This parashah describes the blessings and curses which await
the Jewish people. "If you will follow My decrees . . . ," the
Torah (Vayikra 26:3) says, and Rashi comments: "You should toil
"And observe My commandments . . . ," the verse continues, and
Rashi writes: "Toil in Torah in order to observe it."
"But if you will not listen . . . ," we read later (26:14), and
again Rashi explains: "If you will not toil in Torah."
How is it, asks R' Eliyahu Dessler z"l (died 1953), that all
blessings and punishments depend on "toiling in Torah"? He
explains: The pleasures of this world differ from the pleasures
of the World-to-Come. In this world, the relief which is felt
after a period of suffering is proportional to how far removed
one is from the suffering. Not so the rewards of the World-to-
Come. The reward there is the very realization that all of man's
toil in Torah and mitzvot was for a purpose; the greater the
toil, the greater the satisfaction and, hence, the reward.
Indeed, man's toil for spiritual matters is an end in itself, and
this is why blessings and rewards depend on it.
In truth, this is an emotion which can be felt in this world as
well. On the verse (Tehilim 128:2), "You will be fortunate, and
it will go well with you," Chazal comment: "Fortunate in this
world, and well with you in the World-to-Come." Even in this
world one can appreciate that his toil for mitzvot is worthwhile.
(Michtav M'Eliyahu III, p. 286).
"You will eat your bread to satiety[.]" (26:5)
All blessings over food refer to Hashem as the Creator, with
one exception. That exception is the berachah over bread,
"Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz"/"Who brings forth bread from the
earth." Bringing forth bread from the earth is not an act of
creation, it is something done within the world as it exists.
Why is this berachah alone phrased thus? R' Elazar Hakohen of
Sochatchov (1791-1883; son-in-law of R' Yaakov Lorberbaum, the
"Nesivos") explains: The 11th century work Chovot Ha'levavot
points out that the more essential something is for life, the
more readily it is available. Oxygen is everywhere. Water, too,
is available almost everywhere. Bread is also readily available
because it is a staple of life.
When Hashem created the world, it was understood that He would
create bread because it is mankind's primary food. Bread was not
a separate creation, and this is reflected in its berachah. On
the other hand, all foods besides bread are luxuries, and their
existence requires a separate act of creation, as reflected in
their respective berachot.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Zichron Niflaot p. 40a)
[Editor's note: Based on the above, water, too, should not have
a blessing which refers to creation, yet it does -- "She'hakol
nihyah bi'dvaro"/"That all came into being by His word." It is
interesting to note, however, that there is an opinion in the
Mishnah (Berachot 44a) that the proper blessing before drinking
water is, "Borai nefashot rabbot ve'chesronan"/"Who creates many
souls and that which they lack." (This is the same berachah which
we say after drinking water.) This berachah does not refer to
the creation of water, but rather to the fact that G-d provides
the needs of His creations, and it would appear to fit quite well
with the idea quoted above.]
"Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their
forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed Me,
and also for having behaved toward Me with casualness. I,
too, will behave toward them with casualness . . ."
Rashi explains that "casualness" ("keri") means "occasionally,"
i.e., lacking commitment.
Is this Hashem's response to our confession? asks R' Moshe
Teitelbaum z"l (see page 4). Why will Hashem continue to behave
casually towards us after we confess?
R' Moshe answers: Sometimes confession erases sins, as it is
written (Shmuel II 12:13), "David said to Natan, 'I have sinned
to Hashem!' and Natan responded to David, 'So, too, Hashem has
commuted your sin; you will not die'." Sometimes, however,
confession itself is sinful; indeed, in the confession on Yom
Kippur we say, "For the sin that we have sinned against you by
insincere confession ('vidui peh')." One's confession is
insincere when one's heart is hard and cold, and measure-for-
measure, an insincere confession leads Hashem to act coldly
toward the sinner. A true confession is made with a broken heart
and with tears.
"Whoever has the following three traits is among the disciples
of our forefather Avraham; and whoever has three different traits
is among the disciples of the wicked Bilam. Those who have a
good eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul are among the
disciples of our forefather Avraham. Those who have an evil eye,
an arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are among the disciples of
the wicked Bilam. How are the disciples of our forefather
Avraham different from the disciples of the wicked Bilam? The
disciples of our forefather Avraham enjoy the fruits of their
deeds in this world and inherit the World-to-Come . . . but the
disciples of the wicked Bilam inherit Gehinnom and descend into
the well of destruction."
What does the mishnah mean when it asks, "How are the disciples
of our forefather Avraham different from the disciples of the
wicked Bilam?" The difference is obvious; the former believe in
Hashem and the latter are heretics and idolators!
R' Shlomo Heiman z"l (Rosh Yeshiva in Baranovitch and in Torah
Voda'ath; died 1944) explains that the mishnah means the
following: Chazal teach that Avraham and Sarah had many
followers. What attracted these people to become followers of
Avraham and Sarah when the world around them was mired in
idoltary? The mishnah answers that it happened because these
people had good character traits.
Conversely, Bilam lived in the generation of the Exodus, when
open miracles were commonplace. What attracted people to become
followers of Bilam? The mishnah answers that it happened because
these people had bad character traits.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Baranovitch p. 266)
"There are four types of students...3) a strainer
('mishameret') which lets the wine pass through but keeps
out the dregs . . ."
R' Yoel Teitlebaum z"l (the "Satmar Rav") elaborates: The
gemara mentions that certain pious individuals used to spend six
hours a day in preparation for prayer and another three hours in
prayer itself. The gemara asks, "How then is their Torah guarded
('mishtameret')?" The gemara answers, "Because they are pious,
their Torah is 'mishtameret'."
This answer is difficult to understand, says R' Teitelbaum. If
"mishtameret" in the answer refers to being "guarded," it can
only refer to the Torah which these pious individuals have
already learned. However, how will they learn more if they are
so occupied in prayer? Rather, the gemara means "mishtameret" in
the sense of the "mishameret" / "strainer" of our mishnah. For
the ordinary person, accomplishment in Torah requires
extraordinary effort; for the pious, who spend the bulk of their
time in prayer, Torah is easily "strained". True insights are
acquired with less effort, while the "dregs" -- false leads and
misunderstandings -- fall by the side.
(Quoted in Mima'ayanot Hanetzach, p. 274)
R' Moshe Teitelbaum z"l
(The "Yismach Moshe")
R' Moshe was one of the leading chassidic rebbes of his time
and the ancestor of the influential Sighet and Satmar chassidic
dynasties. He himself was born into a non-chassidic family in
Przemsyl, Galicia (now Poland) in 1759, was educated by two
uncles, and was eventually recognized as one of Galicia's leading
Talmudic sages. The story of his joining the chassidic movement
is as follows:
R' Moshe's daughter married R' Aryeh Leib Lifschutz (known by
his work, "Ari D'vei Ilai"), who was a chassid of the "Chozeh" /
"Seer" of Lublin. R' Moshe, who, as noted, was not a chassid,
used to rebuke his son-in-law for his behavior and demanded that
his son-in-law leave the chassidic fold. R' Aryeh agreed, but
only if R' Moshe still demanded it after himself visiting the
Chozeh. R' Moshe did visit that chassidic master and soon became
an ardent chassid himself.
After serving as rabbi of Shiniva, R' Moshe became rabbi of
Uhely, Hungary. It was there that he became known as a chassidic
rebbe and a miracle worker. It is reported that R' Moshe's
contemporary, the author of the important halachic work Yeshuot
Yaakov, once commented, "We must be greatful to the Hungarians
who made R' Moshe into a chassidic rebbe, for otherwise he would
overshadow all of the scholars of Galicia."
R' Moshe authored several works. His halachic responsa,
Heishiv Moshe, are cited by many authorities of the next several
generations, including the renowned posek, R' Yosef Shaul
Nathanson. R' Moshe's best known work is his Torah commentary,
Yismach Moshe, and he also authored commentaries on Tehilim and
R' Moshe was renowned for his yearning for mashiach. His last
words reportedly were:
I am the lowliest person in the world and my only positive
attribute is that I never told a lie. If Moshe the son of
Chana had known that his beard would turn white and
mashiach would not yet have come, I would not have been
able to cope. Now I ask of You, Master of the World, that
mashiach should come now. Even if I will no longer enjoy
the benefit [of his arrival], but for Your honor, may You
be blessed, so that Your Name may be sanctified in public.
May I be an atonement for Israel, and I hereby turn over
my life, my spirit and my soul for the sake of the honor
of Your Name.
With these words he died on the 28th of Tammuz 5601 / 1841.
(Source: Gedolei Ha'dorot p. 561)
Judy and David Marwick,
in memory of Morris Bervin a"h