Volume 30, No. 33
27 Iyar 5776
June 4, 2016
Nach: Tehilim 69-70
Mishnah: Demai 2:3-4
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 4
This coming Tuesday is the first of Sivan, the day on which Bnei Yisrael arrived at Har Sinai. We read (Shmot 19:1), “Ba’chodesh / In the third month from the Exodus of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.” The midrash Pesikta D’Rav Kahana comments that “Ba’chodesh” (literally, “In the month”) also can be read as two words: “Ba chodesh” / “The month has arrived.” The midrash explains: When Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu at the Burning Bush, He told Moshe (Shmot 3:12), “This is the sign for you that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you [plural] will serve Elokim on this mountain.” When the time came and Bnei Yisrael arrived at Har Sinai, Hashem said: “Ba chodesh” / “The month to which I have been looking forward has arrived.” [Until here from the midrash]
R’ Tzaddok Hakohen z”l (1823-1900; chassidic rebbe of Lublin) asks: The Torah was not given until the sixth [some say, the seventh] of Sivan. Why does the midrash emphasize, “Ba chodesh” / “The month has arrived,” implying that something special happened starting with the beginning of the month?
He explains: At the Burning Bush, say our Sages, Moshe asked Hashem, “What merit do Bnei Yisrael possess in which they can be redeemed from Egypt?” Moshe knew that Bnei Yisrael were destined to receive the Torah and that Hashem is able to uplift and purify the Jewish People so that they would be worthy of receiving the Torah. But Moshe asked: “What merit do Bnei Yisrael possess?” What will Bnei Yisrael do to make themselves worthy? Hashem answered: When you take the people out of Egypt, they will serve Me on this mountain. Hashem was not referring to receiving the Torah; rather, He was referring to the days before the Giving of the Torah–the five days beginning with the arrival of Sivan, when Bnei Yisrael prepared themselves to receive the Torah. It is the preparation to receive the Torah which is man’s primary avodah / Divine service, and that is what made the arrival of the month of Sivan special. (Pri Tzaddik)
“If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments . . .” (26:3)
Rashi writes that “If you will follow My decrees” refers to toiling in Torah study. If so, writes R’ Akiva Yosef Schlesinger z”l (Hungary and Yerushalayim; died 1922), we can understand why this verse follows immediately after the verse, “My Sabbaths you shall observe.” Specifically, the Midrash Tanna D’vei Eliyahu states that the primary time for Torah study is on Shabbat, when one is free from working. (Torat Yechiel)
“I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the Land . . .” (26:6)
Our Sages disagree about the precise meaning of this verse: The Sage Rabbi Yehuda says that wild beasts will be completely eradicated from the world, while the Sage Rabbi Shimon says that it will be a greater praise of G-d if wild beasts will still exist but will cease to be dangerous, as the verse states (Yeshayah 11:6), “The wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion cub, and a meri [will walk] together, and a young child will lead them.”
What is the point of disagreement between these Sages? R’ Raphael Moshe Luria z”l (rosh yeshiva in several chassidic yeshivot in Israel; died 2009) writes:
The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) records a dispute between the Sages of Bet Shammai and of Bet Hillel, in which the former say that man would have been better off never having been created, while the latter say that man is fortunate that he was created. What does this mean? R’ Luria explains:
Kabbalists teach that the soul is forced to come into this physical world only so that it can earn closeness to G-d in the World-to-Come. While G-d could have given the soul such closeness without its having to toil in this world, that would have given the soul the feeling of receiving charity, which would be embarrassing. It follows, argue the Sages of Bet Shammai, that being in this world is not an ideal state; it is a prerequisite to the ideal state. In the abstract, however, man would have been better off not having been created.
Not so, say the Sages of Bet Hillel. Man was created for another reason also, i.e., because G-d wants to be revealed in this world. Since man has a purpose, i.e., to bring about G-d’s revelation in this world, his creation can be viewed as an ideal in its own right.
Consistent with their respective opinions, we are told that the Sage Shammai always saved his best food for Shabbat, which represents the World-to-Come, while the Sage Hillel had the philosophy, “G-d is blessed every day.”
This, writes R’ Luria, is the point of disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon as well. Rabbi Yehuda holds that our world is not an ideal state, and that G-d’s greatness will be revealed only by the elimination of all evil, represented here by the eradication of wild beasts. Rabbi Shimon, on the other hand, maintains that G-d wants to be revealed in this world through the harnessing of the forces of evil for good, represented here by all types of beasts living together in harmony. (Beit Genazai: Vayikra p.1060)
“Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers . . . and also for having behaved toward Me with casualness. I, too, will behave toward them with casualness . . . perhaps then their uncircumcised hearts will be subdued, and then they will gain appeasement for their sin.” (26:40-41)
Commentaries wonder why the apparent repentance in verse 40 will be rejected and why G-d will “behave toward them with casualness.” R’ Menachem Mendel Stern z”l (1759-1834; Sighet, Hungary) explains that this confession is inadequate because it blames our sins on the way our parents raised us (“their sin and the sin of their forefathers”), failing to recognize that our parents may have sinned, but they did not rebel against G-d. Only when the younger generation’s hearts–the seat of their rebellion–are subdued, will they gain atonement. (Derech Emunah)
“These are the decrees, the ordinances, and the teachings that Hashem gave, between Himself and Bnei Yisrael, at Har Sinai, through Moshe.” (26:46)
R’ Avraham Saba z”l (Spain and Morocco; 1440-1508) writes: This verse teaches that these decrees, ordinances, and teachings , as well as the yisurim / trials and suffering described in the immediately preceding verses, are what maintain the connection between Hashem and the Jewish People. Similarly, immediately after the tochachah / rebuke in Sefer Devarim we read (Devarim 29:9), “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your Elokim,” on which the midrash comments: “It is the yisurim that cause your continued existence.” Likewise, the sage Rabbi Shimon teaches (Berachot 5a), “Hashem gave Yisrael three great gifts, and each of them is acquired through yisurim: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and Olam Ha’ba.”
R’ Saba continues: The next section of our parashah presents the laws of “arachin,” a vow that takes the form: “I dedicate my ‘erech’ / worth to the Bet Hamikdash.” This juxtaposition is meant to teach that, in order for a person to attain his share in Olam Ha’ba, he must appreciate his own worth and serve Hashem accordingly. (Tzror Ha’mor)
Letters from Our Sages
This letter was written by R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935), then Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael. It is addressed to “the Zionist leadership” and dated 29 Tevet 5682 . In the letter, R’ Kook responds to concerns that the establishment of a yeshiva for studying the laws of the korbanot / Temple offerings would be viewed by the world as a challenge to Arab control of the Temple Mount.
In response to your honored letter, which came to me with a clipping from an English newspaper, regarding the establishment of a yeshiva named “Torat Kohanim,” I am honored to provide the following details:
- It is true that Yeshivat Torat Kohanim was established here with the goal that Kohanim who are Torah scholars will study the [Talmudic] Order of Kodashim, the source for clear knowledge of the Temple service.
- The institution is just starting out. Therefore, only a small number of scholarly Kohanim and Levi’im who are devoted to studying this subject are found in the yeshiva building at the set hours. Other members are dispersed in various places, each studying in his own location. The goal is to unite them at fixed times in order to glorify this great Torah subject.
- Despite the many secular manifestations [of the yearning to rebuild Eretz Yisrael], the revival of our nation necessarily must be founded on its holy source–i.e., the nation’s yearning to return and to be “built” with all the trappings of holiness. The eternal yearning for the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash speedily in our days must be expressed straightforwardly and with great faith, at all times, with no interruption or weakness.
- Our faith is strong that days will come when all nations will recognize that the place that Hashem chose for eternity, the place of our Temple, must return to its true owners, and that on it will be built a great and holy house, which, through us, will be a place of prayer for all nations, as Hashem has spoken. [See Yeshayahu 56:7] . . .
Although this yeshiva is entirely a pure Torah-endeavor [and not meant to be political], it does send a message to the whole world that no nation should think that we have given up hope for even an instant of realizing our rights to our holy place, the cornerstone of all holy places–the place of our Temple. (Igrot Ha’Reiyah Vol. IV No. 1,127)