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Posted on May 22, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1292 – The Price of Fish for Shabbos Went Sky High – What Can the Community Do? Good Shabbos!

The pasuk in Parshas Behar says: “Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d.” (Vayikra 25:17). The Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) teaches that this pasuk is not referring to cheating a person in business, but rather it is referring to a prohibition called “Ona’as Devorim” – saying hurtful things to someone. This is also not referring to humiliating someone in public. Merely saying hurtful things to someone even privately is a mitzvas lo saaseh (negative Biblical prohibition) called “Lo so’nu ish es amiso“.

The Medrash relates that Rabbeinu haKadosh made a celebratory meal for his talmidim (students). He served them tongue, both soft pieces of tongue as well as hard pieces of tongue, on the same platter. As would be expected, the students all started picking out the tastier soft pieces of tongue and left over the hard pieces on the platter. Rabbeinu haKadosh remarked: “Look what you are doing: Just like you pick out the soft pieces and leave behind the hard pieces, so too when you talk to each other with your tongues, you should engage in “soft speech” rather than “hard speech.” In other words, he was giving them a mussar schmooze about Ona’as Devorim.

Why did Rabbeinu haKadosh use such a novel teaching method? Rabbeim, roshei yeshivos, and mashgichim have been speaking about Ona’as Devorim since the Ribono shel Olam uttered the pasuk Lo so’nu ish es amiso. Typically, if a mentor wishes to impress upon his disciples the message that they should not speak harshly with their friends, he gets up in the Beis Medrash and gives a schmooze on that topic. What did Rebbi do? He made a seudah and served tongue. When everyone chose the soft pieces of tongue, he told them “Look. This is how you should be speaking with your friends. Speak with a soft tongue.” Why didn’t he just use the time-honored method of giving a typical mussar schmooze? That certainly would have been a lot less expensive.

Rav Berel Soloveitchik, z”l, (Son of the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik) said as follows: If Rebbi would have given a typical mussar schmooze, everyone would have thought that he was speaking about someone else. (“Me? I never talk like that! Maybe once in a great while I will give someone a dig. Maybe when someone gets me angry, I might answer back a little sharply. That is not the “lashon kasheh” that Rebbi is speaking about!”)

An overwhelming percentage of talmidim assume they speak lashon rakka (soft speech), perhaps occasionally with a little salt on it. Such a schmooze would not have accomplished very much. Rebbi wanted to demonstrate to them how careful they each were when taking the edible kind of tongue to see to it that they were taking only soft tongue. He then was able to hit home with his mussar message: As careful as you were when choosing the ‘soft tongue,’ that is how careful you need to be in choosing your words.

Rabbeinu haKadosh was a good Rebbi. He demonstrated his lesson to his talmidim in a way they could sense. It was not merely a cerebral exercise utilizing intellectual facilities. It was such a clear lesson that they could taste it in their mouths, and it was a lesson that they would never forget.

Taking Interest Diminishes a Person’s Faith in the Master of the Universe

Parshas Behar is one of several places in Chumash where the Torah teaches the prohibition against taking interest (ribis): “Do not take from him interest and increase; and you shall fear your G-d – and let your brother live with you.” (Vayikra 25:36) There is a mitzvah to lend people money, however, the money must be lent without interest. Transgressing this prohibition results in serious punishment. “Rav Shimon (bar Yochai) says: Those who lend with interest lose more than they gain.” (Bava Metziah 75b).

What is Rav Shimon talking about? If he were talking about punishment or about loss of reward in the world to come, then the same comment can be made about any mitzvas lo saaseh: Don’t eat chazir! Ay – it is geshmak! It doesn’t matter – more than you enjoy it, you will suffer for that enjoyment in the World to Come.

What then is so special about the ribis prohibition that prompts Rav Shimon to say “More than you profit, you will lose?”

There is a beautiful Kli Yakar in this week’s parsha that gives an interesting explanation as to why the Torah prohibits ribis. The Kli Yakar defines the reason for this mitzvah as causing man to lose faith in the Master of the Universe. How does taking interest diminish a person’s bitachon in the Ribono shel Olam?

The Kil Yakar explains that in virtually every business venture, a person can either make money or lose money. People who are in a business where they do not receive a set salary, rather they work on commission, see this all the time. Likewise, this is true of people who invest money. The investment can go through the roof and become a phenomenal success. However, sometimes a product is a hot item but then a competitor comes out with something that is a little hotter. Everyone runs to the competitor and the first person loses his pants. Every person in business realizes that they need siyata d’Shmaya (Divine help) to succeed. Inevitably, they need to turn to the Ribono shel Olam to pray for their success in business, and this increases their emunah and bitachon.

This is not true, says the Kli Yakar, of those who lend out money with interest. Given, of course, that the loan is secure, it is money in the bank. If the debtor cannot pay, the lender will collect from the guarantor of the loan or he will foreclose a mortgage or take collateral. He has a high degree of security that he is in a “Win-Win Operation.” Lending is a great business – like money in the bank!

As a result of this surefire way to make profit, a person may lose his bitachon. “I have been doing this business for the last who knows how many years. What can go wrong?” A person becomes distanced from the whole concept that the Ribono shel Olam runs the world. He thinks that he is running the show and forgets that He is running the show. If a person loses bitachon and thinks that the Ribono shel Olam doesn’t run the world, when he hits a crisis, he has no peace of mind.

The Chovos haLevovos notes that one of the tremendous attributes of a person who is a true believer (as opposed to someone who just pays “lip service” to the concept of emunah) is that he has a psychological safety net when unpleasant things in life hit him. “I know the Ribono shel Olam is with me; I know that He has been watching over me; I may not know why He is doing this to me, but I know that the Ribono shel Olam is in charge and He knows what He is doing and I have full faith in Him.”

This has a tremendous calming effect on a person. There is a certain serenity that accompanies people who truly possess the attribute of emunah and bitachon. They lead serene lives knowing that the Master of the Universe is fully in charge. This is what Rav Shimon bar Yochai meant when he said, “More than they gain, they lose.” Yes, they are making a profit and yes, the profit is in the bank. But they become less baalei bitachon. As a result, they may live troubled, worried, anxiety-filled lives. It is not worth it.

I recently heard a story involving a Rav Dovid Bleicher, who had been the Rosh Yeshiva in the Novardok Yeshiva during the war. As was typical in the Yeshivas in Europe, finances were very tight. He raised money and finally obtained food for the talmidim. A bit later, Pesach was approaching and there was no matzah. Where would he get flour for matzah?

After much effort, he was somehow able to procure enough flour to supply the whole Yeshiva for the entire week of Pesach. He put that precious flour upstairs in the attic of the Yeshiva. That night there was a terrible wind storm and part of the roof blew off. It rained onto the flour and the flour became chametz. “The City of Shushan was bewildered.” (Esther 3:15) What is going to be?

Rav Dovid Bleicher brought in the entire Yeshiva and told them: I want to ask you four questions:

  1. Who commanded us to eat matzah on Pesach?
  2. Who helped me obtain the flour for the matzah?
  3. Who brought the storm that caused the rain to leak through the roof?
  4. Who caused the flour to leaven after it became wet from the rain water?

To each question the students answered unambiguously “The Ribbono shel Olam.” Rav Bleicher concluded, “So everything happened because of Him and He knows that we need flour for matzah on Pesach. Undoubtedly he will provide us with other flour.” In other words, if Hashem is running the world and He is calling the shots, then if He wants us to eat matzah on Pesach, He will get us more flour.

The night of Bedikas Chometz, the mail arrived with a tremendous check. The Rosh Yeshiva was able to buy more flour for Pesach and they all had matzah. This is the serenity of a person who is a baal bitachon.

Last Sunday, the Ner Israel Kollel had their Chinese Auction fundraiser. The day before yesterday, when I was walking out of the office, I saw a kollel yungerman carrying a box with five Playmobil sets. If you have children, you know that Playmobil is a very popular toy (like Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs in our days).

I asked him “Did you win that at the Kollel auction?” He said, “Yes, and not only that, but I won a prize at Rabbi Berger’s shul’s auction for the past three or four years.” I inquired of him, “What is the trick?” He told me “It is because I have been working of my midas habitachon for the last four years and therefore when my wife left for the auction, I told her, “You are going to win tonight!”

Now, does that mean that someone who has midas habitachon will always win auctions? No. Does it mean that if someone has midas habitachon, everything in his life is going to turn out perfect? No. But, this person had a certain confidence and serenity because of his midas habitachon. It is an amazing phenomenon that this happened. Again, it does not follow that someone can say “Okay, I am going to work on my midas bitachon and then I am going to win the Power Ball.” It does not work like that.

However, this kollel yungerman made such a profound impression on me. “I worked on midas habitachon. I knew that I needed a Playmobil for my kids and I was confident that it would happen.” The upshot is not “Have bitachon and you will win the lottery.” The upshot is “Have bitachon and you will have a more calm and serene life.”

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited 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 (/Bechukosai) is provided below:

  • # 011 – Rationing Medical Care
  • # 012 – Can Teachers Strike?
  • # 054 – Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
  • # 055 – Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
  • # 097 – “Ribis” Problems of Interest for the Jew in a Mercantile Society
  • # 098 – “Cheremei Tzibur”: A Ban on Living in Germany?
  • # 145 – Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
  • # 192 – Making Shabbos Early
  • # 282 – The Physician’s Obligation to Heal
  • # 328 – Sh’mita and the Heter Mechira
  • # 372 – Using Shuls As A Shortcut
  • # 416 – Supporting Jewish Merchants
  • # 460 – The Obligation of Checking One’s Teffilin
  • # 504 – Lag B’Omer
  • # 548 – Marrying for Money
  • # 592 – Ribis and the Non-Jew
  • # 636 – The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
  • # 680 – Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
  • # 724 – The Chazzan Who Changes His Mind
  • # 768 – Dos and Don’ts of Treating a Lender
  • # 812 – How Much Is That Tiffany Necklace?
  • # 856 – Distractions When Performing A Mitzvah
  • # 900 – Oy! My Tefillin Are Pasul
  • # 945 – Overcharging: How Much Is Too Much?
  • # 987 – Limud HaTorah – Must You Understand What You Are Learning?
  • # 988 – Bentching – Making Sure You Eat and Enjoy
  • #1031 – Sh’mitta – How Did the Farmers Survive?
  • #1032 – The Child Molester – What Must We Do?
  • #1076 – Cheating in Business It May Be More Asur Than You Think
  • #1118 – What Are You/Aren’t You Allowed To Talk About on Shabbos?
  • #1119 – Davening in a Rented Movie Theater–Is There A Problem?
  • #1160 – The Mahram of Padua, The Ramo, and l’Havdil the Pope
  • #1204 – The Friend Who Reneged on their Power Ball Agreement
  • #1205 – The Case of the Women of Vienna and the Incredible Response of the Rabonim
  • #1249 – Heter Meah Rabbonim: The Rarely Used Sanction of Polygamy
  • #1292 – The Price of Fish for Shabbos Went Sky High – What Can the Community Do?
  • #1293 – A Tragic Holocaust Shailah
  • #1336 – The Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai – Should It Be Avoided?
  • #1380 – Can One Be Obligated to Bentch Even If He Didn’t Eat?
  • #1424 – “Thank You Very Much for the Loan” – Is That Ribbis?
  • #1468 – Going to the Mikveh During the Corona Pandemic or Other Difficult Times
  • #1511 – Onaas Devorim: Saying Hurtful Words to Open Up Someone’s Eyes?
  • #1554 – I am 55 Years Old and Now I Find Out That My Tefilin Were Never Kosher

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