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Vol. 12 No. 52
Yerachmiel ben Yitzchak David ha'Levi
Yitzchak David ben Yerachmiel ha'Levi
Last week, we discussed the five reasons for the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Kein cited by Rabeinu Bachye. The P'ninim mi'Shulcham ha'G'ro cites the Gemara in B'rachos (33b) 'If someone declares that Hashem's mercy extends to a bird's nest ... we silence him, because he presumes G-d's Midos to be acts of mercy, when really they are decrees'.
The G'ro bases the interpretation of this Chazal on a combination of two things: a. on the fact that the Torah confines its promise of long life to this Mitzvah and to that of Kibud Av va'Eim; and b. on the theory that a person's Midah of Sh'leimus (perfection) only becomes known once he demonstrates that he is capable of performing two extreme opposite Midos (like Avraham, who was the ultimate Ba'al Chesed, yet he was able to apply Din to the extreme when the need arose, such as when he expelled Yishmael from the house). As long as one only performs acts of kindness to others, there is nothing to show that this is anything but a manifestation of the Midah that one was born with, rather than an act of righteousness on his part. It is only when one has demonstrated the ability to be harsh, when that is what is needed, that he is able to attribute his acts of kindness to his level of Avodas Hashem, rather than to second nature.
And it is on account of this second point that G-d promised long life specifically with regard to these two Mitzvos, which represent the very two extreme opposites of which we spoke earlier. Kibud Av va'Eim represents the Midah of compassion, since it incorporates looking after one's parents when they become old and have difficulty in looking after themselves; whilst Shilu'ach ha'Kein represents that of cruelty, for, as the Yerushalmi writes, when one forces the mother bird to leave its young, there are times when it becomes so distraught, that it actually goes on to drown itself (see main article in last week's issue).
It therefore transpires that the Torah prescribes long life specifically with regard to these two Mitzvos, not to teach us the virtues of any particular Midah, but to teach us that perfection lies in the ability to serve Hashem with any Midah that is required.
Another interpretation of the corollary between the Mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Eim and Shilu'ach ha'Kein is given by the Medrash Tanchuma in Eikev. The Medrash points out that although the one is the easiest conceivable Mitzvah to perform, the other incredibly difficult, the Torah prescribes the same reward - 'long life in this world'.
Before delving into the Medrash, it is worth noting that this follows the opinion of the Mishnah in Pe'ah, which includes Kibud Av va'Eim in the list of Mitzvos for which one receives some remuneration in this world. Whereas the opinions that we have discussed until now hold like R. Ya'akov, who maintains that the reward for Mitzvos is reserved entirely for the World to Come. The question arises as to how the Medrash will explain Shilu'ach ha'Kein, which, like Kibud Av ... , 'earns the fruits of his efforts in this world', yet is not included in the list presented by the Mishnah in Pe'ah?
As a matter of fact, the Gemara in Kidushin (40a) poses this question. The answer given there is that, based on a Pasuk in Yeshayah, it is only for Mitzvos between man and man that a person receives some of his reward in this world. The Ya'avetz explains that if that is so, we will have to say that when the Pasuk writes in this connection "in order that He will do good to you and you will live a long time", it is referring to reward in the world which is all long (like R. Ya'akov explains even regarding the Mitzvos listed in Pe'ah).
The Medrash Tanchuma however does not agree with the Gemara's answer. The Medrash specifically mentions reward in this world, in connection with Shilu'ach ha'Kein, and the Gemara's question as to why this Mitzvah is not listed alongside Kibud Av va'Eim in the Mishnah in Pe'ah remains unanswered (and the same question pertains to the Mitzvah of 'Mishkolos' [honest weights and measures], by which the Torah writes [also in Ki Seitzei 25:15] "in order that you will live long on the land ... ", and Mezuzah, where it writes in Eikev [11:21] "In order that your days and the days of your children will be long on the land ... ").
Let us now elaborate on the Medrash itself. Although a person 'eats the fruits of his efforts in this world', as we explained, he will certainly receive the bulk of his reward in the World to Come. And as far as the latter is concerned, nobody knows the extent of that reward, nor whether the reward for Kibud Av va'Eim and for Shilu'ach ha'Kein will be treated equally, as they are in this world.
In any event, we can learn from here how little we understand about the value of Mitzvos. For if we dissect the Mitzvah of Kibud Av ... we will find that a. it requires much planning and effort; b. it is ongoing; c. it is extremely difficult to perform, complex and time-consuming; and d. the recipients are human beings. Shilu'ach ha'Kein, on the other hand, comes without any planning and requires little effort, it occurs rarely, it is easy to perform, straightforward and takes up little time and what's more, the recipients are merely birds, which do not rate anywhere near human-beings on G-d's scale of importance. One could surely be forgiven for believing that the reward for Kibud Av ought to be ten (perhaps even a hundred) times more than that of Shilu'ach ha'Kein. Clearly then, the latter has hidden ramifications which are simply beyond our comprehension, much like the Mashal of the trees that we cited in the first part of the article, where nobody knew the value that the king placed on each individual tree in his garden. We therefore have no option but to envisage each and every Mitzvah as if it was a priceless gem, whose value is beyond our assessment.
* * *
Bikurim Stops Overdrafts
"I listened to the voice of Hashem my G-d, I did all that you commanded me. Look down from your holy dwelling-place and bless your people Yisrael ... " (26:14/15).
Based on the fact that the word used by the Torah for "Look down" is "hashkifoh", the Yerushalmi comments on this Pasuk on the greatness of someone who performs a Mitzvah, since the word 'Hashkofoh' has connotations of looking down for bad (like we find with S'dom, where the same root word is used). What the Pasuk therefore means is that even if Yisrael has sinned, and Hashem has in mind to punish them for their sins, if they observe the Mitzvah of Matnos Aniyim (giving the poor their dues), the evil decree will be cancelled, and in its stead, G-d will look down from the Heaven and reward them.
The K'sav Sofer citing his father, the Chasam Sofer, asks why the Torah needs to write "Hashkifoh", implying that Yisrael need to be punished, and then to switch the curse into a blessing. Why did it not simply write 'Habitoh', which implies blessing?
R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld answers with the well-known fact that a material blessing comes at the expense of one's portion in the World to Come. Indeed, the Chafetz Chayim compares this to someone who writes a large cheque for cash, and who is pleased to have money in his purse from which he derives much pleasure. But then, when his bank statement arrived, he simply cannot understand why, for every P'rutah that he withdrew, his bank account has dwindled, and that because of the large amount involved, he is actually 'in the red'.
And so it is with the good things in this world. Someone who enjoys material success in whatever sphere it may be, should worry that his gains here have come at the expense of his portion there (like we find by Ya'akov Avinu, and by R. Chanina ben Dosa and the golden table-leg), since those who merit the best of both worlds are few and far between.
What we have just said is true up to the time that one gives Bikurim and Matnos Aniyim. But once a person has overcome the initial urge to benefit from the first-fruits of one's labour and is ready to give away to others what he reaped by the sweat of his brow; once he has announced that he has paid all his dues, and said 'I did everything that You Hashem, commanded me', that is when the Midas ha'Din turns into Midas Rachamim, and G-d looks down on him and cancels his debt, crossing out the last transaction as if it had not taken place. That is when the Torah's promise "And you will be happy with all the good that Hashem gave to you and your household, you, together with the Levi and the Ger who dwells in your midst" - the beneficiaries of your gifts.
It seems to me that there is an alternative, simpler way of answering the Chasam Sofer's Kashya. One could say that the Torah deliberately uses the expression "Hashkifoh", not because it has to, like R. Yosef Chayim explains, but because it wants to demonstrate that Bikurim and Matnos Aniyim have the power to negate an evil decree and to turn it into a blessing.
(The remainder of this article
is adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
"Today you became a nation" (27:9).
The Pasuk says this with reference to the acceptance of the covenant, bearing in mind that Yisrael abrogated the covenant that Hashem made with them at Sinai.
R. Shimshon Rafael Hirsch notes that Jewish nationalism did not begin when Yisrael obtained their own country nor when they began speaking a common language. Jewish nationalism began when Yisrael accepted the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos, even though that took place in a desert, without all the natural ingredients that form the foundation of other nations.
That is what makes Yisrael unique among the nations. Perhaps it also explains our survival during thousands of years of Galus, without a country of our own, without a common language and without a common culture. The one thing that we all have in common is the holy Torah, and that is what bonds us all together.
"Cursed be the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah in order to do them" (27:26).
There are some people, says the Akeidas Yitzchak, who keep Torah and Mitzvos, not because that is the right thing to do, but for ulterior motives ... to acquire a good name so that people will trust him financially or for the honour that Talmidei-Chachamim enjoy.
And it is about such people that the Torah brands the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah in order to do them, but for some personal motive or other, as cursed.
Whilst the Ramban simply cites the Yerushalmi, which states that even if somebody learns Torah and teaches it, observes and fulfils all the Mitzvos, if he has the means to support people who study Torah, but declines to do so, he falls under the category of 'cursed'.
From the Haftarah
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah Shel Torah)
Who Needs the Fortifications?
"And the sons of foreigners will build your walls" (Yeshayah 60:10).
In the days of Mashi'ach (to which this Pasuk is referring), Yisrael will not require fortifications, since no-one is destined to fight against them; nor will they have any need of walled cities to enable them to redeem their sold property for an extra year, since the prevailing affluence will eliminate the need to sell property and the ensuing worries that follow in the wake of such a sale.. For so the Pasuk in Ki Savo says (28:12) " ... and you will lend the nations, but will not need to borrow from them".
Then what is the point of the walls, asks the Ahavas Yehonasan?
The answer is 'for benefit of the sons of the foreigners, who want to become Geirei Toshav (righteous gentiles who undertake to observe all he seven Mitzvos of the Noahide code), to be eligible for the various benefits that this status carries with it). And the Rambam rules that a Ger Toshav only applies when the Dinim of Batei Arei Chomah apply.
Consequently, it is for their own benefit that the foreigners will suddenly come forward and volunteer to fortify our cities.
Making it in the End
"And your people are all righteous, they will always inherit the Land, a shoot of My planting ... " (Yeshayah 60:21).
The commentaries teach us that a person who strayed from the path of Torah and Mitzvos will have to suffer reincarnation time and time again, until he has been purified and is able to take his place in Gan Eden. And that, says the Maharam Mizrachi, is what this Pasuk means. K'lal Yisrael are all righteous, even the Resha'im, who are re-planted in this world a number of times, until they too, join the ranks of the Tzadikim.
* * *
AND THEIR MEANING
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article
reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch
and are not necessarily Halachah.
The Confession of Ma'asros
*It is a Mitzvah to confess before G-d *and to verbally state in His Beis-Hamikdash that we have given all our T'rumos and Ma'asros from our produce and our fruit, and that nothing from them remains in our possession. This is paradoxically called the Mitzvah of confession of Ma'aser, and it is about it that the Torah writes in Ki Savo (26:13) "And you shall say before Hashem your G-d, 'I have destroyed the Kodesh from the house ... ' ".
*A reason for the Mitzvah* is because man's greatest treasure and valuable asset is the power of speech, which renders him superior to all other creatures. For all his other physical traits are common to all animals, and it is only in this one area that man is unique. This explains why many people are afraid of defiling their majestic quality of speech, even more than they are of sinning in deed. And seeing as T'rumos and Ma'asros are of extreme importance, inasmuch as the sustenance of G-d's servants depends on them, G-d in His abundant kindness (to stop us from sinning) makes a point of warning us to separate them and to refrain from touching or benefiting from them, and then to verbally attest in the Beis-Hamikdash that we were not deceitful and that we held nothing back. All this is simply a reminder to take care not to transgress.
*Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah* ... Chazal have said that one should declare this Viduy any time during the day, in any language ... The declaration really ought to be made in the Beis-Hamikdash, since the Torah writes "before Hashem your G-d". Bedi'eved however, it is valid wherever one says it ... The person who says the Viduy must have disposed of all the Matanos (as we already explained), to comply with what he himself says 'I have cleared out (all) the Kodesh from the house' ... This Viduy is said on the last day of Pesach of the fourth year (of the Sh'mitah cycle [following the third year, which saw the giving of Ma'aser Ani, completing the cycle of T'rumos and Ma'asros]), and on the last day of Pesach of the seventh year (for the same reason) ... The remaining details are to be found in the last chapter of Ma'aser Sheini (and in the first chapter of Hilchos Ma'aser Sheini in the Rambam).
*This Mitzvah applies* only to men, and only when the Beis-Hamikdash is standing. Someone who fails to make the declaration in the time of the Beis-Hamikdash has negated the Mitzvah.
Not to Eat Ma'aser Sheini
when One is an Onein
*It is forbidden to eat Ma'aser Sheini* whilst one is an onein.
The author already discussed the Mitzvah of Ma'aser Sheini, in its place at the beginning of Re'ei. The definition of an Onein min ha'Torah is someone whose relative (for whom he is obligated to mourn), dies, on the day that he dies and is buried (until nightfall), by day but not by night, as Chazal learn from the Pasuk (in connection with the death of Nadav and Avihu) "If I eat a Chatas today, will it be good in the Eyes of Hashem?", from which they extrapolate 'the day is forbidden, but the night is permitted'. And it is in this regard that the person bringing Ma'aser Sheini declares "I did not eat from it whilst I was an Onein", implying that if he had, he would have transgressed. And it is not only Ma'aser Sheini that an Onein is forbidden to eat, but all Kodshim, and someone who does receives Malkos.
A reason for the Mitzvah is because Kodshim are considered to be the Table of Hashem, and it is not befitting for someone who is worried and deeply grieved to approach the Table of the King, like the Pasuk writes in Megilas Esther (4:2) "for one may not come before the king wearing sack-cloth". Another reason for the Mitzvah is to do with the fact that eating Kodshim is an atonement for the owner's sins, as Chazal have said 'the Kohanim eat and the owner is atoned for'. It is clear that they would eat their Kodshim with great kavonoh and with a perfect mind, and that all their thoughts and movements were directed towards Heaven. Now when a person is worried and distressed, as he is on the day when his close relative dies, his mind is not settled, and he is unable to attain that level of concentration.
Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... Chazal have said that an Onein is Chayav Malkos for eating Ma'aser Sheini only if he eats it in Yerushalayim ... If an Onein de'Rabbanan eats Ma'aser Sheini, he receives Makas Mardus (i.e. Malkus de'Rabbanan), and this refers to the night after the burial, as well as to whatever period of time elapses between the day of death and the burial ... The remaining details pertaining to this Mitzvah are found in the eighth chapter of Pesachim and the second chapter of Zevachim.
This prohibition applies to men and women alike, at the time when the Beis-Hamikdash is standing, when Ma'asros are min ha'Torah. Someone who transgresses it and eats a k'Zayis of Kodshim or of Ma'aser Sheini when he is an Onein min ha'Torah receives Malkos.