Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XIII, No. 15
6 Shevat 5759
January 23, 1998
Orach Chaim 43:8-44:1
Daf Yomi: Yoma 19
Yerushalmi Yoma 12
At the very beginning of his Torah commentary, Rashi suggests
that the Torah should have begun in the middle of our parashah
(specifically with chapter 12). It is there that we find the
first mitzvah that was given to Bnei Yisrael as a group, and what
is the primary purpose of the Torah if not to convey the
Rashi explains that the Torah begins with creation because
(quoting Tehilim 111:6), "The strength of His deeds He told to
His nation." Hashem wanted the world to know that He created the
world and He is free to give Eretz Yisrael to whomever He
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l observes that there is another
lesson conveyed by the story that the Torah tells up to this
point. It is how Yisrael came to be (in the words of the same
verse), "His nation." Without that introduction, the coming
story of the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai would have been
incomplete or even unintelligible.
What does Avraham do in the Book of Bereishit that makes the
Jewish people unique? Why, as we will read in the coming weeks,
were Avraham's descendants chosen to receive the Torah?
R' Soloveitchik explains that Avraham was the first person, and
Judaism was the first religion, that progressed from recognizing
the existence of G-d to recognizing an obligation to live
according to His will. Many ancient societies recognized that
there is a G-d, but no society concluded that that G-d cared how
they lived their lives.
There is another, related lesson: G-d chose Avraham, but
Avraham chose G-d. The Torah until now is a prelude to the
giving of the Torah because it teaches that Hashem did not give
us the Torah against our will. Rather, the Torah is the treaty
which memorializes the covenant between Avraham's family and
Hashem. (Quoted in Efneh Ve'eshneh p.137)
"It [the plague of locusts] will cover the surface
[literally: the 'eye'] of the land so that one will not be
able to see the land." (10:5)
Why are the words "the land" repeated? Why didn't the Torah
say, "[S]o that one will not be able to see it"? R' Eliezer
Zusia Portugal z"l (the "Skulener Rebbe") explains:
In Parashat Balak, the Jews are described as "covering the
surface [literally: the 'eye'] of the land." Rashi explains that
"the eye of the land" refers to Sichon and Og, who were supposed
to protect the land of Moav from Bnei Yisrael but instead were
killed in battle. Based on that interpretation, the "eye of the
land" in our verse may be Pharaoh, and the Torah is foretelling
that the locust will be so dense that Pharaoh, the protector of
the land of Egypt, will be helpless against them.
"It is a Pesach offering to Hashem." (12:11)
Rashi explains that the name "Pesach" derives from the word
"skipping." He writes: "For Hashem skipped over the houses of
the Jews which were among the houses of the Egyptians. He jumped
from Egyptian to Egyptian, and the Jew was in the middle. As for
you, serve Him for the sake of Heaven."
What does Rashi's last comment mean and how is it related to
his explanation of the word "Pesach"? R' Nosson David Rabinowitz
z"l (whose 69th yahrzeit is tomorrow; grandfather of the present
"Munkatcher Rebbe") explains as follows:
Sometimes a person witnesses a powerful event which inspires
him to strengthen his service of Hashem. However, that is not
the ideal. Rather, we should serve Hashem because, and only
because, that is His will.
Moshe was concerned that the plague of the firstborn would have
an undesirable effect on Bnei Yisrael. This is why, according to
Rashi, Moshe instructed them: "As for you, do not serve Hashem
because you will see Him skipping over your houses. Instead,
serve Him for the sake of Heaven."
In this light, we can understand why the Korban Pesach is
referred to (in verse 12:43) as a "chok" - a mitzvah whose reason
is unknown. Although the Korban Pesach (whose blood was placed
on the doorposts to identify a Jewish house) recalls the great
miracle that Hashem performed and our gratitude to Him, that
should not be our reason for performing the mitzvah. Rather, we
should observe the mitzvah of Korban Pesach as if its reason is
unknown to us.
The Torah tells us (12:50), "All of Bnei Yisrael did as Hashem
had commanded Moshe and Aharon, so did they do." The Torah is
informing us that Bnei Yisrael took Moshe's message to heart and
they sacrificed the Korban Pesach solely for the sake of the
(Ve'eileh Ha'devarim She'ne'emru L'David p.101)
"It shall come to pass when Hashem will bring you to the
land of the Canaanites . . . And it shall be a sign upon
your arm and an ornament between your eyes . . ." (13:11 &
The gemara (Kiddushin 37b) asks: Why are the entry into Eretz
Yisrael and the mitzvah of tefilin mentioned in the same
paragraph? The gemara answers: It was taught in the yeshiva of
Rabbi Yishmael, "Do this mitzvah so that you will enter the
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (died 1935; first
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine) explains the connection
between tefilin and Eretz Yisrael as follows:
Tefilin, by virtue of where they are worn, parallel the heart
and the mind, the organs through which the neshamah and the
intellect reveal their powers. However, the heart and the mind,
being physical, are subject to man's will, and the powers of the
neshamah and the intellect can be lessened by the choices man
makes. Therefore, Hashem commanded that we wear tefilin, a crown
which is separate from the body and which therefore will be
unaffected by man's will. To the contrary, the holiness of the
tefilin causes that rays of "light" to spread out over the entire
body and reach the heart and the mind. As a result, the power of
the intellect predominates over the power of the will.
R' Kook continues: The gemara(Menachot 44a) states: "One who
wears tefilin lengthens his life." Why?
Long life usually is dependent on having a healthy
constitution. Thus, the person who lives long is not necessarily
the most fortunate, for the stronger and healthier a person is,
the more likely he is to be challenged by physical desires and
other destructive traits. The exception is a person who wears
tefilin, because the external "mind" and "heart" which the
tefilin are, rein in this person's desires and reinstate his
intellect to its proper place. For such a person, long life is a
The uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael lies in the fact that there a
Jew can reach such a lofty level that the bounty of the land
enhances, rather than challenges, his spiritual growth. This
explains why the Torah repeatedly promises material blessings,
the very things that a wise person avoids. When a Jew is under
the influence of his tefilin, he can live in Eretz Yisrael and
enjoy its bounty without being challenged thereby.
(Chavash Pe'er, Drush 1)
Letters from Our Sages
The following is an excerpt from an open letter by R' Zvi
Hirsch Shapira z"l just after Yom Kippur 5666 (1905/06).
The author was the "Munkatcher Rebbe" and an important
posek/halachic authority. The letter appears in Igrot
Shappirin, page 120.
To our dear brothers, Bnei Yisrael, believers the sons of believers,
"Hashem said about them, 'They shall live'." [Yishayah/Isaiah 38:16]
A rumor has spread in the camp of the Hebrews and among the multitudes,
that the year that has come upon us for good is the year of the redemption
and the arrival of mashiach without a doubt. This is said because they
found some books that hint that this is the year of the redemption. Based
on this they have publicized rumors, booklets, pamphlets, and proclamations
promising for certain that this is the year. My spirit ailed me and my
heart was sad because of this, the ruination of the daughter of my people,
G-d forbid, for from this can come greater heresy, a desecration of G-d's
Name, embarrassment for those of our brothers Bnei Yisrael who are
believers, and incitement by our enemies against our holy and true beliefs.
Therefore, I have found myself obligated to proclaim and announce in
public - listen to me and the good Hashem listen to you.
Firstly, Chazal said in Sanhedrin (Our Sages said in the Talmud Tractate
Sanhedrin -- 99a, discussing Yishayah 63:4): '"For a day of vengeance is in
My heart and the year of My redemption has come.' Rabbi Yochanan
interpreted, 'I have revealed [the time of the redemption] to My heart, but
not [so-to-speak] to my other organs.' R' Shimon ben Lakish interpreted,
'I have revealed it to My heart but not to the angels'." Similar teachings
appear in the Zohar in several places. If He has not revealed the year of
the redemption to the angels - rather it is a secret concealed and sealed
in the heart of the One Whose Name Is Blessed alone - how can we say that
it is revealed to humans in This World, even to tzaddikim? . . .
[Regarding the many sages who have predicted that mashiach would come in a
certain year, R' Shapira explains as follows:] There is no contradiction,
for it all depends on repentance, and when our deeds merit, then Hashem
will send the year of the redemption. However, there is no foundation to
the dates that are foretold in books, whether early or late, for in
reality, the true date is sealed in His heart alone. Those tzaddikim [who
foretold a year] did so in order to plead for mercy, that is, as a prayer.
The hints that they found in Tanach merely tell us that these times are
more suited to the redemption if we repent . . .
Therefore, 'Do this and live' [Bereishit 42:18]. Do not think in
particular about this year; rather, let us wait for him whenever he comes
and let us believe that we will merit the coming of mashiach soon in our
days, with mercy. In the merit of observing the words of Chazal who
cautioned us not to be among those who calculate the End, may Hashem help
us to return to Him truthfully among the Congregation of Israel . . .
[Signed] Zvi Hirsch Shapira
P.S. Please publicize this letter and post it on the walls of the shuls and
Martin and Michelle Swartz
in memory of Martin's grandmother,
Elise Hofmann a"h
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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