May 25th 2013
sivan 16th 5773
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The Importance of Hastening to Perform Mitzvot
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “Speak to Aaron…‘When you light the lamps, towards the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.’ Aaron did so” (Bamidbar 8:2-3). Rashi cites the Sifri in stating, “This demonstrates Aaron’s virtue – that he did not deviate.”
The book Otzarot HaChida states, “We may raise the question: Why would he want to deviate from anything? Furthermore, why is it precisely here that Scripture mentions the greatness of Aaron, who did not deviate from anything? Did he deviate from anything elsewhere?
“Rabbeinu Shlomo Astruc states in regards to our parsha that this means that although the lamps could be arranged and lit by a simple kohen – as it is said in Parsha Tetzaveh: ‘Aaron and his sons shall arrange it’ [Shemot 27:21], and here as well it is said: beha’alotcha [when you cause to light], not bealotcha [when you light], an expression which indicates that he can order others to light it – he nevertheless performed the mitzvah himself. Furthermore, no order is given to light the lamps in this passage. We are only told that when they are lit, the seven lamps must cast light towards the face of the Menorah, meaning that the lamps were lit on their own. Nevertheless, Aaron hastened to perform the mitzvah himself. Although this idea is accurate, it still does not correspond to the expression used: ‘he did not deviate.’ ”
We may explain the Chida’s question concerning the expression “he did not deviate” by first recalling something else, namely that there are two ways of serving Hashem. If someone has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah that only one person can perform, not two, this is one way. As soon as he sees that he has the opportunity to perform this mitzvah, he jumps at the opportunity like one who has found a treasure. Even if others try to seize this opportunity, he will demonstrate greater zeal and obtain this mitzvah for himself. The second way of serving Hashem consists of looking for other people to perform a mitzvah when the opportunity presents itself, in order to confer merit upon them, not to take it for himself. Not because he doesn’t love mitzvot, but because he wants to confer merit upon others.
Hashem values the first way more, for as the Mechilta states: “If it [a mitzvah] comes into your hand, perform it immediately” (cited by Rashi on Shemot 12:17). That being the case, it is obvious that when the opportunity to perform a mitzvah presents itself, a person should hasten to do it; he should not pass it up or neglect it. He will thus be appreciated by Hashem, for it demonstrates that the performance of mitzvot is very important to him.
Let us return to the subject of lighting the Menorah. At the beginning of Parsha Beha’alotcha, Rashi cites the Sages in stating: “Why is the portion dealing with the Menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the leaders? For when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the leaders, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication, neither he nor his tribe. Therefore G-d said to him, ‘By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps’ ” (see Bamidbar Rabba 15:6; Sifri ibid.).
Why, in fact, did this trouble Aaron so greatly? It is because there were many elevated concepts pertaining to the offerings of the tribal leaders, as the Midrash states (Bamidbar Rabba 13): It was something that was done only once for all the generations. Therefore when Aaron realized that he lost the opportunity to perform this mitzvah, he was very upset. Hence to calm and console him, Hashem gave him the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah, for in this way he could elevate himself more and more each day. Thus the offering of each tribal leader was only made once, but Aaron’s contribution was something permanent and eternal, for all the days.
Although the obligation to light the lamps did not fall specifically on Aaron (since his sons, ordinary kohanim, could also light them), he still took it upon himself to light them. This is because a mitzvah presented itself to Aaron, and a person must not pass up an opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Hence Aaron is praised for not having deviated, and instead he hastened to seize the opportunity to perform this mitzvah and to merit it.
We must draw a lesson from this in regards to other mitzvot, such as the mitzvah of tzeddakah. Sometimes we have an opportunity to give tzeddakah and to send money through the mail or by a third person, or to skirt the issue by telling ourselves that there are people who are wealthier than ourselves, and that they can give tzeddakah, thus “giving them” (as it were) the merit of this mitzvah. From this week’s parsha, we must learn to jump at such an opportunity and hasten to give tzeddakah, telling ourselves that if we hurry and do it ourselves, Hashem will greatly appreciate us.
Likewise when someone sees a sefer lying on the floor, and other people also see it, the first who hastens to pick it up receives merit. He should not think that he can leave it for others to pick up, especially when he is the first to see it. Tremendous merit is conferred upon a person in such a case, since others have seen him and understood that what he did was a mitzvah. He also has the merit for having awakened people to this mitzvah.
The same applies to promptly going to synagogue. We shouldn’t say, “There’ll be a minyan in any case, so why should I hurry to be among the first ten men there?” It is very important that we hasten to go and a minyan forms on our account, for it demonstrates that we love the mitzvah and do not rely on others to do it for us. Instead, we ourselves have hastened to go and merited to be among the first ten there.
We find support for this idea, namely that hastening to perform a mitzvah is important to Hashem, from the verse: “And the leaders brought the shoham stones” (Shemot 35:27). Rashi cites the Sages in stating that the letter yud is missing in the word vehanesi’im (“and the leaders”), for they were lax in the work for the Sanctuary by suggesting that others make the offering which they wanted, and that they would complete what was lacking.
According to what we have said, we can fully understand why G-d was not pleased with this. In fact the leaders should have provided an example for all the Children of Israel, not to mention the fact that the first to perform a mitzvah earns merit. Furthermore, these men were leaders in Israel, and it was important that they be the first to give, for it would have provided an example to all Israel, and thanks to them people would have willingly desired to give. Yet that is not what they did, which is why it was considered a deficiency on their part.
On the other hand, we see the opposite with Moshe Rabbeinu, for regarding him we read: “On the day that Moshe finished erecting the Sanctuary” (Bamidbar 7:1). Here the Sages ask, “Was it Moshe who built it? It was Betzalel and all the wise-hearted men who built it! Yet since Moshe completely devoted himself to fulfilling the mitzvah of the Sanctuary, in learning and teaching others about all its details, in overseeing the work, and by arousing the zeal of the Children of Israel, he is considered to have done all the work, and the entire mitzvah carries his name” (Pesikta Rabbati 5).
From here we learn how to build a yeshiva or synagogue: When we donate money for this mitzvah and there are people who hasten to be the first to give a large donation, they will draw others into wanting to give as well. The people who hasten to be the first to give thus have a double merit, as the Sages have said: “One who makes others act is greater than one who acts.” In fact since they led others into giving, their merit is greater than those who gave afterwards. Hence the first ones to give towards a mitzvah, and who lead others into giving with them, have the merit of those who act and those who cause others to act. Happy are they for having acted properly!
Concerning the Parsha
Permission to Eat Meat
When the people complained about eating the manna, the verse states: “The mixed multitude that was among them had a strong craving, and the Children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ ” (Bamidbar 11:4). The Holy One, blessed be He, answered them through Moshe: “Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, and you will eat meat, for you have wept in the ears of Hashem, saying: ‘Who will give us meat to eat, for it was better for us in Egypt!’ So Hashem will give you meat, and you will eat” (v.18). At the end we read: “A wind went forth from Hashem and blew quail from the sea and spread them over the camp, a day’s journey this way and a day’s journey that way, all around the camp” (v.31).
Regarding the origin of the permission to eat meat, as early as in Parsha Bereshith we find that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to man: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed that is on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed. To you it shall be for food” (Bereshith 1:29). Here the Ramban writes, “He did not permit Adam and his wife to kill any creature and eat its meat, but all alike were to eat herbs. Yet when the era of the sons of Noah arrived, He permitted them to eat meat, as it is said: ‘Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, as the green herb’ [Bereshith 9:3] – even as the green herb that I permitted to the first man, so do I permit you everything.”
According to the opinion of the Ba’alei HaTosafot (Sanhedrin 56b), the first man was prohibited from killing in order to eat meat. However he could eat an animal that was already dead.
The Ramban also writes: “He gave to man and his wife every herb yielding seed, and all fruit of the trees. Yet to the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the heaven, He gave all green herb, but not the fruit of the tree or the seeds. The food of all of them was thus not the same. However meat was not permitted to them until the time of the sons of Noah, as is the opinion of our rabbis, and this is the plain meaning of the verse. The reason for this was that creatures possessing a moving soul have some superiority in regards to their soul, resembling the way those who possess the rational soul: They have the power of choice affecting their welfare and their food, and they flee from pain and death. … Yet when they sinned…and it was decreed that they die in the flood – and for the sake of Noah, He saved some of them to preserve the species – He gave the sons of Noah permission to slaughter and eat them, since their existence was for his sake.”
Radak states another reason why Noah was allowed to eat animals, which is that he put a great deal of effort into saving them during the flood.
From One Shabbat Eve to Another
On the verse, “When Hashem your G-d will enlarge your border, as He spoke to you, and you say: ‘I will eat meat,’ for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s content you may eat meat” (Devarim 12:20), Rashi explains that while in the desert, the Children of Israel were prohibited from eating non-sacrificial (profane) meat, unless it was sanctified and brought as a shelamim (peace-offering).
In the Gemara, the Sages learn from this verse: “The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct, that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it” (Chullin 84a). The Rambam writes, “The Sages have directed us regarding the ways of the world: A person should eat meat only if he has an appetite for it, as the verse states: ‘you will have a desire to eat meat.’ It is sufficient for a healthy person to eat meat [once a week] from Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve. If he is wealthy enough to eat meat every day, he may do so” (Hilchot Deot 5:10).
Happy is the One Who Can
Is it better not to eat meat at all?
The book Sdei Chemed cites the Reshith Chochma, who states that it is better not to eat any meat. However the author of the Tanya states that eating rich meat or drinking aromatic wine expands the spirit of man and his Torah, and that we have the right to fulfill the mitzvah of enjoying ourselves on Shabbat and Yom Tov. In that case, the vitality of the meat and wine will be drawn out and ascend before Hashem like a burnt-offering.
Some have cited the Arizal in stating that we usually do not eat meat or drink wine on Mondays and Thursdays because the Celestial Court sits in judgment. Now we know that if they begin during the day, they finish at night, which is why we do not eat meat or drink wine on Monday night and Thursday night. Some people avoid consuming them on Sunday night and Wednesday night. Happy is the one who can avoid meat and wine during the entire week.
Joy and Pleasure
Are we obligated to eat meat?
The Rambam states: “A person is obligated to eat three meals on Shabbat. … Eating meat and drinking wine on Shabbat is a form of pleasure for a person, provided that it is within his [financial] means” (Hilchot Shabbat 30). Regarding the festivals, the Rambam writes: “A person is obligated to be happy and in good spirits – he, his children, his wife, the members of his household, and all those who depend on him – as it states: ‘You shall rejoice in your festival’ [Devarim 16:14]. … Men should eat meat and drink wine, for there is no joy without partaking of meat, and there is no joy without partaking of wine.”
In practice, the Shulchan Aruch states: “There is no obligation to eat meat or drink wine on Shabbat. Rather, since it is assumed that most people take more pleasure in eating meat than in other foods, and in drinking wine more than other drinks, they should eat meat and drink wine according to their means.”
In our time, when the Temple no longer stands, is there an obligation to eat meat during the holidays?
The Biur Halachah writes, “Now that there is no Temple, we can only fulfill the obligation to rejoice through wine. However there is no longer an obligation to eat meat, since we no longer have the meat of the shelamim [peace-offerings]. Nevertheless, there is still a mitzvah to eat meat because it is written that it brings joy.”
At the Source
He Does Not Journey
It is written, “A man who is clean, and was not on a journey” (Bamidbar 9:13).
The book Ilana D’Chayei explains in the name of the Rav of Lublin: “Which man is clean? The man who ‘was not on a journey.’ ” In other words, it is a man who dwells in tents [of Torah] and does not venture along the roads, for on the way he may see things that he should not see, or he may not find a place to pray and study as he should. Such a person is “a man who is clean.”
This is why the Sages say, “Travel injures a man in three ways: It diminishes his fertility, diminishes his money, and diminishes the name” (Bamidbar Rabba 11:2). It diminishes his fertility, for he is no longer fertile in Torah. It diminishes his money, for while traveling he cannot give tzeddakah as he should, since he may fear that he may be lacking money, especially in a foreign place where he cannot borrow, or he may be afraid to show that he has money, lest he be robbed. Finally, it diminishes “the name” (ha-shem), meaning the service of Hashem.
The gaon Rabbi Yehudah Tsadka Zatzal noted that the prayer Ashrei Yoshvei Veitecha ends by the words, “My mouth will utter the praise of Hashem,” whereas the psalm Ashrei temimei derech [Tehillim 119] ends with the words, “I have strayed like a lost sheep.”
Nourishment for the Soul
It is written, “Now our life is parched. There is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Bamidbar 11:6).
In Pnei David, the Chida explains in the name of Rav A. Brotedo: The soul’s nourishment is found in the blessings on food, for the body benefits from food and drink, while the soul benefits from the blessings. This is what they were complaining about, saying: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free, and the cucumbers…” (Bamidbar 11:5), for they had to recite a separate blessing on each of these things. Yet now, “there is nothing at all” – our soul is nourished by nothing – “besides this manna.” True, it acquires the taste of all that we want, but that does not require us to recite the blessings.
Because of Humility
It is written, “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble” (Bamidbar 12:3).
In Yosef Tehilot, the Chida’s commentary on Tehillim, he cites the Beit Yosef’s objection in The Principles of the Gemara on the Sages’ teaching: “What was it that entitled Beit Hillel to have the Halachah fixed in agreement with their rulings? Because they were kind and humble” (Eruvin 13b). The Beit Yosef asked, “Would the Halachah be changed in accordance with their views because they were humble?”
The Beit Yosef answers that by the merit of the humility that was engraved in their hearts, the disciples of Hillel were oriented towards the truth, for as we know: “He guides the humble in judgment” (Tehillim 25:9). That is, the Holy One, blessed be He, establishes the Halachah according to the disciples of Hillel.
One may object, “What if, on account of humility, they rule contrary to the din?” Hence the verse adds: “He teaches the humble His way.” In fact the Holy One, blessed be He, chooses them and teaches them the truth, according to the question raised and answered by the Beit Yosef.
The More Wealth, the More Humility
It is written, “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble” (Bamidbar 12:3).
The Chatam Sofer Zatzal said that the wealthier a person is, the more humble he must be towards the Holy One, blessed be He, and towards others.
The proof is found in the Gemara (Moed Katan 28a), where Rava prayed for three things: The wealth of Rav Chisda, the wisdom of Rav Huna, and the humility of Raba bar Rav Huna.
Two of these things, wealth and wisdom, were granted to him, whereas humility was not.
In reality, even this was granted to him, for he obtained the humility of Raba bar Rav Huna. However since he was already wealthy, the humility of Raba bar Rav Huna was not enough, since he was poor. As a wealthy man, Rava needed much greater humility.
From Min Hamayim to Mimayim
It is written, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp” (Bamidbar 11:27).
The Sages teach, “What did they prophesy? They said, ‘Moshe will die and Joshua will bring Israel into the land’ ” (Sanhedrin 17a).
Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri Zatzal said that in Parsha Shemot it is written, “She called his name Moshe, ‘for I drew him out of the water [min hamayim]’ ” (Shemot 2:10). Apparently, she should have simply said mimayim, for the letters nun and hei seem redundant.
The answer is that the letters forming mimayim are the initials of Moshe met Yehoshua machnis (“Moshe will die and Joshua will bring”). Now Batya the daughter of Pharaoh did not agree with this, which is why she deliberately added two letters and said min hamayim.
Eldad and Medad prophesied bamachaneh (“in the camp”) – meaning moach, by erasing the letters nun and hei, which Batya added, they had mimayim, the initials of Moshe met Yehoshua machnis. This was a decree from Heaven, which is why “the lad ran and told Moshe” (Bamidbar 11:27).
– Chanukat HaTorah
Reasons for the Mitzvot
Good Deeds Bring One Closer to the Shechinah
It is written, “Vayehi [And it came to pass] when the Ark would journey, Moshe said: ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered. Let those who hate You flee from before You’ ” (Bamidbar 10:35).
The Sages said, “The following remark is a tradition handed down to us from the Men of the Great Assembly: Wherever we find the term vayehi in Scripture, it indicates trouble” (Megillah 10b). We therefore have to understand what trouble existed here, when the Ark departed, since the Sages said that all the miracles performed for Israel occurred on account of the Ark, and because the Shechinah was found there (Tanhuma, Vayakhel 7). In this regard we read, “The Ark of the covenant of Hashem journeyed before them a three-day distance to search out for them a resting place” (Bamidbar 10:33). It killed serpents and scorpions, burned thistles, and killed the enemies of Israel. Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat said in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: Two sparks emerged from between the two cherubim, killing serpents and scorpions, and burning thistles. The smoke arose, and everyone was scented with the fragrance that emerged from it.
As a result, what possible trouble could there have been?
We may say that when the Children of Israel encamped, they found themselves near the Ark. Yet when the kohanim began to prepare for its departure, they immediately sensed an absence of holiness and the splendor of the holy Shechinah, which for them was troublesome.
What did Moshe tell them? “Arise, Hashem” – they studied Torah and the fear of Heaven until they were able to stand near Hashem at all times, as it is written: “Who may ascend the mountain of Hashem, and who may stand in the place of His sanctity?” (Tehillim 24:2). When you perform good deeds and fulfill mitzvot, you will be able to arise from the place of His sanctity without grieving over the Ark, which has left its place, for you will be standing near Him at all times.
Guard Your Tongue
There are certain things which are forbidden because of the “dust” of Lashon Harah, such as saying: “Who would have thought that So-and-so would become what he is today!” Or, “Don’t speak about So-and-so. I don’t want to tell you what’s happening with him,” and other such things.
Likewise, if someone compliments a person in the presence of people who do not like him, this is also considered the “dust” of Lashon Harah, for it will encourage them to disparage him.
– Chafetz Chaim
A Torah of Life
The Mysteries of the Sambatyon River Part II
Some six hundred years ago, sorcery spread in the western world on account of a wheel known as Ofen HaMazal. It was used in the following way: Ten people who wanted to learn sorcery and impurity sat on the wheel, at which point the Satan took one of them for himself and taught sorcery and magic to the nine others.
A Jew once wanted to learn magic, and so he went to sit on the wheel with nine non-Jews. When incantations were read to conjure up the Satan so he could take his part, he turned the wheel until it arrived at the Jew. When the Jew saw that the Satan decided to take him, he was overcome by great terror. He bitterly regretted having come and delivered himself into his hands, losing both worlds at the same time.
His fear was so great that he began to recite the Shema with trembling, and the Satan could do nothing against him. He became furious, and in his anger he struck the wheel, which flew apart. Nevertheless, the Satan taught sorcery and magic to the nine who remained. Among them was a prince with an evil heart, and he was filled with anger against Jews, wanting to avenge himself on them. Each time that he saw a Jew on the road, he touched him on the forehead or the nose, and as soon as that Jew returned home, he died. The prince did this to 663 completely innocent Jews.
The Jewish sages of the local city all gathered before the emperor and beseeched him to protect them against the fury of this prince, who in his anger was murdering them without pity. The emperor summoned him, and when the prince came before the emperor, he presented the complaints of the Jews. The prince asked him, “Where are these Jews?” The emperor replied, “They’re behind you.” The prince turned to them and asked, “What did I do to you? I only touched you with a finger?” He then waved his finger at them and touched three of them. Naturally, these three – like the others who had been touched by this evil man – returned home and immediately died.
The emperor, who saw everything taking place before his eyes, made the prince swear by the royal crown and throne that from now on, he would no longer harm any Jew. The prince accepted, but only on condition that the Jews choose one among them who could oppose him in sorcery and magic. Otherwise, he would kill all the Jews without pity, leaving none alive, even if he had to die with them.
The emperor informed the Jews of the prince’s demand, and he gave them a year to find a man who was infused with the holy spirit, a man who could oppose the prince. At the same time, he called the prince and made him swear not to touch a Jew during that year, during which time they would look for someone who could oppose him in sorcery.
The leaders of the Jewish community returned home filled with sadness, with fear and worry. They immediately called for a day of fasting and lamentation. All the residents of the city, from the youngest to the oldest, immersed themselves in teshuvah, in prayer and tzeddakah. Emissaries were sent to countries near and far where there were Jews, their hope being to ward off this evil decree by hoping for the death of this wicked prince during the year, before they had to present someone to confront him.
In a certain Jewish town, a talmid chacham who studied Torah at home had a dream. He was so tired that he placed the sefer on his head, and in his dream he was told: “Your repentance and supplications are in vain, for the prince will not die this year. He will only die once the year is over. That is why you must prepare while there is still time, for G-d will not prevent him from exercising his wickedness against you because of all your sins and transgressions. Nevertheless, do not lose hope, nor turn away from G-d, for Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, and you will be saved from the hands of this dreadful prince. However you must send someone to confront him, a man who possesses the holy spirit and knows how to conjure the ministering angels, not by sorcery or magic, but only through holiness and purity. Then nobody will be able to harm you, and you will enjoy continual peace.”
With the coming of dawn, it turned out that this nighttime vision was not limited to a single Jew. Several other Jews had also received the same message in a dream, which told them to send someone who possessed the holy spirit in order to confront the prince. Since this dream constantly repeated itself, a few talmidei chachamim and leading men of Torah assembled to find someone intelligent and wise, a man who possessed the holy spirit. Yet to their great regret, they found no such man with the courage to confront the evil prince.
During this time, someone came forward to offer some advice: “Listen to me, my brothers. Since Hashem has told us by this dream that He will save us from all who rise against us due to an intelligent and wise man, let us beseech Him to tell us who this man is, and where we can find him.”
This advice was unanimously approved, and days of fasting and supplication were immediately proclaimed so that G-d would tell them who such a man was, and where he could be found. An answer did not take long in coming, for the Heavenly messenger presented himself in a dream once again and said: “You will not find a man with the holy spirit in any country, not even in the Holy Land, for you must cross the Sambatyon River to find him. Take a man from the tribes of Israel who are found on the other side of this river, for they are powerful people who can perform miracles, and they will come to your aid. At the end of the exile, they will be the ones to deliver you, for of them it is said: ‘Deliverers shall ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau.’ ”
The only problem was that the Sambatyon River, as we know, is constantly foaming, throwing up sand and large rocks, and only stops flowing on Shabbat. Whoever dares to cross the river on Shabbat would be stoned by the tribes living on the other side because they had desecrated Shabbat. Who would risk their lives by crossing the river on Shabbat, depriving themselves of life both in this world and in the World to Come?
Hence the following question was asked in a dream: “If Hashem’s will is to save us by a man from the tribes that live on the other side of the Sambatyon River, perhaps Hashem will perform a miracle in order for Shabbat not to be desecrated in crossing it?”
(Continued next week)