged in fund-raising for that institution. (The palatial Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin was unique among yeshivot of the time in its accommodations, including dormitories and a kitchen, and in its goal of raising the stature of yeshiva students in the eyes of the public.) When R’ Shapiro died in 1934, R’ Lau became a member of the yeshiva’s presidium and was active in its administration. R’ Lau also succeeded his cousin as rabbi of Pietrikov.
When the Germans entered Pietrikov, R’ Lau took upon himself to fulfill both the spiritual and material needs of the numerous refugees. (The former included the difficult matter of ruling on the status of agunot / women whose husbands are missing and presumed dead.) R’ Lau advised all those who could to escape. He, however, marched in front of his congregation, wearing a kittel and carrying a Sefer Torah when the time came to be transported to Treblinka. On the train, he led those who shared the car with him in singing the verse (Yishayah 55:12), “For in gladness you shall go out and in peace shall you arrive,” and he encouraged those around him to prepare to sanctify G-d’s Name in their deaths. Upon their arrival in Treblinka, he led those on the train platform in reciting Vidui / the Final Confession. He died in Treblinka on 11 Cheshvan 5703 / 1942.
Among R’ Lau’s children are R’ Yisrael Meir Lau, currently the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Naftali Lavie, formerly Israel’s Consul General in New York. (Source: Encyclopedia Le’Chachmei Galicia)
Copyright © 2002 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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