These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion: Tape #139, Confidentiality: The Prohibition Against Revealing Secrets. Good Shabbos!
Moshe Waited for the Call
A verse in this week’s parsha says, “And G-d called to Moshe and He spoke to him…” [Vayikra 1:1]. The Medrash comments that we learn from here that “any Torah scholar who does not have intelligence (da’as), an animal’s carcass (neveilah) is superior to him.”
The Medrash elaborates: “Look at Moshe, the greatest of all Sages, the father of all the prophets and yet he did not enter the innermost Tent of Meeting until he was called, as it is written ‘And He called out to him.'”
Rav Bergman, in his sefer Shaarei Orah explains this Medrash. Rav Bergman proves that the word intelligence (de’ah) as used by the Medrash refers to Derech Eretz (manners, courtesy). The Sages are saying that a Torah scholar who does not display courtesy is inferior to a dead animal.
The Medrash describes Moses as the greatest of all Sages. IQ and brainpower do not make a person the greatest of all Sages, but rather the desire to learn. A person excels in any endeavor as a result of an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Consequently, Moshe must have had an overpowering desire to acquire wisdom.
And yet, when G-d was there in the Tent of Meeting and Moshe had the opportunity to learn Torah from Him, and he was yearning to begin learning, he nevertheless waited for The Call. He dared not enter until summoned, because it would not have been proper Derech Eretz, proper conduct, to do so.
The laws of Derech Eretz require us to wait until we are called. As great a Sage as Moshe was, he was a greater master of Derech Eretz. This is what the Medrash means — a scholar that does not have Derech Eretz is inferior to a carcass.
The Gerer Rebbe explained this very sharply. A dead carcass stinks, and everyone knows to stay away. But people do not necessarily stay away from a Talmid Chochom who does not possess manners – they even come and learn from him – because he doesn’t stink on the outside!
We Must Be Doing Something Wrong
Someone recently showed me a report called “The Current State Regarding Derech Eretz in our Schools.” This was a report written about a specific Jewish community, but it is no Mitzvah to say which community it was. But it is a fine community — a prominent city with a distinguished Jewish community, and many good Jewish schools. And the truth of the matter is that it applies to all communities. We are in a sad state…
“Teachers are quitting in large numbers; parents seem unconcerned that teachers are victims of abominable disrespect by our children. There is a pervasive atmosphere of Moshav Leitzim (see glossary) in many of our schools. This is manifest in the classroom in the concerted effort to waste time, often combined with tremendous chutzpah and a derogatory attitude…
“Many teachers have told their classes that they have never seen such disrespectful behavior in twenty years teaching experience, and that our children are disgracing the community. The current favorite pastime of students is constant and vicious mimicking of teachers and principals…
“Teachers will confirm that there is a serious lack of respect among the children themselves. A student who lives by Torah law and refuses to participate in class pranks is called the worst of all terms — a ‘Neb’ [short for ‘Nebach’, an unfortunate] — and is often ostracized…”
Now we would be remiss if we did not remind ourselves that this is hardly unique to the Jewish community. We can count our blessings for all that has happened in the larger community, which is rare or unknown within the halls of a Jewish day school. But neither have we demonstrated ourselves immune to the general decline of the last several decades. Come and see — Moshe was the greatest of all Sages, but he didn’t breach the laws of etiquette, no matter how much he wanted to learn.
The Mystical Magic of “The Ox Gores the Cow”
The Medrash Rabbah, Chapter 3 interprets a verse from the prophet Malachi “The Torah of Truth was in his mouth and many he returned from sin” [2:6]. The Medrash relates this to how Aharon the High Priest brought people near to Torah. We think that outreach to fellow Jews is a new phenomenon. This Medrash tells us that Aharon also worked in Jewish Outreach. But how did he do it? “He did not make forbidden that which was permitted and did not make permitted that which was forbidden.”
Aharon did not compromise. He told things as they were. His secret was that he was consistent and straightforward. People like consistency. They are not necessarily interested in permissiveness (heterim); they are not necessarily interested in stringencies (chumras); they are interested in the straight truth (meisharim).
The Medrash explains that the way Aharon attracted people was to attract them to learning Torah. He learned with them! We, on the other hand, don’t appreciate the value of Torah itself.
I will tell you over a story that I heard from a prominent individual who works in Jewish Outreach.
When he was he was newly married, and studying at a Rabbinic seminary in Israel, he couldn’t afford an apartment in the desirable sections of Jerusalem. Therefore he bought one in what was then an outlying section, in a building where he was the only observant, religious Jews. All of the other residents were Israelis who were not religious. He went over to them and started building relationships. He invited every one of them to come once a week to his apartment to learn. After trying, he finally got several to come to learn, but he had not picked a topic.
What would he learn with non-religious Israelis? In a certain sense non-religious Israelis are even more removed from Judaism, and have more negative attitudes towards Jewish learning, than unaffiliated Jews in America. So he deliberated his options: something philosophical, like Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, or a work which discusses the Jewish faith in comparison to others, like the Kuzari… he didn’t know what he was going to learn.
He went to morning prayers and there, as Hashgocha (Divine Providence) would have it, he met the famous Uri Zohar. Uri Zohar was Israel’s foremost entertainer: comedian, television game-show and radio talk-show host, social satirist, movie star, and film producer, and an icon of modern Israeli secular society. Then, in the midst of his career, he turned towards religion, eventually becoming fully observant. [For more information, read Waking Up Jewish by Uri Zohar, which is available through Genesis Judaica or firstname.lastname@example.org.]
He asked Uri Zohar what he should learn with these neighbors. Uri asked him, “What are you learning in Yeshiva?” The Rabbi responded that he was learning Bava Kamma. Uri Zohar told him “Learn with them tractate Bava Kamma”.
The Rabbi looked at him incredulously and said “Bava Kamma? The ox that gores a cow; The Pit; The Ox; Fire that damages?… This will turn people on to Judaism?”
To which Uri Zohar responded “My dear friend, you don’t believe in Torah! If you can question and doubt that learning with them tractate Bava Kamma is going to bring them back — then you don’t fully believe and appreciate the power of Torah.”
Learn pure, unadulterated, “the Four Major Types of Damages” (Arba avos nezikin). You do not need to learn philosophical works such as Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim. Learn about the Ox that gores the cow. It does something to the soul. It is mystical. It is magical. It is the nourishment that the soul thirsts for, and a teacher needs nothing more.
To this day, what does the Rabbi learn with beginning adult students? Tractate Bava Kamma.
That is what this Medrash says about Aharon. He returned sinners to Torah study. The power of Torah will prevail.
Moshav Leitzim — Sitting place of scoffers [Tehillim 1:1]
chutzpah — nerve
frum — religious (Yiddish)
Limudei Kodesh — Religious (literally holy) studies
kavod — honor
Torah she’b-al peh — Oral Law; Talmud
Kiruv Rechokim — bringing near those who are far [spiritually]
davening — (public) prayers
Hashgocha — Divine Providence
Ba’al Teshuva — one who returned to the full practice of Judaism
Personalities & Sources:
Rav Bergman — Contemporary Israeli Rosh Yeshiva; Bnei Brak, Israel.
Kuzari — R. Yehuda HaLevi (1080-1145); poet, philosopher; Spain.
Rambam; Moreh Nevuchim — Guide to the Perplexed, philosophical work by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1194-1270); Spain; Egypt.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, Maryland.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion (#1139). The corresponding halachic portion for this tape is: Confidentiality: The Prohibition Against Revealing Secrets. The other halachic portions for Vayakhel from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
- Tape # 003 – The Korban Pessach Today
- Tape # 048 – Is Shaving Permitted on Chol Ha’Moed?
- Tape # 091 – Americans in Israel: Two Day Yom Tov or One?
- Tape # 186 – Shalach Monos and Other Purim Issues
- Tape # 232 – Marror: A Bitter Problem?
- Tape # 276 – Is Theft permitted to save a life?
- Tape # 322 – A Unique Erev Pessach & Its Broader Implications
- Tape # 366 – Chometz She’avar Olov HaPesach
- Tape # 410 – The Obligation to Testify
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store or from Project Genesis, 1-410-654-1799.