These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1044 – Must You Stand For Chazoras HaShatz On Rosh Hashana? Good Shabbos!
In Order To Give Reward To Those Who Brought The Children
The Torah introduces the mitzvah of Hakhel in Parshas Vayelech. Hakhel is a national gathering held once every seven years in which all Jews – men, women, and children — come together to celebrate national unity and purpose: “Gather together the people – the men, and the women, and the small children, and your stranger who is in your cities – so that they will hear and so that they will learn and they shall fear Hashem your G-d and be careful to perform all the words of the Torah.” [Devrarim 31:12].
The Talmud teaches [Chagiga 3a] an intriguing idea about Hakhel: “It was the week when it was the turn of Rav Elazar ben Azariah to give the lesson and the topic being discussed that day was the mitzvah of Hakhel. What did he expound? He expounded as follows: ‘Gather the nation, the men, the women and the children…’ We understand that the men came to learn and the women came to listen, but what purpose was there to bring the children? In order to give reward to those who brought them!”
The Mei HaShiloach and other commentaries as well expound on this idea of “to give reward to those who brought them”. Is it just a question of getting reward for “schlepping” the kids? Perhaps for the same reward, the parents could have been commanded to carry along with them a sack of potatoes? It clearly means something more than that. The Mei HaShiloach interprets “giving reward to those who brought them” to mean that exposing one’s children to the events of Hakhel is going to make an impression on the children and eventually the parents will reap the reward of having children who in their youth were impacted positively by the Hakhel ritual.
Imagine what a sight that was! The closest thing we have to Hakhel today also comes out approximately every 7 years – every seven and a half years to be exact – the Siyum HaShas. When my children were younger, I made a point of taking them. It is an amazing sight. Even if they are only out there in the concourse buying their kosher hot dogs, seeing tens of thousands of Jews together is impressive. It makes a lasting impression.
A person can ask himself afterwards “Was it worth it? I schlepped him, I took him out of school, I took him on the train, it cost me money. Was it worth it?” The Talmud teaches “to bring reward to those who bring them”. Exposing children to such a gathering DOES make an impression. In the long run, it will certainly be worth it! Eventually the parents will realize reward for these efforts.
I know someone who made his own Siyum HaShas (marking the personal completion of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud). I asked him why he made a Siyum HaShas and he told me “My father made a Siyum HaShas when I was a boy and I saw what a big deal it was! I said to myself then, ‘When I get older I want to do that also!'”
A parallel Mechilta in Parshas Bo quotes the same story as the Gemara in Chagiga with Rav Elazar ben Azarya, the mitzvah of Hakhel, and the explanation of why we bring the children — “in order to bring reward to those who bring them.” However, the Mechilta adds at the end, “Rav Yehoshua states ‘Happy is our Patriarch Avraham who can count Rav Elazar ben Azaryah as one of his descendants.'” Why, we might ask, is Rav Yehoshua singling out Avraham Avinu in this statement? Should not Moshe Rabbeinu have nachas from Rav Elazar ben Azarya? What about Yakov Avinu, Dovid HaMelech, or Shlomo HaMelech? What is so special about Avraham Avinu and his connection to Rav Elazar ben Azaryah?
The answer is that the Almighty told us something about Avraham Avinu – why He chose him and why Hashem refers to as ‘Avraham the one I love’ [Yeshaya 41:8]. The Chumash provides the answer. It is no mystery. “For I have cherished him (ki yeda’ativ), because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice…” [Bereishis 18:19]. The Ramban interprets ki yeda’ativ to mean, “For I have chosen him”. I have chosen him, the Almighty testifies, because I know that he will give over the mesorah [tradition] to his children! Therefore, he is the first “patriarch”; he is the first ‘Av’. He knows how to preserve Yiddishkeit – he does it by commanding his children and household.
When Rav Elazar ben Azariah makes the same observation and teaches, “Why did the children come to Hakhel? It is to bring reward to those who bring them!” he is echoing the teaching of the Patriarch Avraham. This is exactly the tradition Avraham instituted in Klal Yisrael. Therefore “Happy are you Avraham Avinu to be able to count Rav Elazar ben Azarya as one of your descendants.”
Write This “Song”
I saw a beautiful observation in the sefer HaKesav VeHakabalah. The Torah teaches the very last of the six hundred and thirteen commandments in Parshas Vayelech: “So now, write this song (haShirah hazos) for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouth, so that this song shall be for Me a witness against the Children of Israel.” [Devarim 31:19]. From here we learn Biblical Mitzvah #613 – Writing a Sefer Torah.
HaKesav VeHakabalah was a master of the Hebrew language (lashon haKodesh). He asks – why was Torah called a ‘song’? If we were asked to draw up a list of ten words which might be used to describe or summarize the contents of Torah, ‘song’ would very likely not be on the list. Yet the Mitzvah to write the Torah is expressed here as “write this song”. Why?
HaKesav VeHakabalah writes the word shir [shin-yud-reish] (song) is related to the word yashar [yud-shin-reish] (straight). He explains “If you want music to be appealing, the musical notes need to follow one another in a perfectly arranged sequence to provide a harmonious melody.” Once music goes “off key,” it greatly bothers the listener. This is the essence of shirah: A flow, a precise sequencing of the components of the song – one note following another in carefully planned arrangement. When the notes are “off,” the song loses the its pleasantness.
If that is the case, it is obvious why the Torah is called shirah. The Torah is – as the prophet calls it “Sefer haYashar” [the Book of the Straight]. The pasuk alludes to this: “…behold it is written in the Sefer haYashar…” [Yehoshua 10:13]. The Torah is a book of yashrus – of being straight.
The Netziv in his introduction to the Book of Bereishis writes that this book, in particular, is “the book of the Yashar” because it is the story of the Patriarchs who were straight and upright (yesharim). The Netziv writes that the nations did not know that Avraham kept the entire Torah (even Eruvei Tavshillin) [per the teaching of Chazal], but they knew he was a “straight shooter”. They knew he was honest and upright.
The word that defines Torah is Yashar – to be straight, to be honest, no tricks, no deception. This is what the Sefer HaYashar represents. Unfortunately, we live in a time when this principle is observed in the breach rather than in actuality. We hear all too many times stories about people who are “less than yashar“. Very less than yashar! We all cringe when we hear these stories, every time one of these scandals rears its ugly head. That is not the way it is supposed to me.
A nephew of mine corrected a story I had heard involving Rav Aharon Solveichik, zichrono l’bracha. Rav Aharon Soloveichik commuted by plane between Chicago and New York. He lived in Chicago, was a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivas Brisk there, and for a time served as a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva University. He travelled regularly between the two cities. One time, his mother-in-law, who lived in New York, wanted to visit her daughter in Chicago, but she did not like to fly. So Rav Aharon Soloveichik accompanied her back from New York to Chicago on the train.
They came to the train station to purchase two tickets and the agent behind the counter said, “you’re in luck – today spouses go for free!” So Rav Aharon Soloveichik looked at the agent and said, this woman is not my spouse, she’s my mother-in-law! The agent responded, “We don’t look at marriage licenses.” Rav Aharon was insistent: “But she is not my wife. Let me see your supervisor!”
The dialog was repeated with the supervisor. Rav Soloveichik protested that they should not be eligible for the free ticket because she was not his wife. The supervisor told him, “Listen here, you look old enough that she looks like she’s your wife! What do you care?” “No. She’s not my wife. I want to pay for her.” This is yashar.
Rav Yakov Kamenetsky was a Rav in Toronto before he came to Torah VoDaath. One Purim, the community in Toronto gave him a silver platter. A couple of days later, a congregant saw Rav Yakov in downtown Toronto at a pawnshop. It looked like he was trying to pawn the silver tray he had received earlier that week as a present from his congregation. The congregant went back to the other members of the shul and said “What kind of a Rabbi do we have here? We give him a present and he pawns it!” The President of the shul called in Rav Yakov and demanded an explanation. Rav Yakov told them that the Magen Avraham rules that the presents a Rav gets from his congregation for Purim and Pessach are to be considered as part of his salary. “If it is part of my salary, I have to report it on my taxes so I have to know how much it costs. I went to the pawn shop to find out the fair market value of the tray so I could accurately declare it.” This is yashrus.
This is the yashrus of which the Semag writes [Positive Command #74] that when the Almighty finally comes and redeems us, the nations of the world will say “He acted correctly (b’Din assa) because they are honest people (sh’hen anshei emes). However, if the Jews will cheat, the nations will wonder “What is this that G-d has done? He chose for Himself thieves and cheaters!”
We daven the entire Rosh Hashana that we want Moshiach. We want G-d to rule over the entire world. There is a very simple formula for bringing Moshiach. We must first make ourselves into such people that the nations of the world will be able to say “Ah! Those Jews are so honest! The Almighty knew what He was doing by redeeming them!” — When that happens, Moshaich will come, may it be speedily in our time.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech is provided below:
- CD# 022 – Reading Haftorah: Scrolls vs. Book
- CD# 112 – Shoteh: Mental Incompetence in Halacha
- CD# 158 – Schar Shabbos: How Do We Pay Rabbonim and Chazzanim?
- CD# 205 – Kiddush Before T’kiyas Shofar
- CD# 252 – Buying Seforim
- CD# 295 – Burying the Dead on Yom Tov Sheni
- CD# 341 – The Brachos on the T’kios
- CD# 342 – Is Building a Succah a Mitzvah?
- CD# 385 – Fasting on Rosh Hashana
- CD# 386 – Succah Gezulah
- CD# 429 – Treatment of an Invalid Sefer Torah
- CD# 473 – Seudas Siyum Mesechta
- CD# 517 – What Exactly Is Mitzva of Shofar
- CD# 561 – Lo Bashomayin He
- CD# 605 – Selling A Sefer Torah
- CD# 649 – Minhagim of the Yomim Noraim
- CD# 693 – My Father’s Chumros
- CD# 737 – Borrowing and Lending Seforim
- CD# 781 – I’m the Baal Tokeah and Not You!
- CD# 825 – The Shuls of Gaza – A Halachic Perspective
- CD# 826 – Yom Kippur: Women and the Shehecheyanu; Women and Kor’im
- CD# 869 – The Mitzvah of Chinuch-Whose Responsibility? Mother or Father?
- CD# 870 – Yom Kippur – The Yom Kippur That They Did Not Fast
- CD# 913 – The Tefilah of Oleinu
- CD# 957 – Coming Late for Tekias Shofar and Other Rosh Hashana Issues
- CD# 1000 – Ta’amei Hamikra – The Tropp – How Important Is It?
- CD# 1044 – Must You Stand for Chazoras HaShatz on Rosh Hashana?
- CD# 1088 – Learning During T’kias Shofer?
- CD# 1131 – Asking For Personal Needs On Rosh Hashana?
- CD# 1173 – Oops! I Forgot Ya’Aleh Ve’Yavo in Bentching on Rosh Hashana
- CD# 1217 – Fascinating Halachos Pertaining to a Choleh on Yom Kippur
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.