Acharei Mos – Judging Favorably

This Dvar Torah is translated from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz’s shmuzzin, Chiddushei HaLev.

Now for some food for thought:

The beginning of this week’s Torah Portion discusses the High Priest’s service on Yom Kippur: “With this shall Aharon come into the Sanctuary: with a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for an elevation offering” (Vayikra/ Leviticus 16:3).The fifth mishna in chapter one of Tractate Yoma states: “The elders of the court put him [the High Priest] in the custody of the elders of the priesthood who took him up to the Avtinas family’s upper chamber, made him take an oath, took their leave and went their way. They said to him, ‘My lord, Kohen Gadol, we are emissaries of the court and you are our emissary and the emissary of the court, we make you swear by the name of Him who rests on this House, that you will not change anything of all that we have told you.’ He would turn aside and weep and they would turn aside and weep.”

The Gemara in Yoma 19b explains that the High Priest wept, for they suspected him of being a tzeduki [one who denied the Oral Law] and the elders cried, as Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said: anyone who suspects an upstanding person should get physical suffering.

Why did the elders of the priesthood cry? They weren’t even afflicted, because they did not sin, as they were obligated to be suspicious of him and make him take an oath?

We must therefore say that the elders of the priesthood cried because they felt and understood the gravity of judgment imposed for a slight action of suspecting an upstanding citizen when it is forbidden to do so and the consequences of one who transgresses this Torah commandment,  deserving of lashes. They were able to feel this sensation even when they themselves were permitted and obligated to question the Kohen Gadol for the sake of the people and sanctity of the Holy Temple.  Even though the elders of the priesthood understood the severity of the sin beforehand, they now felt it more, since they were presented with a real life example of what happens when one suspects an upstanding individual, and how easy it is to fall trap to such a sin.

Metzora – Pleasant Way

This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, is part two of the laws of spiritual leprosy. The portion continues to expound on the process a person who is found contaminated by this ailment has to go through, whether it was found on his body, clothing, or house. The section concludes: “This is the law for every tzaraas affliction and the nesek; and the tzaraas of the garment and of the house; and of the seis, of the sapachas, and of the baheres; to rule on which day it is contaminated and on which day it is purified; this is the law of tzaraas” (Vayikra/ Leviticus 14:54-57).
The Rabbeinu Bachye makes a very important observation about these blemishes: “Even though the tradition the Rabbis have are true, and it testifies about tzaraas that it first strikes one’s house in order to humble his heart, search his ways, and repent. If he really changed his ways, good; but if not ,he is afflicted on his garment. If he repents, good; and if not, he is literally afflicted on his body. This order is not how it is listed in the Torah portions, for affliction on a person is listed first, then on the garment, and then on one’s house. The Torah listed them in this manner because all its ways are pleasant and all its paths are peaceful. So in order so that the order would not increase in misfortune as is the reality therefore it lists them from worst to least as explained in the portion.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
The order of affliction to which a person who transgressed a sin like loshon hara (speaking slander against his fellow) was subject is as follows: he first was afflicted on his house, something far removed from himself, as a warning to repent. Then, if he did not mend his ways, the tzaraas came closer; it manifested on his clothing. If he remained obstinate, then the tzaraas actually spread onto his hair or skin, where it remained until he honestly repented. The Torah, however, did not explain the punishment in order because the Torah is pleasant and peaceful; it did not want to discuss a buildup of misfortune afflicted on anyone.

Yet why could the Torah not just state the facts? The Torah is the epitome of truth; it obviously didn’t find any other reason to change the order, so why not say it as it is, with a caveat that Hashem loves everyone and that out of His overwhelming mercy Hashem created a system to ensure that people repent and fix their ways, which starts with more subtle hints and gets more blatant if people don’t catch the drift. Wouldn’t that be both a beautiful message and the absolute truth?

We must therefore say that Hashem, knowing human psychology better than anyone, for He created us, understands that the psychological impact of seeing the steps of punishment of tzaraas plainly spelled out in the Torah of Truth would give a person such a shock that it is not considered a pleasant and peaceful way to send a message; even if one also explains G-D’s good intentions. It therefore had to be written out of order, and told over properly in the Oral Tradition.

Emulating Hashem and walking in His pleasant and peaceful ways we can learn a lesson here about how to break bad news. One should not be blunt but rather should break bad news in a more subtle and empathic manner.

Tazria – Speaking to Our Souls

In the days of the Beis Hamikdash [Holy Temple], Tzaraas [a spiritual ailment similar to leprosy] was inflicted on those who transgress in certain areas, including that of loshon hara [slanderous speech. A Kohen would then declare the individual spiritually impure, followed by a week of quarantine. The Torah says that then “The Kohen shall look at it on the seventh day and behold! – The affliction retained its color, and the affliction did not spread on the skin, then the Kohen shall quarantine it for a second seven day period. The Kohen shall look at it again on the seventh day, and behold! – if the affliction has dimmed and the affliction has not spread on the skin, then the Kohen shall declare him pure it is a mispachas he shall immerse his garments and become pure” (Leviticus 13:5, 6).

The Sforno (verse 5) emphasizes that this sequence is illogical. The requirement that spiritual contamination and purity of the affliction be dependent on the declaration of a Kohen is a rule without logical reason in the Torah, “For the lips of the Kohen shall guard knowledge.” When the blemished individual comes to the Kohen, he will teach him or her to do teshuva [mend their ways] and to pray for themselves. The Kohen will also pray for them. (Click here for Hebrew text)

The Sforno observes that the more logical assumption would be that a blemish on one’s body should be inherently pure or impure; why should it depend on the declaration of a Kohen? It either is or isn’t Tzaraas. However, G-D made it dependent on the declaration of a Kohen in order that the afflicted person be required to go to a Kohen and be taught how to cure himself through repentance and prayer, and have the Kohen also pray on his or her behalf.

Why did Hashem feel that the process should be done in this way? If a person suddenly fell ill and he began to experience a very painful rash on a part of his body, wouldn’t one think that he would run to the doctor for a cure? Even more so,  if he was already diagnosed with a terrible illness, he would doubtlessly make a follow up appointment with the doctor!? The Kohen was the spiritual doctor of the day, and if a Jew was diagnosed with tzaraas by a kohen, wouldn’t he logically seek out, on his own, whatever means were necessary to cure himself, be it prayer, repentance, etc.? Indeed, this is especially so if it has been a week and he sees that nothing is changing. So why did the Hashem create a situation where the question of whether the blemish is contaminated or not is dependent on the word of the Kohen, and not obviously or automatically known?

It would seem that when it comes to healing one’s soul one would not be as quick to run to a “doctor” for a cure, despite knowing for a fact that something is wrong. Yet the state of insecurity and the unsettled feeling would drive him back to the Kohen, without hesitation, in order to properly learn from him how to mend his ways. Out of Hashem’s pure love and mercy for his children, He left it up to the kohen to declare a person contaminated and pure, in order that the person is guaranteed to get the proper means to heal him or herself.

Shemini – Silence

 

This dvar Torah is transcribed from the notes of a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l when I was in Chofetz Chaim Yerushalyim.

 

The Torah portion of Shemini describes two moments in the history of the Jewish people which are sharply contrasting: First, the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on the first of the month of Nissan. The Yalkut Shimone points out that the Mishkan was established on the first of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt, and that the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested on the Mishkan, and this dedication was like the creation of the world.

In contrast, the second moment in this week’s parsha takes place when Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, brought a strange fire on the alter and it consumed them as punishment. They were known as very righteous people, as we see that Moshe said that the Mishkan was established because of them. Moshe also told Aharon: “They were greater than us.” And Aharon responded with pure silence.

On Mount Sinai Hashem told Moshe that someone great would sanctify this House with his death. Moshe thought it would be him or Aharon, but it was in fact Nadav and Avihu. Aharon accepted this judgment in silence.

In the Book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) it says that there are different times to do different things. One is a time to be silent. Rashi says in that time a person will be rewarded for his or her silence, just like Aharon. Aharon’s reward was for Hashem to speak directly to him immedeatly after this incident, without Moshe as an intermediary, to inform him of certain laws concerning the priesthood. This implies that he had reached a level where only he could accept this message from Hashem.

When Koheles says there is a time for silence he means there is a time that “cries out” silence. There is a moment which is so beyond us that we cannot talk. There can be silence out of joy or out of sorrow. In Aharon’s case, there was a time declared as silence which Hashem declared upon the world, unexplained, and because Aharon recognized the silence came from G-D, was he rewarded.

Tzav – “Janitors Cleaning in Tuxedos”

“It is a known thing that a person must humble himself,” says the Rabbeinu Bachye in the introduction to the Torah portion of Tzav, “and make himself feel lowly before Hashem when standing before Him in prayer, when doing mitzvahs, or any other actions whether easy or hard which will glorify the Honored One Blessed Be He. One should not expect honor coming to himself rather he should acknowledge in himself that mortal flesh and blood are pitiable and one never really lives up to his own obligations in life. It is befitting to humble oneself in this sense as Avraham, our forefather did when he said (Genesis, chapter 18): ‘I am like dirt and dust,’ and King David said in Psalms chapter 15: ‘I am a shame in His eyes and ghastly.’”
With this introduction the Rabbeinu Bachye introduces the intention of the verse in this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 6:3): “The Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breeches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the Elevation offering on the alter…” Rabbeinu Bachye says that “The Torah is informing us here that even the removal of ashes, which is a “lightweight” service of G-D, needs the priestly garments to be worn since the verse mention the linen tunic. It says ‘his fitted’ because it must be worn in its normal manner on his flesh with nothing in between, which is true by the pants as well. And if the pants are too short, not reaching his feet and he did any part of the Holy Service in the Holy Temple then the service is invalidated. Besides the tunic and pants the rest of the priestly garments must be worn as well for if the Torah mentions removing the ashes needs some of the priestly garments it is obvious that all four of the garments for a regular Kohen must be worn for this job and all eight of the priestly garments must be worn if the High Priest is removing the ashes. The Sifri concurs this fact by saying that the extra words in the verse ‘and he shall wear’ comes to include even wearing the turban and belt.” (Click here for Hebrew text)

Imagine the White House janitor, cleaning the toilets and throwing out the garbage while wearing a tuxedo! It sounds like a funny sight; yet this is, in essence, what the Kohen Gadol and other priests did in the Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan when removing the ashes of offerings from the alter. The reason being, as Rabbeinu Bachye points out in his introduction, is because if one truly realizes the awesomeness and majestic royalty of The King Of All King, Blessed Be He, then he will understand that anything done in His honor whether big or small must be done with the utmost respect and subjugation, which would warrant the most eloquent wardrobe being worn, out of pure reverence.

In a similar vein we find an interesting Medrish about Eisav (Breishis Rabba 65:16): “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, all my days I served my father but I did not serve him one in one hundredth of the way Esav served his father. When I served my father I would wear dirty clothes and when I would go outside I would change into clean clothes. But Esav would only serve his father in clothes of royalty for he used to say, ‘It is only honorable to serve my father in royal garments.’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If Eisav understood the degree to which he must respect his father, by serving him hand and foot while wearing his best clothes, and if the Torah says that the kohanim should wear the valuable priestly garments even while removing the ashes, then all the more so we should be careful to wear respectable clothing while engaging in lofty tasks, such as praying, saying blessings or doing other mitzvahs, particularly on Shabbos or Yom Tov and Purim too.

 

Vayikra- Honest to G-D Humility

 

There is a famous question asked about Moshe Rabbeinu. We know that during his lifetime Moshe not only wrote several Torah scrolls, but was capable of writing about himself, as we learn from the following sources: “And the man, Moshe, was very humble more than anyone else on the planet” (Bamidbar 12:3) and “There was no one more trustworthy in all My house besides Moshe” (Bamidbar 12:7). These sources are interpreted as meaning that Moshe Rabbeinu knew that he was the most humble person in the world and that he was on a higher spiritual level than any other human being – yet despite this knowledge he remained the humblest person in the world. How could this be? Indeed, if he knew the truth­, did G-D want him to lie to himself and deny every achievement he made in his lifetime?

My Rosh Yeshiva of blessed memory, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz, went into great detail when answering this question, to define what exactly humility is. I will summarize what he says based on the Chiddushei HaLev [Bamidbar 12:3] (please look at the source material for more detail): ‘The Chovos HaLevavos, Rav Yisrael Salanter and the Chofetz Chaim all agree that a humble person honestly recognizes, in totality, the true level of spirituality and intelligence that he has achieved. It is therefore reasonable for him to feel that he is ‘better’ than everyone else. However, the attribute of humility causes one to emphasize to himself his own shortcomings while focusing on everyone else’s achievements. This, then, is why the truly humble individual is able to continue thinking of himself with humility.

Additionally, a humble person is able to recognize all of his special achievements and strengths, which is the reason why he understands his purpose in life; but, still, he thinks that others are better than him. In this same way, Moshe Rabbeinu was cognizant of all of his achievements, knew he was the most perfect and humble person in the world, and understood that his purpose in life was to be the greatest leader of the generation and to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt and through the desert. Yet he continued to feel that every Jew was better than him, as he was able to recognize the achievements that each individual possessed that he did not.

There is an oft mentioned quote from Yeshiva Slobodka: “Humility, yes; depression, no.” This means that it is forbidden for a person to lack self-worth, since feelings like this will ultimately lead to depression and giving up. There is no doubt that the Chovos Halevavos, Rav Yisrael Salanter and the Chofetz Chaim also felt this way. Granted they said that a humble person feels everyone is better than him, but that is not because he deems himself to be a bad person; rather, it is because he focuses on elevating others, on the tremendous value of everyone else, judging all of their actions favorably.  Thus a truly humble person does not feel depression and at a loss for hope; on the contrary – he feels great joy and spiritual satisfaction at being able to reach this incredibly high spiritual level of humility. (See also “Majesty of Man” – essays on the weekly Torah readings adapted from the talks of Rabbi A. Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, parashas Vayikra, page 165.)

Against this back drop, we find something very peculiar. The first verse of the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra 1:1) starts with “Vayikra el Moshe” [“And He called to Moses.”] Vayikra in Hebrew is spelled ויקרא. In the Torah scroll the last letter of the word, an aleph [[א, is written shorter than the rest of the word.

The Mahara”m MiRotenberg says that the reason why the aleph is small is because “Moshe was great and humble and he wanted to write ויקר without an aleph which means ‘a happenstance,’ meaning G-D only spoke to Moshe through dreams. However Hashem told him to write ויקרא in full. Moshes did not want to write this explicitly because of his humility but he said he will write the aleph smaller than other alephs in the Torah.”

According to what was said above, how could it be that Moshe wanted to imply that Hashem only spoke to him through dreams by pure happenstance? In truth Hashem called on Moshe whenever He wanted, at the spur of the moment; Moshe was spiritually ready and able to speak to Hashem when needed. Would it not be a lie to erase the aleph from the word Vayikra? How is this true humility!?

One can find an answer to this question in the gemara Bava Metzia 23b which quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel (Shmuel is Shmuel Hakatan, known to be a very humble sage). He said that there are 3 things which rabbis are known to “switch their words” about, one of them being a tractate. Rashi explains that this means that if someone asks a rabbi if he knows a certain tractate of Gemara by heart (thoroughly back and forth) and he indeed does, the rabbi can still reply no and this is considered acting humbly.

Tosfos there asks: how it is possible for a rabbi to deny such a thing? There is a gemara in Kiddushin 30a which quotes a verse from Shema that says that a rabbi should ‘have his teachings on the tip of his tongue for if anyone asks him a question he should not hesitate and answer rather he should answer immediately’ (ideally). Tosfos answers by saying that only applies if a person comes over to a rabbi with a practical question or to learn from him; but if he is coming just to test the rabbi, to see if he knows his stuff, the rabbi is permitted to switch the truth and say that he never learned it.

In a similar vein we can understand where Moshe Rabbeinu was coming from. Everyone knew already that Hashem spoke to Moshe directly and whenever He needed to; indeed, it even took place front of the Tent of Meeting, in broad daylight! Yet Moshe felt that he did not have to show it off and publicize it. His speaking to G-D was like the tractates learnt by the rabbis, since G-D was his teacher. Anything Moshe spoke to G-D about was Torah. And just as it is a sign of humility for a rabbi who is being tested to deny learning a certain tractate in which he is actually an expert in order not to flaunt his knowledge, so too Moshe felt no need to spell out explicitly that G-D called on him in broad daylight, out of true humility. He wasn’t trying to lie or deny the truth. Moshe knew who he was and knew that everyone else knew who he was as well; he simply did not need to flaunt this to the world. That is true humility. Ultimately, however, Hashem overruled Moshe, as the word Vayikra is completely spelled out in the Torah. But from the fact that Vayikra is written with a small aleph, we see that Hashem agreed with Moshe that his intentions were proper.

Pekuday: Accountability

The last Torah portion of the Book of Shemos, Pekuday, continues to describe the construction of the Mishkan [Tabernacle], and begins to record the materials used in the building process (Shemos [Exodus] 38:24-31):
“All the gold that was used for the work, for all the holy work, the offered up gold was 29 talents and 730 shekels, in the sacred shekel. The silver of the census of the community was 100 talents, 1,775 shekels in the sacred shekel. A beka for every head, a half shekel in the sacred shekel for everyone who passed through the census takers, from 20 years of age and up, for 603,550. The 100 talents of silver were to cast the sockets of the Sanctuary and the sockets of the Partition; a 100 sockets for a hundred talents a talent per socket. And from the 1,775 he made hooks for the pillars, covered their tops and banded them. The offered up copper was 70 talents and 2,400 shekel. With it he made the sockets of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Copper Alter, the copper meshwork that was on it, and all the vessels of the Alter; the sockets of the courtyard all around, the sockets of the gate of the Courtyard, all the pegs of the Tabernacle, and all the pegs of the Courtyard, all around.”
The Daas Zekeinim MiBaalay Tosfos observes that the Torah explicitly wrote what the silver and copper were used for; this is because most of the vessels were made out of them. However, when it came to the allocation of the gold, the Torah does not give a detailed list of what the gold was used for (although we do see a mention of gold being used throughout, such as in  constructing various vessels and priestly garments). Yet we know that the menorah and the Cover were made completely out of gold, and that gold was also used for plating the planks, the staves, the Golden Alter, and the Table. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Why wasn’t there an explicit list made of what the gold was used for? Why would the Torah, which is the ultimate truth, the pinnacle of honesty not be as transparent and clear as possible with all their records in order to allay any suspicions?

We learn from here an astonishing lesson in accounting. True honesty only requires that what is used for most of the job be explicitly spelled out. Anything else does not have to be specifically listed, as long as it can be accounted for. On the flip side, the expectation is that the majority of material will be clearly listed; just going through the records would not be a high enough  degree of accountability.

G-d, who created and defines honesty and is the epitome of truth, understands there has to be a balance to accountability, a norm. Clearly listing the uses of the materials which are used most often is the norm, and, for everything else which is not used to the same degree, just looking through the records is a sufficient degree of accountability.

Vayakhel: Getting Down to the Root of the Matter

Every single letter in the Torah has meaning, whether by its addition or subtraction. The Torah says in this week’s portion of Vayakhel (35:27): “And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones for setting into the ephod and breastplate.” The phrase “and the leaders” is usually spelled והנשיאים in Hebrew but the Torah leaves out the two yuds. Why?

Rashi on the verse quoting a Medrish Rabba (Bamidbar Rabba 12:16)comments: “Rebbe Nosson said: ‘Why did the leaders of the tribes see fit to contribute to the dedication of the alter first whereas for building the mishkan (tabernacle) they were not the first to contribute?’ (As soon as the mishkan was erected they immediately contributed the first offerings to be sacrificed on the alter, see Bamidbar [Numbers] 7:1-2) Rather the leaders of the tribes thought as follows: ‘Let the public-at-large contribute, and whatever will be lacking we will supply.’ Once the public supplied all that was needed as it says ‘And the work was sufficient’ (Shemos [Exodus] 36:7), the tribal leaders said ‘What is left for us to do?’ so they brought the onyx stones etc. It is for this reason that they contributed to the altar dedication first. And since, at first, they were somewhat lazy, there is a missing letter, here, from their title.”

The Nachalas Yaakov, a commentary on Rashi, comments that even though the leaders had good intentions to also give merit to all Jews by letting them fulfill the mitzvah of contributing to the building of the mishkan, they were never the less considered lazy because they should have believed that the rest of the Jews would contribute all that was needed for the work. Instead, they were apprehensive and considered that they might not contribute a lot. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from here that the leaders of each tribe just wanted to share the wealth and allow others to participate in the mitzvah of contributing to the building of the mishkan. That is why they let the rest of the nation contribute first. But when they saw that there was not much left to contribute accept for the precious stones of the ephod and breastplate, the next time the chance to contribute presented itself, they quickly contributed before anyone else had a chance (to the dedication of the alter).

However there seemed to have been a claim against the leaders for not contributing first towards the building of the mishkan, as we see from their eternal disgraced  having the yuds left out of their name in this verse.

Rashi says that the root of their miscalculation was that, deep down, they had feelings of laziness inside them. No matter how miniscule these feelings were, they caused them to not contribute first. But what did they do wrong; they had very pure intentions? They didn’t want to be selfish and hoard the mitzvah, even though they could have contributed everything themselves, or at least most of it. Indeed, they were the leaders, and by doing what they did, they were teaching others how to contribute to the cause!

Ultimately, Hashem, who can gaze deep down into the depths of our hearts and see our entire intentions, no matter how miniscule they may be, sees the source of all reasoning. In this case he saw that their unwillingness to act first did in fact stem from laziness, not from the purest of intentions. For that reason they were disciplined; they then realized their mistake and corrected it at the next possible opportunity, with the dedication of the alter.

It is possible to, at face value, have very fine intentions but, deep down, have it stem from a negative attribute. It is not easy and takes a lot of work, but a person must be in tune with himself and be able to differentiate between the subtleties of motivation, between good and bad. Seeking advice before making a decision can help, but ultimately being in tune with our inner thoughts and psyche, knowing ourselves is the ultimate way, is what helps the most in making the right decision.

Ki Sisa: Intellectual (Emotional) Honesty

Two very famous verses, which most people say in their prayers every Friday night, are found in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa (31:16,17): “And the Children of Israel shall keep the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the Seventh Day He rested and was refreshed (vayinafash [וינפש]).” The Daas Zekeinim, in the name of Rav Yehudah HaChasid (as well as the Baal HaTurim based on a gemara in Beitzah 16a) says that the last word of verse 17, “vayinafash,” is the source for the idea that we are given an extra soul on Shabbos. My rebbe in Eretz Yisrael, HaRav HaGaon Rav Avrohom Kanarek Shlita, may he live and be well, once told me that the extra soul is given to us in order that we be able to receive extra nourishment, that we may then optimally fulfill the mitzvah of ‘delighting in the Shabbos,’ with all the extra foods and meals we eat in honor of the Shabbos.

The Daas Zekeinim goes on to tell a story of a conversation Tunisrufus, an evil Roman emperor, had with Rebbe Akiva: “The evil Tunisrufis bumped into Rebbe Akiva on Shabbos. [Tunisrufus] asked him, ‘what is so special about today than all other days?’ [Rebbe Akiva] replied, ‘what is so special about you than any other man?’ [Tunisrufis] said back, ‘What did I ask you and what did you ask me? [Rebbe Akiva] retorted, [you asked] what is the difference between Shabbos and the other days of the week and I asked you what the difference between you and other people?’ [Tunisrufis] lashed backed, ‘The Almighty King of All Kings honored me by making me king.’ Rebbe Akiva said back to him, ‘So to the Almighty King of All Kings wanted that Shabbos should be honored.’ [Tunisrufis] then asked [Rebbe Akiva], ‘Why does He do melocho (forbidden actions) on Shabbos by transferring wind and rain from one domain to another?’ [Rebbe Akiva] answered him, ‘I know about you that you are an expert in the law of the Jews, two people who live in one courtyard if each one of them does not give towards an eruv enabling the area to be common ground for both then perhaps they may carry [in the courtyard] in certain circumstances on Shabbos. But if one person lives in one big courtyard even if it is the size of Antochia he is permitted to carry throughout [the whole entire courtyard without any questions.] So The Holy One Blessed Be He whose sky is His throne and the land is the pedestal for His feet and He fills the whole entire world with His honor and everything is His, therefore he can carry throughout the whole entire world.’” (Click here for Hebrew text)

The Evil Tunisrufis, as he was known, was the emperor of Rome. He controlled essentially the entire world at that time. Rome was the center of culture, philosophy, and intellectualism, and  Tunisrufis was obviously a highly touted intellectual. It seems from this Daas Zekeinim that not only was he well versed in Jewish Law, but he also had some level of belief in Hashem, attributing his success and power to the Almighty One. If so, how could he be so evil; to the point that the gemara records that he was the one who plowed over the site of the Holy Temple after it was destroyed?

It is evident from the tone of Tunisrufis’s questions that he was mocking the truth. We see from here that even if one intellectually knows something to be true, and can distinguish between right and wrong, he can still choose to be bad. It would seem that someone who, for whatever reason, cannot embrace what they know to be true, can also not simply choose to ignore it; they must resort to mockery, an emotional tactic, to justify their way of life.

A person has to be very careful in life in order to remain on the right path, the way of G-D. One must constantly ask him or herself: ‘what is the will of G-D at this moment?’ ‘What would He want me to do now?’ One must imbibe this attitude; it cannot be understood just on an intellectual level, but must also be consistently felt in one’s heart.

Tetzaveh: A Light Unto the Nations

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh, we find a discussion of the olive oil needed for the ner tamid [constant light] lit by the Kohanim [priests] in the Mishkan [Tabernacle]. The Medrish Rabba (Tetzaveh, parsha 36, paragraph 2) discusses why the Mishkan needed the light, as it was the place of G-D’s Presence, and He emanates His own light unto the nations, and certainly does not require it for Himself.
The Medrish says: “Not that I need them, rather you should light up for me just as I give light for you. Why? In order to raise you above all the nations so that they will say ‘the Jews are giving light to The One who gives light to everyone.’ One can compare this to a person who can see and a blind person walking down the road. The person who can see says to the blind man, ‘Come and I will support you on your way.’ The blind man continues to walk [with the help of the other person.] When they get to the house the seeing person says to the blind one, ‘turn on the light for me so I can see in order so that you don’t have to feel indebted to me for escorting you. This is why I tell you to turn on the light.’ So to the seeing person represents G-D as it says in Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim 2 16:9): ‘For Hashem’s eyes roam throughout the land.’ The blind man represents the Jews as it says in Isaiah (59:10) ‘We grope the wall like the blind; and like the eyeless we grope; we stumble at noon as in the dark of night.’ By the sin of the golden calf G-D [still] provided them with light and lead them as it says in Shemos (13:21): ‘Hashem went before them by day.’ When they were going to build the Mishkan [Hashem] called on Moshe and told him to take clear olive oil [for light]. The Jews said (Psalms 18:29): ‘For it is You Who will light my lamp, Hashem, my G-D, illuminates my darkness. And you ask us to set up a light before you?’ G-D responded: ‘In order to elevate you that you give light to me just as I gave light to you.’”

The RaDa”L (note 10) elaborates that Hashem, out of His pure mercy, led the Jews through the desert with the Clouds of Honor during the day and the Pillar of Fire at night – even while they transgressed with the sin of the golden calf. The Yedai Moshe explains why Hashem nevertheless wanted the Jewish people to light up the mishkan, the House of His Divine Presence, with the ner tamid: “in order so that they will not be deniers of good. Even if Hashem did not need the light, nevertheless Hashem’s intentions were to teach man to night be ingrates.”

One question that comes to mind is how could the Jews have become ingrates in the Wilderness? They were on such high levels of belief in Hashem, and it was obvious that they owed their lives to Him; He saved them from the clutches of the Egyptians, and gave them food, drink, fresh clothes, and comfort. Then G-D gave them the Torah, the ultimate guidebook to living life to the fullest; they should have been overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude! How could they have lost it? Furthermore, one would think that by giving back to Hashem, it would reduce their feeling of gratitude, like a bartering system. He gives to them, and vice versa. There should not have been any feelings of indebtedness at all if they were just trading with each other. So why would the light of the mishkan enhance their feeling of gratitude towards Hashem?!

The Mahar”I Ben Lev (in the Yafe Toar) asks two other questions on the medrish: (1) Why would this act elevate their states in the eyes of all the other nations? On the contrary, they would think that the Jews are fools for giving light to the One Who Lights up the World. (2) What was the comparison to the parable? In the parable the seeing man didn’t want the blind man to feel indebted, which is not true here.

The Mahar”I Ben Lev answers that Hashem did not want the Jews to be ungrateful, rather they should acknowledge the good done to them, and for that reason Hashem “requested payment for what He did.” For this reason He commanded them to light up the candles, as a symbol of their gratitude, just as He shed light upon them. Through this they came to be viewed in high esteem by the rest of the world, for they saw that the Jews were not ingrates. To explain the parable, the Mahar”I Ben Lev says that the seeing man was paid back by the blind man by the turning on of the light in the house, in order to show that the blind man accepted the nice thing the seeing man did for him. The blind man does not owe anything else to the seeing man, because he already paid him by expressing his gratitude for the kindness the seeing man did for him. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The blind man is expressing his gratitude towards his friend by listening to his request to turn on the light for him. We see from this medrish an incredible lesson in expressing gratitude. There is no doubt that the Jews felt incredibly indebted to Hashem for all He did for them, and felt a tremendous amount of gratitude for the His kindness and mercy. However, Hashem was teaching them that, without giving back, without actively showing one’s gratitude, it is impossible to completely cover a debt. It is also possible that if one does not take action to show his gratitude he might even start to lose his feeling of appreciation, possibly because he feels entitled to what is coming to him for free. This is why Hashem commanded the Jews to light the ner tamid in the mishkan, even though He had no use for it.
Showing gratitude is of such fundamental importance that this is what elevates the Jews in the eyes of the world and, G-D forbid we would not show proper gratitude, it would create a tremendous chilul Hashem [profaning of G-D’s Holy name] in the world.

I would like to express might deep heartfelt gratitude towards Hashem for giving me the ability and allowing me to spread Torah worldwide. A sincere thank you also to all my students, supporters and followers for helping and encouraging me to continue with this magnificent endeavor of spreading the ingenuity of Torah throughout the world.