These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1079 – Does a Grandfather Have to Pay for His Grandson’s Tuition? Good Shabbos
A Medrashic Machlokes in Bechukosai that Tracks with a Halachic Machlokes in Pesachim
Parshas Bechukosai begins with the blessings the Ribono shel Olam promises if we will keep the Torah. It is very encouraging. Unfortunately, the Torah also shares the “flip side” of this situation: “And if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments…” [Vayikra 26:14].
One of the beautiful blessings that the Ribono shel Olam promises Klal Yisrael is, “And I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and a sword will not cross your land.” [Vayikra 26:6] We must realize – as we see from Tanach – that (at least at one time in history) there were lions that were indigenous to Eretz Yisroel. This is the whole story of “the lion converts” [Melachim II 17:25-41]. In Biblical times, people worried about wild animals roaming the countryside and thus “I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land” was a significant blessing.
I would like to share an observation that is somewhat atypical of the type of insights we usually say on Chumash, but I think it is brilliant nevertheless:
There is a dispute in the Yalkut Shimoni regarding the promise that Hashem will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land. Rabbi Yehuda says it means that these wild beasts will be withdrawn from the world entirely. Wild animals will cease to exist: No lions, no leopards, and no cougars – all these animals of prey will become extinct! Rabbi Shimon interprets this blessing to mean that the animals will still exist but they will become pacified so that they do not attack. The lions, leopards, cougars, etc. will become tame and domesticated, but they will still be around. According to Rabbi Shimon, this promise of “withdrawing the wild animals” is akin to the promise of Yeshaya [11:6] that the wolf will live in peace with the sheep in Messianic times. The wolf will still be around, but its nature will change.
The great Rogotchover Gaon writes a beautiful piece of lomdus [subtle halachic analysis], in his Tzafnas Pa’neach. He comments that this Medrashic dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon in Yalkut Shimoni corresponds to another dispute between them in the Talmud. In the Mishna in Pesachim [Chapter 2 Mishna 1], Rabbi Yehuda holds that the mitzvah of destroying Chometz can only be fulfilled by burning the Chometz. The Sages in that Mishna (who the Rogotchover assumes is Rav Shimon) hold that Chometz can be destroyed in any fashion. It does not need to be burned. It may simply be crushed up and thrown into the wind or tossed into the sea.
The Rogotchover explains that we learn the obligation that one needs to get rid of his Chometz from the pasuk “Tashbeesu se’or m’bateichem” [eliminate leaven from your homes] [Shemos 12:15]. The verb Tashbeesu that we find by Chometz is the same root word that we find here in Becuhosai: v’heeshbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz” [I will destroy wild animals from the land]. The Rogotchover says that Rav Yehudah and Rav Shimon have a far-reaching dispute regarding how to translate the word shveesa. Rav Yehuda holds that when the Torah uses the word shveesa, it means to actually eradicate something, to make it non-existant. Therefore, here in Bechukosai when we are taught v’heeshbati chaya ra’ah, it means they will not be around at all, just like tashbeesu se’or means the Chometz will cease to exist (by being incinerated). Rav Shimon disagrees. A person only needs to remove the essence of the Chometz. Simply make it inedible. It can still be here, it just needs to be crumpled up, thrown in the ocean, doused with Clorox, etc. It still exists but it loses its nature and essence. That is the definition of tashbeesu. Therefore, when it says over here v’heeshbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz, it also means that the animals might still be around, they will just lose their essence – their evil nature that makes them animals of prey.
Blessings, Past and Future: Removal of Yoke vs Breaking of Yoke
The (conditional) blessings at the beginning of the parsha conclude with the pasuk, “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, I broke the staves of your yoke (motos ulchem) and I led you erect.” [Vayikra 26:13]. Frankly, I am not exactly sure what the term (per ArtScroll translation) “stave of your yoke” means. I assume that there is some kind of piece that is inserted into the yoke of an animal that holds the yoke in place, a type of hinge. Whatever it is, Hashem promises to break these “motos ulchem” which metaphorically caused us to be imprisoned in Egypt as slaves, thereby enabling our freedom and Hashem’s ability to lead us from there proudly and standing upright into Eretz Yisrael. This pasuk is a source for something that we say almost every day. Namely, one of the “Ha’Rachamans” in bentching [Grace after Meals]: HaRachaman Hu yishbor uleinu mei’al tzavareinu; v’hu yoleecheinu komemiyus l’artzeinu. [May the Merciful One break our yoke from our necks and bring us standing tall to our land.]
This “HaRachaman” is very similar to the pasuk here in Bechukosai, but with one very big difference. In bentching we say that He will break the yokes from our necks – He will throw them away! Why, when the Torah talks about this, does it merely talk about breaking the staves or pegs or hinges of the yokes, rather than the yokes themselves? What is the difference?
I heard a very nice parable in the name of a Rav Shlomo Zalman Ulman, z”l: When a farmer – at the very end of his harvest, or at least when he is going to stop harvesting for a while – completes his job, he does not break the yoke that was upon the animal. He knows that he is going to need to use this animal again in a couple months for additional work. He knows he will need the yoke again for plowing, harvesting, or other work so he certainly does not want to break it. Therefore, the farmer removes the yoke from the oxen by taking off the staves or hinges that keep the yoke in place, but he does not get rid of the yoke itself.
However, when a farmer who has been working the land for sixty years decides, “It is time to hang it up!” he concludes, “That is it! No more farming for me.” — What does he do? He takes off the yoke from his animal and tosses it away. He breaks it! “I am never going to use this again. I am finished with farming!” The yoke is too old to resell, so he breaks it!
When the Ribono shel Olam originally made this promise, He was aware that “Now I am going to temporarily remove this yoke from you, but unfortunately, in Jewish history, there are going to be other periods of Galus in which you are going to have the yoke placed upon you again.” Therefore, the Ribono shel Olam merely says, “I will break the staves of your yoke. I will not discard the yoke, because unfortunately, the yoke is going to be used again sometime in the future.”
However, in the HaRachamans in bentching, we pray to the Almighty that the All Merciful One shall in the future permanently break the yoke from upon our necks. We pray that, once and for all, He should smash the yokes of the enslavement of our exiles that we have suffered repeatedly in our history, and that He should lead us finally, once and for all, upright to our Land.”
A Time and Place Where the Tochacha and Olam HaBah had Real Market Value
The pasuk we just discussed [Vayikra 26:13] is the end of “the good news.” Then begins the terrible Tochacha [Curse of (conditional) misfortune]: “But if you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments….” Then the Almighty says, “I will break the pride of your might…” [Vayikra 26:19] and the terrible things that we have witnessed unfortunately throughout Jewish history will come to pass.
The prevalent custom regarding the Tochacha is that the Baal Koreh or the Gabbai take the Aliya, and whichever one takes it makes the preceding and subsequent Brachos without being formally “called up” to the Torah. In Europe, the minhag was — as Rav Dovid Povarsky, zt”l, cites — that the Gabbai would seek out an impoverished individual who was in dire need of funds and pay him to accept the Aliyah. Nobody wanted the Aliyah so they actually had to financially pressure people to take it. He cites that the going rate was three rubles to take the Aliyah. In those days, three rubles was a lot of money.[As a humorous aside, there is a famous Yiddishe joke that one time in shul they were up to the point where they needed to read the Tochacha and they had hired a poor person to come but the fellow had not shown up. The Baal Koreh was waiting and waiting. Finally, the person arrives and they ask to him, “Where were you?” He responds, “Do you think this is the only Tochacha that I get an Aliyah for? A person cannot make a decent living from a single Tochacha!”]
Rav Dovid Povarsky points out in his sefer that we see how in Europe, this really meant something to people. They were afraid to get the Aliyah. The content of these pesukim was real to them. They took it personally. The only way they could find someone to take the Aliyah was to hire someone who was desperate.
Even though this perhaps does not speak well of society – because they are taking advantage of a poor person – in positive terms, it does demonstrate how real the prophecies of the Torah were to them. Nowadays, unfortunately, we are too casual about the Tochacha. A person takes the Aliyah and thinks nothing of it. Ten minutes later, he goes down to the Kiddush, makes a Lechayim and does not give it a second thought.
Rav Dovid Povarsky writes further that the great Rav Yisrael Salanter, who was so meticulous about other people’s feelings, was not happy about the custom that the Kehillos would hire indigent individuals to take the Aliyah. He used to go around from shul to shul and take the Aliyah himself rather than subject poor people to the shame and humiliation that accepting this Aliyah implied. One time, Rav Yisrael got up and said “I want this Aliyah” and the Baal Koreh refused to read it because he did not want the curses to fall upon his revered leader. Rav Yisrael then moved the Baal Koreh to the side and read the Tochacha himself! These anecdotes point out how real the Tochacha was to prior generations.
I am reminded of a story with a similar lesson. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky writes that he remembers an incident in Europe when he was a child. During recess, they played a game similar to “Jacks” called “Kugelach.” One child lost all his “Kugelach” while playing the game and was very upset about it. He said to another child, “I will sell you half my ‘Olam haBah‘ for three Kugelach.” Rav Yaakov wrote, “Of course, we understand what an embarrassment it is for anyone to sell his share in the World-to-Come, and a child is a child so he is willing to sell his Olam haBah, but it shows that for the people of that generation, Olam haBah was something real. It was a real commodity. It meant something.” This spoke to the Emunah that was prevalent in Europe in those times. Unfortunately, such Emunah is not as prevalent in our day and age.
A Story with the Klausenberger Rebbe and a Vorte From the Kotzker Rebbe
Immediately after the Tochacha, the Torah continues with the parsha of Eruchin [Evaluations]. Every person has a certain set value (based on his or her age range and gender). A person can donate his “Eruch” [value] to the Beis HaMikdash. An entire section in the Torah and a whole Tractate in the Talmud are devoted to the laws of Eruchin.
In past years, we discussed why the Parsha of Eruchin follows the Parsha of the Tochacha. It is somewhat of an anti-climactic ending to Parshas Bechukosai. If we were to write Parshas Bechukosai we would probably end it at the conclusion of Chapter 26: “These are the decrees, the ordinances, and the Torahs that Hashem gave, between Himself and the Children of Israel, at Mount Sinai, through Moses.” Where would we have put the laws of Eruchin? We would have stuck them somewhere else in Sefer Vayikra! However, Parshas Bechukosai, with the dramatic Tochacha that should literally send shivers down a person’s back – especially with our knowledge of the hindsight of history – ends with this very technical section of the laws of evaluations.
The Kotzker Rebbe once said a vort, but rather than say his vort and then tell a story; I want to tell the story and then say the vort.
Rav Mordechai Kamenetsky writes up this incident, and I have seen it in other places as well. The Nazis, yemach shemam [may their name be blotted out], had a sinister habit when they came into a town and rounded up the Jews. They wanted to first humiliate the Jews. It was not bad enough to cart them off and kill them; they first humiliated them before sending them to their deaths.
They would take the primary Rabbinic figure in town and pick on him and humiliate him. When they came to the village in which the Klausenberger Rebbe, zt”l, (who survived the war) lived, they brought him into the town square and gathered all the people. The Nazi guard threw him down to the ground and kicked him. The Nazi then sneeringly said to him, “So, you still think that you are the Chosen People?” The Klausenberger responded “Yes.” Then the Nazi guard hit him with the butt of the rifle. He repeated his question, “You still think you are the Chosen People?” The Klausenberger Rebbe again responded, “Yes.”
The Nazi said, “You stupid Jew! How could you say that? How could you say you are the Chosen People? Look what I am doing to you.” The Klausenberger Rebbe told the Nazi guard, “As long as we are not kicking and beating innocent people we are the Chosen People and you are not!” This means – even when a person is degraded physically, emotionally, and psychologically, he can still maintain his sense of humanity and his sense of dignity. Such a person is still a member of the Chosen People.
The Kotzker Rebbe once explained that the reason why the parsha of Eruchin follows the parsha of the Tochacha is that the Torah is trying to teach us that no matter what befalls a person, he must always keep in mind that a person always has value. A human being has an “Erech“; come what may, even after the greatest degradation and the greatest humiliation – nevertheless, a person has an Erech-Atzmi [a personal value].
The Klausenberger Rebbe’s reaction personified that concept: As long as I am not beating an innocent person, I am considered an Am HaNivchar [(a member of) the Chosen People].
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 Behar and/or Bechukosai is provided below:
- CD# 011 – Rationing Medical Care
- CD# 012 – Can Teachers Strike?
- CD# 054 – Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
- CD# 055 – Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
- CD# 097 – “Ribis” Problems of Interest for the Jew in a Mercantile Society
- CD# 098 – “Cheremei Tzibur”: A Ban on Living in Germany?
- CD# 145 – Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
- CD# 192 – Making Shabbos Early
- CD# 282 – The Physician’s Obligation to Heal
- CD# 328 – Sh’mita and the Heter Mechira
- CD# 372 – Using Shuls As A Shortcut
- CD# 416 – Supporting Jewish Merchants
- CD# 460 – The Obligation of Checking One’s Teffilin
- CD# 504 – Lag B’Omer
- CD# 548 – Marrying for Money
- CD# 592 – Ribis and the Non-Jew
- CD# 636 – The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
- CD# 680 – Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
- CD# 724 – The Chazzan Who Changes His Mind
- CD# 768 – Dos and Don’ts of Treating a Lender
- CD# 812 – How Much Is That Tiffany Necklace?
- CD# 856 – Distractions When Performing A Mitzvah
- CD# 900 – Oy! My Tefillin Are Pasul
- CD# 945 – Overcharging: How Much Is Too Much?
- CD# 987 – Limud HaTorah – Must You Understand What You Are Learning?
- CD# 988 – Bentching – Making Sure You Eat and Enjoy
- CD#1031 – Sh’mitta – How Did the Farmers Survive?
- CD#1032 – The Child Molester – What Must We Do?
- CD#1076 – Cheating in Business It May Be More Asur Than You Think
- CD#1079 – Does A Grandfather Have To Pay For His Grandson’s Tuition>
- CD#1118 – What Are You/Aren’t You Allowed To Talk About on Shabbos?
- CD#1119 – Davening in a Rented Movie Theater–Is There A Problem?
- CD#1160 – The Mahram of Padua, The Ramo, and l’Havdil the Pope
- CD#1205 – The Case of the Women of Vienna and the Incredible Response of the Rabonim
- CD#1249 – Heter Meah Rabonim: The Rarely Used Sanction of Polygamy
- CD#1293 – A Tragic Holocaust Shailah
- CD#xxxx – The Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai – Should It Be Avoided?
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.