Volume 36, No. 29
29 Nissan 5782
April 30, 2022
Dedicated in gratitude to Hashem
on Hamaayan’s 35th birthday
and in memory of
Moreinu Ha’Rav Gedaliah ben Zev Ha’Kohen Anemer z”l
Near the end of Parashat Acharei Mot, in the middle of listing various abominable practices that are forbidden to us, the Torah states (18:4), “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live — I am Hashem.” The Midrash Torat Kohanim interprets this verse as an exhortation regarding Torah study. “Make it primary, not secondary,” says the Midrash. “Occupy yourself with it and do not mix foreign things into it. Do not say, ‘I have finished learning the wisdom of the Jews; now I will learn the wisdom of other nations.’ There is no end to one’s obligation to study Torah.” [Until here from the Midrash]
R’ Avraham Yoffen z”l (1887-1970; Rosh Hayeshiva of the Novardok Yeshiva in Bialystok, Poland; New York and Israel) writes: Certainly, this Midrash is teaching an important lesson regarding Torah study, but what does it have to do with our Parashah?
He explains: The Midrash is teaching that Torah is not just something to be studied; it is something to be lived, a way of life. The Midrash is not disparaging other areas of study. They, too, contain wisdom, but it is not wisdom that touches a person’s soul. Nor is the Midrash prohibiting a person from studying the wonders of nature, so long as that study is secondary to one’s Torah study. When one makes Torah study primary and views the Torah as a guide for life itself, he will never be at risk of committing the abominations described in our parashah. (Ha’mussar Ve’ha’da’at)
“Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died.” (16:1)
The Gemara (Eruvin 63a) teaches that Nadav and Avihu died because they issued a Halachic ruling in the presence of their teacher, Moshe. [Until here from the Gemara]
R’ Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira z”l (1914-2007; Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel) asks: How is it possible that these individuals, whom the Torah describes as holy, acted disrespectfully toward Moshe Rabbeinu?
R’ Shapira answers: The Gemara does not mean that they blatantly issued a Halachic ruling in disrespect of Moshe. Rather, in their enthusiasm to come close to Hashem, they mixed into something that was not their business (i.e., bringing Ketoret / incense into the Holy of Holies). We find, notes R’ Shapira, that well-intentioned people seeking genuine “religious experiences” sometimes engage in behavior that violates societal norms. Such behavior is equivalent to a person issuing a Halachic ruling in disregard of the community’s teachers. (Imrei Shefer p.145)
The Gemara (Shabbat 14a) teaches: If one holds a Sefer Torah “naked” (i.e., with his bare hands, not through a cloth), he will be buried “naked” — bereft of reward for whatever Mitzvah he was performing at the time (e.g., learning Torah or Gelilah / rolling the Torah). To discourage people from touching Sifrei Torah bare-handed, the Sages decreed that hands that touch a Sefer Torah are Tamei / ritually impure and impart Tum’ah to sanctified food that they subsequently touch. [Until here from the Gemara]
R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) writes: One might ask, “It is laughable [Maharal’s word] that something that has no Tum’ah (a Torah scroll) can impart Tum’ah!” However, we find a precedent for this in the case of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon. The Midrash Rabbah states that they entered a holy place without the proper garments, they died, and they were Tamei. We see that whenever a person approaches something that he should not approach, he creates Tum’ah in himself. The Tum’ah does not come from the Sefer Torah or from the holy place. (Chiddushei Aggadot)
What is wrong with touching a Sefer Torah bare-handed? Maharal explains:
A person’s physical body is merely a “garment” that conceals his true self — the spiritual soul. Likewise, the Torah as we know it — a book of Mitzvot that we perform with our physical bodies in a physical world — is merely a “garment” concealing deep and lofty inner meaning. The only way we can “grab hold” of the Torah is through a “garment,” i.e., through the physical manifestation of Mitzvot performed with our physical bodies in a physical world. We can never “touch” the essence of the Torah and, paralleling this, we may not touch a Sefer Torah bare-handed. (Tiferet Yisrael ch.13)
“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! Thus the verse concludes, ‘I am 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)
“I will shoot three arrows in that direction as if I were shooting at a target. Behold! I will then send the lad, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I call out to the lad, ‘Behold! The arrows are on this side of you!’ then you should take them and return, for it is well with you and there is no concern, as Hashem lives. But if I say this to the boy, ‘Behold! The arrows are beyond you!’ then go, for Hashem will have sent you away.” (Shmuel I 20:20-22–from the Haftarah for Erev Rosh Chodesh)
Why this complicated scheme for notifying David whether Shaul still wanted to kill him? Since Yehonatan’s sole intention was to save David’s life, Yehonatan seemingly would have been permitted to notify David directly, even if it involved saying Lashon Ha’ra about Shaul!
R’ Moshe Sternbuch shlita (Rosh Av Bet Din of the Eidah Ha’charedit of Yerushalayim) writes in the name of R’ Zvi Hirsch Farber z”l (1879-1966; rabbi in London, England): We learn from here that even when speaking Lashon Ha’ra is permitted, or even required–for example, in certain circumstances, to advise another person regarding a potential business or marriage partner–one should minimize the Lashon Ha’ra spoken. If at all possible, one should merely hint, as Yehonatan did. (Ta’am Va’da’at: Kedoshim 19:16)
R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein shlita (rabbi in Bnei Brak, Israel) notes that one cannot argue that Yehonatan devised this scheme because he was afraid to be seen speaking to David, since Yehonatan did, in the end, send his servant away and meet with David face-to-face (see verses 40-41). (Chashukei Chemed: Sanhedrin 11a)
This year–a Shemittah year–we will iy”H devote this space to discussing the related subject of Bitachon / placing one’s trust in Hashem.
Before Pesach, we discussed the ten benefits of Bitachon identified by Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pekudah z”l (Saragossa, Spain; early 11th century). Following that discussion, R’ Bachya defines what it means to “trust” another (whether that other is Hashem or a human being).
Trust is the tranquility of the soul of the one who trusts. In his heart, he relies on the one in whom he trusts, sure that the latter will do what is right for him regarding the thing about which he is trusting. The one who trusts is confident that the other will use all of his ability and knowledge for the benefit of the one who trusts. But what lies at the root of his trust and gives rise to it, and without which there can be no trust, is the truster’s confidence that the one he trusts will keep his word and do what he promised; more than that, that he has in mind to benefit the one who is trusting even regarding things he did not commit himself or undertake to do, out of pure generosity and kindness. (Chovot Ha’levavot: Sha’ar Ha’bitachon, ch.1)
R’ Baruch Aryeh Halevi Fischer shlita (rabbi and educator in Brooklyn, N.Y.) asks: Why does R’ Bachya write that “Trust is the tranquility of the soul”? Seemingly, tranquility of the soul is the result of trust, but it is not trust itself!
R’ Fisher answers: Trusting in something does not guarantee security. For example, a person may purchase insurance, but a data entry error by a clerk may cause him to remain uninsured or under-insured. In contrast, one who trusts in Hashem has real security, for Hashem does not make mistakes. A person who trusts in man feels tranquility, but it is an illusion. In contrast, a person who understands the difference between trusting in Hashem and trusting in man has true tranquility. (Lev Ha’Ari p.58)