Volume 30, No. 35
12 Sivan 5776
June 18, 2016
Nach: Tehilim 93-94
Mishnah: Demai 6:2-3
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 18
This coming Tuesday, the 15th of Sivan, is both the birthday anniversary and yahrzeit of Yehuda, the fourth son of the Patriarch Yaakov. (Shalshelet Hakabalah; Melitzei Esh).
Regarding Yehuda, R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l observes: Of all of Yaakov’s sons, it was Yehuda who earned the right to be the forebearer of King David and of mashiach. The Torah portrays Yehuda as a person whose righteousness was tested many times; unlike his brother Yosef, whose behavior was the model of consistency, Yehuda sometimes struggled and fell. Yosef and Yehuda are examples of what the Rambam calls the “chassid me’uleh” and “moshel b’nafsho,” respectively.
Rambam explains (Shemoneh Perakim, ch.6) that a “chassid me’uleh” is a person who is innately righteous. He wants to do what is right, and he does it without any obvious internal struggle. He is consistent. Rashi suggests (Shmot 1:4) that Yosef was such a person; “The righteous Yosef who shepherded his father’s flocks is the same righteous Yosef who ruled Egypt.”
A “moshel b’nafsho,” on the other hand, feels the pull of the evil inclination, even if only to the slightest degree, but overcomes these challenges. This is what Yehuda did in saving Tamar, It is what he failed to do completely (see Rashi, Bereishit 38:1) when given the opportunity to save Yosef, an error he corrected by risking his own life to save Binyamin.
Yehuda, not Yosef, was chosen as the ancestor of kings. The Torah concept of a king is not someone who is “better than” his subjects, but someone who has experienced and overcome spiritual struggles. Only then can he lead them in conquering their own evil inclinations and fulfilling G-d’s will. (Yemei Zikaron, pp. 70-75)
“May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” (6:24-26)
R’ David Tevele z”l (1792-1861; rabbi of Minsk, Russia) writes: Man is made up of three parts, referred to in Midrash Rabbah as “nefesh,” “ruach” and “neshamah.” Nefesh is man’s physical life force, neshamah is man’s spiritual soul, and ruach is the bridge between the other two. Paralleling these, Shimon Ha’tzaddik teaches (Pirkei Avot 1:2) that the world stands on three pillars: Torah study, avodah / the Temple service, and gemilut chassadim / acts of kindness. Torah study is entirely spiritual, chessed is performed in the physical world, and avodah bridges between the two in that it is performed with physical sacrifices but, we are taught, it leaves an impression on the unseen spiritual worlds.
The three priestly blessings also parallel these three realms of existence. The first blessing is physical: “May Hashem bless you”–with wealth, say our Sages–“and safeguard you”–because it is not a blessing to obtain wealth and promptly lose it.
“May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you” is a spiritual blessing, i.e., may He enlighten you with Torah.
Finally, the last blessing refers to the forgiveness of sins, so that we may receive the first two blessings. (Drashot Bet David: Drush No.1)
“The nesi’im / leaders brought offerings for the dedication of the Altar on the day it was anointed . . . Hashem said to Moshe, ‘One nasi each day, one nasi each day shall they bring their offering for the dedication of the Altar’.” (7:10-11)
Following these verses, the Torah describes, in detail, the twelve identical offerings that the nesi’im brought, one each day. Ramban z”l writes that the reason the Torah describes each offering in detail is that each nasi thought independently of bringing that combination of animals and other gifts, each with a different reason in mind. Therefore, Hashem valued each offering as if it was unique.
We learn from here, writes R’ Yehuda Meir Dvir shlita (author of the Talmud commentary Bet Lechem Yehuda), that actions that appear superficially to be identical can, in fact, be very different. When “anashim shel tzurah” / “people of substance” act, he writes, it is important that we look beneath the surface and appreciate the true substance of their actions.
R’ Dvir writes further: The phrase “anashim shel tzurah” is found in the Gemara (Mo’ed Kattan 9a), which relates: Rabbi Yonatan ben Amsai and Rabbi Yehuda ben Gerim studied Tractate Nedarim in the bet midrash of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. One evening, they took leave of him. The next morning, they came to take leave again. “Didn’t you take leave of me last night?” asked Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. They answered him: “Didn’t you teach us, our master, ‘If one takes leave of his teacher and sleeps in the same city, one must take leave again.’ Whereupon, Rabbi Shimon said to his son, ‘These men are anashim shel tzurah. Go to them to be blessed’.” [Until here from the Gemara]
What impressed Rabbi Shimon about their answer, especially if they were merely repeating something he had taught them? R’ Dvir explains: In fact, the two students had not learned this behavior from Rabbi Shimon; they were merely being polite when they said, “Didn’t you teach us?” What impressed Rabbi Shimon was the originality of the way in which they showed respect to their teacher. From where do we learn that such originality is valued? From the fact that the Torah takes pains to denigrate the offering of Hevel (Bereishit 4:4): “As for Hevel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest.” Why does the Torah say “also” when, in fact, Hevel was the only one to bring an animal offering? (Kayin brought a plant offering.) Because Hevel was mimicking his brother; he saw Kayin bring an offering, so he brought one too.
Of course, one’s originality in serving Hashem is limited by halachah. Nevertheless, one must be careful that his service does not become routine or by rote. Those who can walk that fine line and still find fresh ways to serve Hashem are called “anashim shel tzurah” / “people of substance.” (Bet Lechem Yehuda: Haskeil V’yadoa p.31)
Elsewhere in the Torah . . .
“When a person is appointed a parnas / person responsible for the congregation, all his sins are forgiven.” (Talmud Yerushalmi: Bikkurim 3:3)
Why is this so? R’ Moshe Sofer z”l (1762–1839; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Pressburg, Hungary) writes: Perhaps the reason is that the nature of people is to ridicule and speak falsehoods about a person who has been appointed to a leadership position. It is well known that when one speaks lashon ha’ra about another, the sins of the person spoken about are transferred to the one who spoke the lashon ha’ra. This, then, leaves the subject of the lashon ha’ra, i.e., the person in the leadership position, free of sin.
R’ Sofer adds: Maybe Hashem arranged things this way because a leader requires a clear mind as well as Divine assistance. When a person is burdened with sin, the sharpness of his mind is dulled and he does not merit Divine assistance. Therefore, it is necessary that his sins be forgiven when he assumes his leadership position. (Derashot Chatam Sofer: Megillat Ruth)
Letters from Our Sages
This letter was written by R’ Shlomo Brevda z”l (1931-2013), a maggid / traveling preacher and prolific author. Many of his published works are commentaries on the writings of the Vilna Gaon z”l. The letter excerpted here was written in 5722 (1962).
After inquiring of your welfare with great love – Your dear letter, which brings joy to G-d and man, reached me. There are no words in my mouth, and certainly not in my pen, to convey how moved I am by the lofty thing to which you and your honorable wife have merited [the letter does not say what news the letter’s recipient had shared with R’ Brevda]–the two of you, who opened your home so wide, making it a gathering place for Torah scholars, where men spoke to their friends about matters that stand at the pinnacle of the world, a gathering for the sake of Heaven, where the Shechinah resided; how good and how pleasant it is when brethren sit together. In our troubled and dark times, one cannot evaluate the resulting sanctification of G-d’s Name nor describe the importance of what you have done [by opening your home thus].
In my opinion, the fact that you, my beloved friend, wrote to me immediately, that very night, to tell me the [unspecified] good news, is greater than any of the other good things you did that day and that night. This is an example of an action which, by itself, seems trivial, but which, in fact, demonstrates hidden greatness. About this our Sages say, “There are those who acquire their world in one hour.”
There is a trait about which mussar scholars speak that is called being a “bar samcha” / “a person of responsibility.” This is a person on whom the Torah can rely. Such a person is qualitatively different from other people, and about him our Sages say: “There is a presumption that a shaliach / agent accomplishes his shelichut / mission.” Although many people perform good deeds, only the smallest minority merit the title “bar samcha.” These are people who fulfill every minute detail of what is asked of them and who get back with zerizut / promptly to those who assigned them their mission. To be such a person, one must very nearly accept a yoke of slavery, the very opposite of the feeling that one is free to do as he wishes. (Igrot Shlomo p.196)