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Vol. 5 No. 34
A Blessing in Disguise
"Who will declare Miriam a Metzoro" Moshe asked Hashem, "and who will pronounce her tohor when the tzora'as terminates? I am not from the seed of Aharon, whereas her brother Aharon, is invalidated from examining her, because he is a close relative. So what will happen to her?"
"Don't worry," Hashem replied. "I am a Cohen, so I will declare her a metzoro, and I will pronounce her tohor!" (Zevochim 102a)
* Considering that it is only a Cohen who has the authority to declare a metzoro tohor or tomei, it is not clear, in view of Chazal's statement 'the Torah is not in heaven', as to how G-d could possibly replace a human Cohen to determine Miriam's status.
There are other difficulties with this Gemoro (most of which is also quoted in Rashi): first and foremost, why should the fact that there was no Cohen to declare Miriam tomei, bother Moshe? Now it is easy to understand as to why he was concerned about there being no Cohen to declare his sister tahor. But surely, he ought to have been pleased that she could not be declared tomei? (See Tosfos there who poses a similar question.)
* It depends very much on how one views Divine punishment. One may well see Divine punishment purely as an act of retribution - a person has done wrong, let him suffer the consequences. In that case of course, the question is valid. The sinner who is able to evade punishment, must consider himself lucky to get away with it, so why should Moshe have been worried that Miriam was not declared a metzoro?
But if one views Divine punishment as an atonement, then there is no such thing as getting away with it. If one is not punished for one's sins in this world, then one will inevitably receive the atonement in the World to Come - and who can say with conviction that the atonement there is easier and less painful than the atonement here?
The Ramban writes that the water of the Sotoh and the institution of tzora'as ceased to function when the level of the people dropped to the extent that they became a farce: the former because the water of the Sotoh only took effect if the husband was totally innocent of the sin of which his wife was being accused as well as of any semblance to it (a rare event at that time); the latter, because so many people spoke loshon ho'ra, that sending all the metzoro'im outside the camp, would have served no purpose. Both of these punishments, it seems, are blessings when they are put into effect, and ceased to function only because Klal Yisroel became unworthy of the atonement.
In fact, this is reminiscent of the Gemoro in Pesochim (57). The Gemoro relates there how the Cohen Godol had both hands cut off for despising the King, but ultimately for despising the Kehunah. And it records how Rav Yosef exclaimed, in view of the seemingly harsh punishment that the Cohen Godol received: 'Blessed be the One who gave him his due punishment in this world'. For there is nothing worse than leaving this world without having received the atonement for one's sins here. And this is precisely why Moshe was concerned that (chas vesholom) his sister might receive no atonement here, in this world, for her sin, which would result in her having to receive it after death in the World to Come.
This also explains why the Torah uses the word 'vehoyo' with regard to tzora'as (Vayikro 13:2) despite the fact that this word usually denotes joy, which initially, would appear to have no place by tzora'as. But according to our interpretation of Divine retribution as being an act of atonement and of kindness, it is easy to explain that the Torah uses the word 'vehoyo' because it is indeed a joyous occasion. A person should be happy that he receives his atonement in this world, and not in the next.
Retire at Fifty
At fifty, the Torah writes, the Levi'im should retire from the service of the Mishkon.
We should take our cue from the Levi'im, writes the Chofetz Chayim, to reduce our quota of physical labour upon reaching the age of fifty, and to spend more time studying Torah and performing mitzvos.
"And the man Moshe was more humble than any other man" etc. (11:14).
More than any other man, comments the Medrash, but not more than any angel (whose humility is total - because in their capacity as servants of G-d, they were created devoid of ego).
The Choftez Chayim, commenting on how it was possible for a man like Moshe, who took Yisroel out of Egypt, split the Reed Sea and brought down the Torah from Heaven, to consider himself so small, explains it with this very Medrash: A man's obligations, he points out, are commensurate with his understanding of G-d. Consequently, having been in Heaven together with the Angels, he assumed that he was not expected to fulfill his obligations in the service of G-d, not like other human-beings on this earth - but like the Angels, in whose presence he had spent a hundred and twenty days, as a result of which he had attained a deeper understanding of G-d.
A 'Simple' Jew
The Ma'asei la'Melech records how the Chofetz Chayim was once travelling in a train. In reply to a question posed to him by a co-traveller, he explained that he lived in Radun.
When his co-traveller heard this, he began to sing the praises of the Chofetz Chayim, who hailed from Radun and whom people described as a perfect tzadik.
The Chofetz Chayim, for his part, began to play the praises down. "Not at all," he countered "that's one big joke. The Chofetz Chayim is really a simple Jew!"
The co-traveller became most incensed at this Jew's chutzpah. How dare he display such gross disrespect towards the Godol ha'dor, who everyone agreed was a tzadik and a Gaon.
But the Chofetz Chayim insisted that he knew the Chofetz Chayim well and that he was no more than an ordinary Jew - not a tzadik at all.
At this point, the co-traveller could restrain himself no longer, and he began to regale the Chofetz Chayim and to call him names.
A short while later, the train stopped at a station, and new passengers entered the carriage. They recognized the Chofetz Chayim and asked him for a b'rochoh.
Imagine the co-traveller's chagrin when it suddenly dawned on him how he had just insulted the Godol ha'dor in his face. So he went up to the Chofetz Chayim and, with tears streaming down his face, begged him for forgiveness.
"Forgiveness?" replied the Chofetz Chayim in surprise. "Forgiveness for what? You thought I was a tzadik, but you did not know the truth. For that you cannot be blamed. But now you know that I am nothing more than a simple Jew. So why do you need to apologize?"
It appears that the one thing that transcended the Chofetz Chayim's abhorence of loshon ho'ra was his unbelievable humility. How is it possible, one may well ask, for a man who had served G-d and Jewry for so many years with total dedication, who had written so many books, taught so much Torah, achieved so much as spokesman of Klal Yisroel, and who had never spoken or listened to a single word of loshon ho'ra, to consider himself so small? And, we might add, he had never spent time with the angels, like Moshe Rabeinu had.
It must be because, although he had never been in Heaven with the angels, he had been - indeed, he always was - before Hashem. So he continually compared himself to Him. On the one hand, he succeeded in constantly growing and strove to perfection, but on the other, he was constantly forced to acknowledge that he was, by comparison, a simple Jew.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
38. To give charity to the poor of Yisroel (cont.) - A poor relative has precedence over strangers ('charity begins at home'); the poor of his own household take precedence over the poor of his town, and the poor of his own town take precedence over those of another, as the Torah writes (in Re'ei) "to your brother, to your poor and to the needy of your land".
Anyone who is approached by a poor man for assistance, and declines to help him, has nullified this mitzvah, and has also transgressed a negative one (see Mitzvas Lo Sa'aseh 62). This is an extremely serious sin, for which one is referred to as a 'b'li'ya'al' (a man devoid of responsibility), a sinner and a rosho.
One must perform this mitzvah more scrupulously than any other mitzvas asei, because tzedokoh is the sign of the children of Avrohom (who are referred to as 'merciful, bashful and kind'). And the throne of Yisroel is not established nor does the law of truth stand firm in any way, other than through tzedokoh, as the Novi Yeshayoh writes "Tziyon will be redeemed through justice, and its captives through charity."
When a Jew tends to be hard-hearted, one examines his ancestry, since hard-heartedness is a gentile trait, as the Novi Yirmiyoh writes "They are cruel and have no mercy". But all Jews are like brothers, as the Torah writes (in Re'ei) "You are sons of Hashem your G-d". Because if one brother does not have mercy on the other, who will? And to whom do the poor of Yisroel raise their eyes? Is it perhaps to the non-Jews who hate and pursue them? Or is it to their Jewish brethren?
When one gives tzedokoh, one should do so with a pleasant face and happily. No harm ever results from tzedokoh, nor did anyone ever become poor through giving tzedokoh, as Yeshayoh writes "And the deed of tzedokoh will be complete".
One should appease a poor man with words. It is forbidden to scold him or to raise one's voice to him, because his heart is broken. Woe to the person who puts a poor man to shame!
Someone who forces others to give tzedokoh, receives more reward than the one who gives it, and one who has mercy on others will find that Hashem will also have mercy on him, as the Torah writes in Re'ei "And He will give you mercy, and He will have mercy on you and increase you".
(One is obligated to sustain the poor non-Jews together with the poor Jews.)
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
39. To fulfill whatever one verbally undertakes, in the form of a vow or an oath - as the Torah writes (Ki Seitzei 23:24) "What you emit from your lips you shall keep and do" - just like you vowed, and the Torah writes in Mattos "Like all which goes out of his mouth he shall do".
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
40. To judge the laws of the annulment of vows and oaths - as the Torah writes in Mattos "A man who makes a vow to G-d" etc. This means that, if a man is sorry that he took the vow, he should go to a single expert, or to three ordinary people, there where no expert is available (or where the expert authorises them to stand in for him), and says 'I swore (or took a vow) with respect to the following, and I regret having done so. Had I known that I would be so disturbed by it, or that such and such would have occurred, I would not have taken the vow (or sworn).
The wise expert or the Beis-din of three then say to him "Do you regret having made the vow?" to which he replies "Yes". Then they say "Your vow is nullified (using any term that has this meaning - 'shoruy loch, mochul loch or muttar loch').
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men but not to women.
About the Mitzvos
Torah is New - Part I
We usually get excited when we receive something new, but the excitement tends to diminish with the passing of time, until eventually,it disipates completely. And this applies to new ideas no less than it does to a new car or to a new house. That is why, in the second parshah of the Shema, the Torah warns us not to treat the mitzvos like an old edict, which people take for granted, but like a new one, which arouses interest and enthusiasm when it first appears.
The concept of treating the mitzvos as new, has two ramifications: it can mean that, like a child with a new toy, one should ensure that they remain in use constantly, like the day they were given at Har Sinai, and not allow them to become outdated and outmoded. Practically speaking, it is no more feasible for mitzvos to become outdated than the G-d who wrote them. In other words, the Torah is exhorting us here never to cease applying any of the mitzvos, on the grounds that they were given a long time ago, and are therefore no longer functional, because this very contention is a fallacy.
That is why Chazal have taught us 'Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world' - the Torah is the blueprint of the world. In fact, it is the world that is subject to change, but not the Torah. It remains as fresh and as beautiful as the day that it was given, and the onus lies on us to observe its freshness and beauty, and to cherish it accordingly.
Incidentally, if a community consists only of ten Cohanim, then all ten Cohanim go to duchen. Whom do they bless? - The people who are not in Shul.
If there are more than ten Cohanim, then those who are in excess of ten go up to duchen. Whom do they bless? The ten Cohanim who stay down.
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