Volume 30, No. 29
29 Nissan 5776
May 7, 2016
Nach: Tehilim 13-14
Mishnah: Pe’ah 3:6-7
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Kiddushin 57
This coming week, the month of Nissan ends and Iyar begins. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) asks: How do we know that the Patriarchs were born in Nissan? Because we read (Melachim I 6:1), “It was four hundred and eighty years after Yisrael’s exodus from the land of Egypt–in the fourth year–in the chodesh / month of Ziv, which is the second month [i.e., Iyar]–of Shlomo’s reign over Yisrael, he built the Temple for Hashem.” Iyar is called Ziv (literally, “brilliant light”) because it is the “yerach” (literally, “moon”) in which the Patriarchs already had been born. It follows, then, that they were born in Nissan. [Until here from the Gemara, as explained by Rashi z”l]
Why should the month after the Patriarch’s birth receive special recognition? R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) explains: Notably, the above-quoted verse uses the term “chodesh” for “month.” “Chodesh,” having the same letters as “chadash” / “new,” refers to the beginning of the month. Iyar is the month when the Patriarch’s light was already shining at its beginning. While the Patriarchs’ light was present in the world for part of Nissan, it was not yet shining at the beginning of Nissan. (Chiddushei Aggadot)
R’ Tzaddok Hakohen z”l (1823-1900; chassidic rebbe of Lublin) explains differently: The spiritual light that is revealed in each month shines brightest on its Rosh Chodesh. Since the Patriarchs were born in the middle of Nissan, the first time their light shone brightly, i.e., the first Rosh Chodesh of their lives, was Rosh Chodesh Iyar. (Pri Tzaddik: Rosh Chodesh Iyar No.1)
“You shall safeguard My charge not to do any of the abominable traditions that were done before you and not contaminate yourselves through them; I am Hashem, your Elokim.” (18:30)
Rashi z”l writes, quoting the midrash Sifra: “If, however, you do defile yourselves, I shall no longer be your Elokim, since you will have cut yourselves off from following after Me. Of what use will you be to Me then? Consequently, you will deserve annihilation! That is why the verse concludes, ‘I am the Hashem your Elokim’.”
R’ Yerucham Levovitz z”l (mashgiach ruchani of the Mir Yeshiva; died 1936) explains: Our relationship with Hashem is based on mutual love. In turn, the foundation of love is hishtavut / shared ideals or a common language. What Hashem loves, we love; what He hates, we hate. That is why the mitzvah of reciting Shema, which includes accepting the yoke of Heaven, is followed immediately by the command to love Hashem–“Ve’ahavta.” Doing His Will is loving Him. They are one and the same. And, the relationship is two way. Therefore, the blessings before Kriat Shema–“Ahavah Rabbah” and “Ahavat Olam”–speak of Hashem’s love for us.
Hishtavut leads to unity. Without hishtavut, there is division. It follows, Rashi is teaching, that if we defile ourselves and distance ourselves from Hashem, He will no longer have any use for us. That necessarily will result in annihilation, G-d forbid, because the Jewish People cannot exist under the natural order. The secret to our continued existence is kedushah, which brings about Divine Providence. (Shevivei Da’at: Moadim No.25)
“Any man of Bnei Yisrael and of the proselyte who dwells among them who will trap a beast or bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. (17:13)
R’ Avigdor Tzarfati z”l (France; 13th century) writes: The one who did shechitah should cover the blood. The Gemara (Chullin 87a) relates that someone once slaughtered a bird or animal and someone else threw dirt on the blood, and Rabban Gamliel fined the latter person ten gold coins. [After discussing whether this penalty applies today, he concludes:] One should be careful not to steal another’s mitzvah, for G-d despises stolen offerings. (Peirushim U’pesakim Le’rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati)
Elsewhere in the Torah . . .
“From heaven Hashem gazed down upon mankind, to see if there exists a reflective person who seeks out Elokim. Everyone has gone astray, together they have become depraved.” (Tehilim 14:2-3)
R’ Yaakov Yisrael Halevi Stern z”l (maggid /preacher in Kremenets, Volhynia, now Ukraine; died 1799) interprets this verse in light of the age-old question: Is it preferable to base one’s emunah / faith on a received tradition or to arrive at emunah after philosophical deliberations? In Chovot Ha’levavot, Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda z”l (Spain; 11th century) sides with the latter view. He writes, as summarized by the Kremenetser Maggid, that the problem with relying on a received tradition is that one may later hear a different opinion that will change his mind or leave him confused. Such a person is like a blind man following a seeing man, writes Rabbeinu Bachya; if the seeing person is careless and falls into a pit, the blind man will fall into the pit after him. Rather, one must figure things out for himself, which, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, is what our Sages mean when they teach (Avot ch.2): “Know what to answer a heretic!”
In this light, writes the Kremenetser Maggid, we can understand our verses as follows: “Hashem looks for a reflective person who seeks out Elokim,” i.e., who seeks Hashem with his intellect, not merely based on a received tradition. Why? Because “everyone has gone astray, together they have become depraved,” i.e., if one person goes astray, everyone who relied on him will go astray also. (Shevet M’Yisrael)
On the other hand, R’ Yitzchak bar Sheshet Perfet z”l (Rivash; Spain; 1326-1408) writes:
One should avoid books of “nature” that attempt to uproot our holy Torah, in particular the two pillars on which it stands: (1) that there was a Creation and (2) that there is Hashgachah / Divine Providence over the details of mankind’s existence. These books claim that one cannot know anything completely unless he has investigated it, not via a received tradition. However, we, who have received the truth, know that our perfect Torah, which was given at Sinai from the mouth of G-d through the master of all prophets, is above all other forms of knowledge and that their philosophical investigations are nothing compared to it. . . . Do not bring a proof from the fact that Rambam z”l (1135-1204) did study Aristotelian philosophy, writes Rivash. First, he did so only after he knew the entire Torah: halachah, aggadeta, the halachic midrashim, and the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi. Second, he did so out of necessity, to answer the perplexed of his generation. And, even so, he did not escape being led astray in some details. (She’eilot U’teshuvot Rivash No. 50)
Another approach — R’ Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter z”l (1847-1905; Gerrer Rebbe) writes: Of course, if one has no knowledge and has faith because he doesn’t know anything else, that also is emunah. However, the preferred emunah is achieved after one acquires far-reaching knowledge and then nullifies himself and his knowledge, instead believing with simple faith. (Sefat Emet: Pesach 5644)
Letters from Our Sages
The following is an excerpt from the haskamah / letter of approbation by R’ Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z”l (1816-1893; rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Volozhin, Russia; known as “Netziv”) for the sefer Ahavat Chessed by R’ Yisrael Meir Hakohen z”l (the “Chafetz Chaim”; died 1933).
Gemilut chassadim / performing acts of kindness is the foundation of the world’s existence, as it is written (Tehilim 89:3), “The world will be built with chessed.” It is man’s obligation and his essence. Therefore we read regarding the beginning of the world’s history (Bereishit 4:2), “Additionally she bore his brother, ‘et’ Hevel.” The Hebrew word “et” serves no apparent purpose in the verse. However, [Netziv writes,] we explained in our Torah commentary He’emek Davar that it comes to teach one of the essential characteristics of humans: the feeling of brotherhood. [Our Sages teach that the word “et” connotes “ribui” / inclusion. In He’emek Davar, Netziv explains that the use of that word here teaches that Kayin, who worked the earth, produced enough to care for himself and his younger brother Hevel. Thus, a brotherhood was formed, for Kayin himself understood, at least at first, that it was a fundamental obligation of man to sustain one’s brother.] For this reason, even gentiles are obligated to perform acts of kindness for one another. This explains why the people of S’dom deserved to be destroyed, for they did not strengthen the poor; rather, they destroyed man’s “form” [i.e., his nature as a doer of kindness]. Performing this mitzvah is natural to the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, as we are taught (Yevamot 79a), “There are three distinguishing characteristics of this nation: they are rachamanim / compassionate, they are by’shanim / openly G-d-fearing, and they are gomlei chassadim / doers of kindness.” The Talmud Yerushalmi describes these three characteristics as gifts that Hashem gave the Jewish People.
[Netziv continues:] Midrash Rabbah teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu did not command the simple people among Bnei Yisrael to perform chessed. It was not necessary, because it comes naturally to them. But, those on a higher level were commanded, so that their chessed would not be a natural reaction to a need; rather, it would be performed for the sake of Heaven.