The Foundation of Piety
The sole purpose of Sefer Devarim, writes R’ Yechezkel Sarne z”l (1890-1969;
rosh yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim), is to drive home the
very same lesson that opens the first chapter of Mesilat Yesharim, by R’
Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal; 18th century). That lesson is: “The
foundation of piety and the root of perfect [Divine] service is for a
person’s duty in this world to become clear to him and free of doubt.”
Ramchal explains further that man was created in order that he may enjoy the
ultimate pleasure, i.e., the pleasure that comes from being close to G-d.
All material pleasures were created either to distract man from his task or
to be used as tools to further man’s spiritual development.
R’ Sarne continues: Contrary to his usual style, Ramchal does not cite any
verses or Talmudic statements to support the assertion quoted above. Why?
Because the Torah is so full of proofs that it is not necessary to single
them out. In particular, he writes, this is the message of Sefer Devarim.
Throughout the final Book of the Torah, we are reminded to seek G-d out, not
to forget Him, etc. We also read (Devarim 29:3), “But Hashem did not give
you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day.” The
reference to “a heart to know” is reminiscent of the verse (Devarim 4:39),
“You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem, He is the
G-d--in heaven above and on the earth below--there is none other.” Taking
these two verses together, writes R’ Sarne, confirms Ramchal’s assertion
that true understanding of one’s duty--to remain aware of G-d and to cling
to Him--does not come easily; rather, one must toil, perhaps even his whole
lifetime, until he really reaches the level where he even remembers on a
consistent basis why he was placed in this world. (Iyunim Al Mesilat Yesharim)
“May Hashem, the Elokim of your forefathers, add to you a thousand times
yourselves, and bless you ka’asher deebair / as He has spoken regarding
R’ Yosef Nechemiah Kornitzer z”l (1880-1933; rabbi of Krakow, Poland)
writes: Moshe Rabbeinu blessed Bnei Yisrael that Hashem should multiply them
a thousand times over, as if to say: G-d willing, all will go well with you,
the Jewish People. But, Moshe added: Remember that Hashem is blessing you
even “ka’asher debair,” which may be translated, “at a time when Hashem
speaks harshly about you,” i.e., a time of judgment. Even a decree that
seems harsh is ultimately for our good. (Chiddushei Rabbeinu Yosef
Nechemiah Al Ha’Torah)
“So I took the heads of your tribes, distinguished men, who were wise
and well known, and I appointed them as heads over you, leaders of
thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens, and
officers for your tribes.” (1:15)
R’ Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman z”l (the Vilna Gaon; 1720-1797) writes: Our
verse refers to four different categories of leaders of the Jewish People:
“leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders
of tens.” Other verses refer to the leaders by different names: roshim /
heads, shoftim / judges, shotrim / law enforcement officers, and zekeinim /
teachers of Torah. The “leaders of thousands” were the “heads,” who served
a general leadership function. The “leaders of hundreds” were the judges.
The “leaders of fifties” were the teachers. Finally, the “leaders of tens”
were the officers who enforced the judges’ rulings.
The Gaon continues: Why were there twice as many Torah teachers--one per 50
people--as judges--one per 100? Because there are twice as many hours
available for Torah study as there are for judgment, since courts may sit
only during the day, while Torah must be taught day and night. (Aderet Eliyahu)
“Except for Kalev ben Yefuneh–he shall see it, and to him I shall give
the Land on which he walked, and to his children, because he followed Hashem
Why isn’t Yehoshua, who also did not participate in the evil report of the
Spies, mentioned as well? R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (1879-1941; the Reisher
Rav; killed in the Holocaust) explains:
Kalev is promised in our verse not only that he will receive a share in the
Land, but also that he will pass it on to his sons. But Yehoshua had no
sons, only daughters. If a person has no sons, his daughters inherit his
land. However, at the time of the incident of the Spies, that halachah had
not yet been taught. Indeed, it couldn’t have been taught just then
(through a promise to Yehoshua) because the daughters of Tzelofchad deserved
to be the agents through whom that law was taught (see Bava Batra 119a).
Letters from Our Sages
This is an excerpt from a much longer letter written by R’ Menashe Klein
z”l (1924-2011) to R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z”l (1910-2012) in response to
the latter’s pask / ruling regarding a Torah crown that was lost during the
Holocaust and discovered decades later in the hands of another Jew. The
central issues in R’ Elyashiv’s psak were: Under what circumstances does
military conquest effect a halachic change in the ownership of conquered
property and are Holocaust victims presumed to have given-up hope of
recovering their property? In this letter, R’ Klein addresses those issues
based on his own experiences in the Holocaust.
Thursday of Parashat “Behold Hashem stood above him” [Vayetze], 5761 ,
Brooklyn, N.Y., may Hashem protect it.
To his honor, my friend, rabbi of rabbis, gaon of ge’onim, halachic
authority of the generation, mountain to which all turn, prince of Elokim in
the midst of the holy city of Yerushalayim, may it be rebuilt . . .
[After summarizing R’ Elyashiv’s ruling, R’ Klein writes:] First, I want to
make clear that the war of the Nazis, may their name be blotted out, to
conquer the entire world generally, and to annihilate, murder and destroy
the Jewish Nation in particular, was different from any other war. When a
state fights a war against another state, the war is against the state and
not a war to annihilate the nation or individuals. Therefore, even if the
soldiers plunder property, they often leave the owners alive. In that
situation, one can entertain the idea that the owners do not give-up hope of
recovering their property because, if they succeed in expelling the
invaders, they may recover their property. Moreover, even if the invaders
win, they can be expected to establish law and order in the land they conquer.
However, in this war, the Nazis came with overwhelming force to conquer the
entire world, and to annihilate, murder and destroy the Jewish Nation in
particular, under the banner of the evil chancellor, may his name be blotted
out, and to plunder their property. There was even a special department in
Germany responsible for this. This was their corrupt way, may their name be
blotted out: Immediately after the Nazis entered a conquered city, they
quickly assembled the Jews, from young to old, children, new mothers, and
even the ill from the hospitals, and placed them in ghettos. The ghettos
were a way station on the way to the extermination camps, may Hashem save
us. Immediately after the Jews left their homes with whatever they could
carry in their hands, the Nazis sent messengers to take all the property of
the Jewish People, as the witness [who testified before R’ Elyashiv] had
himself done at their orders.
[R’ Klein then summarizes his personal experience in his hometown of Ungvar,
Czechoslovakia, which was similar to the above description. He continues:]
It is plain that as soon as the Jews left their homes and their property
without anyone to guard it, that they despaired [of recovering the property]
for they knew what was going to happen to them. Regarding this, I cite the
verse [Esther 3:13], “Letters were sent by courier to all the King’s
provinces, to destroy, to murder, and to exterminate all Jews, young and
old, children and women, in a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth
month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.” Then
[in Esther’s time], we merited that the decree was overturned, but we, for
our sins, did not merit to have the decree [in Europe] overturned.
Certainly, after a person actually went to the ghetto, and from the ghetto
to the extermination camp, who did not despair entirely [of recovering his
property]?! They not only gave up hope of recovering their property, they
gave up hope of being counted among the living. The end proved them right,
for “only one from a city and two from a family” [Yirmiyah 3:14] returned.
Even those who survived did not think about their property, and most never
tried to return to their homes, for they knew they would find nothing
remaining--neither people nor property. . .
I needed to state this as an introduction [so that] there can be no argument
that there was absolute despair [of recovering property]. . . But, if one
buried his property in a hole that he dug in the ground before the Nazis
took him, and after the war he returned there to search, then we should say
that he did not despair . . . (Pirsumei Nissa p.232)
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 Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
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