Volume 33, No.33
27 Iyar 5779
June 1, 2019
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, then, 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 that 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 and perform them.” (26:3)
Rashi z”l writes: One might think that following Hashem’s decrees means fulfilling the commandments; however, when the Torah says, “Observe My commandments and perform them,” that clearly refers to fulfilling the commandments. How then must we understand “If you will follow My decrees”? As an admonition to toil in Torah study! [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Shlomo Wolbe z”l (1914-2005) asks: Where in these words is there even a hint to “toiling in Torah study”? He answers, based on the writings of R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609), that “going” in the ways of Hashem’s laws implies constantly growing, constantly deepening one’s understanding, and constantly seeing new aspects of the Mitzvot that one did not see before. That is what toiling in Torah study is all about!
R’ Wolbe continues: If the verse is referring to constantly deepening one’s understanding of the Torah, why does it specifically mention Chukim / the category of Mitzvot whose reasons we don’t understand? Seemingly, there is only so much that one can learn about such Mitzvot!
He answers: While we can never have a full understanding of a Chok (singular of Chukim), we can understand them somewhat. And, specifically regarding the Chukim, we are taught to always seek a deeper understanding, never to give up. That is real Torah study! (Shiurei Chumash)
“I will remember for them the covenant of the first ones, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be Elokim to them — I am Hashem.” (26:45)
R’ Eliezer David Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungarian rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva) asks: Why is it significant that the Exodus occurred “before the eyes of the nations”?
He explains: We read in Tehilim (79:5-6), “How long, Hashem, will You be angry forever, will Your indignation blaze like fire? Pour out Your fury on the nations that do not know You, upon the kingdoms that do not invoke Your Name.” King David is saying here: Even when the Jewish People sin, they are more deserving than the surrounding gentiles who do not even know You, Hashem. Therefore, if You are going to take out Your anger on the Jewish People, You certainly should take out Your anger on the nations.
Our verse makes this same point: Hashem took us out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations in order to be Elokim to them–the nations. However, only one gentile, Yitro, took the Divine revelation to heart and converted. All the nations did not do the same! Therefore, remember Your covenant with us. (Keren L’Dovid)
Siddur Avodat Yisrael cites a custom to recite Psalm 105 on the Shabbat on which Parashat Bechukotai is read. Accordingly, we present here verses from, and commentaries on, that Psalm.
“He gave them the lands of nations; they inherited the toil of peoples, so that they might keep His laws and observe His teachings. Hallelukah.” (Verses 44-45)
R’ Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter z”l (1847-1905; second Gerrer Rebbe) writes: The Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael in preparation for settling Eretz Yisrael, as a tool to purify the Land of the Tum’ah / impurity of the nations that lived there before. The job of a Jew is to spread Kedushah, to reveal G-d’s honor in every place; when he does so, he automatically “inherits” that location. It follows, that when the Jewish People cease to perform this mission, they lose the Land.
He continues: Our Sages say that Eretz Yisrael was destroyed because the Jewish People did not recite Birchot Ha’Torah / the blessings over Torah study. While this surely is meant literally, it also can mean that by not spreading the blessing of the Torah throughout the Land, they caused its destruction. (Sefat Emet)
Ben Bag Bag says: Turn it (the words of Torah) over again and again, for everything is in it. . . . Ben Heh Heh says: According to the pain is the reward. (Chapter 5)
R’ Shlomo Kluger z”l (1785-1869; rabbi of Brody, Galicia) writes that these two sages were converts, and each is offering his reason for converting. Ben Heh Heh says that one who is commanded to perform the Mitzvot and does so is greater than one who performs them even though he is not commanded, because the Yezter Ha’ra fights the former but does not fight the latter. Thus Ben Heh Heh converted so that his “pain” from observing Mitzvot would be greater.
Ben Bag Bag disagrees and holds that one who is not commanded is greater than one who is, because the former is a volunteer. Why then did Ben Bag Bag convert? Because of the greatness of true Torah study, which is the unique province of Jews.
Alternatively, says R’ Kluger, the two sages are arguing whether one should study Torah exclusively or whether one should work for his livelihood. Ben Bag Bag praises Torah study. Ben Heh Heh, however, states that one who studies Torah while coping with the pain of seeking a livelihood is greater, so long, of course, as the person is pained by having to interrupt his Torah study in order to work. (Magen Avot)
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 Yeshayah 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)