In This Issue:
Rabbi Sariel Malitzky
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Throughout Sefirat HaOmer, we find ourselves listening to speeches and Shiurim dealing with the topic of Achdut and Ahavat Yisrael. As these are the days when the students of Rabbe Akiva perished for not showing due Kavod to one another, the topic is quite appropriate. However, often the messages we hear are somewhat vague. What exactly does it mean to love every Jew? We try to eradicate the Middah of Sinat Chinam, but is that all we need to do? Is it as simple as saying that we love everyone?
The Torah, in this week’s Parashah, states that a person must fear his mother and father. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) asks “What is fear? Do not sit in his seat, do not talk in his place, and do not argue on his words. What is honor? Serve him food and drink, dress him, and help him in and out.” Rav Yeruchim Levovitz (Daat Torah, Kedoshim) is bothered by the Gemara’s queries of “what is fear” and “what is honor.” Do we not know what the word fear means? The answer seems quite simple: we should feel a sense of awe in their presence.
The Gemara records minor actions which seem to minimize that grandeur of the Mitzvah. Rav Yeruchim writes that this Gemara teaches a major Torah principle. All Mitzvot, even those which we assume to be primarily Mitzvot of the Heart, need to be acted upon. For example, the Mitzvot of having faith in Hashem and of loving Hashem also require action. In general, we must manifest our feelings through concrete actions. So, while the feelings in our heart are a crucial and absolutely vital component to a Mitzvah, they are not enough; they are only the pre-requisites. The action is what is most important. After all, we call positive commandments Mitzvot Aseh and prohibitions Mitzvot Lo Taaseh. It is for this reason, writes Rabbeinu Yeruchim, that the Gemara records actions that we must both perform and refrain from in order to fulfill the Mitzvah.
The Gemara (Shabbat 31a) relates an account where a gentile came before Hillel and requested that he be taught the whole Torah “while standing on one foot.” Hillel, in somewhat of a surprising response, says “What is hated to you, do not do to you friend.” Maharsha asks, why didn’t Hillel simply tell him the Pasuk of “VeAhavta LeRayacha Kamocha,” “love your neighbor as you love yourself?” (VaYikra 18:19) Rabbeinu Yeruchim explains based on the principle above that to love one’s friend is insufficient. Hillel wanted to teach this gentile that as Jews, we act, or in this case, refrain from actions that hurt each other. We see that the Mitzvah of loving our neighbor is not merely to feel the love and to talk about the love we feel towards each other. Ahavat Yisael requires actions and restraint as well.
Rambam (Hilchot Avel 14:1) writes that the Mitzvot of visiting the sick, comforting the mourner, burying the dead, rejoicing at a wedding, and acts of Chesed are all Rabbinic Mitzvot. However, they are actually included in the Mitzvah of loving one’s friend as he loves himself. In fact, Rambam concludes “anything that you would want others to do to you to you is what you should do to others.” Rambam seems to articulate the same principle as Rabbeinu Yeruchim. Ahavat Yisrael and Sinat Chinam are not just vague terms. Rather they require us to be people of action.
Rabi Akiva’s students perished because they did not show Kavod to each other. The Gemara does not state that they didn’t love each other or that they hated each other. The Gemara was precise in its recording of their sin. They did not show Kavod to each other. It could be that inside, they loved each other. However, their love was insufficient as long as it was not manifested through actions.
Sefirat HaOmer is our preparation for receiving the Torah. Until we become people who do for others, we cannot receive the Torah. Derech Eretz Kadmah LeTorah, proper behavior is a prerequisite to Torah observance. The Brisker Rav was once asked why the Torah does not have many commandments regarding Middot? The Brisker Rav answered that the Torah was given to Bnei Adam, people. A person who doesn’t have exemplary Middot, i.e. if he doesn’t do for others, is not a Ben Adam. This is perhaps the reason why many have the custom to study Pirkei Avot during the weeks of Sefirat HaOmer. Pirkei Avot is all about Middot. We must first internalize the messages of Pirkei Avot in order to be ready accept the Torah.
The Ahavat Shalom writes that the Gematria of Ahavah, love, is 13. When two people love each other you have 26, the Gematria of the name of Hashem. In order for the Shechina (Hashem’s presence) to reside in our midst, we must first increase the amount of Ahava, thus increasing the presence of Hashem in the world. The Chafetz Chaim, in his introduction to his work on Lashon Hara, explains that in order for us to be merit the ultimate Geulah, we must first rectify that which caused this Galut. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of hatred, the students of Rabbe Akiva died because they didn’t show Kavod to each other. It will be only through our love, better yet our acts of love, which will ultimately, with the help of Hashem, bring about the ultimate redemption speedily in our days.
Parashat Kedoshim, while discussing various Mitzvot, gives the command “Lo Tochelu Al HaDam,” literally “Do not eat on the blood.” (VaYikra 19:26) This Pasuk is difficult to understand, so many commentators explain it, all differently.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 63a) mentions several interpretations for the meaning of this phrase. One is that the prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai, eating from a living animal, still applies while the body is moving, even after Shechita has occurred. Another interpretation is that one is not allowed to eat a Korban (sacrifice) before its blood is sprinkled on the Mizbeiach (altar). Still a third is that the Seudat Havraah, the meal of mourning, and Shivah are not observed for someone killed by Beit Din (rabbinic court). A fourth understanding is that the judges of a Beit Din must fast on the day they sentence someone to death. Finally, the Pasuk may constitute a warning to a Ben Sorer UMoreh, a rebellious son. The last explanation is extended by the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 248) to include the prohibition eating gluttonously. Elsewhere, the Gemara (Berachot 10b) explains this Pasuk entirely differently as teaching not to eat before davening Shacharit.
Many of the Rishonim translate the phrase based on the end of the Pasuk, “Lo TeNachashu VeLo TeOneinu,” “Do not practice divination or believe in lucky times” (VaYikra 19:26). These prohibitions include most superstitions. Rashbam believes the beginning of the Pasuk refers to the practice of some Nochrim to eat at the grave of a murder victim, in the belief that it protected them from the dead body coming back to life and taking revenge on them for all wrongs they may have committed, no matter how minor. “Lo Tochelu Al HaDam” thus prohibits this behavior. The Rokeiach and the Baal HaTurim both explain that murderers used to eat on top of their victims’ bodies, believing that it protected them from the relatives of the victim. Chizkuni cites that the Emori had a custom that relatives of a murder victim should eat a meal at his grave, lest they be harmed if they are unsuccessful in avenging his death. The Baal HaTurim in his extended commentary and the Ramban state that sorcerers used to kill a person and pour his blood into a pit. Then they used to eat a meal surrounding his pit, attracting demons who would then tell the future to the sorcerers. All these could be the action prohibited by “Lo Tochelu Al HaDam.”
In the beginning of this week’s Parashah, the Torah writes, “Ish Imo VeAviv Tirau VeEt Shabtotai Tishmoru,” “Each man shall fear his mother and father and observe my Sabbaths.” (VaYirkra 19:3) Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of fearing one’s parents and observing the Shabbat teaches us that if a parent commands his child to violate a Halacha, illustrated by Shabbat, the child must disregard his parent. The Alshich wonders why the Torah was compelled to teach that a parent cannot override Hashem’s word; are they not also Hashem’s subjects? He answers that since both parents were partners with Hashem in their child’s creation, the Torah equates reverence for parents with that for Hashem. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that when one honors his parents, he also honors Hashem – the third collaborator in man’s creation. One might surmise, therefore, that since parents consist of a two-thirds majority of creation, they might override Hashem; ergo, the Torah teaches us that Hashem is the creator of everything, and parents, as His subjects, have no right to command their children to transgress His Torah.
The Dubno Maggid related an allegory that underlined this idea. Three brothers decided to travel to different countries to learn the wonders of the world. A year later, they shared their experiences and findings. One brother discovered a mirror that could see anywhere in the world, another found an aviation machine that could instantaneously travel throughout the globe, and the last brother unearthed a miracle potion that could cure all known diseases. The first brother looked in his mirror and saw a deathly ill princess, her father, the king, distressed, and the royal doctors dumbfounded. The first brother related his finding to his siblings, and they traveled to the princess’ palace on the second brother’s flying instrument, where the third brother miraculously healed the princess with his potion. The jubilant king decided to marry his daughter to one of the brothers, but as the recovery would not have happened without any of them, he let the princess decide who to marry. She realized that although they all were equally responsible for her past cure, if she will be again stricken with the same illness, only the brother with the magic potion will be able to cure her, and she therefore chose him as her husband. Although there were three equivalent, equally respected, partners in man’s past creation, as for the future, one is more dependent on Hashem than the other two partners, as He could change one’s fate in a moment. Therefore, both parent and child must respect Hashem, as He always provides for His children.
In his Sefer Esh Kodesh, the Piasetzener Rebbe, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, relates a portion of Gemara (Berachot 28b) that also deals with fearing Hashem. When Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai fell deathly ill, and saw his disciples visiting him, he began to cry. His students begged him to bless them, and he blessed them, “May it be Hashem’s will that the fear of heaven be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood.” His disciples said to him, “Is that all you bless us with?” Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai responded, “If only you can attain this! You should know, when a man wants to commit a transgression, he says, ‘I hope nobody will see me.’” Is it possible, asks the Piasetzner Rebbe, that Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples, who were exalted Tanaaim, did not fear heaven more than flesh and blood? And how were Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples, great sages like Rabi Eliezer HaGadol, Rabi Yehoshua ben Chananiah, and Rabi Elazar ben Arach, connected to Rabi Yochanan’s last words, “You should know, when a man wants to commit a transgression, he says, ‘I hope nobody will see me?’” Lastly, asks the Piasetzener Rebbe, how could Rabi Yochanan say that Hashem would bless his students with the fear of heaven, which is not under Hashem’s control, as the Gemara (Megillah 25a) states, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven?”
The Piasetzener Rebbe answers by saying that a Jew is never completely excluded from the rest of Bnei Yisrael; even when a Jew is about to commit a transgression that will cause his exclusion, Hashem does not abandon him. Holy literature teaches that the Miluy of the three Hebrew letters – Yud, Tzadi, and Reish – that compose the word “Yetzer,” inclination, are (Y) Vav Daled, (Tz) Daled Yud, and (R) Yud Shin. The last letters of the Miluy are the three letters of Hashem’s name, Shakkai (Shin - Kuf - Yud). In order that a person should not succumb entirely to his evil inclination, the Holy Name of Shakkai is at the end, preventing his complete surrender to Yetzer HaRa. When a Jew reaches the end, Hashem does not allow him to fall any further. Therefore, it is conceivable to bless a Jewish person with the fear that he will not succumb completely to sin, because the prevention of such a tragedy is indeed in Hashem’s hands; however, it is not possible to bless someone with exalted fear, because such fear is entirely in the hands of the person himself, and he must rise to it alone. Accordingly, when Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s disciples asked him to bless them, he saw that their intention was that he would bless them with the fear of heaven. He replied that he could bless them only with fear that they not commit a low level transgression; they themselves would have to rise to a higher and more elevated fear.
The Piasetzener Rebbe delivered this Derashah in the Warsaw Ghetto. He believed that Hashem never completely abandons a Jew, even one deserving of such punishment, during a time when Jews were persecuted – their rights were stripped and they were herded into mortally crowded Ghettoes. But today, our proud country has endured and thrived for sixty years. When problems arise, people succumb to the Yetzer HaRa and believe that Hashem has abandoned them, so they in turn abandon Hashem, His nation and His country. Recently, we celebrated the holiday of Pesach, and statistics show that well over ninety percent of Israelis attended a Seder. Rav Benny Eisman, a Rav at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, said that the theme of Pesach, especially the Seder, is really a spiritual redemption from the Yetzer HaRa and a return to Hashem. We must take this lesson of the Seder and the Piasetzener Rebbe to heart and realize that these Jews are "diamonds in the rough," and while it seems that their Yetzer HaRa is strong they are still members of Bnei Yisrael; and our responsibility is to show them that Hashem, Shakkai, is waiting and will never abandon them.
The last words of Parashat Kedoshim are, “VeIsh Oh Ishah Ki Yiheyeh VaHem Ov Oh Yideoni Mot Yumatu BaEven Yirgemu Otam Demeihem Bam,” “Any man or woman in whom there shall be the sorcery of Ov or of Yideoni, they shall be put to death; they shall pelt them with stones, their blood is upon themselves” (VaYikra 20:27). This rather morose conclusion of the Parashah seemingly contradicts the practice not to end a Sidrah on a negative note. The death and blood of sinners certainly appears to be negative.
The Imrei Shammai makes an interesting observation. He asserts that the words “Demeihem Bam” are in fact positive, contrary to what one may initially think. If a person is punished for his sins in this world, even via a violent death of stoning, the sin is atoned for, which enables the person to enter Olam HaBa sinless. “Demeihem Bam” indicates that the sinner has achieved atonement in this world, a goal many strive for daily. These words, therefore, should be considered as positive ones. The Imrei Shammai buttresses this idea with a Pasuk from Sefer Melachim and an amazing Gemara from the Talmud Yerushalmi.
When Dovid HaMelech was about to die, he instructed Shlomo to deal with all of his enemies. Yoav Ben Tzeruyah had been David's chief general, but he eventually rebelled against David. David instructed Shlomo, “VeLo Toreid Seivato BeShalom Sheol,” “And do not allow his white hair to go down to the grave in peace” (Melachim I 2:6). Rashi comments that David was telling Shlomo not to allow Yoav to die a natural death without atoning for his wrongdoings in order that he not face Geihinom (punishment in the next world). Sometimes, people suffer terribly before their death and one cannot help but question God’s judgment, but we must bear in mind that Hashem’s judgment is infallible and that sometimes what appears to be an unjust torture is actually a merciful act of kindness. This is the lesson of the conclusion of Parashat Kedoshim.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Terumot) relates that Rav Imi was captured by bandits. Upon hearing this news, Rav Yochanan instructed for shrouds to be purchased for Rav Imi’s burial. However, Reish Lakish made a deal with the bandits and freed Rav Imi. Reish Lakish then convinced the bandits to come see Rav Yochanan, who would pray on their behalf in appreciation for freeing Rav Imi. The bandits were expecting a tremendous Berachah of appreciation but much to their surprise, Rav Yochanan cursed them, wishing upon them whatever sinister actions they had had in store for Rav Imi. They left Rav Yochanan and were killed on the way home. It appears as if Reish Lakish tricked these bandits by fooling them into receiving a curse, but it is quite the opposite. They had indeed received the Berachah they were expecting, however unwittingly. The death of these bandits functioned as an atonement for all of their sins. Here too, the harsh punishment of murder is seen as the ultimate atonement and, accordingly, as the ultimate Berachah.
Sometimes, blessings must occur in the form of tragedies, but we must never lose faith in the judgment of the Dayan Emet, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That is why Parashat Kedoshim ends on the note of Demeihem Bam. Not only is it a positive note, but it is directly connected to the theme of the Parashah; the Sidrah deals with the necessary steps to becoming a proper Jew, comparable to a “Judaism 101” guidebook. It is full of the positive and negative commandments of being a Ben Yisrael, but, if one is unfortunately unable to fulfill these Mitzvot, one must not give up hope, for atonement is always possible, no matter how terrible the sin may be. This message of hope is key to not just the Parashah, but Judaism itself and is therefore an appropriate final note for a guidebook on how to be a proper Jew.
Furthermore, this message of a greater meaning behind God’s actions is especially important to realize now, just days after Yom HaShoah. The tragic and indescribable horrors that took place during the Holocaust may seem unfair and cause one to lose faith in Hashem, but it is crucial to never lose Emunah and to understand that everything Hashem does has a deeper meaning to it even if we are unable to comprehend it. Emunah is a fundamental principle of Judaism that cannot be disregarded. With the help of Hashem, we will all merit the ultimate atonement and be able to welcome the Mashiach speedily and in our days.
Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Yitzchak Richmond, Doniel Sherman
Executive Editor: Shlomo Klapper
Publication Editors: Yakir Forman, Jeremy Koolyk, Leead Staller
Publishing Manager: David Bodner
Business Manager: Charlie Wollman
Webmasters: Sruli Farkas, Shaul Yaakov Morrison, Michael Rosenthal
Staff: Shimon Berman, Josh Blachorsky, Jonathan Hertzfeld, Elazar Lloyd, Yonah Rossman, Aryeh Stiefel, Daniel Weintraub