These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1260 Mezzuzah – Case of No Case; Kissing the Mezzuzah – Good Idea or Not? Good Shabbos!
Ki Savo contains Parshas Vidui Maaser. At the end of the third and sixth year of the seven-year Shmita cycle, a person needs to make a declaration that he has fulfilled all the halachos regarding the various Terumos U’Maasros obligations. He has given them to the correct people, he has given them at the right time, he treated the Maaser like the halacha demands. At the conclusion of this declaration he states, “I have fulfilled and kept all the halachos… I have done all that You have commanded me.” [Devorim 26:14].
One of the more famous questions asked about this parsha is – Why is this called the Parsha of Vidui Maaser (literally, the Confession of tithing). Vidui is a confessional. We are familiar with the term from the Vidui recited on Yom Kippur. The recitation of full compliance with all the tithing requirements as specified here does not sound anything at all like “Al Chet, we have done this; Al Chet, we have done that.” Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu, and Al Chet, Al Chet, Al Chet… are confessions. “I have done all that You have commanded me” sounds just the opposite!
What did he do wrong here that this is called “Vidui“? On the contrary he claims he did everything right!
Many commentaries are troubled by this question – including the Sforno. The Sforno writes that when a person states that he has taken the tithes and given them to the Levi and to the poor and to all who are supposed to get them, that is an admission of a terrible situation: If things were like they were supposed to have been, the First-born would be the Divine Servants in the Beis HaMikdash. The First-born son in each family would be the family’s own “built-in Kohen/Levi.”
Every family would have an in-house family member to whom to give the Maasros. Why do we give it to the Levi? The answer is, the Sforno writes, “Because of our sins, the duties of the Bais Hamikdash were removed from our forefathers.” Things are not the way they were supposed to be. When we admit that things are not the way they were supposed to be, that itself is a Vidui.
This means a person can be doing everything correctly—and indeed did do everything correctly—but yet the situation is strictly a b’di’eved (ex-post-facto) situation. This is not the way things should be. The way things should be is that I should never need to say “I removed the holy foods from my house” [Devorim 26:13]. I should never need had to take them out of the house, because I could have just given it to my oldest son.
The “confession” that he now needs to give the tithes to the Levi is an admission – says the Sforno – that “my sin is great for I have caused the departure of this holy produce from my house. Even though I have done what I am supposed to do at this time, I pray for your Mercy that you will give me blessing, rather than the punishment I deserve for my past sins which brought this situation about.”
This is perhaps a very appropriate message for us at this time of year. I look around at a crowd like this, and bli ayin Ha’Rah, everyone here observes mitzvos meticulously. In this crowd, there is no need to speak about Shmiras Shabbos and there is no need to speak about Kashrus. We do not even have to talk about Talmud Torah – everybody here “learns”.
Here it is, we go into Yomim Noraim and we cry out “Woe! We have sinned, we are full of iniquity, we have rebelled before You!…Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu,” Fine, maybe we should daven a little more with kavanah. Maybe we slip up with Lashon HaRah every once in a while. But, look at us – especially relative to the state of Judaism among the masses today. Relatively speaking, this audience is full of Tzadikim! So where is the place for the Vidui?
I believe the answer is that – yes, we are all great, but it is still not the way it should be. It is not shanim k’tiknan. It is not k’shanim kadmoniyus. (Years the way they should be; times the way they once were).
This past summer, I was on a tour in Europe and I spent many hours on a bus getting from place to place. Before I left, someone gave me a very interesting book called My Father’s Journey: A Memoir of Lost Worlds of Jewish Lithuania. It is written by Sara Reguer, chair of the Department of Jewish Studies in Brooklyn College, based on a written Hebrew memoir of her father. This is not an Artscroll book. This personal memoir does not contain any sugarcoating of life in Jewish Lithuania.
Sara Reguer’s father was Moshe Aharon Reguer, son of Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer. Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer was the Brisker Dayan. He was extremely close to Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. They lived in the same two-family house. Rav Simcha Zelig paskened all the shaylos in Brisk. This family was literally the “Real McCoy Litvaks!” and they were proud of it.
What is this book about? It is the story of Rabbi Doctor Moshe Aharon Reguer, who eventually became a professor of Judaic Studies at Yeshiva University. He was a typical Yeshiva bochur in Lithuania at the beginning of the twentieth century. If I remember correctly, he left Lithuania in 1927. He attended some of the great Yeshivos in Europe, including Slabodka (from which he was thrown out for not being a “typical Slabodka student.”) If someone wants to know what it was like to be a Yeshiva bochur in Europe in those tumultuous times when “new ideas” of communism and socialism were sweeping Jewish society, the Russian Revolution, and the First World War – this book really gives you a taste of what Europe was like.
One of the Yeshivas he studied in was the Yeshiva in Slutsk. The Rosh Yeshiva in Slutsk was Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (father-in-law of Rav Aharon Kotler). Moshe Ahron Reguer described what the month of Elul was like in Slutsk. One day in shiur this year, I read this page to my students: What was Elul like in Slutsk? We are not talking five hundred years ago. We are talking about just 100 years ago – the twentieth century!
Meanwhile, the month of Elul approached. In that month, issues of the Day of Judgement darkened the Yeshiva. The walls of the Yeshiva and the people within took on a new form – that of pain and suffering and weeping. In every corner, you could feel that it was a season of repentance and that all were breathing with a difficulty borne of internal danger, fear for the soul and knowledge that the future was covered in fog.
In those days, Rav Isser Zalman himself dedicated himself to rousing repentance. He was an expert in this work. Morning and night he would speak of the approaching Day of Judgement and the preparations for it that had to be done in our hearts. With himself as an example, he roused us. One example he gave rings in my ears – even today – that of a poor lamb ready for slaughter who bleats loudly and feels that this is her last moment. Who knows who this lamb is? “Who is going to die?” he would ask us. He would look at us for an answer and there would come only sobbing. Our tears wet the floors of the houses.
That was Elul in Slutsk, circa 1915. There is not a Yeshiva in the world today where anything like this takes place. Those of us who are old enough and have the image of Rav Dovid (Kronglas), zt”l, and the Rosh Yeshiva (Rav Yitzchok Ruderman), zt”l, have such an image of people who were literally afraid of the Yom HaDin. My students do not have that image.
This is what the Sforno is alluding to. Yes, we are all Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos, etc. etc. But look how low we have sunk compared to what was only a hundred years ago. In fact, it is not even a hundred years ago. I am sure that in the Mir in Europe and in Shanghai it was also like this. Shanghai is not a hundred years ago! Therefore, when we are finished patting ourselves on the back and we say, “Ah! What do we have to worry about? Remember this Sforno: If we are not up to snuff of what could have been and should have been, then we need to recite a Vidui. And remember this story from “My Father’s Journey” of what Yeshiva life was like a mere hundred years ago in Europe. The bochurim would literally cry out of fear. That is a generation that no longer exists.
The Gaon’s Fear of Speaking Lashon HaRah
Among the list of “Aruruim” (curses) mentioned in the parsha is someone who smites his fellow man in secret [Devorim 27:24]. How does someone hit his friend “secretly”? Rashi says the reference is to Lashon HaRah. Speaking gossip about one’s fellow man behind his back can cause him untold damage. His business can be ruined, his marital prospects can be ruined, his life can be ruined. This is known as “Makeh es Ray’ei’hu b’Saser.”
I recently came across an amazing story in a sefer on Chumash by Rav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, who cites an incident which I would like to share, about Lashon HaRah.
This incident has a pedigree which testifies to its veracity:
The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) wrote the story in the Kisvei Chofetz Chaim.
He heard it from Rav Yehoshua Heller, the Choshen Yehoshua (1814-1880),
who heard it from his Rebbe, the Nachlas Dovid (Rav Dovid Tebel) (1794-1861),
who heard it from Rav Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821),
who heard it from the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797).
This is not just a “Bubba ma’aseh” – this is a ma’aseh with documented yichus!
The Gaon was going somewhere and hired a wagon driver. The wagon driver was driving the horse and buggy. The driver fell asleep. Today, when someone falls asleep at the wheel, the consequences are likely to be fatal. What happened then? The driver fell asleep, so the horse drifted off to the side of the road and started eating some of the produce that was growing in the field on the side of the road.
The non-Jewish owner of the field saw the horse of a Jewish wagon driver helping itself to supper at this Gentile’s expense and he became all angry. He ran over to the wagon and saw one person sleeping and one person studying out of a book. He figured the person who was sleeping was the passenger and the person who was up reading the book was the driver. In other words, he assumed that the Gaon of Vilna was the Ba’al Ha’Agalah who owned this horse. The farmer beat him up. He physically let him have it.
Somebody asked the Gaon – “Why didn’t you say something? You should have protested – ‘It is not me who is at fault. It is this other person!’” The Gaon answered, “I did not say that because it would have been Lashon HaRah.” He went on to add “And if I would have said Lashon HaRah, all the Torah that I have written in my life would not save me, and I would come back to this world in a gilgul (transmigration of the souls) as a barking dog!”
This story needs to give us a lot of pause. Cursed be he who smites his fellow in secret. Such was the fear the Gaon had from something which might not even have been Lashon HaRah.
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 Ki Savo is provided below:
- 021 The “Ins and Outs” of Mezzuzah
- 066 Learning Hebrew: Mitzvah or Not?
- 111 Allocating Your Tzedaka Dollar
- 157 The Prohibition Against Erasing G-d’s Name
- 204 Giving a Sefer Torah to a Non-Jew
- 251 Shidduchim and Parental Wishes
- 294 Geirim and Davening: Some Unique Problems
- 340 The Pushka in Halacha
- 384 The Prohibition of Chodosh
- 428 Mentioning G-d’s Name in Vain
- 472 Teffilin Shel Rosh
- 516 Hagbeh
- 560 Selichos
- 604 Reading the Tochacha
- 648 The Onain and Kaddish
- 692 The Staggering Cost of Lashon Ho’rah
- 736 Your Aliya: Must You Read Along?
- 780 Can You Sue Your Father?
- 824 Hitting An Older Child
- 868 Loshon Horah Vs Lying – Which Is Worse?
- 912 Shaimos What I Do With All Those Papers?
- 956 The Phony Tzedakah Collector
- 999 Can Your Mother Serve You Dinner?
- 1043 Checking Mezzuzos: What Do You Do While They Are Down?
- 1087 Saying A Borei P’ri Ha’Adama On Fruit
- 1130 The Silent Shmoneh Esrei – Must It Be Silent
- 1172 Can One Remove His Mezzuzos When Moving To A New Home?
- 1216 Are Women Obligated in Yishuv Eretz Yisroel?
- 1260 Mezzuzah – Case of No Case; Kissing the Mezzuzah – Good Idea or Not?
- 1304 Erasing a Tatoo of the Shem Hashem – Davening for Personal Needs on Rosh Hashana
- 1348 All You Ever Wanted to Know About Hagbah
- 1392 Wearing Tephillin on a Toupee or a Cast
- 1436 But If We Punish Him He May Not Remain Frum
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.