Volume 37, No. 18
27 Shevat 5783
February 18, 2023
Martin and Michelle Swartz on the yahrzeit of his father Paul S. Swartz (Pesach Shmuel ben Mordechai a”h – 28 Shevat) | Robert and Hannah Klein on the yahrzeit of his father Milton Klein (Meir ben Kalman a”h) | Mr. and Mrs. Jules Meisler in memory of his mother, Anne Meisler (Chana bat Lazer Hakohen a”h) and | sister, Gladys Citrino (Golda Rivka bat Yitzchak a”h) | Mrs. Elaine Taragin on the yahrzeits of her father, Irving Rivkin (Yitzchak ben Yehudah Leib a”h – 25 Shevat), mother, Frances Rivkin (Feiga bas Yeshaya a”h – 29 Shevat) and mother-in-law, Shirley Taragin (Sarah Esther bat Harav Moshe Zelig a”h – 29 Shevat)
This week, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar, we will read Parashat Shekalim in addition to the weekly Parashah, commemorating the bringing of the annual half-Shekel tax that funded the public Korbanot in the Bet Hamikdash. Since the Temple’s fiscal year began on the first of Nissan, the collection of the half-Shekel would begin a month earlier.
Parashat Shekalim begins (Shmot 30:12-13), “When you take a census of (literally, ‘When you uplift’) Bnei Yisrael . . . This shall they give–everyone who passes through the census– a half Shekel of the sacred Shekel.” In connection with this verse, the Midrash Tanchuma relates that Moshe said to Hashem, “When I die, I will be forgotten.” Hashem replied, “Just as you are here now teaching Parashat Shekalim and uplifting Bnei Yisrael, so every year, when they read Parashat Shekalim, it will be as if you are standing before Me and uplifting them.” [Until here from the Midrash]
What was Moshe’s concern, and what was Hashem’s answer? R’ Shlomo Yehuda Tabak z”l (1832-1907; Av Bet Din of Sighet, Hungary, and a prominent Halachic authority) explains:
Earlier works say that once the Jewish People have angered Hashem completely, a Tzaddik cannot save them from harm unless he is in danger as well. This is why, at the time of the Golden Calf, Hashem told Moshe (32:7), “Go, descend, for your People that you brought up from Egypt has become corrupt.” Moshe had to be among the Jewish People in order to pray for them. Thus, he was concerned that he would lose the ability to pray for the Jewish People–he would be “forgotten”–when he died. No, said Hashem, because the Mitzvah of giving a half-Shekel will “uplift” them, so they will be on a higher level and you can pray for them from afar, i.e., even after your death. (Likkutei Erech Shai)
“And these are the civil laws that you shall place before them.” (21:1)
R’ Yehoshua Heschel (Harry) Kaufman shlita (rabbi in Washington, D.C., and Montreal) asks: Why doesn’t our Parashah open with, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, to say,” as do most legal sections of the Torah?
He answers: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) records a three-way dispute whether a Bet Din / rabbinical court should set aside the letter of the law and make a Pesharah / mutually agreeable settlement between the parties. One Sage says that Pesharah is prohibited, a second says that it is permitted, and a third says that it is a Mitzvah. The Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with the third opinion, i.e., that Pesharah is a Mitzvah. In this vein, R’ Yaakov ben Asher z”l (the “Ba’al Ha’turim”; Germany and Spain; 1269-1343) notes that the Hebrew word “Ha’mishpatim” / “the civil laws” is an acronym of a Hebrew sentence that means: “A judge is obligated to make a Pesharah before he judges in accordance with the letter of the law.”
Therefore, concludes Rabbi Kaufman, the Torah did not open our Parashah, which presents the laws of monetary dealings between individuals, with, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, to say.” Had the Torah done so, one might have thought, incorrectly, that these laws are absolute commands, leaving no room for judges to reach compromises or promote settlements. (Ohr Yehoshua)
“If an ox shall gore a man or woman and he shall die, the ox shall surely be stoned; its flesh may not be eaten . . .” (21:28)
Rashi explains: Of course the ox may not be eaten after it was stoned, as it was not Schechted / slaughtered properly! The verse is teaching that even if one did slaughter the animal according to Halachah after the sentence of stoning had been pronounced, but before it was carried out, the meat may not be eaten. [Until here paraphrased from Rashi.]
R’ Mordechai Hager z”l (1922-2018; Vizhnitz-Monsey Rebbe) explains: One could ask, “Why should an ox be stoned for goring a person? Oxen do not have free will!” In fact, even when one human harms another person or his property, one could argue that the aggressor should not be liable, because he could not have done harm if it had not been G-d’s will. Nevertheless, one who does harm does deserve to be punished, because he chose with his free will to do harm or, at least, to be careless. Also, there is a principle: “Megalgelin chovah al yedei chayav”–if Hashem chooses someone to be His agent to carry out a decree against someone else, it is a sign that the agent is himself lacking in some way, so he must repent. But, this reasoning does not apply to oxen, which have no free will!
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe continues: R’ Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz z”l (the Shelah Hakadosh; Prague and Yerushalayim; died 1630) writes that the ox is forbidden because any object that was a source of harm should be despised and we should be prohibited to benefit from it. Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbat 149b) teaches that if Person A was punished because of Person B, Person B is not admitted to Hashem’s “inner sanctum.” (This is a reason to promptly forgive those who wrong us.) The lesson for us, concludes the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, is that one should take extreme care never to be the source of harm to another. (Torat Mordechai)
“I shall not drive them away from you in a single year, lest the Land become desolate and the wildlife of the field multiply against you. Little by little shall I drive them away from you, until you become fruitful and make the Land your heritage.” (23:29-30)
Midrash Tanchuma mentions our verse when it describes the reward Hashem promised Avraham Avinu for hosting the three angels. Specifically, commenting on Avraham’s words (Bereishit 18:4), “Let a little water be taken,” the Midrash relates that Hashem said to Avraham: “Because you said, ‘Let [there] be taken,’ I will give your descendants the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach, about which it says (Shmot 12:3), ‘They shall take for themselves — each man — a lamb or kid . . .’ Because you said, ‘A little,’ I will drive out your descendants’ enemies little-by-little [so that Bnei Yisrael can settle the Land as they conquer it and wild animals will not take it over, as promised in our verse]. Because you said, ‘Water,’ I will give your descendants water in the desert.” [Until here from the Midrash]
Why is Avraham rewarded for saying that he will bring “a little” water? R’ Uri Weisblum shlita (Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshivat Nachalat Ha’levi’im in Haifa, Israel) explains:
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) derives from Avraham’s interactions with the angels that “The righteous say little and do a lot.” Avraham offered the angels bread, but he brought them an entire meal. In contrast, “The wicked say a lot and do not do even a little”–like Efron, who first offered to give away the Me’arat Ha’machpelah for free, and then demanded an exorbitant price for it. R’ Weisblum writes: The above Midrash is teaching us that “Tzadikim say little” does not mean only that they say few words; it also means that they downplay their own words. He explains: If Avraham had said, “Let water be taken” (without “a little”), it would have meant “unlimited water.” And, certainly, Avraham would have given his guests as much water as they wanted. However, by saying “a little” water, Avraham was modestly downplaying his kindness. For that proper use of speech, he certainly deserved a reward! (He’arat Ha’derech p.319)
We saw in a prior issue that there is a Mitzvah of “Oneg Shabbat” / making the Shabbat a “delight,” and that that Mitzvah is fulfilled specifically through physical pleasures, such as eating and drinking. Why is this so?
The Midrash Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (ch.26) states: If one makes the Shabbat an “Oneg,” it is as if he honors G-d, as it is written (Yeshayah 58:13), “If you proclaim the Shabbat ‘Oneg,’ the Holy One, Hashem, ‘Honored One’ . . .” This teaches that “If you proclaim the Shabbat ‘Oneg’,” then you are proclaiming “the Holy One, Hashem, ‘Honored One’.” [Until here from the Midrash]
R’ Eliyahu E. Dessler shlita (Mashgiach Ruchani of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; not to be confused with his cousin and namesake, the Michtav M’Eliyahu) asks: By sitting and eating, we honor Hashem?!
He explains: Though they seem to be two separate Mitzvot, the Mitzvah of Oneg Shabbat and the Mitzvah of Kavod / honor of Shabbat serve the same purpose–to highlight that Shabbat is different from all other days. In particular, having special Shabbat delicacies is meant to raise the stature of Shabbat in our eyes. (Sha’arei Ha’zemanim: Shabbat Kodesh ch.3)