Sunday, the twelfth of Sivan, is both the birthday anniversary
and yahrzeit of Yehuda, the fourth son of the Patriarch Yaakov
(Shalshelet Hakabalah; Melitzei Esh). 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 "moshail b'nafsho,"
Rambam explains (Shemonah 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 moshail 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 the challenges. This is what Yehuda did in
saving Tamar, and what he failed to do completely (see Rashi,
Bereishit 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 their
spiritual struggles, and has overcome them. Only then can he
lead them in conquering their own evil inclinations and
fulfilling G-d's will. (Yemei Zikaron, pp. 70-75)
"Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying: 'So shall you bless
Bnei Yisrael, 'amor lahem' / saying to them: "'yevarechecha
Hashem' / May Hashem bless you (singular) . . ." '." (6:23-
The midrash states: How did Bnei Yisrael merit to receive
Birkat Kohanim / the priestly blessing? It was because of Matan
Torah / the Giving of the Torah.
What does this midrash mean? R' Chaim Zvi Teitelbaum z"l (the
"Sigheter Rebbe"; died 1926) explains, after noting another
question: Why does the Torah change in mid-verse from plural --
"saying to them" -- to singular -- "May Hashem bless you"?
There are many substances, for example, salt and some spices,
which are not edible on their own but which enhance the flavors
of other foods. Similarly, there are people who seem to have no
redeeming qualities on their own, but they contribute to society
as part of a group. Thus we read later in the Torah (Bemidbar
23:13) that Balak told Bilam (after the latter had failed to
curse Bnei Yisrael): "Go now with me to a different place from
which you will see [Bnei Yisrael]; however, you will see [the
camp's] edge but you will not see all of it." Balak thought that
the merit of Bnei Yisrael as a whole prevented Bilam from cursing
the Jewish people. However, Balak believed, if Bilam focused on
only part of the nation, he would succeed. (Balak would have
been correct if not for the special protection that Hashem gave
Bnei Yisrael at the time.)
Such is the power of a group. Our Sages teach that whenever
ten Jews are present, the Shechinah is present. An individual,
however, cannot presume that he is worthy of Hashem's presence.
Thus, Birkat Kohanim may be recited only in the presence of a
minyan. An individual may not merit the blessings of Birkat
Kohanim, but, as part of a congregation, he can receive that
blessing. This is the message of our verse: Say to _them_ that
they can receive the blessing only if they are united as one.
When did Bnei Yisrael demonstrate their unity as a people? At
Matan Torah, as we read (19:2), "va'yeechan / Yisrael encamped
(singular) there, opposite the mountain." Why is the word
"encamped" singular in number? Because, the Sages explain, Bnei
Yisrael were "as one man with one heart." Thus, how did Bnei
Yisrael merit to receive Birkat Kohanim? It was because of the
feeling of unity they achieved at Matan Torah.
R' Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam z"l (the "Klausenberger Rebbe";
son-in-law of R' Teitelbaum; died 1994) explained our verse
similarly, and added:
The Ba'al Shem Tov taught that there are three things worthy of
our love: Bnei Yisrael, the Torah, and Hashem, and they are
dependent on each other. Only one who loves his fellow Jews can
love the Torah, and only one who loves the Torah can love Hashem.
(Shefa Chaim IV, p. 85)
R' Moshe Isserles z"l ("Rema"; 16th century) notes that the
custom in the diaspora is that the mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim is
performed only on Yom Tov. In contrast, in most communities in
Israel, Birkat Kohanim is performed daily. The reason for this
distinction, explains Rema, is that the Jews of the diaspora find
it too difficult to concentrate on the performance of this
(Mapah, O.C. 128)
This explanation is astonishing, writes R' Moshe Sternbuch
shlita. Since when can we excuse ourselves from performing a
mitzvah by saying that we can't concentrate? Besides, don't we
want G-d's blessing?
He explains: Birkat Kohanim was part of the daily service that
the kohanim performed in the Temple. Today, when the Bet
Hamikdash does not stand, our prayers take the place of the
Temple service. This is why Birkat Kohanim is recited as part of
the chazan's Shemoneh Esrei.
However, not all prayers are equal. In fact, there are three
categories of prayer. The lowest is "tefilat yachid" / the
prayer of an individual. The second is "tefilah betzibbur" /
prayer with a congregation. The third and highest level is
"tefilat hatzibbur" / the prayer of the congregation. What is
the difference between the second and the third types of prayer?
The former is found when ten individuals pray together as a
minyan, each reciting his own prayer silently; the latter occurs
when one person prays and the others stand silently and listen.
Only the last type of prayer truly parallels the Temple
service, for not every person brought the "korban tamid" / daily
offering to the Temple. Rather, the kohanim, as agents of the
nation, brought one sacrifice on behalf of all Jews.
It follows, therefore, that only in the context of "tefilat
hatzibur" (the third type of prayer) can Birkat Kohanim be
recited, for only then does the blessing parallel the blessing
which was recited in the Bet Hamikdash. However, says Rema, we
in the diaspora, being unable to concentrate on our prayers,
never attain the level of "tefilat hatzibbur" on a weekday.
While the chazzan is repeating the Shemoneh Esrei, each member of
the congregation is off in a world of his own. One is reading
from a sefer, another is talking to his friend, a third is
dozing, and so on. Only on Yom Tov, when the shul is full, are
we sure to have at least a minyan that is paying attention to the
chazzan. Then, having achieved the level of "tefilat hatzibbur,"
we can perform Birkat Kohanim.
The situation in Israel is different for several reasons.
Before the last century, the Jewish community in Israel consisted
of two groups: Sephardim, whose ancestors were in Israel long
before the practice arose for every member of the congregation to
pray silently (they had only "tefilat hatzibbur"), and
Ashkenazim, whose ancestors had arrived with one of the aliyot
(e.g. the students of the Vilna Gaon or the Ba'al Shem Tov) that
abandoned all material concerns and established communities in
the Holy Land that adhered to the highest standards of
observance. Both of these groups had no difficultyhnnnn
maintaining a sufficient level of concentration to allow for
"tefilat hatzibbur" and Birkat Kohanim.
(Mo'adim U'zmanim: Yom Tov, ch. 31)
[Ed. note: This year is a shemittah year, and, from time-to-
time, we are presenting excerpts from the laws of shemittah.
As with any halachic issue addressed in Hamaayan, our goal is
to increase awareness of the subject, not to provide
practical halachic guidance. For such advice, consult a
29. If a non-Jew purchased land in Eretz Yisrael, and planted
during the seventh year, the fruits may be eaten, for the only
reason that the Sages prohibited eating sefichin [in this
context, anything that was planted other than by the conscious
act of a Jew] was to thwart sinners [who would plant and would
claim that the produce grew wild]. Since non-Jews are not
commanded to observe the laws of shemittah, there would be no
reason to decree that what they plant may not be eaten.
[R' Eshtori Ha'Parchi z"l (14th century) disagrees, and writes:
Gentiles are not commanded to observe the laws of shemittah, but
the Torah (Vayikra 25:2) commands that the Land should rest in
the seventh year. The holiness of the Land cannot be negated by
a gentile's acquisition of the Land, for halachah does not
recognize a gentile's acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael
insofar as the agricultural mitzvot are concerned. Just as a
gentile is not obligated to give tithes, but the fruits that he
grows must be tithed (if a Jew buys them), so the laws of
shemittah apply to the produce grown by a non-Jew in Eretz
Yisrael even though the gentile himself is not obligated to
observe mitzvot. (Kaftor Va'ferach quoted in Kessef Mishneh)]
30. Cities in Eretz Yisrael which are near the borders
should/may place guards so that the neighboring peoples will not
raid and loot the fruits of the shemittah. [It is not clear
whether Rambam means that the fields near the border may be
guarded, whereas it is generally prohibited to guard fields
during shemittah, or whether Rambam means the fields should be
guarded. In the latter case, his lesson is that, even though
halachah calls for giving charity to non-Jews, we do not allow
non-Jews to eat the produce of the shemittah year because it is
Yitzchok and Barbie Lehmann Siegel
in memory of father Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann a"h
and brother, Jamie Lehmann a"h