Today marks the yahrzeit of R' Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z"l
(1905-1994; the "Klausenberger Rebbe"), one of the most prominent
chassidic rebbes to survive the concentration and death camps.
Numerous stories are told of R' Halberstam's attempts to lift the
spirits of those who shared the camps with him, and of his
attempts to carry on a normal spiritual life in the camps.
On one occasion, R' Halberstam spoke to those around him of
methods that help one succeed at Torah study. While most camp
inmates thought only of physical survival, R' Halberstam's mind
was on the spiritual concerns of "normal" times. He said:
Everyone asks why Parashat Chukat opens: "This is the decree of
the Torah," rather than, "This is the decree regarding the Parah
Adumah." The answer is that the Torah is giving three hints for
success in Torah study: (1) review your studies 101 times (see
Chagigah 9b); (2) picture G-d's Name before your eyes while one
studies; and (3) study out loud.
Where are these alluded to in our verse? The verse begins
"zot" / "_This_ is the decree of the Torah." In Hebrew, "zot" is
the acronym of "zechor al tishkach" / "Remember! Do not forget
[the Torah]." How? The verse continues: "That Hashem `tzivah' /
commanded." The gematria of `tzivah' is 101. The next word in
the verse is Hashem's Name, thus hinting that the next method is
to picture Hashem's Name before his eyes. Finally, the next word
is "laimor" / "saying," hinting to learning out loud. (Lapid
Eish p. 166)
"This is the chukah / decree of the Torah . . ." (19:2)
Rashi writes: "Because the satan and the nations of the world
tease the Jewish people, saying, 'What is this mitzvah and what
is its reason?' -- therefore, the Torah calls it a chukah, as if
to say: 'It is a decree from before Me, and you have no right to
R' Shimon Schwab z"l (1908-1995) makes the following
observation regarding the search for the reasons behind the
We call the reasons for the mitzvot their "ta'amim," literally,
their "tastes." One could make an analogy to the taste of food.
Hashem made the taste of food appealing and pleasurable so that
we would be attracted to the food and would obtain needed
nutrients by eating it. The body gains these nutrients even if
one's primary reason for eating is that the food tastes good.
However, if one would eat without tasting the food, he would get
the same nutrients and would derive the same health benefits.
Similarly, the ta'amei ha'mitzvot are merely the tastes of the
mitzvot. They appeal to our intellectual and emotional "taste
buds" and they may make the mitzvot more attractive. However,
they are not the essence of the mitzvot, nor a prerequisite to
(Rav Schwab on Prayer p. 552)
"Bnei Yisrael, the whole assembly, arrived at the Wilderness
of Zin . . . Miriam died there and she was buried there."
Rashi writes: Why is the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the
mitzvah of Parah Adumah / the Red Heifer? To tell that just as
the sacrifices [of which the Parah Adumah was one] atone, so the
death of the righteous atones.
R' Eliyahu Hakohen Ha'Itamari z"l (Izmir, Turkey; died 1729)
offers several additional answers: (1) Our Sages say that the
Parah Adumah atoned somewhat for the sin of the Golden Calf. We
also are taught that when Bnei Yisrael stood at Har Sinai, prior
to making the Golden Calf, they achieved the spiritual level of
Adam before his sin.
It is commonly said that man would not die had Adam not sinned.
What this actually means, writes R' Ha'Itamari, is that man would
not die as we know death. Man would, however, leave this world
in the same way that Chanoch and Eliyahu ascended to Heaven.
Rashi writes that Miriam did not die a normal death, but rather
a special painless death reserved for the most righteous. This
is why her death is juxtaposed to the Parah Adumah, for it
reminds us that when complete atonement for the sin of the Golden
Calf is achieved, death as we know it will disappear.
(2) The death of Miriam is juxtaposed to the mitzvah of Parah
Adumah to teach us that after one repents and achieves atonement,
as the Parah Adumah atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, one
can achieve the status of a perfect tzaddik and can merit the
special form of death that Miriam experienced.
(3) The death of Miriam is juxtaposed to the mitzvah of Parah
Adumah because just as the Parah Adumah atoned for the Golden
Calf, so the building of the Mishkan by Betzalel (Miriam's great-
grandson) atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf.
"Then Yisrael sang this song: `Come up, O well, announce
The midrash compares this verse to the verse (Shmot 15:1),
"Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang this song to Hashem . . ."
Why, asks the midrash, is Moshe not mentioned in our verse?
Because, says the midrash, earlier in the parashah his death was
decreed as a result of the well, and one does not sing the praise
of his hangman. Why is Hashem not mentioned in our verse? This
may be compared to a king who is invited to a feast and responds,
"If my loved ones will not be there, I will not come."
R' Eliyahu Dessler z"l (1892-1953; founder of the Gateshead
Kollel and mashgiach of the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak)
explains this midrash as follows: Chazal say that even the
maidservants who were present at the splitting of the Yam Suf
experienced a greater level of prophecy than the revelations seen
by the prophet Yechezkel. How was this possible? asks
R' Dessler. It was possible because Bnei Yisrael's teacher Moshe
recognized Hashem's awesome wonders at that time, and he elevated
Bnei Yisrael with him.
In contrast, Moshe himself did not experience the same level of
revelation following the miracle of the well. After all, the
well had caused Moshe's demise. And, since Moshe himself was not
elevated at that time, his disciples, Bnei Yisrael, also could
not attain a level of prophecy where they could sing properly in
praise of Hashem.
R' Dessler observes: When one is dependent upon his teacher to
show him Hashem's wonders, he will be unable to recognize any
wonders that his master has not pointed out to him. However,
this need not be the case; one can have many teachers, and even
one's life experiences can be his teachers. One who so desires
can recognize Hashem's hand in every object and in every event
(Michtav M'Eliyahu, Vol. II, p. 251)
"Hashem said, `Do not fear him [Og] . . .' " (21:34)
Rashi explains: Moshe was afraid that Og might be protected by
the merit of Avraham, for Og was the refugee who came to inform
Avraham that Lot had been kidnapped.
R' Yaakov Moshe Charlap z"l (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz
Harav; died 1951) writes: How awesome! Og's intention in
informing Avraham of Lot's fate was a nefarious one, as Rashi
writes (Bereishit 14:13). Og's hope was that Avraham would be
killed trying to rescue Lot and Og would marry Sarah.
Nevertheless, because Avraham realized a benefit from something
that Og did, Moshe was afraid of Og. Moreover, Bnei Yisrael
themselves had the merit of Avraham to protect them. From this
we learn the greatness of an act of chessed, even one performed
for selfish reasons.
(Mei Marom, Vol. V)
Shemittah Observance Today
[For the next several weeks we will examine two of the
halachic strategies that allow farmers in Eretz Yisrael to
tend their orchards and fruit trees during the shemittah
year and to harvest during the seventh year the vegetables
that grew in the sixth year. We will begin this week with
the concept of "Otzar Bet Din" / "the storehouse of the
court." In future issues, we will discuss the "hetter
mechirah," i.e., the selling of the Land to a non-Jew for
the duration of the shemittah year.]
Rambam (Hil. Shemittah Ve'yovel 6:12) writes that one is
permitted to pay a worker to bring him produce of shemittah if
the payment is clearly for the worker's labor, not for the
produce itself. Indeed, in the Talmudic-era work Tosefta we read
that bet din took advantage of this halachah to ensure the
distribution of produce to the entire community:
When the produce began to appear, the agents of bet din
would sit at the entrances to the towns. If any person
came with produce in his hands, they would take the
produce from him and would return to him enough for three
meals. The remainder of the produce would be placed in
the storehouse in the city. (This was done to prevent
people from conducting business using the produce of
shemittah and to ensure that each type of produce was not
eaten beyond the permitted time, i.e., beyond the time of
year when it was available in the wild.)
When the time for gathering or harvesting each crop
arrived, bet din would hire workers who would gather and
process the produce and place it in the storehouse in the
city. Every Friday, distributions would be made to each
person according to the number of members in his
household. (Tosefta Shevi'it, ch. 8:1-2, as explained by
R' Yechezkel Abramsky z"l, Chazon Yechezkel).
Early in the Twentieth Century, some of the leading sages of
Eretz Yisrael, including R' Chaim Berlin z"l, R' Avraham Yitzchak
Hakohen Kook z"l and R' David Willowsky z"l (the "Ridvaz"), ruled
that the agent that the bet din appointed could be the owner of
the property himself. This works as follows: The owner of the
land appears before bet din at the beginning of shemittah and
declares that the produce of his fields will be hefker /
ownerless and available to all takers. Thereafter, bet din hires
the owner as its agent to tend the land (to the extent permitted
during shemittah) and to harvest whatever grows on behalf of all
Jews who do not themselves come to the fields to gather food. In
addition, bet din pays a rental fee for any farm equipment that
the farmer/agent owns. In this way, the farmer earns a living
during the shemittah and produce reaches the market. (Source: R'
Avraham Hillel Goldberg shlita, Ha'aretz U'mitzvoteha p. 245)
Martin and Michelle Swartz
in memory of grandfather, John Hoffman a"h