Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 31
12 Sivan 5758
June 6, 1998
Yerushalmi Shabbat 55
This coming Tuesday, the 15th of Sivan, is both the birthday
anniversary and yahrzeit of Yehuda, the fourth son of the
Patriarch Yaakov. (Shalshelet Hakabalah; Melitzei Esh).
Regarding Yehuda, R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l taught: Of all
of Yaakov's sons, it was Yehuda who earned the right to be the
forebearer of the Davidic dynasty and of mashiach. The Torah
portrays Yehuda as a person whose righteousness was tested many
times; unlike his brother Yosef, whose behavior was the model of
consistency, Yehuda sometimes struggled and fell. Yosef and
Yehuda are examples of what the Rambam calls the "chassid me'uleh
and "moshel b'nafsho," respectively.
Rambam explains (Shemoneh Perakim, ch.6) that a "chassid
me'uleh" is a person who is innately righteous. He wants to do
what is right, and he does it without any obvious internal
struggle. Rashi suggests (Shmot 1:4) that Yosef was such a
person; "The same Yosef who shepherded his father's flocks is the
righteous Yosef who ruled Egypt."
The "moshel b'nafsho," on the other hand, is a person who feels
the pull of the evil inclination, even if only to the slightest
degree, but overcomes these challenges. This is what Yehuda did
in saving Tamar, what he failed to do completely (see Rashi,
Breishit 38:1) when given the opportunity to save Yosef, an error
which he in turn corrected by risking his own life to save
This is why Yehuda, not Yosef, was chosen as the ancestor of
kings. The Torah concept of a king is not someone who is "better
than" his subjects, but someone who has experienced and overcome
spiritual struggles. Only then can he lead them in conquering
their own evil inclinations and fulfilling G-d's will.. (Yemei
Zikaron, pp. 70-75)
"Uplift the sons of Kehat . . ." (4:2)
"Uplift the sons of Gershon also . . ." (4:22)
"The sons of Merari, according to their families you should
count them." (4:29)
In these verses, Moshe was told to count the descendants of
each of the three sons of Levi. Why did Hashem use the
expression"naso"/"uplift" in connection with two of them, but not
the third? R' Yaakov Moshe Charlop z"l (died 1951) explains as
We read in Breishit (2:15), "He put him [Adam] in the Garden of
Eden, to work it and to guard it," and Chazal interpret that "to
work it" refers to keeping positive commandments and "to guard
it" refers to observing negative commandments. The idea [writes
R' Charlop] is that in Adam's state before his sin, any action
that he might have taken would have been either a mitzvah or a
sin. [It either would have contributed to furthering G-d's
purpose in creating the world or it would not have contributed.]
If we lived in the ideal world which Hashem envisioned (as Adam
briefly did), this would still be true. No activities would be
fall into the neutral category of "reshut"/"optional."
However, we live in a world where the force of spirituality is
diminished. Some of our actions are neither mitzvot nor sins,
they are only "reshut." (Nevertheless, a memory of the "old
world" exists in Eretz Yisrael, where "optional" activities such
as planting and harvesting are intimately bound up with numerous
mitzvot.) In the future, we will again live in the ideal state
where all of our actions have a spiritual effect.
In last week's and this week's parashot, Hashem assigns jobs in
the mishkan/Tabernacle to the levi'im. The mishkan was the place
where our ancestors got a taste of the spirituality which will
again be revealed when the world reaches its ideal state. That
mishkan had three parts: the courtyard, the Holy, and the Holy of
Holies. So, too, Bnei Yisrael have three parts: kohanim. levi'im
and yisraelim. There are also three ways of serving Hashem:
through Torah, through prayer, and through work. However, "work"
is only a service to G-d in the ideal world (such as in Adam's
world). For us, it is a reshut/optional. [Each set of threes
parallels the other set - Torah, Holy of Holies (where the Torah
was kept) and kohanim; prayer, levi'im (who sang/prayed in the
Temple), and the Holy; work, yisraelim, and the public
There were also three parts to the tribe of Levi, i.e., the
families of Kehat, Gershon amd Merari. Kehat attained the
greatest holiness of the three - that family carried the holiest
vessels of the mishkan, including the Holy Ark. Gershon achieved
the second highest level. Merari was third, and he thus
paralleled service of Hashem through work. However, since, until
the time of mashiach, work is not spiritually uplifting, the
Torah did not use the expression "Naso"/"Uplift" in connection
(Mei Marom Vol. 11, No. 11)
"Thus you shall bless Bnei Yisrael . . ." (6:23)
The midrash relates that when Hashem told Aharon and his sons
to bless Bnei Yisrael, the nation said, "Master of the Universe,
why do You tell the kohanim to bless us? We want only Your
Hashem responded, the midrash continues, "I will bless you."
The midrash concludes: This is why the kohanim raise their hands
above their heads and spread their fingers, thereby creating
apertures through which Hashem can peek over their shoulders.
R' Shaul Brach z"l (early 19th century) asks: If Hashem blesses
Bnei Yisrael, what role do the kohanim play? He answers:
The gemara (Yoma 66b) states: "When the Name of G-d would
emanate from the Kohen Gadol's mouth, everyone would bow and
fall on their faces." The gemara does not say that the Kohen
Gadol said the Name, only that it emanated from his mouth.
Hashem, so-to-speak, spoke through the Kohen Gadol's lips. The
Arizal explains that although the Kohen Gadol was not an active
participant in the recitation of G-d's Name, his (the Kohen
Gadol's) holiness made it possible. So, too, says R' Brach, the
sanctity of the kohanim makes it possible for Hashem to look over
their shoulders and bless Bnei Yisrael.
An Astonishing Midrash
"Ye'varechecha Hashem"/"May Hashem bless you" - this refers
to "Remember the day of Shabbat . . ."
"Ve'yishmerecha"/"May Hashem guard you" - this refers to
"Guard the day of Shabbat . . ."
There are two aspects to Shabbat - "Remembering the day"
involves keeping the positive commandments associated with
Shabbat, e.g. reciting kiddush. "Guarding the day" involves not
transgressing the negative commandments associated with Shabbat.
Paralleling these two aspects, there are two types of people
when it comes to serving Hashem. Some people focus on the
positive commandments. These people tend to be outgoing; they
try to influence others and to include them in numerous spiritual
projects and activities. Other people focus on not transgressing
the negative commandments. These people tend to be more more
reticent and less involved in various projects.
When the kohanim recite Birkat Kohanim/The Priestly Blessings,
they address both types of people. To those whose service of
Hashem parallels "Remember the day" (i.e., those who focus on the
positive commandments), the kohanim say, "Ye'varechecha
Hashem"/"May Hashem bless you and your activities." [Ed. Note:
Rashba writes that the word "le'varech," which we translate
imprecisely as "to bless," means, "to cause to spread out."
Thus, "Ye'varechecha Hashem" could aptly be translated as a
blessing to the one who is involved, and involves others, in many
good deeds: "May Hashem cause your good deeds to be
To those whose service of Hashem parallels "Guard the day"
(i.e., they focus on negative commandments), the kohanim say,
"May Hashem guard you."
Rabbenu Gershom Me'or Hagolah a"h
born approx. 960 - died 1040
A noted leader of Ashkenazic Jewry during its formative years,
Rabbenu Gershom ben Yehuda Me'or Hagolah was probably born in
Metz, in the Rhineland, but spent most of his life in nearby
Mainz. He studied under R' Yehuda Leontin and, some say, in
Babylon, under R' Hai Gaon
R' Gershom's yeshivah in Mainz was the major center of Torah
study in its day, and the students of this academy produced many
important commentaries on the Talmud. The most famous of these
was written by Rashi, who studied under two of R' Gershom's
disciples, R' Yaakov ben Yakar and R' Yitzchak ben Yehuda. R'
Gershom was greatly revered throughout the generations, as
evidenced by his title "Me'or Hagolah"/"The Light of the Exile."
R' Gershom corrected the text of the Talmud from reliable
manuscripts, thereby clarifying many obscure passages. (Rashi
had access to a Talmud written in R' Gershom's own hand.) R'
Gershom also wrote a Talmud commentary and it is printed in some
volumes of the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud.
R' Gershom is best known for the enactments which were enacted
by rabbinic synods at his behest. These include a prohibition on
polygamy and a prohibition on divorcing one's wife against her
will. These decrees are accepted by Ashkenazic Jews throughout
the world. R' Gershom's responsa, too, were considered
authoritative by Ashkenazic Jewry. He also composed liturgical
poetry which was noted for its depth, power, and simplicity. One
of these is Zechor Brit Avraham, which is recited during Ne'ilah
of Yom Kippur. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim, p.118; Rashi to
Sukkah 40a; Machzor Korban Aharon: Mavo Hapiyutim.)
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Edeson and family
in honor of the birthdays of
Nathan, Helene, Ian Hillel,
Samuel Hirsch Edeson
The Siegel family
in memory of Jamie Lehmann a"h
brother of Barbie Lehmann Siegel
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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