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Mishnah: Bechorot 1:2-3
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Rosh Hashanah 30
Halachah: Mishnah Berurah 389:1-390:2
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (13:9), “The light of the righteous will rejoice, but the lamp of the wicked will flicker out.” Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) explains: King Shlomo compares the soul of a tzaddik to light because the soul, like the concept “light,” is eternal and is independent of the life-span of the tzaddik’s body. In contrast, the soul of a rasha is like the light of a lamp; when the candle or wick is snuffed out, the light is gone. So, too, when the rasha’s body dies, nothing remains of him.
In reality, R’ Bachya continues, a soul never dies. But, the soul of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment, which is a fate worse than death. This comes about because the rasha did not pursue “light” during his lifetime. Therefore, King Shlomo says that the lamp will “flicker out.” A faint memory of the light that could have been will remain, but it will not give light.
In contrast, “the light of the righteous will rejoice.” This rejoicing is the tzaddik’s reward, and it refers to attaining levels of understanding of G-d that one could not attain in his lifetime. [See below.] Because tzaddikim serve Hashem with joy, they to rejoicing in the World-to-Come, for the trait of happiness causes the soul to draw sustenance and exist forever.
R’ Bachya continues: Another reason the soul is compared to light is that they both were created on the first day of Creation. Unlike man, who lights a candle from an existing flame, Hashem created light out of nothing. Nevertheless, though He is “light” and doesn’t need our light, He commanded us to light a menorah in His Temple for the honor of the Shechinah, as described in our parashah. (Beur Al Ha’Torah)
“Zeh / This is the workmanship of the menorah, mikshah / hammered-out gold, from its base to its flower it is hammered out; according to the vision that Hashem showed Moshe, so did he make the Menorah.” (8:4)
The Midrash Rabbah comments on this verse that Moshe Rabbeinu could not visualize the menorah and Hashem had to show him an image of it, saying, “Zeh / This is the workmanship of the menorah.” The midrash continues that Moshe toiled mightily to understand the menorah until, finally, Hashem told him to throw a block of gold into the furnace, and the menorah emerged.
R’ Yitzchak Ze’ev Yadler z”l (1843-1917; Yerushalayim) explains: Our Sages say that each of the wicks on the menorah’s seven branches was required to point toward the center lamp. This signifies that, although Hashem appears to us through a variety of attributes, He is One and His attributes are an indivisible part of that One. This is what we mean when we affirm, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad / is One.” Although He sometimes appears as Hashem, signifying mercy, and sometimes as Elokim, signifying justice, He is One.
No human being, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, can truly grasp this concept. Although we profess to believe that everything Hashem does is good, everything is for a purpose, etc., our view of history is too limited and short-sighted to appreciate how this is true. Moshe Rabbeinu could not construct the menorah and imbue it with its full meaning (kavanah) because he could not grasp that meaning. When Moshe asked Hashem (Shmot 33:13), “Make Your ways known to me, so that I may comprehend You,” Moshe was asking to have this matter explained to him. [Elsewhere, our Sages explain that he was asking why the righteous suffer, which is, in essence, the same question.] Hashem answered Moshe that no mortal can grasp Hashem’s ways.
This, continues R’ Yadler, is what the midrash means when it says that Hashem showed Moshe an image of the menorah (literally: “pointed His finger”). People use their fingers to point at distant objects or landmarks. So Hashem told Moshe: Only in the distant future, with hindsight, will man understand My ways.
Despite being rebuffed, Moshe continued to try to understand the full meaning behind the menorah. However, it was “mikshah,” from kasheh / difficult. Finally, Moshe told Hashem: If I cannot imbue the menorah with its complete kavanah, I would prefer not to make it at all. At that point, Hashem told him to throw a block of gold into the furnace, and the menorah emerged. (Tiferet Zion)
“Make for yourself two silver trumpets . . . and they shall be yours for the summoning of the assembly.” (10:1)
The Gemara (Menachot 28b) teaches that all of the vessels that Moshe made could be used by later generations as well. However, the trumpets were for Moshe to summon the nation and could not be used by subsequent leaders. Why?
R’ Eliyahu Schlesinger shlita (rabbi of the Gilo neighborhood of Yerushalayim) suggests that there is a simple lesson here. The way that the leader of one generation calls his flock and relates to his congregants will not necessarily work for the leader of the next generation. (Eileh Ha’devarim)
“The man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” (12:3)
R’ Meshulam Feivish Heller z”l (1740-1795; Zbarazh, Ukraine; early chassidic rebbe) writes: This past Shavuot, I heard from the Maggid / preacher, may his light shine [i.e., R’ Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov z”l (1721-1786), a student of the Ba’al Shem Tov] as follows: People think that there is a mitzvah to be humble, but such a mitzvah is not recorded in the Torah. Humility is praiseworthy, as is evident from the fact that the Torah praises Moshe Rabbeinu’s humility. However, the idea that there is a mitzvah per se to be humble is a creation of the yetzer hara / evil inclination.
The Maggid explained: The yetzer hara operates as follows: First, it causes a person to feel haughty–telling him, for example, that he is a Torah scholar, that he has unique yichus / pedigree, or that he is rich, righteous, possesses excellent character, or is handsome. The yetzer hara tells a person that really does deserve to be elevated above all other people and that he is too important to interact with them. But, the yetzer hara continues, that is a bad character trait; people will think he is haughty, when, actually (says the yetzer hara), there is a mitzvah to be humble.
A person believes this “lesson” given by the yetzer hara and begins to act humbly. Inside, though, he is full of pride over how well he performs the “mitzvah” of being humble.
The truth, R’ Heller continues, is that the Torah doesn’t ask us to be humble. Rather, it expects man to not fool himself about his own degree of importance, which is much less than a person assumes. People don’t set out to be haughty. Rather, it is human nature; people are born haughty and don’t know it, much like a person who fell asleep during a wagon ride and woke up on a mountain-top. Because he didn’t experience the climb to the peak, he doesn’t realize how high up he is. Similarly, because man is haughty by nature, he doesn’t realize that he is haughty. But, if a person were honest with himself and recognized his smallness, especially compared to G-d’s awesomeness, he wouldn’t need a mitzvah to be humble. It would never occur to him to be haughty. (Yosher Divrei Emet 1:1-2)
Next year (5775) is a shemittah / sabbatical year. When the Bet Hamikdash stood, there were limitations mi’d’rabbanan / of rabbinic origin on plowing one’s orchard beginning from the festival of Shavuot preceding the shemittah year (i.e., this past week). The details of those limitations depended on the size, density and productivity of the orchard.
Today, when the Bet Hamikdash is not standing, plowing the land is permitted up until Rosh Hashanah of the shemittah year. (Rambam, Hil. Shemittah, ch. 3)
In 1629, while serving as rabbi of Prague, R’ Yom Tov Lipman Heller z”l (1578-1654), author of the Mishnah commentary Tosafot Yom Tov, was imprisoned on a charge of insulting Christianity in his writings. That experience is the subject of his memoir “Megillat Eivah”–literally, “The Scroll of Hatred.” In last week’s excerpt, R’ Heller related that he was sentenced to death, but was told that he could ransom himself for 12,000 Reichsthaler in cash [equal to approximately 685 pounds of silver], payable immediately. Various activists tried to negotiate on R’ Heller’s behalf. He continues:
They came and went–on the first day, the second day, and the third day, until [the Chancellor] lost his temper and took an oath, “The Emperor commanded that his decree be fulfilled and that the rabbi be beaten mercilessly. I spoke up for him and the Emperor agreed to discount the ransom. Therefore, listen to my advice and agree to pay the sum of 10,000 gold Rhenish as a ransom for the rabbi’s life. After all, all of the Jews are commanded by your religion to help, especially for such a great man. I have heard that not only the Jews in the Emperor’s domain, but even the Jews in the Arab lands are commanded to help.” The activists answered him that, to the contrary, our religion prohibits ransoming a person for more than his worth. The Chancellor laughed and then became angry: “Is there anyone worth more than such a great man? Is he not worth 10,000 [gold coins]? If you agree to pay this, I will go to the Emperor; maybe I will appease him with this amount. If you won’t listen to me, I have nothing else to say, and the decree will be fulfilled.”
On Thursday, the sixth of the month of Menachem [Av], the Chancellor said that the Emperor had agreed to accept this amount. I [R’ Heller] then asked for time to pay, for where will I obtain the wherewithal to pay immediately? After much pleading, they gave me time. I had to pay 2,000 gold Rhenish immediately in cash, 1,000 gold coins after six weeks, and the remaining 7,000 divided into quarterly payments of 1,000 Reichsthaler until the sum of 10,000 had been paid.
May Hashem remember for good the righteous noble, the previously mentioned R’ Yaakov Batsheva z”l [perhaps he was known by his mother’s name], who sent me 2,000 Rhenish in cash from his personal fortune.
- Next week: The conclusion -