Ki Tavo+Vayelech before Rosh Hashana

The following is an adaptation of small part of a Yohr Tzeit Shiur given by the Rav in 1966. It is strongly based on the transcription copyrighted in 2001 by Josh Rapps and Israel Rivkin. I have made minor stylistic changes.

Ezra enacted a rule that we should read the ברכות וקללות of ויקרא in פרשת בחוקותי prior to Shavuos and the ברכות וקללות in דברים) פרשת כי תבוא) before ראש השנה (Megila 31b). The Rav ז’ל asked:

  1. According to our order of reading the Torah, במדבר is always read the Shabbos prior to Shavuos and נצבים is always read the week prior to ראש השנה. Why do we deviate from the Takanas Ezra?
  2. The גמרא distinguishes between the ברכות וקללות in תורת כהנים)  ספר ויקרא) and ספר דברים —משנה תורה (for example, in the ברכות וקללות of תורת כהנים, one person reads the entire set, while the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה may be subdivided among several people). Why is there a distinction between them?

The Rav explained based on a רש’’י דברים 14:2

 … כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך

רש’’י explains כי עם קדוש as  קדושת עצמך מאבותיך, you possess inherited sanctity from your forefathers. However there is another type of sanctity that Moshe mentions:

בך בחר ה’ אלוקיך להיות לו לעם סגולה

describes an amazing principle, that a Jew has two forms of sanctity, קדושת ישראל through יחוס מאבות. There is a second individual קדושה granted to each Jew, קדושת עצמך, your individual holiness, based on our selection as בני ישראל by Hashem.

The Rav asked what is the status of a משומד (someone who has become an apostate)? Does he retain complete קדושת ישראל or not? On the one hand there are sources in the גמרא that he remains a complete Jew (for instance his Kiddushin is valid, see Yevamos 47b). On the other hand, there are other sources that exclude him from various religious tasks (Shechita, Kesivas Stam and others, see Gittin 45b).

Which קדושה does the משומד lose? The Rav said that the inherited קדושה of a descendant of the patriarchs is irrevocable. However, the Rav felt that a משומד forfeited the second קדושה that is based on their personal selection  as the chosen people of the Jewish nation.

A convert has both קדושות, as the הלכה says, he recites the  פרשת ביכורים and he says אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו based on Abraham being called the father of a multitude of nations, אב המון גויים. He has an inherited קדושה from Abraham and he acquires the קדושת ישראל when he converted.

If there are two קדושות inherent in Jews, and every generation has these two קדושות, they must be based on two separate כריתת ברית (enacted covenants). קדושה is based on the obligation to fulfil מצוות. The Rambam (הלכות מלכים 9:1) describes the observance of מצוות among the generations prior מתן תורה as the historical map of sanctity among the Jewish people. Each higher level of sanctity could be attained only through the acceptance of additional מצוות. Even though they underwent Milah and Tevila in Egypt prior to the Korban Pesach and the Exodus, בני ישראל needed an additional Tevila at Sinai. The Rambam says that since they attained new מצוות at Sinai, they had to undergo another conversion process. In short, Mizvos are built upon כריתת ברית, the enactment of a covenant with all the obligations therein.

Har Grizim and Har Avol

A Jew has two distinct sources of obligation. The first is based on the original ברית at הר סיני that derived from the patriarchs and was then expressed through Moses. This covenant obligates all successive generations, through our lineage connection—Yichus—to fulfil the מצוות. There is a second כריתת ברית that is based on individual קדושה and is entered into by each and every generation.

Where do we find these two covenants? The first covenant is in בחוקתי and the second is in כי תבוא. Why do we need both covenants*?

פרשת נצבים is the continuation of the ברית in כי תבוא (according To Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon). At מתן תורה, Moshe read the ספר הברית while the Jews stood at הר סיני. What did Moshe read to them? חז’’ל tell us that he read the Torah from Breishis through the story of the Exodus. The Sinaitic covenant was built on the Exodus that was in turn built on the covenant with the Patriarchs. In תורת כהנים, Hashem mentions that He will recall the original covenant with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. In other words, the entire Sinaitic covenant is based on, and is the continuation of, the covenant of the forefathers and transfers from generation to generation.

Therefore Shavuos, the holiday of Matan Torah, is associated with the ברכות וקללות in בחוקתי that were given at הר סיני. Even though the ברכות וקללות are recorded in בחוקתי, they are referred to and are connected to פרשת משפטים, when Moshe sprinkled the people and read the ספר הברית to them. These ברכות וקללות were part of the ברית enacted with the Patriarchs. We read פרשת במדבר prior to Shavuos, because the entire concept of Yichus, Jewish lineage, is based on פרשת במדבר. The entire concept of counting the people derives from the sanctity of the Patriarchs and the lineage of the 12 tribes who trace that lineage back to Abraham. As it says in the Parsha,

למשפחותם ולבית אבתם, ויתילדו על משפחותיהם

חז’’ל say that each one brought his lineage documentation (Shtar Yuchsin) proving that he descended from the patriarchs and their children.

The different levels of sanctity attained by each of the twelve tribes was derived from their connection to the קדושת אבות of the previous generations. This is the Kedusha of כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך. In Bris Atzeres read on Shavuos, we find the fulfillment of the statement כי עם קדוש אתה להשם אלוקיך, the sanctity of each Jew based on his lineage. The Midrash says on the verse זה קלי ואנויהו, that Moshe emphasised that the קדושה did not begin with him (Moshe), but rather it began long ago through our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as expressed in אלוקי אבי וארוממנהו. This is the essence of Shavuos, מתן תורה and ברכות וקללות of בחוקותי. Ezra established that they should read about this covenant, the covenant that mentions the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt that led to קבלת התורה at Sinai, before Shavuos each year.

The Rav lecturing at Stern College

How do I know that this covenant extends to subsequent generations? I would not know it from פרשת בחוקתי alone. The Yichus, lineage described in פרשת במדבר teaches that the covenant also extends to me based on that Yichus.

The covenant based on ברכות וקללות in נצבים was not only given to the generation that stood before Moses prior to his death. Rather, this set of ברכות וקללות was, and is, given to each and every individual generation. We are not bound to this covenant through lineage, or through the patriarchs. It is our own responsibility. As רש’’י explains ובך בחר השם אלוקיך, Hashem has selected you and endowed each generation with a קדושה that is separate and distinct from the קדושה of the Avos.

רש’’י explains the verse ואת אשר איננו פה עומד עמנו היום (and those who are not with us this day) that the oath obligates the future generations of Klal Yisrael. Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel says explicitly that it binds all future generations. All succeeding generations stood before the Ark and Moshe and accepted the oath to observe the מצוות of Hashem. Therefore ראש השנה is a יום הזכרון for ברית, not only for the ברית אבות but also for the ברית that Hashem makes with each generation. ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה must be read prior to ראש השנה, however the story would be incomplete without also reading פרשת נצבים, since the connection to each generation, לא איתכם לבדכם אנוכי כורת הברית הזאת (not with you alone am I forging this covenant), is not found in כי תבוא, but rather in נצבים. Therefore, reading נצבים prior to ראש השנה is in total agreement with Takanas Ezra, as it is the continuation of the ברכות וקללות in משנה תורה.

The Sinaitic covenant that was built on the patriarchs was a covenant created with the entire עם ישראל. Everyone, each and every יחיד, is included and responsible, because each of us belongs to the עם, to the רבים. כי עם קדוש אתה, the basis of the sanctity, is the עם, the רבים. That’s why the ברכות וקללות in בחוקותי are written in לשון רבים, plural, as it was given to the entire nation. However the כריתת ברית in נצבים was given in the singular form, to each and every יחיד. It is not just a כריתת ברית with each successive generation, but rather it is a covenant with each and every individual within those generations.

Each of us stood before Moshe and the Ark and we accepted the oath administered by Moshe. Moshe is talking about each individual who might say in his heart שלום יהיה לי, I will go my own way. Moshe warns such an individual, that the retribution for this sin will be great. He is talking to each and every Jew, throughout all the generations.

* Really there were 3 covenants, with the third at Mount Grizim. But that was a different type of covenant based on Arayvus, acceptance of mutual responsibility for fellow Jews.

Artscroll and the toil of Torah

One of the more famous Midrashim (Sifra Bechukotai 2) is quoted by Rashi at the beginning of this Parsha. In explaining the concept of “walking with Chukim”

“Im bechukosai telechu – If you will follow My decrees, and observe My commandments and perform them.”

Rashi:  שתהיו עמלים בתורה that you will toil in Torah.

When R’ Chaim Brisker (Soloveitchik) z”l

R' Chaim Brisker ז’ל

was considered for the exalted position of Rosh Yeshivah of Volozhin alongside the (much older) Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, a group of 3 great Rabbis came to Volozhin, to hear his “tryout shiur” delivered to the entire Yeshivah, Rosh Yeshiva and Ramim. I can’t recall, but I believe that one of the 3 was R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzenski ז’ל. R’ Chaim proceeded to present a typically dazzling Shiur using his newfound architecture for navigating a Sugya, which resulted in all initial questions being answered with ease. Suddenly, in the midst of the Shiur, R’ Chaim stopped and was silent for a few moments. He then announced

Everything that I have said is false

At that point, R’ Chaim left the Beis Medrash. As we know, R’ Chaim was appointed as Rosh Yeshivah because of his intellectual integrity and brilliance.

The Gemora in Baba Kama 41b relates a story about Shimon Ha’amsoni. He was famous for investigating and expounding every את in the Torah. His students were gathered around him listening to the brilliant explanations for each את. Suddenly, when he came to the Pasuk in Eikev of

 ”את ה’ אלוקיך תירא”        You should fear Hashem your God

Shimon Ha’amsoni inexplicably stopped. He was unwilling to attempt to compare or add to the concept of fear of Hashem with anything. Going further, Shimon Ha’amsoni regretted all the את explanations that he had given, to date. Expressing incredulity, his students asked why Shimon had abandoned the other explanations—what about all the toil in Torah that he had exerted and now seemingly abandoned, was this all for nought? Shimon Ha’amsoni answered that just as he had received reward for teaching, he would receive a reward for quitting!

The Maharal in his Chidushei Agados on Bava Kama ibid asks an obvious question: one can understand that he would be rewarded for quitting because that would entail not providing incorrect information, but what about all the previous explanations of את, given that they are wrong why should he get a reward for these? The Maharal explains that from this story we say that עמלה של תורה, the intellectual exertion involved in trying to nut out pieces of Torah, is important as an exercise in of itself.

I reminisce to the days when I joined Kerem B’Yavneh and was learning with my Chavrusa in the morning. I had learned Gemora before at School but had never experienced trying to nut out the Pshat myself. It was hard. The only thing I allowed myself access to was a Jastrow dictionary (something I hadn’t known existed). Thankfully, the Shiur itself progressed at a snail’s pace. I found it easier to understand the intricacies of Shiur because these were pre-packaged, pre-digested brilliant expositions around the Gemora, Rashi, Tosfos, Rishonim and Achronim. For me, though, understanding a Tosfos after the Gemora was sometimes impossible. My biggest enemy was the dreaded “short Tosfos”. They were often the most challenging. Initially I also feared a large Tosfos, but soon learned that these were the “good ones”. We had a Shoel U’Mayshiv (someone who would answer questions we might have) sitting near were we learned, but there was no way I was going to ask them simple Pshat in a Gemora or Tosfos. That would be giving up and finding a short cut. I couldn’t do that. I recall sitting there for hours and hours agonising over one line in silence.

One weekend, when I went to Yerusholayim for Shabbos, there was a lingering Tosfos that I couldn’t crack and it was playing on my mind. I had heard that there were a series of new Seforim called מי מנוחות that expounded Tosfos on selected Yeshivishe Mesechtos, in easy-to-read Ivrit. Standing in the book shop in Meah Shearim, I crumbled with weakness and asked the shop owner if he stocked מי מנוחות on the first Perek of כתובות. He pointed it out to me, and I quickly leafed to the Tosfos that was eating me alive. I read the explanation and smiled, thinking, how easy is this! I resisted the temptation to buy the Sefer, and went on my way. By Sunday morning, I had forgotten the fine points I had read, and I was back to almost square one.

I didn’t realise it then, but I found out later that each phrase or sentence or paragraph that I sweated over, stayed with me. I gained life skills and confidence and was able to assimilate more and varied Seforim as time passed.  This period, regrettably, comprised only a comparatively short part of my life, but the mode of learning left an indelible mark. In retrospect, I’d identify that experience as עמלה של תורה, the intrinsic toil involved in learning Torah.

R’ Chaim Brisker and Shimon Ha’amsoni toiled in the Torah that they had expounded. There is a reward and that reward is not always apparent. Perhaps for this reason the word חוקה a deep engraving is also used in the opening of the Parsha. When ones toils, the resultant imbues neurones in a more indissoluble manner.

Fast forward to our new world of Artscroll-translated Gemoras. This is an unequivocally wonderful and masterful production. What it has also provided is a “quick fix” for the student of Torah. The world of instant sms, facebook, twitter, whatsapp, viber and so on precipitate an immediate and pressing connectivity—an unending, snappy provision of information . There is no need to wait or wonder. Today’s youth is perhaps less willing to “sit and struggle” with a text when there is a ready-made, pre-cooked, “just warm me up in the microwave” solution. Perhaps what we have lost is potential עמלה של תורה.

Parshas Bechukosai opens with the promise that if you do toil in Torah, then

ונתתי גשמכם בעתם ונתנה הארץ יבולה, ואכלתם לחמכם לשובע, וישבתם לבטח בארצכם, ונתתי שלום בארץ, ורדפתם את אויביכם, ונתתי משכני בתוככם

 I will provide timely rain, and ample produce for the Land, and you will eat your bread and be satiated, and you will dwell in safety in your Land, and I will cause peace in the Land, and you will chase your enemies, and I will plant my sanctuary amongst you.

The עמלה של תורה creates reward for all the nation of Israel, in plural, and not just a singleton. An explanation of this will need to wait for another post.

Parshas Bechukosai

This Dvar Torah is dedicated towards a Refuah Shelemah for

טויבע פרומעט בת חיה ליבע

The Rav particularly disliked the aphorism

העבר אין, והעתיד עדיין, והווה כהרף אין, [אם כן] דאגה מניין

The past is remote, the future has not yet occurred, the present is fleeting, why, then, should one be concerned?

For those musically inclined, this aphorism was used as lyrics for Yossi Green’s funky tune, as famously sung by Mordechai Ben David. I’ve always loved the song, and my band also loves performing it ( number 164 on the Schnapps list for those who wish to pre-book  🙂 The author of this aphorism is a source of conjecture amongst scholars.

Why did the Rav dislike this aphorism?

Bechukosai includes the infamous section known as the תוחכה, the admonishment of בני ישראל on account of sinning, together with a short section describing the blessings they would attain if they acted with fidelity. In Vaykikra 26:42, the pasuk states

‘וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב וגו’ וזכרתי  להם ברית ראשונים וגו 

And I remembered my covenant with Jacob … and I remembered my original covenant

The תוכחה can be viewed as a ברית—covenant. The ברית of the תוכחה employs the same phraseology as the ברית enacted on Har Sinai when we received the Torah. How so? Regarding the Siniatic ברית the Torah says:

אלה החוקים והמשפטים והתורות אשר נתן ה’ בינו ובין בני ישראל בהר סיני ביד משה

These are the statutes, judgements, and laws that Hashem transmitted between Him and B’nei Yisrael on the mountain of Sinai through the hand of Moshe.

Compare this to the phrasing of the תוכחה as described in the version in Parshas Ki Savo:

אלה דברי הברית א‍שר־צוה ה’ את־משה לכרת את־בני ישראל בארץ מואב מלבד הברית אשר־כרת אתם בחרב

These are the words of the covenant which Hashem commanded Moshe to enact with B’nei Yisrael in the land of Moav, beside the covenant He enacted with them in Chorev.

The ברית at Chorev was the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the ברית at Moav was the תוכחה.

We see from here that the promise in Bechukosai וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב וגו’ וזכרתי  להם ברית ראשונים, the ברית אבות mentioned above, is linked to the ברית of the תוכחה, and the ברית of the תוכחה is linked to the ברית at Sinai. In other words the ברית at Har Sinai is connected to the ברית of our forefathers,  ברית אבות. What is the meaning of the covenantal connection between these seemingly disparate Psukim?

The essence of the ברית at Sinai was a process of acquisition קנין whereby B’nei Yisrael committed to the קנין—the commitment—to keep all 613 Mitzvos. What about the ברית אבות? We can say that through the ברית אבות (which was prior to the formal keeping of Torah and Mitzvos) Jews tacitly appreciated the feeling of being Jewish and what the experience of keeping the Mitzvos would effect. Furthermore, we can learn from this how history plays out in the life of B’nei Yisrael.

In secular circles, a mechanical understanding of history is such that the past gives birth to the present and the present gives birth to the future. In Jewish history, it is often the case that the future gives birth to the present. This is certainly so in our own days, wherein our anticipation for the future ביאת המשיח fuels our present attachment to the Holy Land of Israel.

In a similar way, we can explain the language used at the  עקידה when Avraham says:

שבו לכם פה עם החמור, wait here with the donkeys

ואני והנער נלכה עד כה, and the lad and I will go until there

What is the difference between פה and כה? In the annals or interpretations of secular history, the present פה influences the כה future. Whereas in Jewish History, the future, the פה, influences the present.

This then, explains the Rav, is the connection between the Psukim and the covenants. When we look at the covenant and promise to the Avos, which was in the past, we could assume that at that time, the feeling of being Jewish and the anticipation of keeping Mitzvos implied and gave birth to a process which resulted in the future covenant at Sinai. This wasn’t the case. Rather it was the future, the concept of Kabolas Hatorah which caused the inspiration and the “feeling of being Jewish” by the Avos at that time. Similarly, one might think that the ברית of Sinai was the precursor to convincing us that if we did the wrong thing we would be admonished and suffer terrible things. This wasn’t the case. Rather it was the subsequent reward and punishment as described by the  תוכחה which was the inspiration behind the קנין at Har Sinai in the form of Kabolas HaTorah.

This is a subtle, but inspirational difference. It doesn’t accept the vacuity inherent in העבר אין, והעתיד עדיין, והווה כהרף אין

Mount Gerizim on the left and Mount Avol on the right