Volume 30, No. 46
30 Av 5776
September 3, 2016
Martin and Michelle Swartz
on the 10th yahrzeit of his aunt
Mrs. Hilda Kent (nee Herzog) a”h
in honor of
the forthcoming marriage of her grandson
Elazar Ginsburg to Devora Moore
and wishing mazal tov
to their parents, grandparents and families
Nach: Iyov 41-42
Mishnah: Shevi’it 7:6-7
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Kamma 95
Our parashah opens: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z”l (1910-2012; Yerushalayim) asks: Why does the verse say “today”?
He explains: If a person remembered everything that ever happened to him and all of Hashem’s kindness to him, he would stop at nothing to be able to devote all of his energies to serving Hashem with all his heart. However, man’s nature is that, although when he is first saved from danger he thanks Hashem profusely, he soon returns to his routine and forgets Hashem’s kindness.
This, writes R’ Elyashiv, is the meaning of the verse (Devarim 32:18), “The Rock gave birth to you, forgetful one, and you forgot Kel Who brought you forth.” G-d gave man the ability to forget as an act of kindness; otherwise, life would be unbearable. Without forgetfulness, man would remember at every moment every terrifying experience he had ever had and every mistake he had ever made. Who could bear such a burden? Forgetfulness allows man to put those thoughts behind him. For the same reason, G-d decreed that one’s memory of the deceased would diminish with time.
R’ Elyashiv continues: Hashem gave man the power to forget as an act of kindness, but man uses that power to forget Hashem. That is why our verse says “today.” At all times, one must remember that Hashem has placed before him a choice between receiving a blessing or a curse. Man must remember “today” and every day so that he chooses properly. (Kitvei Ha’GRYS: Avot Vol. II p. 274)
“Re’eh / See, Anochi / I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” (11:26)
R’ Avigdor Tzarfati z”l (France; 13th century) writes: “Re’eh” can mean “understand,” as in the verse (Kohelet 1:16), “My mind ‘ra’ah’ / has seen much wisdom and knowledge.” The verse is saying: “Understand [what is at stake, i.e., a blessing or a curse]! Then you will choose the Torah, which includes the commandment: ‘Anochi Hashem’.”
Alternatively, R’ Avigdor writes: Moshe said, “See what I (‘anochi’) have chosen and what resulted,” referring to the rays of light that emanated from Moshe’s countenance. “This happened to me because of the Torah.” (Peirushim U’pesakim Le’rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati)
“[Y]ou may slaughter from your cattle and your flocks that Hashem has given you, as I have commanded you . . .” (12:21)
R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky z”l (died 1986; rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, N.Y.) observes: Although there are berachot to be recited in connection with the performance of many mitzvot, the mitzvah of shechitah / kosher slaughter of an animal is unique in one respect. It is well established that if one performs a mitzvah [e.g., putting on tefilin] without reciting the berachah, one has nevertheless discharged his duty to perform the mitzvah. Yet, according to some halachic authorities, if one performs shechitah without reciting a berachah, the shechitah is not valid and the animal may not be eaten. Why?
R’ Kamenetsky suggests the following answer: Before an animal is “shechted,” there are two prohibitions that prevent us from eating it. One is the prohibition of “aiver min ha’chai” / eating from a live animal. The other is the prohibition of “ainah zevuchah” / eating an animal that died in any way other than as a result of a proper shechitah. The first prohibition–“aiver min ha’chai”–disappears when the animal no longer is living. It makes no difference how the animal died, since the prohibition applies, by definition, only to living animals. However, the prohibition of “ainah zevuchah” can be removed only by performing the mitzvah of shechitah; any other way of killing the animal would not suffice. Moreover, even if one would perform the act of shechitah perfectly but he would say that he is not doing it for the mitzvah, presumably the animal would not be considered “shechted.” Thus, our Sages established the berachah as a declaration that the one slaughtering the animal intends to perform not just the act, but also the mitzvah, of shechitah.
R’ Kamenetsky adds: According to R’ David Halevi z”l (1586-1667; the “Taz”), one does not fulfill the mitzvah of reading Megillat Esther if he did not recite the berachah. This may be explained in a way similar to the above. The Megillah tells a nice story, but there are no obvious miracles described there. Thus, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing G-d’s miracles, which is the purpose of reading the Megillah, one must announce that he is reading for that purpose. This is what the berachah accomplishes. (Quoted in B’mechitzat Rabbeinu p.141)
“You are children to Hashem, your G-d.” (14:1)
R’ Yisroel Meir Kagan z”l (the Chafetz Chaim; died 1933) writes: Imagine that someone (“Reuven”) has a son who behaves improperly. Imagine further that another person (“Shimon”) gossips about Reuven’s errant son and publicizes his misdeeds. Reuven would be justifiably angry at Shimon. Reuven (the father) would say, “Even if you meant well, you should have rebuked my son privately rather than humiliating him publicly. Moreover, I know that your intentions were not pure; rather, you enjoy seeing another person’s shame.”
Our verse teaches that we are children to Hashem. The Torah means this literally; Hashem’s love for us is similar to a parent’s love for a child, even an errant child. Therefore, Hashem “rejoices” when good things happen to us, and He is “pained” when we have troubles. Let us imagine, then, how He “feels” when someone shames a fellow Jew! (Shemirat Ha’lashon: Sha’ar Ha’tevunah ch.5)
R’ Shalom Noach Berezovsky z”l (the Slonimer Rebbe; died 2000) writes: If a Jew had any inkling of his own worth, he would not sin. In this vein, R’ Avraham Weinberg z”l (1804-1884; the first Slonimer Rebbe) interpreted the verse (Mishlei 3:11), “Hashem’s rebuke, my child, do not denigrate” – Hashem’s rebuke is, “You are My child.” Therefore, do not denigrate yourself. Remember that you are a prince, and a prince is expected to behave in a certain way. Don’t embarrass yourself. One who appreciates his own worth won’t, so-to-speak, sell his birthright for a bowl of lentils.
R’ Berezovsky continues: The legendary chassidic master, Reb Zusia, once heard an itinerant maggid / preacher deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech to a large group. When he finished, no one seemed to have been moved by his words. Then R’ Zusia rose and said, “Dear brothers! Doesn’t Hashem love you and care for you? How is it possible to transgress His will?” Immediately, heart-rending cries filled the synagogue.
Afterward, the maggid asked R’ Zusia, “Didn’t I portray in vivid detail the terrifying punishments of Gehinom? Why did that have no impact on them, while your words, which were not frightening at all, had an immediate effect on them?”
R’ Zusia answered: “Your words had the effect of closing their hearts, scaring them until they could no longer feel. My words had the opposite effect.”
The Gemara (Sotah 3a) says that a person doesn’t sin unless a spirit of insanity comes over him. What this means, says R’ Berezovsky, is that a person cannot sin unless he forgets who he is and how much he is worth. (Netivot Shalom: Kuntreis B’chochmah Yivneh Bayit p.8)
R’ Moshe ben Yosef Trani z”l (1505-1585; rabbi of Tzefat, Eretz Yisrael; known by the acronym “Mabit”) writes: We have investigated the meaning of teshuvah and have concluded that it is, “Coming close to Hashem after being distanced as a result of sin.”
He explains: By “coming close,” we mean that the penitent’s intention should not be to avoid punishment for his transgressions, but rather to come close to his Creator after having been distanced because of transgressing His word. One whose intention is to avoid punishment does not become close to Hashem.
It is necessary to understand, Mabit continues, that one who sins commits two wrongs. First, he causes harm to himself by making himself liable for punishment. Second, he angers Hashem by transgressing His word. (This may be understood by imagining that the son or close friend of a human king sinned against him. The king might not punish that person because of their close relationship, but he nevertheless would be angry that some he loves betrayed him.) Therefore, one who wishes to repent must right two wrongs. So long as the penitent does not seek to repair the relationship, it is not called “teshuvah” [which literally means, “return”] because he has not worked to return the relationship to the state that existed before the sin.
Mabit explains further: Being close to Hashem means feeling that, even if Hashem would not punish one who has sinned, one would not want to transgress His word. If one has this attitude, the punishment to be meted out will be cancelled in any event. (Bet Elokim: Sha’ar Ha’teshuvah ch.1)