Friday, July 24, 2009
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) related that he posed this exact question to Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt"l. Rav Hutner answered that this ideology is a manifestation of pessimism. It was their way of declaring that all actions have no real purpose; at the end of the day everything is ruined. Whether one ate a succulent steak or a gorgeous red apple, everything simply turns into excrement.
Rav Wolbe elaborated that such an outlook on life stands diametrically opposed to the Torah's outlook. The Torah teaches us that every action has the ability to build, and nothing goes to waste. Even excrement could be used as fertilizer, as it contains essential life giving nutrients for starting a new crop.
Earlier in the parsha (ibid. 23, 10) Bil'am declared, "Who can count the dirt of Yaakov?" Rashi explains that there is no limit to the amount of mitzvos that Bnei Yisroel perform with dirt. We are prohibited from plowing a field with an ox and a donkey in one yoke, and from planting mixtures of seeds (keliyim). We are commanded to purify those who came in contact with a dead person through the "ashes" of the red heifer, and the examination of the sotah was performed with a mixture that contained dirt. Bnei Yisroel are able to elevate even dirt and use it as a means for the performance of mitzvos, attaining purity, and restoring harmony to the home of the sotah.
This concept is thoroughly discussed in the Messilas Yesharim. He writes that kedusha is the ability to change the physical into the spiritual. Chazal tell us that giving food and drink to a talmid chochom is tantamount to offering a sacrifice and a wine libation, because a talmid chochom channels every action toward the spiritual. Moreover, the Mishna (Mikvaos 9, 5) refers to talmidei chochomim as "ba'naim" - builders, because in essence it is they who are the true builders of the world. Everything has a purpose and nothing is wasted or totally lost.
Although Ba'al Pa'or is no longer around, however, the idea that it represents still resonates. We must remember that this philosophy is the antithesis to the Torah outlook on life, and our actions should reflect this difference.
The Torah writes that Dasan and Avirom were among those who Korach succeeded in recruiting to join in his rebellion against Moshe. Rashi tells us that Dasan and Avirom were from the tribe of Reuvein and they resided south of the Mishkan, adjacent to Korach and the sons of Kehos. He explains that it was Dasan and Avirom's close proximity to Korach which caused them to become embroiled in the argument; as Chazal state, "Woe unto the wicked and woe unto his neighbor."
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) makes an interesting observation. Dasan and Avirom are by no means new faces in the Torah. They made their debut in Mitzrayim when they were fist fighting, and in response to Moshe's attempts to end their squabble they challenged him, "Who made you into a leader and judge over us? Will you kill us just as you killed the Egyptian?" From then on they only caused problems. They informed Pharaoh that Moshe killed the Egyptian thereby forcing Moshe to flee for his life. They blamed Moshe when the work in Egypt got more difficult; and they kept some of their mann overnight despite Moshe's explicit command not to leave over any mann till the morning. They were experts at picking fights, but nevertheless, Rashi tells us that if not for the fact that they were neighbors of Korach, they would not have joined Korach's argument with Moshe.
Rav Wolbe quotes the Gr"a, who writes that there are two types of yetzer hara with which every person must contend; one internal and one external. In comparison, the internal yetzer hara can be subdued with more ease than the external yetzer hara. Dasan and Avirom had the potential to instigate an argument, but it was potential that was borne out of their internal yetzer hara. In this instance, since that they had no personal gain they would have had the ability to overcome their yetzer hara. However, due to their close proximity to Korach, they observed his actions (i.e. an external yetzer hara) and the potential became a reality.
With this approach we can explain another pasuk. The Torah (Shelach15, 39) exhorts, "Do not follow your hearts and eyes after which you stray." Rashi explains that the eyes see, the heart covets and then the body sins. Shouldn't the Torah have written "Do not follow your eyes and hearts" since first the eyes see and only then does the heart covet? The answer is that there are definitely desires which materialize internally, but most people have the wherewithal to overcome these temptations. However, once the eyes perceive the temptation externally, this ignites the desires that would have otherwise lain dormant. As the pasuk states, the desires do begin in the heart, but it is only after the eyes see, that the heart covets to the point that it seduces the body to sin.
Overcoming our yetzer hara is not an easy task. Yet, not being careful with what we see, or not being cautious when it comes to friends and neighbors who could be a bad influence, can increase the difficulty many times over.
If we were to take a poll of how people describe "yiras shamayim" (fear of Heaven) we would probably receive various different answers. Some would claim that, "Yirah is being meticulous in the performance of mitzvos." Others would opine that, "Yirah is the performance of mitzvos with the proper intentions," or maybe, "Yirah is the fear of Gehinom." Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur pg. 500) that although each of these answers touch on some aspect of yirah, however, none have truly revealed the depth of this concept. Rashi in this week's parsha enlightens us with a deeper understanding of yirah.
"Do not curse a deaf man and before a blind man do not place a stumbling block, and you shall fear your G-d - I am Hashem" (Vayikra 19, 14). Rashi explains that the pasuk is referring to a figurative stumbling block. Do not give bad advice (which is to your own benefit) to someone who is "blind" i.e. unsuspecting with regard to the issue at hand. Because it is only the one who is offering the advice who knows his true intentions, therefore, the Torah writes, "And you shall fear your G-d" - for He can distinguish the real intent behind one's actions.
Similarly, further on in the parsha, the Torah commands us, "Rise before the aged and give respect to the elderly and you shall fear your G-d - I am Hashem" (Vayikra 19, 32). Rashi explains that a person might think that no one will know if he chooses to simply close his eyes and pretend not to see the elderly man, thereby obviating the need to stand up. Therefore, the Torah writes, "And you shall fear your G-d" because Hashem knows the true basis for one's actions.
Rav Wolbe points out that there are three more places in Parshas Behar that the Torah writes in conjunction with specific mitzvos, "And you shall fear your G-d." Despite the fact that Rashi was careful with every word he wrote, nevertheless, each and every time he explains that because it is something that only the person himself can discern - the reason that lies behind his action - therefore the Torah felt the need to write, "And you shall fear your G-d."
With this in mind, we can gain a deeper understanding of the concept of yirah. Yirah can be found in the recesses of the mind and in the rationale behind one's actions. The gauge to measure one's yiras shamayim is specifically those mitzvos that no one will know about except He Who is in the heavens. Moreover, most amazingly, all five of the above mitzvos are between man and his fellow man. It is possible to give a pious impression to the world, while deep down one has ulterior motives tainted by his personal desires. These mitzvos are the true test to see if one feels yiras shamayim in his interpersonal relationships.
The Mashgiach writes that such thoughts are possible even with regard to mitzvos between man and Hashem. One might buy a beautiful esrog so others will think that he is meticulous in his performance of mitzvos, while he might spend substantially lower than he could afford when it comes to the performance of mitzvos that no one will know about. In truth, mitzvos must be performed objectively without taking into consideration one's personal interests or other people's favorable comments.