A Cruel Reaction
Volume XVII, No. 33
19 Iyar 5765
May 28, 2005
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Shabbat 26
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Makkot 9
A significant part of this parashah is devoted to the Tochachah /
Rebuke, which foretells the troubles and punishments that will (and
have) come upon the Jewish People when they sin. The Tochachah warns
repeatedly that we will continue to suffer as long as we attribute our
suffering to "keri" / "chance" rather than to our sins.
Rambam (Hil. Ta'anit ch. 1) writes that the Torah commands us to
react to suffering with prayer and repentance. Rambam adds that one
who does not do this, saying that his suffering is simply the way of
the world, is "achzari" / "cruel."
What does Rambam mean by this expression? asks R' Shimson David
Pinkus z"l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel). At first glance, Rambam is
saying that a person who fails to repent is "cruel" to himself, for he
brings additional punishments upon himself. But that cannot be
correct, says R' Pinkus, for every person who sins makes himself
liable for punishment. Why would Rambam single out a person's failure
to repent from all other sins?
Rather, explains R' Pinkus, Rambam's meaning is as follows: One
who believes that suffering occurs by chance is accusing G-d of
cruelty. He is suggesting that G-d created us, but then abandoned us.
The teachers of Mussar / character development and ethics teach that
one generally sees in others the faults that he himself has. Thus,
one who would wrongly attribute cruelty to G-d must himself be cruel.
"If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments .
. ." (26:3)
Rashi writes that "If you will follow My decrees" refers to
toiling in Torah study. If so, writes R' Akiva Yosef Schlesinger z"l
(Hungary and Yerushalayim; died 1922), we can understand why this
verse follows immediately after the verse, "My Sabbaths you shall
observe." Specifically, the Midrash Tanna D'vei Eliyahu states that
the primary time for Torah study is on Shabbat, when one is free from
"Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their
forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed Me .
. . I, too, will behave toward them with casualness and I
will bring them into the land of their enemies." (26:40-41)
Why, if Bnei Yisrael confess their sins, will Hashem behave
toward them with casualness and bring them to the land of their
enemies? R' Moshe Freidiger z"l (communal leader in Pest, Hungary)
Teshuvah means confessing one's sins and not making excuses.
Here, Bnei Yisrael will confess, but they will justify their actions
by saying that their forefathers acted the same way. Such a
"teshuvah" will be rejected.
(Quoted in Otzrot Tzaddikei U'geonei Ha'dorot)
"I will make the land desolate . . . And you--I will scatter
among the nations . . . During all the days of her
desolation, the land will rest; those sabbaticals that it did
not observe while you were on the land, it will observe now."
R' Avraham Yitzchak Kook z"l wrote: Upon being exiled, the Jewish
people were freed of any national concerns; they rather turned their
eyes and hearts heavenward. Jews were no longer preoccupied with the
same concerns that draw the attention of the other nations, and, at
the same time, Jews ceased to chase after the idols [literal and
figurative] of the nations. The spirit of Hashem prompted the Jew to
recognize the value of every soul, and, particularly, the spiritual
worth of the Jewish nation. The Torah was appreciated more than fine
gold and silver, just as in the nation's youth. Because of their holy
faith, the Jews in exile went to martyrdom with love and happiness.
The Jew in exile always turned toward his land [Israel], but not
as one who yearns for his home because it satisfies his hunger and his
other physical needs. The Jew looked toward his land with a gaze
filled with holiness; he looked toward its inner nature as the land
that complements his yearning for G-d.
The time of the redemption is hidden. Who is privy to G-d's
secret, knowing when the land and the nation will have been completely
purified, that beloved time when the land and the nation will be
reunited? Our sages have said that there is no greater sign of the
onset of the redemption than the fulfillment of the verses from the
Prophets: "And you, mountains of Israel, give forth your branches,
present your fruits to My nation, Yisrael, for they are near to
arrive." "And the cities will be settled and ruins will be rebuilt,
and I will increase men and animals on the land and they will multiply
. . ."
(Introduction to Shabbat Ha'aretz)
"Ben Zoma says, `Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his
R' Yoel Sirkes z"l (the Bach; 1561-1640) explains: Every person's
earnings are made up of two parts - the portion that a person is
obligated to gives as terumah, ma'aser, and charity, and the portion
that is his to enjoy. Some people are not happy unless they keep both
shares for themselves, but a truly wealthy person is the one who is
content with keeping his own portion and giving the other portion to
its rightful recipients.
(Meishiv Nefesh: Introduction)
"R' Yose says, `Whoever honors the Torah will himself be
honored by people'." (4:6)
Rashi explains: This refers to a person who does not put a sefer
[e.g., a chumash or siddur] on a bench on which someone is sitting.
"If you neglect the study of Torah . . ." (4:10)
The Gemara (Chagigah 5b) states that there are three people over
whom Hashem cries every day: (1) someone who is able to occupy himself
("la'asok") with Torah study, but who does not occupy himself thus;
(2) someone who is unable to occupy himself with Torah study, but does
occupy himself thus; and (3) a communal leader who acts haughtily. R'
Ovadiah Yosef shlita writes: The second of these three descriptions
requires explanation. [At first glance, the Gemara appears to be
speaking of a person who has many distractions that legitimately
prevent him from studying Torah, yet he makes time to study anyway.]
Why should G-d cry over such a person?
R' Yosef answers: This is not a correct understanding of the
Mishnah. The term "to occupy oneself" / "la'asok" refers to advanced
Torah study learning such as is necessary to render halachic
decisions. The Gemara (Ta'anit 10b) records that Yosef told his
brothers not to occupy themselves with Torah study on their return
trip to Eretz Canaan. (See Bereishit 45:24 and Rashi.) Yet, the
Gemara states that if two Torah scholars are traveling together and
are not exchanging divrei Torah, they deserve to die. The Gemara
itself resolves this contradiction by explaining that Yosef was
referring to in-depth Torah study, while the other Talmudic statement
is referring to less taxing study. Here, too, explains R' Yosef, what
Hashem cries over is people who are not fit to render halachic rulings
but do so anyway.
(Anaf Etz Avot)
R' Ezra Attiah z"l
R' Ezra Attiah was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef in
Yerushalayim from 1925 to 1970, and was the mentor of many of the
leading Sephardic sages of the second half of the 20th century. He
was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1887, and was named after the prophet
Ezra because his mother Leah had had several miscarriages before his
birth and gave birth to him after praying at Ezra's grave in Tedef,
R' Attiah began his studies in Aleppo under R' Yehuda Aslan
Attiah (possibly a distant relative), but he soon moved with his
family moved to Yerushalayim. There he was recognized as an unusually
diligent student, such that even after his father died (when R' Attiah
was 20), three leading Sephardic sages took upon themselves to support
him so he could continue his studies. (R' Yitzchak Nissim, who later
became Chief Rabbi of Israel, credited witnessing R' Attiah's
diligence with inspiring him to continue his own studies.) In 1907,
R' Attiah began studying in the new Yeshivat Ohel Moed (which later
became Porat Yosef) under R' Raphael Shlomo Laniado and R' Yosef
Yedid. Before long, R' Yedid, one of the leaders of Syrian Jewry in
Yerushalayim, took R' Attiah as his personal study partner.
Like many youth of the time, R' Attiah's studies were interrupted
by World War I. R' Attiah fled to Egypt to avoid being drafted into
the Ottoman Army. While there, he established Yeshivat Keter Torah in
Cairo, which continued to exist until 1948. Returning to Eretz
Yisrael, R' Attiah was soon appointed to head Yeshivat Porat Yosef and
also to serve on the Sephardic Bet Din. R' Attiah continued to head
Porat Yosef until his death, and among his students were R' Ovadiah
Yosef (later Chief Rabbi of Israel and a widely accepted posek /
halachic authority even among Ashkenazic Jews), R' Ben Zion Abba
Shaul, and leading rabbis of the Syrian communities in the United
States and Panama.
Mirroring his own diligence as a youth, R' Attiah encouraged his
students to study with dedication as well. He once said, "How can you
tell who is a serious and diligent student? It is one who can study
[the complex laws of] Choshen Mishpat after eating the Chamin
R' Attiah was widely respected by Ashkenazic sages, and he
respected them as well. The Chazon Ish told his students that R'
Attiah's thought process was like that of a Rishon (an early medieval
Torah scholar). For his part, R' Attiah used to attend meetings of
Agudath Israel's Council of Torah Sages, saying that even though he
could not understand them (they spoke in Yiddish), he was uplifted by
seeing their gathering.
R' Attiah passed away on 19 Iyar 5730 / 1970.
Copyright © 2005 by Shlomo Katz
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