Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XVI, No. 38
4 Av 5762
June 13, 2002
Orach Chaim 688:5-7
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bava Batra 115
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Bikkurim 4
(Note: There is no Yerushalmi Daf for Tishah B'Av)
In the language of our Sages, the book of Devarim is called
"Mishneh Torah." Some commentaries translate this appellation as
"the repetition of the Torah" (i.e., "mishneh" from the root
"shnei" / "two"). They suggest that every halachah found in
Devarim is stated, or at least alluded to, somewhere in the other
books of the Torah. R' Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z"l (1817-1893;
known as the "Netziv"; rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Volozhin) offers
a different explanation:
"Mishneh" means "review," i.e., the main purpose of Sefer
Devarim is to encourage us to delve deeply into, and review, the
laws of the Torah. All of the mussar / rebuke found in this Book
also boils down to this message: Accept upon yourselves the yoke
of studying Torah in depth so that you do not deviate from its
laws. True, many laws found in other Books are repeated in
Devarim. The purpose of this repetition is to teach us to look
beneath the surface of the verse. The peshat / "surface message"
of the repeated pasuk or halachah was already learned elsewhere.
Therefore, if you find a verse or law repeated, look deeper.
R' Berlin continues: The Midrash records that when Hashem
appeared to Yehoshua, he found that prophet studying Mishneh
Torah. This shows the importance of this Book. Similarly, when
the Torah commands the king to write a Torah scroll for himself,
the language it chooses is (Devarim 17:18), "He shall write for
himself this Mishneh Torah." In fact, he is required to write
the entire Torah, but the verse emphasizes writing this Book
because of its important message. Indeed, our Sages teach that
it is only this delving into the Torah, the essence of the
Talmud, that serves as the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish
People. (He'emek Davar, Intro. to Devarim)
"I said to you at that time, saying, `I cannot carry you
alone. Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you and behold! you
are like the stars of heaven in abundance. May Hashem, the
G-d of your forefathers, add to you a thousand times
yourselves, and bless you as He has spoken of you. How can
I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your
R' Yitzchak Karo z"l (1458-1535; uncle of R' Yosef Karo z"l)
writes: Why did Moshe say this "at that time"? In the two
preceding verses, Moshe said, "Turn yourselves around and
journey, and come to the Amorite mountain and all its neighbors .
. See! I have given the Land before you; come and possess the
Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers . . ." However, said
Moshe, a people that is going to war must be united as one.
Therefore, at this particular time, I cannot tolerate your
contentiousness and your quarrels.
Another interpretation: At that time, when you were a smaller
nation, I said that I could not carry you alone. Now that G-d
has multiplied you, I certainly cannot carry your
contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels.
"You [Bnei Yisrael] answered me [Moshe] and said, `The thing
that you have proposed to do [i.e., to appoint judges to
assist you] is good'." (1:14)
Rashi comments: "You at once decided the matter to your
benefit. You should really have replied -- our teacher, Moshe!
From whom is it more fitting to learn, from you or from your
disciple?" In other words, Bnei Yisrael should have rejected, or
at least resisted, Moshe's proposal to appoint judges to assist
him. By agreeing readily to the appointment of judges, they
showed a lack of appreciation of Moshe.
R' Yisrael Yitzchak Halevi z"l (rabbi in Warsaw in the 1880's)
asks: We read in verse 9, "I said to you at that time, saying, "I
cannot carry you alone." Rashi comments there, "What is the
significance of the word `saying' [i.e., being bidden to say,
implying that Moshe was repeating another's words]? Moshe, in
effect, said to them: `Not of myself do I tell you that I am not
able to bear you, but by the bidding of the Holy One, blessed is
He'." If so, asks R' Yisrael Yitzchak, how could Moshe criticize
Bnei Yisrael for accepting the appointment of judges?
He answers: Even though it was G-d's will, Bnei Yisrael did not
have to express their approval. They could have remained silent.
Or, they could have responded, "What can we say? If that is the
Will of G-d, we accept it." [This is analogous to Chazal's
teaching that one should not say, "I dislike non-kosher food."
He should say, "I'm sure it's delicious, but G-d has told me not
to eat it."] By saying that they approved of appointing judges,
they indicated that they did not appreciate Moshe enough.
"Rabbi Yochanan said, `the humility of Rabbi Zechariah ben
Avkolas destroyed our house, burned our hall, and exiled us
from the our land'."
This statement is found at the end of the well-known story of
Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Briefly, the Gemara relates that a
certain man sent his servant to invite his (the master's) friend
Kamtza to a party. Instead, the servant invited his master's
enemy Bar Kamtza. After the host humiliated Bar Kamtza and
evicted him from the party, and the Torah scholars who were
present did not protest, Bar Kamtza decided to take revenge. He
reported to the Roman governor that the Jews were planning a
rebellion. As proof, he said that if the governor would send a
sacrificial offering to Yerushalayim, the Temple authorities
would not accept it.
The governor gave Bar Kamtza an animal to take to Yerushalayim,
but, on the way, Bar Kamtza put a tiny blemish in the animal's
eye that invalidated it for the altar. Many of the kohanim and
sages argued for accepting the animal as is so that Jewish lives
would not be put at risk. However, Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkolas
protested that the sacrifice was technically invalid and could
not be accepted, and he prevailed. Thus began the chain of
events that led to the Romans destroying the Temple.
R' Nosson Wachtfogel z"l (1910-1999; the Lakewood Mashgiach)
asks: Why is Rabbi Zechariah's reaction described as "humility"?
He explains that Rabbi Zechariah's miscalculation stemmed from
his failure to implement the teaching of the Mishnah (Avot
Ch. 5), "Be bold as a leopard . . . and strong as a lion." At a
time that called for bold action - offering an invalid sacrifice
- Rabbi Zechariah acted meekly. [Ed. note: See Rashi's comment to
Beitzah 2b, noting that only one who has self-confidence is able
to rule leniently in halachic matters.]
R' Wachtfogel adds: R' Yerucham Levovitz z"l (the "Mirrer
Mashgiach"; died 1936) used to say, "How many [potentially] great
people have been lost to us because they did not heed the words
of the verse (Yirmiyah 1:7), "Do not say, `I am but a lad'." R'
Moshe Chaim Luzzato z"l writes in Mesilat Yesharim (Ch. 19) that
every person must pray for the Jewish people's redemption. One
might wonder: "Can my prayer make a difference?" The answer,
says R' Wachtfogel, is that every person is obligated to believe
that his prayer can make a difference. Our Sages teach that one
reason that G-d created only one man is to encourage each of us
to say, "The world was created for me."
The Gemara (Kiddushin 40b) states that a person must always
imagine that the world's good and bad deeds are perfectly
balanced and that his next deed will determine the world's fate.
Is this plausible? Yes, explains R' Wachtfogel. If a person has
confidence in his spiritual power and believes that he can make a
difference, then he will eventually turn into a person who really
does make a difference.
(Lekket Reshimot B'inyanei Bet Hamikdash pp.13-15)
It is related that R' Wachtfogel never read the semichah /
ordination certificate that he received from R' Baruch Ber
Lebowitz z'l. When asked whether he wasn't curious what the
elder sage had written about him, R' Wachtfogel replied, "Why
should I look at it? I know who I really am!"
(Torah Leaders p.234)
R' Eliyahu Guttmacher z"l
R' Eliyahu Guttmacher was born near Posen (Poznan) in eastern
Germany (today, Poland) on Rosh Chodesh Av 5556 / 1796. After
studying in the yeshiva of Rawicz, he became, at age 19, a
student of R' Akiva Eger, rabbi of Posen. He remained in R'
Eger's yeshiva for four years and was a favorite of the teacher.
Even as a youth, R' Guttmacher studied assiduously and remained
awake late into the night writing down his Torah insights. A
turning point in his life occurred when he discovered a copy of
the Zohar with the marginal notes of his teacher, R' Eger. R'
Guttmacher had previously believed, as did most people, that R'
Eger was opposed to the study of Kabbalah. However, upon
realizing that his teacher did, indeed, delve into that subject,
the student began his own study of Kabbalah.
As an outgrowth of this study, R' Guttmacher began to reflect
upon the causes of our exile and the steps that we can, and must,
take to end it. He came to believe that the spiritual state of
the Jewish people was declining rapidly and it was necessary to
force the arrival of mashiach, something that could be achieved
only if the Jewish people strengthened their attachment to Torah
and returned to Eretz Yisrael. He strongly encouraged the
establishment of both yeshivot and farming communities in the
Holy Land, and when most leading rabbis either did not support
his call (and many openly opposed it), he declared that the
Sattan / the prosecuting angel had blinded them in order to delay
R' Guttmacher's study of Kabbalah also drew him close to the
chassidic movement, and, in time, he was surrounded by chassidim
of his own. He tried to discourage people from seeking his
blessings, saying that he was merely an ordinary person. R'
Guttmacher also said that just in case his prayers carried any
weight in Heaven, he was already praying for all Jews; therefore,
there was no need to visit him. However, all of his efforts to
be left alone were futile.
R' Guttmacher published several pamphlets describing his ideas
about the Redemption and the return to Eretz Yisrael. He also
left behind many manuscripts on "traditional" Torah subjects, and
some of his commentaries are published in the back of the
standard Vilna edition of the Talmud. (Some of his larger works
were first published in the 1970's and 80's.) He also kept a
diary, which he closed with the words: "I am leaving for my world
[i.e., Olam Haba] comforted that the Shechinah pines for those
who love it. I feel that the three part cord - the Torah, the
Holy One, blessed is He, and Yisrael - is in the process of being
tied again." (Source: Encyclopedia La'chassidut p.643).
Copyright © 2002 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
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