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Parashat Emor: The Kohen Today

Excerpted from Rabbi Dr. Norman J. Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages – Leviticus, co-published by OU Press, Maggid Books, and YU Press; edited by Stuart W. Halpern

The Kohen Today*

In an important essay published not too long ago, Dr. Samuel Belkin, President of Yeshiva University, presented a creative insight into the understanding of the commandments of the Torah. There is a great literature on ta’amei hamitzvot, the reasons for the commandments. What Dr. Belkin proposed is a fundamental distinction between the “reason” for a mitzva and the “purpose” of the commandment. The reason is historical, it is something about which man may speculate and conjecture; but ultimately it is known with certainty only to God Himself. Actually, the reason for legislating a mitzva does not make too much difference – it is of little consequence to us. What is of importance, however, is the purpose of the mitzva. Here we must always ask ourselves: What is it the Torah wants me to accomplish as a result of performing this mitzva? The reason for a mitzva remains the same through all eternity, although it may always remain unknown to man. The purpose may change from generation to generation, from culture to culture, from society to society. While the reason is divine, the purpose is human – and, therefore, while all of us observe the same mitzvot in the same manner, each observance may mean something subtly different for each individual person. Hence, while it may be fruitless to inquire into the reason for a mitzva, it is most worthwhile to investigate the purpose of the mitzvot.

It is in this spirit that we may ask a fundamental question about the teachings of this morning’s sidra. That is, what is the purpose of the institution of kehuna, the hereditary priesthood, for modern Jews living in a free and democratic society? Centuries ago, in the days of the Temple, the priest was a most important functionary in the religious life of the country. It was he who officiated at the sacrificial rites in the Temple. He was supported by an elaborate system of tithes and so forth. Today, the kohanim, descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses, are distinguished from other Jews by only a few laws, such as: they are honored with the reading of the first portion of the Torah, they may not defile themselves by contact with the dead, they are limited in their choice of a mate by certain marital regulations, and they officiate at the blessing of the congregation on the holidays. Now, in what manner can this residual priesthood be relevant to our lives and times? Once again, we do not ask for the reason, we do not demand that the Torah justify its claim upon us. We shall observe whether our limited intellectual faculties fully understand or not. But what specific purposes, what special nuances of meaningfulness lie within this biblical legislation?

There are many answers. Those that we shall mention this morning are culled especially from the commentary on the prayer book, Olat Re’iyah, by the late Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.

At the very beginning, we must understand that kehuna in Jewish life was never meant as a ministry of magic. The kohen never waved a wand or performed miracles. Rather, as we discover from a reading of the Bible, the priesthood, with all its hierarchical and hereditary features, was intimately connected with the concept of teaching, especially Torah. Thus, Ezekiel, in this morning’s haftara, defines the function of the kohen as, “And they shall teach My people to distinguish between the sacred and the profane” (44:23). Malachi  proclaimed, “And the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, they shall seek Torah from his mouth” (2:7). In assigning kehuna to the tribe of Levi, Moses declared, “They shall teach Your laws to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:10). Kehuna, therefore, is a ministry of hora’a, of teaching, of education and edification.

An important aspect of our daily morning service thereby becomes more significant. At the very beginning of the service, one of the first things we recite is the birkhot haTorah, the blessings over the study of Torah. After we thank God for giving us the Torah, we immediately proceed to perform the mitzva – we study Torah. And what passage of the Bible is it that we choose to recite as part of the study of Torah? The birkat kohanim, the blessing that is recited by the priests, “The Lord should bless you and keep you.”

Why, of all the sublime passages in the Torah, do we choose the priestly blessing as the one over which to thank God for Torah? Obviously it must be because of the fact that the priests themselves are teachers of Torah or, indirectly, by their very presence in our midst they remind us and challenge us to study the Torah of the Lord.

The great medieval Spanish rabbi Abudarham observed that the priestly blessing consists of three verses. The first verse, “The Lord should bless you and keep you,” contains three Hebrew words. The second verse contains five words, and the third – seven words. Abudarham remarks that the birkat kohanim is thus equivalent to the reading of the Torah, for on weekdays we have three aliyot, on holidays five aliyot, and on Saturdays a minimum of seven.

Rav Kook, however, goes beyond a mere arithmetical equivalence and finds deep significance in this relationship of birkat kohanim to birkhot haTorah, of priesthood to the teaching of Torah. Kehuna, after all, is not an anachronism. It indicates to us that there are amongst us Jews a family, descended from Aaron, who possess, as Rav Kook calls it, a “segula kelalit haba’a biyerusha,” a general talent or predisposition that is bequeathed by heredity. From the very earliest days of the history of our people until today, the kehuna has come down from father to son – a whole family, throughout all these many centuries, has been distinguished by a mandate from the Almighty that its sons be the Ministers of God in the midst of Israel, that they be charged with the function of hora’a, of teaching the Children of Israel, so that “they shall seek Torah from his mouth.” Now the very presence amongst us of this family who is marked by these characteristics reminds us that all of us Jews, non-kohanim as well as kohanim, possess a more general and precious segula kelalit haba’a biyerusha, a heritage of inclination for the study of Torah. God not only gave us a Torah from above, but implanted within us a readiness to love it and a willingness to obey and follow it. There is in every Jew, by virtue of his being a Jew, this element of spirituality. Every Jew wears the crown of Torah, even as the descendants of Aaron wear the crown of priesthood.

This does not mean that every Jew is born a full-fledged lover of Torah, a mature spiritual personality – by no means. Rather, it means that each Jew has within himself the potential for these lofty ends, that if the effort is put in, he can attain them, for they are part and parcel of the national cultural heritage of our people.

Here too Rav Kook offers a comment of great insight. When the kohanim bless the congregation, they accompany their verbal blessing with nesi’at kapayim, the raising of their hands with fingers extended. To Rav Kook this is a profound symbol. It is a pointing to the future, an aspiration for transcendence, a reaching out for what is beyond, a stretching of the self to greater heights. Rav Kook reminds us that the rights and the privileges of the kohen to bless his fellow Israelites derive not from his own actual religious excellence, for not every kohen who blesses the congregation is necessarily a holy man. Rather, it derives from the charge placed upon him to be holy. Because the kohen is expected by the Torah to attain a greater measure of sanctity, because he was given the hereditary injunction to reach higher than others, because he was endowed with the predisposition for a great spiritual gestalt, therefore the mitzva of blessing the congregation devolves upon the kohen. The prerogative of blessing derives not from the actuality but from the potentiality of the kohen – not from his religious character at the present, but from that which he could attain were he to strive for it with sufficient effort and exertion. That is why the kohen raises his hand in the nesi’at kapayim – he is pointing to the future, to the realization of the potential within him. His extended arms are a bridge, which he is bidden to cross, from promise to fulfillment, from small beginnings to great achievements, from what he is to what he can and ought to be.

And this is true of all Jews with regard to Torah. At the foot of Sinai, when we were given the Torah, we were designated mamlekhet kohanim – a kingdom in which all citizens are priests. We are kohanim of Torah to all of mankind. Hence, we are different from others not because of what we are, but because of what we can and ought to be. Religious life in Judaism is not a matter only of being holy, but of becoming holier. The hands of the kohen raised in benediction are for every Jew the symbol of the study of Torah – constant progress, unceasing intellectual ferment, never-ending spiritual development. The kohen in our midst teaches us something about our own character and what we ought to do with it. He tells us, as Yehuda haLevi taught in the Kuzari, that Israel is caught up in the “inyan Eloki,” marked with the indelible traces of the encounter with God. He reminds us, as the great founder of the Habad School of Hasidism taught in his Tanya, that every Jew is born with a “nefesh haElokit,” with a divine soul, which contains within it an “ahava tivit” or “ahava mesuteret,” a natural love for God and Torah which is hidden and unaroused. Just as a descendant of Aaron is naturally a kohen, a status from which he cannot resign at will, so is every Jew by nature a homo religiosis, a spiritual creature. Whether he knows it or not – indeed, whether he wants it or not – every Jew has a religious potential within him, the seed of spirituality, the embryo of kedusha. But from the kohen each Jew must learn that blessing can come only when, as the extended fingers symbolize, he is willing to actualize his potential, make the seed grow, develop one’s embryonic talent, express one’s hidden, natural resources of Torah.

So the hereditary kehuna certainly does have a relevant purpose for our lives. It teaches us that Judaism was not superimposed upon Jews. Rather, it is natural and preexistent in the Jewish soul. Torah may have been given from Heaven, but the receptivity of it already existed in the Jewish heart. All that Jews need to do in order to achieve blessing, for themselves and for all mankind, is to arouse and express the spirituality which lies dormant within.

It is for that reason that we loyal Jews ought to accept with great skepticism and with a sense of humor the predictions of many of our secular and non-observant co-religionists who periodically produce from amongst themselves modern nevi’ei sheker, false prophets, who proclaim the end of classical, traditional Judaism in Jewish life. For us it is unthinkable to imagine Jews without Judaism. Even if Torah should be forgotten for a century, it must return to its former eminence amongst Jews, for there is in us what Rav Kook called, “segula kelalit haba’a biyerusha,” a hereditary predisposition for the spirituality of Torah; or, as the author of the Tanya called it, “ahava tivit,” a natural love hidden in the divine soul in every Jew; or, as haLevi termed it, the “inyan Eloki.” When we see before our eyes a kohen, a direct descendant of Aaron, the first High Priest, when we behold the physical continuity of ancient Israel and its survival into modern times, then we are seized with a great optimism and hope for the survival and ultimate triumph of the spiritual character of Israel in the future.

This is an exhilarating thought, for it encourages us never to despair of any single Jew. Within every Jewish bosom, every Jewish heart, there lies this latent love, this silent passion, this unconscious aspiration. Our sacred duty is to bring it out into the open, activate it and actualize it, to make this love conscious, so that all Israel will return to God and bring with them all of mankind.

In the words of David (Psalms 119:48), “I shall raise my hands unto Your commandments which I love, and I shall dwell upon Your laws.” When we shall accept the symbol of the priestly blessing, the raising of the hands and the pointing to the future, the transition from potential to real, when we shall take that love for the mitzvot and actualize it by raising our hands – then we, and all Israel, will dwell upon the laws of God and become, once again, a glorious people of Torah.


*May 12, 1962

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With Liberty and Justice: Day 27 – The Tenth Commandment

Excerpted from With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty-Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai by Senator Joe Lieberman with Rabbi Ari D. Kahn, co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books

Day 27 The Tenth Commandment: “Do Not Covet Anything Your Neighbor Has”

The Tenth Commandment, because it is divine, goes where no earthly legal system would go. It goes to the source of most of the lawbreaking, evil, and immorality on earth. This last commandment aims to get inside our heads and hearts and reduce our desire for what we do not have, thus strengthening our capacity to follow the other commandments. Unlike the statutes of typical human legal systems, which only hope to regulate behavior, the Tenth Commandment sets a higher standard by aiming to regulate the thoughts and desires that precipitate bad behavior.

Envy of another’s property precedes theft; envy of another’s spouse precedes adultery; envy of another nation’s land or power precedes war; envy precedes political corruption; envy even precedes murder. Perhaps the old adage should be adapted to read, “Envy goeth before a fall,” because it usually does.

Envy is a natural emotion, and controlling it is difficult. God’s laws, like the human legal systems patterned after them, are, as we have discussed, aspirational. They express the way we imperfect humans know we should be and would like to be, but are not quite yet. The laws are hopeful, because they imply that positive change is possible, and more
likely, among people governed by a good legal system.

Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, the prolific medieval Bible commentator and philosopher, defined the sin of coveting as the illogical desire for something that is, by definition, beyond one’s grasp, and cannot be attained. He offered an allegory designed to liberate a person from the desires prohibited by the Tenth Commandment: A person born into the common classes, for example, would not seriously entertain desire for the daughter of the king, or imagine that marriage to her would be possible. He would thus banish any such thoughts from his mind. So too, all individuals should banish from their thoughts desire for possessions beyond their reach.

Today we would take issue with Ibn Ezra’s analogy. Are we not encouraged to reject artificial limits on personal achievement? Is not every American boy and girl taught to believe that they can grow up to surpass the achievements of their parents, to become president of the United States (or at least be nominated to run for vice president)? Modern sensibilities chafe at the idea that there are worthy goals that are beyond our reach. If social structure, for example, no longer places the “king’s daughter” metaphorically beyond our reach, is the desire itself no longer prohibited? I would say that it is not.

A question regarding real estate transactions was posed to Rabbi Asher Weiss, the head of a rabbinical court and a well-known posek, “decisor of religious law,” in Jerusalem. The argument involved the prohibition of coveting. In his decision, Rabbi Weiss stated that normal business practices that involve behaviors that might appear as “coveting” are most certainly permitted by Jewish law. For  example, the Talmud never prohibited a person from walking into a store, finding an object that he or she desires, and paying the proprietor for it. Coveting, Rabbi Weiss held, is the desire for an object that is not for sale, and the use of unfair, unconventional, inappropriate means to acquire it (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Gezeila VaAveida 1:9).

As members of consumerist societies, we know that significant industries – marketing and advertising – exist for the sole purpose of arousing within us the desire to acquire things that are not yet our own. If you are engaged in one of these businesses, do not worry that you are automatically breaching the Tenth Commandment. Rabbinical opinions make clear that normative advertising practices in modern commercial settings encourage us to desire things that are attainable, for a price. Hopefully, it is with money we have, or is, at least, within our credit card limit.

The final cautionary word goes to the wise rabbis who wrote the Ethics of the Fathers: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot” (Mishna Avot 4:1).

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Seder Talk: Telling the Story of Our Sustained Happiness

Excerpted from Dr. Erica Brown’s ‘Seder Talk: A Conversational Haggada,’ co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books

Telling the Story of Our Sustained Happiness

Memory is often linked to tragedy. But memory can and should trigger deep joy as well. In addition to the pain of the experiences mentioned above, our Passover memory point can recall miracles that create in us responses of gratitude, abundance, and happiness. If it does not do this, then perhaps we are denying ourselves a door into greater contentment and serenity. Passover can invite us to a happy memory point, but we must take God and our history up on the invitation, replacing the gloom-and-doom side of our story with joy and optimism instead.

The stories we tell always hold an opportunity for us to shape ourselves, depending on the narrative we choose. “All of us tell stories about ourselves. Stories define us,” write Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback in their Harvard Business Review article “What’s Your Story?” When we know someone well, the authors remind us, it is because we know key aspects of his or her story: the experiences, trials, and turning points that have made them who they are. “When we want someone to know us, we share stories of our childhoods, our families, our school years, our first loves, the development of our political views, and so on,” the authors tell us. They emphasize that people need a good story most at times of transition, for those who are doing the telling and for those who are doing the listening. A story about transitions explains why we are leaving or moving or joining or participating. In-between times beg for explanation, a compelling narrative that we tell ourselves and others. What we find most compelling about stories is how the world changes as a result of them, be it the narrow world we occupy or the world at large. It’s the “change, conflict, tension, discontinuity” of stories that makes them dynamic and engaging. “If those elements are missing, the story will be flat. It will lack what novelist John Gardner called the profluence of development – the sense of moving forward, of going somewhere. Transition stories don’t have this problem,” point out Ibarra and Lineback.

Many people, however, do not want to share conflict or tension when they tell their stories because they are afraid it will look like personal failure or will communicate to others that they were lost or made poor decisions. But  listeners are waiting for the conflict because it is the drama of the story that holds us. All good stories that inspire have heroes and villains, moments of trauma or critical decision-making, or poor beginnings that may turn into good endings. The Passover story has held our attention for so many centuries because of its drama, its quest for justice, and its resonance with so many other stories of people who were displaced or exploited but were nonetheless able to find a voice and a cause. As a result, we understand why Deuteronomy commands that this memory point be triggered daily: “so that you remember the day of your Exodus from Egypt all the days of your life” (Deut. 16:3). The Exodus was more than an event. It represented the most cherished values we have, and as such it must inform every other day from the day of the Exodus forward.

That same chapter of Deuteronomy mentions all of the major pilgrimage festivals and the joy that is attendant upon them, closing with the Hebrew expression “vehayita akh same’aĥ.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the neo-Orthodox head of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main in Germany in the 1850s, translates this expression as, “you shall remain only joyful.” He contrasts this command with the imperative “vesamaĥta,” “you should be happy.” Rabbi Hirsch believes that remaining joyful is a higher degree of happiness than merely being happy, a temporal state generated by a temporal action. He also believes there is a difference between the happiness of an individual in the context of a family and the joy of a person in the context of a community. National unity and a sense of living for a larger purpose has the power to sustain our happiness even when individual sources of joy dry up or wane.

It is on this last point that we turn to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first chief rabbi of Palestine, who never lived to see the State of Israel, the impossible possibility:

The Exodus from Egypt only appears to be a past event. But, in truth, the
Exodus never ceases. The arm of God that was revealed in Egypt to redeem
the Jews is constantly outstretched, constantly active. The revelation of
the hand of God is the breaking through of the light of God, shining great
lights for all generations. (Mo’adei HaRaya, 292)

When we are surprised by positive developments and events, we become renewed by the energy and force of redemption, and we can indeed make impossible things possible. The positive spiral upward fuels more redemption, more possibility. The Exodus, as Rav Kook writes, is no longer a past event but one that occurs again and again, a breaking forth of a small light that becomes larger and increasingly radiant, sweeping us up with optimism and joy. Between the order and the chaos, the beauty of the familiar and the surprise of the unexpected, every Passover we find ourselves facing a choice of how each of us will contribute to our larger, national redemption. Redemption is a choice. Sustaining happiness is also a choice. Choose joy.

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Seder Talk: The Art of Order and Chaos

Excerpted from Dr. Erica Brown’s ‘Seder Talk: A Conversational Haggada,’ co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books

The Art of Order and Chaos

On Passover, we create order to lose order. On this night, we balance between order and chaos, between organizing the Seder with a set chronology and in concrete stages and then telling a messy story that gets interrupted and upended with all of our commentary. It is a story of injustice and triumph, of human strain and divine salvation, of hesitation and progress. Of course, it must be told in fits and starts.

To begin telling the story, order is critical. We make sure that everything is in place. We clean our homes, scrub away any signs of leaven, and check every corner with the focused light of a candle. We organize the props that aid us in our storytelling: the symbolic food is prepared, the Seder plate is arranged, the cup of Elijah is poured, the Haggada – our script for the evening – is laid individually before each place setting for all to recount the Exodus. We make sure that the matzot we use for the night are whole, without cracks or the fissures of natural breakage. The table is beautifully set with our finest china. The children all shine in their new clothes and shoes. The cooking is finally done. There is a moment of pristine newness and perfection in all the order before us that has taken weeks to achieve. And we celebrate that order with a simple beginning that reflects this need for organization and method; we begin the Seder with a to-do list, a taxonomy of rituals: Kadesh, UReĥatz, Karpas, Yaĥatz…. We recite fifteen tasks that must be completed by the evening’s end. Some have the custom to return again and again to this list, musically checking off what has already been done by reciting only what is left to do, stage by stage. It is our laundry list, our planned statement of accomplishment that affirms our commitment to systems and goals, the rules that will signify the logic of the evening ahead. And in a way, this order takes us back to the very first days of Creation, making something out of the void, as Rebecca Goldstein notes:

The celebration of Passover emphasizes the imposition of an ordered structure over the formlessness of time. From the beginning to the end of the Seder there is a multiplicity of stages, with procedural instructions overlaid along the way. First you must do this, we are told, and then you must do that. Differentiation creates order, creates the sense of significance that makes duration endurable.

Human beings have a supreme need for order. It is the commitment to discipline that allows the randomness of events to have meaning. Things must be shaped and named, placed and organized. If “Seder” means order, then we begin as we intend to continue, emphasizing the imposition of order as our very first order of business.

But then all begins to unravel. We tell a story, and stories are never linear. We start with questions rather than definitive statements. Questions are always messier. We acknowledge that there are different types of children at our table who must all hear the story but who all need a different telling. Our story begins with baseless hatred, originating long before the Exodus, an illogical and unjust sentiment that drives the narrative. Even in a world so neatly crafted, we find that not all is under our control. We sing a slave song, “We were slaves.” Slaves have no control over their fate or destiny. They are objects in the possession of a master.

Had God not redeemed us, we would still have been in Egypt, our Haggada reports. We would have become an absorbed people in a collapse of empires whose distinct identity had merged with the surrounding neighbors. We would have compromised our uniqueness. The small window of opportunity would have  closed. As we read, this question of what would have happened makes the Haggada feel like a work of fiction where the reader can choose the next stage in the plot and flip the pages accordingly. Deep in the Haggada, we are momentarily arrested by the possibility that in life there are so many possibilities: stymied beginnings, unexpected turns, alternate endings that often turn into different beginnings.

As we turn more and more pages, we begin to realize that the Haggada is far from an ordered telling of the story. It is the oddest mish-mash of passages. We sing a song of praise and then talk about the way our sages talked about the
Exodus. A linear narration would require us to open up the Book of Exodus and read its first fifteen chapters, much the way Karaites and Samaritans mark the fifteenth of Nisan. But instead, in the Haggada, we read about the way that others read and told the story. A group of scholars in Benei Berak were so absorbed in the narration that they had no idea daybreak had come and that it was time to recite the Shema. R. Elazar b. Azaria did not know how to interpret a verse until the scholar Ben Zoma shed light on it. We skip around, beginning with “My father was a wandering Aramean” and jumping not long thereafter into a talmudic math lesson. Ten miracles soon become fifty and then 250. This is not storytelling. It is meta-storytelling. It is retelling how the Exodus has been told before. And with this realization, we feel that we have lost control over the story itself.

In fact, we are obligated to lose control. We are told to drink four cups of wine; after the first two, the world begins to get blurry. We recline, losing the stability of our physical positioning. With a few cups of wine, we find ourselves reclining naturally. Wine spills on the beautifully ironed tablecloth. The matza crumbles. How could it not? And soon, we discover, the order we imposed on the evening is forsaken. Even our to-do list of fifteen tasks is not really fifteen because we add song after song. Salt water drips onto the table. Then ĥaroset falls on the beautiful tablecloth, adding splotches of apples and nuts to the dark red wine stains. We hide the afikoman, and when we do not know where it is, we have lost control of that too. We pour more wine and talk about how our enemies still want to kill us. We are lost in random hatred. We push it aside and begin to sing, because to be a Jew means to sing in the face of adversity. We sing the Hallel and then, against all rational belief for most eras of our history, we sing “Next Year in Jerusalem.” We turn to the Haggada’s last pages and sing strange songs, like Ĥad Gadya, the Jewish version of “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Some conclude even later in the night with Song of Songs. By the end of the evening, the tablecloth has become a testament to entropy. Order has been replaced by story. Stories are always a muddle of fact and fiction; they involve digressions and details and defy logic. Then story is replaced by song. Singing reaches us in a different place; singing unites us with others on this night. We all sing so that we can feel true joy and release and togetherness with those around us at the table and with those in the past, people we have never met but who told the same story once upon a time. We don’t care if you have a good voice or not. Anyone can sing. The pristine order that began the evening is long gone. The universe as we know it seems hazy. We are beyond tired. The children have dropped off to sleep. The songs buzz in our heads. We are free, blessedly free.

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Megillat Esther Preface

Excerpted from Megillat Esther Mesorat HaRav, co-published by OU Press and Koren Publishers Jerusalem; Preface by Rabbi Menachem Genack

Megillat Esther, a study in contrasts and a melange of seemingly random events, mirrors the inherent existential tension of the Jewish experience. The contours of the story are well known. The coarseness of Ahasuerus is contrasted to Esther’s purity; Haman’s irrational hatred of the Jews is juxtaposed to Mordekhai’s selfless devotion to the community. The Jews are well integrated into an ethnically diverse Persian society; overnight they are singled out and selected for genocide. A lottery, the epitome of arbitrariness, seals the Jews’ fate. The king orders the execution of his queen on the advice of his minister and hangs his prime minister at the urging of his queen. A mindless beauty contest that has all the trappings of buffoonery results in a simple Jewish girl being plucked from anonymity and ending up in the right place at the right time to save the Jewish people. The king’s insomnia saves Mordekhai from the gallows in the nick of time and plants the seed in Ahasuerus’ mind that Haman may not be as loyal as he would like the king to believe. As each layer of Megillat Esther unfolds, the list of seeming coincidences, improbable occurrences, and dramatic reversals grows. To any perceptive observer, the studied randomness highlights the unseen presence of the Almighty, the master choreographer controlling all that occurs.

Megillat Esther is the sole book of Tanakh in which God’s name is not mentioned. This too can only be understood as an irony which confirms His pervasive, but hidden, presence. What on the surface seems to be merely a story of ambition, lust, and political intrigue, with its own dynamic, in fact has a deeper, unseen reality. God, though hidden from view, is ever-present and guiding all that transpires. Indeed, etymologically, the name Esther is related to the Hebrew word for “hidden” as in “l’hastir.” According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba, 3:10), whenever Megillat Esther
mentions “hamelekh, the king,” the explicit reference is to Ahasuerus, but the implicit reference is to the King of Kings who, unbeknownst to Ahasuerus, is moving the saga to its inevitable conclusion.

So much of Jewish history shares the same existential precariousness which underlies the Megilla’s narrative, and can be comprehended ultimately only by acknowledging God’s role in history. By any rational standard, when one views the span of Jewish history, the destruction of the two Temples, numerous exiles, and endless persecutions, the continued existence of the Jewish people is an anomaly. What is the nature of these events? Are they random occurrences subject only to the laws of history? If so, how does one explain the survival of the Jews and the vitality of the contemporary Jewish world? Ultimately, the historical record can be understood only by realizing that God, who may deliberately hide His presence, controls events and spreads His protective wings over us.

After all is said and done, what is the nature of Purim and the theme of Megillat Esther? Is the story a cause for unrestrained celebration or is it a cautionary tale which should command our sober attention? Consistent with the existential uncertainty that pervades the entire Megilla, the answer is both. The Rav, sensitive to the dialectic that often emerges from Halakha, expounded on the inherent duality of Megillat Esther and the holiday of Purim. In discussing the requirement of reading the Megilla twice, once on the evening of Purim and then again the following morning, the Gemara (Megilla 4a) quotes two proof texts. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi cites the verse from Psalms, “O my God, I call by day but You answer not, and at night and there is no surcease for me” (Ps. 22:3), while Rabbi Ĥelbo in the name of Ulla brings a different verse from Psalms, “So that my glory may sing praise to You, and not be silent; O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 30:13). The Rav notes that these two verses are contradictory, yet each expresses a dimension of Megillat Esther. The verse cited by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comes from Chapter
22 of Psalms, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” and reflects the cry of total despair. Our Sages tell us that Esther recited this Psalm on her way into Ahasuerus’ inner court, entreating the Almighty when all hope was lost. Diametrically opposed is the verse cited by Rabbi Ĥelbo, which expresses jubilation and an unceasing hymn of praise and thanks to the Almighty. The Rav further notes that the Gemara’s dictum (Megilla 14a) that the reading of the Megilla is equivalent with the recitation of Hallel, is consistent with Rabbi Ĥelbo’s view. The Rav explains that both verses are accurate characterizations of Megillat Esther. The Megilla is both a tze’aka, a cry of distress arising from insecurity and fear, and shira, a hymn of joy that marks Purim as no less an occasion for celebration
than the other festivals on which Hallel is recited.

The Rav highlights several minhagim which confirm this nuanced view of Purim. Rav Amram Gaon recounts (Seder Rav Amram Gaon, Goldschmidt, p. 104) that the accepted practice in the yeshiva on Purim was for the shaliaĥ tzibbur to descend before the Gaon and the Av Bet Din and the leaders and the entire yeshiva to plead profusely and to recite Taĥanun. Rav Natronai Gaon was of the opinion that Lamnatze’aĥ should be recited on Purim. The Shulĥan Arukh (Rema, O.Ĥ. 695:2) states that one should eat zer’onim, seeds, on Purim as a remembrance of the zer’onim, a food eaten in exile, that Daniel ate in Babylonia. The Gemara, as well (Megilla 13a), notes that Esther ate zer’onim in Ahasuerus’ palace, signaling her anxiety. All of these, posits the Rav, are clear indications of the elements of melancholy and distress which are themes in the Megilla that coexist with the dominant themes of joy and celebration.

The Rav also points to the commingling of Ta’anit Esther with Purim. The fast of Ta’anit Esther does not end until after the reading of the Megilla on Purim night. We would have expected that the fast would end, as all other fasts, with the conclusion of the day at tzet hakokhavim. Yet we continue to fast during reading of the Megilla; we fast while reciting the equivalent of Hallel, further emphasizing the uneasy coexistence of the disparate elements underlying the evening’s observance.

There are no two days in the Jewish calendar more dissimilar than Purim, a day of frivolity and feasting, and Yom Kippur, a day of awe and fasting. Yet the Zohar comments (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 21) that the Biblical name for Yom Kippur, Yom Kippurim, can be read Yom k’Purim, “a day like Purim.” Having more in mind than a simple play on words, the Zohar is pointing to a common theme shared by both the sacred Yom Kippur and the joyous Purim. Both holidays revolve around a lottery. The central dramatic motif in the Purim narrative is Haman’s lottery which decided the date of the Jews’ extermination, a motif whose message is that fate is ultimately arbitrary. On Yom Kippur, the central ritual is the Avoda, the service in the Temple, and it is a lottery which determines the fate of two identical sacrificial goats, one to be offered to the Almighty on the altar and whose blood is sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, and the other to be ignominiously cast off a precipice in the desert. Although Purim and Yom Kippur are very different in tone, they express the same theme. What may seem haphazard, ruthless, a mere lottery, can be transformed into holiness with the realization that the Almighty is behind the scenes directing all that transpires.

This relationship of Yom Kippur and Purim is highlighted in our High Holiday liturgy. The Tur and Avudraham point out a linguistic parallel between the Yamim Noraim Amida and Megillat Esther. Each of the three paragraphs of the third berakha of the Amida begins with the word “u’vekhen.” This echoes Esther’s statement, “U’vekhen avo el hamelekh asher lo kadat,” expressing her willingness to risk her life by approaching Ahasuerus without first being summoned. Just as Esther felt fear and trembling before petitioning Ahasuerus, we too feel a sense of foreboding
in approaching the Almighty on the Yamim Noraim.

There is another way in which Yom Kippur and Purim are similar. Both are days of matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. On Yom Kippur, the second tablets of the Ten Commandments were brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Purim also has the attributes of a day of matan Torah. The Megilla states (9:27), “קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְעַל זְַרעָם they established and accepted, for themselves and for their children,” which the Gemara interprets as a reacceptance of the Torah akin to that of Mount Sinai (Shabbat 88a). Maimonides states (Hilkhot Megilla 2:18) that Megillat
Esther, alone among the Books of the Prophets and Sacred Writings, will not be nullified when Mashiaĥ comes, but, just like the Five Books of Moses, will continue to exist forever. In fact, from the description of the Megilla as “words of peace and truth” (Es. 9:30), the Gemara derives (Megilla 16b) that the Megilla scroll requires sirtut, the straight ruled lines etched into the parchment, in the same manner as “the truth of Torah itself.”

The equation of Purim and Yom Kippur confirmed by the halakhic identity of the Megilla with the Sefer Torah, further amplifies the common message that emanates from both days, that only Torah can give meaning and direction in the face of chaotic events, and that if one does not view the world through the prism of Torah, then all will appear arbitrary, nihilistic, and mere happenstance.

The Rav points to another statement in the Gemara that highlights Purim’s dual nature. The Gemara comments (Megilla 19a) that Megillat Esther is referred to as both a letter (iggeret) and a book (sefer). A “sefer” is written on parchment and is designed to last; it is durable and connotes permanence. An “iggeret” is intended only to transmit a communication; it is ephemeral and meant to be discarded. Megillat Esther, notes the Rav, shares both of these qualities. On one level, it seems to be an interesting, but not very significant, narrative of a palace intrigue. It is an iggeret, a record of no lasting importance. On a deeper level, Megillat Esther is also a sefer, a profound book that expresses the fundamental principles of our faith, a book that testifies to our belief in Divine Providence even in the
depth of the night of despair, when all hope seems lost.

It is singularly appropriate that the commentary of the Rav graces this edition of Megillat Esther, for the Rav, more than any other modern Jewish thinker, articulated and addressed the existential tensions which confront the Jew and characterize his struggle to find meaning in what appears to be an arbitrary universe. The Rav devoted his life to grappling with the most troubling questions confronting the Jew – the existential loneliness that besets the man of faith, the dialectical tension in which the man of halakha exists. The Rav addressed these and other similar issues in both his halakhic and philosophical works. For the Rav, the goal was not to find answers to the questions but to live within the tension and the dialectic, and the only way to accomplish this was through Torah. The ultimate response is that Torah gives meaning to an otherwise absurd existence.

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Birkat Yitzchak – The Four Parshiyot

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

בענין ארבע פרשיות וגאולתן של ישראל

א. ארבעת הפרשיות: שקלים, זכור, פרה, החודש, מהוות כל אחת ואחת מצוה בפ”ע, וכל אחת מהן מיוחדת לשבת שלה ולזמן קריאתה. פרשת שקלים קוראין משום שבאדר משמיעין על השקלים; פרשת זכור קוראין בשבת שלפני פורים, מכיון שהמן היה מעמלק ונכרת הוא וביתו; פרשת פרה קוראין לפי שצריכין להיטהר להקרבת הפסח; ופרשת החודש קוראין לפני ר”ח ניסן משום שקריאתה החודש הזה לכם ראש חדשים בניסן.

אך נראה שלמרות יחודה של כל פרשה ופרשה יש לכולן רעיון משותף, בזה שהן מלמדות על גאולת ישראל ומהוות הכנה לחודש הגאולה חודש ניסן, ובכן מצטרפות כולן לחטיבה אחת הבנויה מנדבכי פרשיות שונות. ויתבאר הענין להלן.

ב. יסוד פרשת שקלים הוא שכל אחד חייב לתת מחצית השקל עבור קרבנות הציבור הבאין מתרומת הלשכה. והנה קרבן צבור אינו רק קרבן שיחידים שותפין בו, דאינו קרבן שותפין כלל, ואפילו אם יקנו יחד כל אישי ישראל בהמה להקריב, אין בו דין קרבן צבור אלא קרבן שותפין (עיין רמב”ן עה”ת ויקרא א, ב). שהרי קרבן ציבור איננו רק קרבן של קיבוץ של יחידים החיים עתה, אלא קרבן של כנסת ישראל כגוף אחד ונשמה אחת – אלו החיים עכשיו, ואלו שכבר מתו, וגם אלו שעתידין להוולד ועדיין לא נולדו – כולן מהווים חלק מהציבור של כנסת ישראל, שענינו של ציבור הוא חטיבה אחת שכל אחד מישראל משתתף בה.

וראיה לדבר, מהא דחטאת שמתו בעליה למיתה קא אזלא אבל חטאת הצבור אף שמתו כל אותו הדור עדיין קריבה שאין צבור מתים, וכן היה בזמן עזרא שהקריבו לאחר שבעים שנה פר העלם דבר שהפרישו המעות בזמן בית ראשון, אף שמתו רוב אלו שחטאו בבית ראשון, שאין צבור מתין (הוריות דף ו, א).

זהו היסוד הראשון הנצרך לגאולת ישראל: עם ישראל הוא נצחי וכל אחד מישראל משתתף בנצחיותה של הכנסת ישראל, ואי אפשר לציבור להיכרת.

ג. פרשת זכור מלמדת אותנו שעמלק וגם כל אלו הבאים בתעודתו ורוצים להזיק ולהרוג את עם ישראל, לבסוף יכרתו, וכמו שנכרת ביתו של המן, כי מלחמה לה’ בעמלק מדור דור, וה’ נשבע בכסא כבודו שלבסוף יכרת עמלק לגמרי.

ד. פרשת פרה הולכת ומפתחת את הקו שנמתח על ידי שתי הפרשיות הקודמות. פרה אדומה היא חוק שאין בכח האדם להבינה, ואפילו שלמה המלך החכם מכל אדם אמר (קהלת ז, כג): “והיא רחוקה ממני”. מצות פרה אדומה היא הדרך להיטהר מטומאה החמורה של טומאת מת – וזה שעוסק בה נטמא. ויותר מזה, אינו מובן איך אפשר להטהר מטומאה חמורה של טומאת מת. וזהו החוק הבלתי נתפס לשכל אנושי שמטומאה יכולה לבא טהרה, ומשעבוד מוחלט יכול לצמוח גאולה.

ועיין בהקדמת היעב”ץ לסידור שכתב שהנס הכי גדול הוא שישראל קיימים אחר כל השנים של שנאת העמים – כ’כבשה אחת בין שבעים זאבים’ הרוצים לטרוף אותה, שבכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו, ועם כל זה אנחנו קיימים. הרי זה חוק בלתי מובן, שנצח ישראל לא ישקר ואנו חיים וקיימים לעולם.

ה. בפרשת החודש טמון היסוד הרביעי לגאולה. שהרי עוד לפני שנגאלו ממצרים נצטוו במצוה הראשונה “החודש הזה לכם”, שבלא לוח חדש זה התלוי בלבנה לא היו ישראל יכולים להגאל. וכפי שישנם חוקי הטבע כן ישנם חוקי היסטוריה, ולפי חוקי ההיסטוריה אי אפשר היה שבני ישראל יתקיימו “כבשה אחת בין שבעים זאבים”, ולא היו יכולין לצאת ולהגאל ממצרים שהיתה באותה תקופה המלכות הכי חזקה בעולם. ולפי תקופת השנה התלויה בשמש אין דבר חדש תחת השמש וכמו שהיה כן יהיה, אבל לפי זמני הלבנה המשתנה בכל זמן, אפשר לצפות לגאולה, ולמילוי פגימת הלבנה. כי לעם ישראל יש סדר זמן ולוח לעצמו ולכן אינו כפוף לזמן החמה וחוקי ההיסטוריה. נוסף לכך, זמן זה תלוי בישראל, “החודש הזה לכם” – הוא תלוי בכם, ויש לכם כח לשלוט על הזמן והתקופה בכח מעשיכם – “אתם אפילו שוגגין, אתם אפילו מזידין אתם אפילו מוטעין”. החדש מתקדש רק על ידי קביעות ב”ד שהוא שלוחו של כלל ישראל כולו. וכמבואר בגמ’ (ברכות מט, א): “מקדש ישראל והזמנים – ישראל דקדשינהו לזמנים”.

הרי שיש צירוף בין כל הארבע פרשיות שכולן מתאימות ומגלות לנו יסודות בעניני נצחיות העם וגאולת ישראל.

 

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Birkat Yitzchak – Miketz

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

 

פרשת מקץ

נפשו קשורה בנפשו

בסוף פרשת מקץ כשהגביע נמצא באמתחת בנימין, והאחים שבו לעמוד לפני יוסף, כתוב: “ויאמר יהודה מה נאמר לאדני מה נדבר ומה נצטדק האלקים מצא את עון עבדיך הננו עבדים לאדני גם אנחנו גם אשר נמצא הגביע בידו” (בראשית מד, טז), הרי שיהודה מעצמו הבין שכולם אשמים וכולם יענשו, ואיך זה שבתחילת פרשת ויגש מבקש יהודה מן האיש שבנימין יצא חפשי והוא ישאר במקומו כעבד, והלך מן הקצה אל הקצה, שמתחילה אמר שכולם יהיו עבדים, ועכשיו אחר שסיפר לו שנפש אביו הזקן קשור בנפשו של בנימין מבקש הוא שבנימין יצא חפשי.

ושמעתי ממו”ר מרן הגרי”ד זצ”ל לבאר בזה, שיהודה חשב שכיון שהגביע נמצא ביד בנימין, הרי כיון שהמשפט במצרים ובכל העולם היה אז שאם אחד נמצא אשם כל המשפחה נתפסה באשמה וענשו את כולם, לכן מיד חשב שכולם יענשו וכולם יהיו עבדים, ולזה ענה יוסף, ויאמר: “חלילה לי מעשות זאת האיש אשר נמצא הגביע בידו הוא יהיה לי עבד ואתם עלו לשלום אל אביכם” (בראשית מד, יז). וזה הפתיע את יהודה שלא עלה על דעתו שיערך כאן משפט צדק ורק האיש האשם לבד יענש ואחרים יהיו לגמרי חפשיים, ואחר שראה שאפשר שיהיה משפט צדק המבוסס על זה שרק הנפש החוטאת תענש, אזי הוסיף יהודה לבקש גם רחמים גם על בנימין, על פי יסוד המשפט שיסד האיש בעצמו שרק האיש שחטא יענש והאחרים שהם נקיים לא יענשו כלל, וטען: אם בנימין יאסר ולא יחזור לאביו – “והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת והורידו עבדיך את שיבת עבדך אבינו ביגון שאולה” (בראשית מד, לא), וא”כ לא רק החייב יענש אלא גם זה שלגמרי נקי וזכאי, דהיינו אביו.

ונראה להוסיף, שלכאורה צריך להבין את טענתו של יהודה, שהרי בכל מקום כשמענישים למי שחייב, גם אביו ואמו או אשתו סובלים – וכי יפטר כל מחויב עונש? אלא נראה שיהודה הוסיף, שכאן אין העונש לקרובי הנאשם בא רק כגרמא – שאם יענש הבן יסבול האב או אוהביו, אלא שכיון שנפשו קשורה בנפשו הרי הם כאיש אחד, ולכן כשבנימין יענש באופן ישיר נחשב העונש לעונש גם ליעקב האב שהוא לגמרי נקי מעון, וכיון שהוא אינו חייב אי אפשר להעניש את הבן.

 

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Birkat Yitzchak – Sukkot

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

‘פרי עץ הדר’ – סודו של האתרוג

ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפות תמרים וענף עץ עבות וערבי נחל (כג, מ)

בב”ר (פר’ טו סי’ ז) איתא: “מה היה אותו האילן שאכל ממנו אדם וחוה כו’ רבי אבא דעכו אמר אתרוג היה הה”ד (בראשית ג, י): ותרא האשה כי טוב העץ וגו’, אמרת צא וראה איזהו אילן שעצו נאכל כפריו ואין את מוצא אלא אתרוג”.

והנה על פי שיטת רבי אבא שעץ הדעת היה אתרוג, יהיה ניתן להבין את פשר הענין שאתרוג הוא אחד מן ארבעת המינים. שהרי חג הסוכות הוא חלק ממחזור של הימים הנוראים, וגמר הדין הוא בהושענא רבה. ואחר יום הכפורים שבו זכינו לכפרה וסליחה מעוונותינו, לוקחים אנו את האתרוג, שבו חטא אדם, ומאותו חטא הראשון נפל למטה למטה ממדרגתו הגבוהה אל מצב של: “אתמול לדעתי ועכשיו לדעתו של נחש, אתמול מסוף העולם ועד סופו ועכשיו בתוך עץ הגן” (ב”ר פי”ט אות ט), ולכן עתה אנו לוקחים האתרוג שעתה הוא נעשה הכלי לשוב על ידו בתשובה ולעלות חזרה למדרגתנו קודם החטא. וכלשון הרמב”ם (הל’ תשובה פ”ז ה”ו), וז”ל: “התשובה מקרבת את הרחוקים, אמש היה זה שנאוי לפני המקום משוקץ ומרוחק ותועבה, והיום הוא אהוב ונחמד קרוב וידיד”, עכ”ל. ואפשר שמטעם זה כתב הרמב”ם בלשונו הזהב שאחר התשובה הוא “אהוב ונחמד”, דהיינו כמו שהיה קודם לחטא. כי בעץ הדעת כתיב: “ונחמד העץ להשכיל”. וזהו סוד לקיחת האתרוג.

ועיין בפי’ הרמב”ן לחומש (ויקרא כג, מ), וז”ל: “פרי עץ הדר הוא הפרי שבו רוב התאוה, ובו חטא אדם הראשון שנא’ ותרא האשה כי טוב העץ למאכל וכי תאוה הוא לעינים ונחמד העץ להשכיל ותקח מפריו ותאכל. והנה החטא בו לבדו ואנחנו נרצה לפניו עם שאר המינים”. ועל הקו הזה י”ל שרומזים ג”כ שאר המינים הלולב וההדסים והערבות, לעצים שהיו בגן, והאתרוג הוא פרי עץ הדעת שחטא בו, ושאר המינים הם דוגמת עצי הגן הסובבים את עץ הדעת. כי אף אמנם שגורשו אדם וחוה מגן עדן, אבל גן עדן עצמו נשאר קיים, רק שהוצבו הכרובים לשמור את דרך הגן. וכשיזכה האדם לעשות תשובה גמורה יחזור לגן כדרך שהיה מקודם לחטא. ואם כן, על ידי התשובה שעשינו והכפרה שזכינו לה אנחנו מתחילים להתהלך בדרך חזרה לגן לכמות שהיה מקודם לחטא.

ומפני עוד טעם אחר יש לומר שהאילן שאכל ממנו אדם וחוה היה אתרוג, משום שנאמר בו: “ונחמד העץ להשכיל”, ותרגומו: “דמרגג למיחזי” (אונקלוס שם), והיינו אתרוג. כי פירוש “פרי עץ הדר” הוא, שהוא פרי עץ נחמד, ועיין בזה בתחילת דברי הרמב”ן (שם).

והנה עיין ברש”י שכתב (בראשית א,יא), וז”ל: “עץ פרי – שיהא טעם העץ כטעם הפרי, והיא לא עשתה כן אלא ותוצא הארץ וגו’, ועץ עושה פרי ולא העץ פרי, לפיכך כשנתקלל אדם על עונו נפקדה גם היא על עונה ונתקללה”, עכ”ל. אבל האתרוג לא נתקלל, שהרי טעם פריו ועצו שוין, שהאתרוג לא חטא ושמע לציווי “עץ פרי”, ולכן הוא “עץ הדעת”, כי “ראשית חכמה יראת ה”, ומתחילת בריאתו אין בעץ זה שום כתם של חטא, וזהו הודו והדרו של האתרוג.

ולפ”ז יש גם כן לבאר מה הטעם שבחג הסוכות יוצאים מן הבית ודרים בסוכה. הבית הוא יצירת האדם בחכמתו ותחבולותיו להגן עליו מפגעי הטבע, אחר שחטא ונתגרש מגן עדן. ואכן אחר שאכל האדם מעץ הדעת נעשה למהנדס נפלא, אבל קודם לכן לא היה צריך לכל זה, כי היה טהור ומופרש מהשפעתו הגרועה של היצר הרע ומדעתו של נחש, ואשר על כן היה מוגן בהשגחה אלוקית נפלאה מכל פגעי הטבע והחומר ולא היה זקוק להגנה טבעית.

 

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Gan Shoshanim 3 – Rosh Hashanah

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Gan Shoshanim 3

 

קדימת פסוקי כתובים לנביאים במלכיות

במשנה ר”ה (דף לב ע”א) תנן מתחיל בתורה ומשלים בנביא. והיינו דפסוקי מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות בר”ה מתחילין בפסוקי תורה ואח”כ אומר פסוקים מכתובים ואח”כ פסוקים מנביא. ועיי”ש בתוס’ ד”ה מתחיל בתורה ומסיים בנביא וז”ל, וא”ת דבכל דוכתא משמע דנביאי עדיף מכתובים כדאמר (מגילה לא ע”א) כתוב בתורה ושנוי בנביאים ומשולש בכתובים, והכא קאמר קראי דכתיבי בכתובי והדר בנביאי. וי”ל משום דקראי דתהלים משלי ואיוב קדמי לנביאים עכ”ל.

ומו”ר הגרי”ד ביאר בזה שהרי מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות הן יסודות, דמלכיות מראה על מלכותו של הקב”ה וכדי לאמת ולהראות יסוד זה מביאים פסוקים מתנ”ך ומראין שהדבר משולש בתורה ובנביאים ובכתובים. ומלוכותו של הקב”ה היא בעבר בהוה ובעתיד דהוא מלך בעבר והוא מולך עתה והוא ימלוך לעתיד לבא, וכן בזכרונות דהוא זכר זוכר ויזכור אותנו, ובשופרות דיסודו גילוי שכינה מראין שהיה גילוי שכינה בעבר וכן בהווה ובעתיד יתגלה שכינתו.

והנה הפסוקים בתורה מדברים על העבר, ופסוקי כתובים מדברים על ההווה ופסוקי נביאים מדברים על העתיד, ולכן סידרום אנשי כנסת הגדולה שתיקנו נוסח התפלות פסוקי נביאים אחר כתובים, דכתובים מראים על ההווה ונביאים על העתיד. (עיין בזה במסורה י”ג, אדר תשנ”ז.)

ואשר נראה לבאר באופן אחר ע”פ יסוד שיסד רבינו זצ”ל. דעיין ברמב”ם פ”ג מהל’ שופר הל’ ח’ וז”ל, וצריך לומר בכל ברכה מהן עשרה פסוקים מעין הברכה, שלשה פסוקים מן התורה, ושלשה מספר תהלים ושלשה מן הנביאים עכ”ל. והנה הרמב”ם שינה מלשון הגמ’ דבעינן ג’ פסוקים מכתובים וכתב דוקא מתהלים. וביאר בזה מו”ר מרן זצ”ל, דמה דבעינן דוקא מתהלים משום דבספר שמואל (ב’ כג:א) כתיב “נאם דוד בן ישי וגו’ נעים זמירות ישראל”, דכל שירות וזמירות הוו דוקא משירות דוד. וכן עיין ברמב”ם פ”ז מהל’ תפילה הל’ י”ב וז”ל ושבחו חכמים למי שקורא זמירות מספר תהלים בכל יום ויום מתהלה לדוד עד סוף הספר. וכבר נהגו לקרות פסוקים לפניהם ולאחריהם ותקנו ברכה לפני הזמירות והוא ברוך שאמר וברכה לאחריהם והוא ישתבח, עכ”ל. הרי דהרמב”ם כתב דפסוקי דזמרה הן דוקא זמירות מספר תהלים, וכמפורש נמי בברכת ברוך שאמר, “בשירי דוד עבדך נהללך” וכו’. ועיין להלן ברמב”ם הל’ י”ג שכתב וז”ל, יש מקומות שנהגו בהן לקרות בכל יום אחר שמברכין ישתבח שירת הים ואחר כך מברכין על שמע. ויש מקומות שקורין שירת האזינו, ויש יחידים שקורין שתי השירות, הכל לפי המנהג עכ”ל. וביאר רבינו דמה דלהרמב”ם נהגו לומר אז ישיר דוקא אחר ברכת ישתבח משום דשירת הים אינו מפסוקי דוד ובעד פסוקי דזמרה צריך שיהיה דוקא מפסוקי דוד שהוא נעים זמירות ישראל.

והנה מה דהרמב”ם הצריך שהפסוקים של מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות יהיו דוקא מספר תהלים משום דנאמרו בתורת שירה ושבח, מוכח כן מהגמ’ ר”ה (לב ע”א) דאיתא הני עשרה מלכיות כנגד מי, אמר ר’ לוי כנגד עשרה הלולים שאמר דוד בספר תהלים וכו’.

והנה עיין בגמ’ ר”ה דף לה ע”ב אמר רב חננאל אמר רב כיון שאמר ובתורתך כתוב לאמר שוב אינו צריך וברש”י שם ד”ה אלא וז”ל ורבותי מפרשין להא דרב חננאל במלכיות זכרונות ושופרות, וקשיא לי הא דלא כרבנן ולא כר’ יוחנן בן נורי דתנן אין פוחתין מעשרה מלכיון וכו’ עכ”ל. ועיין בתוס’ ד”ה אילימא שהביאו קושית רש”י על רבותיו וכתבו וז”ל, ור”ת פירש דאפסוקי דמלכיות זכרונות ושופרות קאי, והיכא דהתחיל פליגי דלא יפחות, למר כדאית ליה ולמר כדאית ליה, אבל יכול לפטור עצמו לגמרי ע”י בתורתך כתוב לאמר אבל מקראות של מוסף צריך להזכיר לעולם שהם במקום הקרבנות, עכ”ל.

והנה צ”ב בשיטת ר”ת דמה חילוק אם התחיל או לא התחיל, דר”ת סובר דבהתחיל להזכיר הפסוקים צריך לגמור להזכיר עשרה, ואם לא התחיל יכול לפטור עצמו באמירת ובתורתך כתוב לאמר, וצ”ב דאפילו אם הזכיר למה חייב להמשיך. ושמעתי ממו”ר זצ”ל להסביר דדינו דר”ת מבוסס על זה דמלכיות נאמר בתורת שירה ואם התחיל חייב להזכיר עשרה פסוקים, וכעין זה מצינו לגבי הלל בר”ח שכתב הרמב”ם פ”ג מהל’ חנוכה הל’ ז’ וז”ל, אבל בראשי חדשים קריאת ההלל מנהג ואינו מצוה, ומנהג זה בצבור לפיכך קוראין בדילוג, ואין מברכין עליו שאין מברכין על המנהג, ויחיד לא יקרא כלל ואם התחיל ישלים ויקרא בדילוג כדרך שקוראין הצבור עכ”ל. הרי דאף שיחיד אינו חייב לומר ההלל אם התחיל חייב לקרוא ההלל, וכן הוא לגבי פסוקי מלכיות, דאינו חייב להזכירם ונפטר באמירת ובתורתך כתוב לאמר אבל אם התחיל חייב לומר פסוקי מלכיות.

והנה לפי דברי רבינו זצ”ל דמלכיות נאמר בתורת שירה ושבח נלע”ד דיש להבין למה פסוקי כתובים קודמים לפסוקי נביאים במלכיות, דבתורת אמירת שירה, דלהרמב”ם היינו דוקא פסוקים מתהלים, פסוקי כתובים עדיפי מפסוקי נביאים דעיקר השירה ע”י פסוקי דוד נעים זמירות ישראל. [ורק דפסוקי תורה קודמין אף לתהלים דא”א להקדים שום דבר לתורת משה.]

והנה עיין בשו”ת נוב”י (מהדו”ת או”ח סי’ כ’) שנשאל למה באב הרחמים מקדימים פסוקי נביאים לכתובים כיון שתוס’ בר”ה כתבו דכתובים קודמים לנביאים לפי שהם קדמו נביאים, ועיי”ש מה שכתב ליישב. אבל לפי”ד מה דכתובים קודמים הוי דוקא כשנאמרו בתורת שירה ושבח, אבל באב הרחמים אינם נאמרים בתורת שירה וא”כ נביאים קודמים לכתובים.

והנה מה שהבאתי ממו”ר זצ”ל דפסוקי מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות נאמרים בתורת שירה, נראה דהוא משום דקיום מלכיות הוי בצירוף לתקיעת שופר, דתוקעים על סדר הברכות, דקיום שופר עם אמירת פסוקי מלכיות הוי קיום של שירה בכלי ושירה בפה, וזהו שמצטרפים יחד. והנה רש”י עה”ת (ויקרא כג:כד) סובר דפסוקי מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות הן מדאורייתא, והקשה עליו הרמב”ן עה”ת שם שהרי בגמ’ ר”ה (לד ע”ב) איתא שתי עיירות באחת תוקעין ובאחת מברכין הולכין למקום שתוקעין ואין הולכין למקום שמברכין, פשיטא הא דאורייתא הא דרבנן. הרי להדיא דהברכות דהיינו מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות הוו רק מדרבנן. ושמעתי ממו”ר זצ”ל לתרץ דרש”י ס”ל דמלכיות זכרונות ושופרות הוו דאורייתא דוקא עם שופר אבל במקום שאין שופר מלכיות הוי מדרבנן. הרי לרש”י המחייב מדאורייתא של מלכיות הוי דוקא עם שופר דאז הם מהווים קיום אחד של שירה. וכן מבואר דתקיעת שופר והברכות הוו קיום אחד ממה שהרמב”ם הביא דין פסוקי מלכיות זו”ש בהל’ שופר ולא בהל’ תפילה.

והנה עיין בחי’ הר”ן שגם הקשה למה פסוקי כתובים קדמי לנביאים ותירץ דכיון דמסיימים בפסוקי תורה א”כ קדמו כתובים לנביאים דמעלים בקודש ולא מורידין וגומרים בפסוק מן התורה [וכן עיין ברא”ש]. והנה מדברי הר”ן מבואר דסובר דנביאים קדושתם גדולה משל כתובים.

ושמעתי ממו”ר מרן הגרי”ד זצ”ל בשם זקנו הגר”ח זצ”ל דנביאים וכתובים שווים הם ושניהם נאמרו באותה מדרגה של נבואה, אלא דמה דחלוקים נביאים מכתובים הוא דבנביאים הנבואה נאמרה לנביא להאמר לעם ורק אח”כ ניתנה להכתב משא”כ בכתובים דמעיקרא ניתנה הנבואה ע”מ להכתב. והגר”ח זצ”ל הוכיח זה שהרי מצינו אותו פרק בשמואל ב’ (פרק כד) ובתהלים (פרק יח), וקשה לומר שאותו פרק נאמר בדרגות שונות של נבואה, אלא דמה דאחד נחשב לנביאים ואחד לכתובים היינו משום דניתנה הנבואה להאמר וגם ניתנה להכתב, ולכן חלה עליה דין נביאים ודין כתובים. (ועיין מה שכתבתי בזה בספר ברכת יצחק על סנהדרין סי’ מ”ט.)

ובאמת מהמשנה במגילה רפ”ד (דף כו ע”א) מוכח דנביאים וכתובים שווין בקדושתם שהרי בני העיר שמכרו מטפחות יקחו ספרים, ספרים לוקחים תורה, וספרים היינו נביאים וכתובים, הרי דשווין הם בקדושתם. והנה עיין בפירוש רבינו מנוח על הרמב”ם פ”ג מהל’ שופר הל’ ח’ שכתב דקדושת נביאים עדיפא מכתובים שהרי אסור להניח כתובים על גבי נביאים. אבל המעיין בגמ’ מגילה דף כז ע”א יראה דנביאים וכתובים שווים דאיתא שם, ת”ש מניחין ס”ת על גבי תורה ותורה ע”ג חומשין וחומשין ע”ג נביאים וכתובים, אבל לא נביאים וכתובים ע”ג חומשין ולא חומשין על גבי תורה. ודברי ה”ר מנוח צ”ע.

והנה מה שהבאנו ממו”ר מרן הגרי”ד זצ”ל דמלכיות זו”ש נאמרין בתורת שירה, הרי מפורש בפיוט אוחילה לא-ל שאומר הש”ץ קודם מלכיות: “אשר בקהל עם אשירה עוזו אביעה רננות בעד מפעלו”.

 

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Parashat VaYelekh – At Summer’s End

Excerpted from Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages – Deuteronomy, co-published by OU Press, Maggid Books, and YU Press; edited by Stuart W. Halpern

At Summer’s End

The summer is over, and we observe today the last Shabbat before Rosh HaShana. As the last syllables of the dying year fade away, we shall begin, tonight, the seliĥot – the appraisal of ourselves, our failures and our successes, and our petition for forgiveness as we look forward towards the new year.

How do most of us respond naturally when we challenge ourselves to this self-appraisal, to evaluate the year we are now ushering out? What have been our attainments and our accomplishments? No doubt, the majority of us and those in our social class, in this economy of abundance, will be able to record an impressive number of achievements and feel a warm glow of satisfaction. Business, I am told, has been good, our reputations have been upheld or enhanced; we have made progress on almost all fronts.

And yet – if that is our attitude, it is the wrong one with which to end the old year and begin the new. Listen to how the prophet Jeremiah sums up what ought to be our mood on this threshold of the changing years: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” ( Jeremiah 8:20). For the prophet, the dominant mood at summer’s end is not one of jubilation and satisfaction, but one of disappointment and frustration. He turns to his contemporaries, in the agricultural society of those times, and tells them: You may have a good and bountiful harvest, you may be pleased with yourselves at the ingathering of the summer’s fruit, but that is not what really counts. “We are not saved.”

Those are hard words, words with a cutting edge, words that etch like acid on the flabby and complacent heart. Yet without these words and the attitude they summon up, we remain blind, out of contact with reality, caught up in the euphoria of a dream world. Our sacred tradition prefers that we end the old year and prepare for the new year with
the heroic self-criticism of a Jeremiah – with a confession of frustration. We look back over this past year and we think we are well off. Yet for all our work, for all our victories, our triumphs in business and social life, our attainments and profits that we have entered into our ledgers and accounted for, for all that we have done and all we have harvested – we have a nagging sense of futility and helplessness! “And we are not saved!”

If we follow our natural instinct and pamper ourselves with congratulations, we will never grow; honesty is sometimes cruel and devastating, but it is indispensable. Without acknowledging our failures of last year, we can never avoid them in the coming year. The parent or child, congregation or family, community or nation which rejects reproach and criticism, is like the businessman who prefers to ignore his accountant’s stern rebuke as to the conduct of his affairs. The feeling of frustration, of being dissatisfied and unredeemed despite our harvest, is most appropriate for this season of summer’s end. Every one of us must ask: Have I been a good spouse this year, or have I been indifferent to my husband or wife, taking him or her for granted? Those of us who are blessed with parents who are still living – have we acted towards them with honor and love, or have we allowed the excuse of our busyness to deny them the companionship and affection and feeling of importance that they crave? Have we acquitted ourselves well in our responsibilities towards our children – or have we so involved ourselves in “activities” on behalf of our children’s welfare that we have overlooked the most significant element – the direct relationship between ourselves and our children?

At summer’s end, after the fruits of our labors are harvested, we concentrate on the discrepancy between the real and the ideal, and we emerge with self-judgment, “and we are not saved!”

Indeed, Moses, in today’s sidra, experiences the same frustration, in an even more tragic sense. “Behold, you are going to die,” he is told by the Lord (Deuteronomy 31:16). What kind of harvest is Moses to reap at the end of 120 summers of utter dedication, toil, often bitterness and anguish? “Vekam ha’am hazeh vezana aĥarei elohei nekhar ha’aretz” – This same people to whom you gave your life, whom you taught the worship of the one God, will immediately upon your death forget all about you and go astray after the local pagan deities. What a let-down! What a bitter harvest! “And we are not saved!”

Unless the words we recite in our Seliĥot prayers, which we shall begin reciting tonight, are merely empty, automatic, rote prayers, we must be prepared to translate them into relevant, contemporary terms. If the Seliĥot means anything at all, then it means that in this season we must cease the bombastic little ritual of proclaiming in public, “I am proud to be a Jew,” and acknowledge in private, amongst ourselves, that occasionally, “I am ashamed as a Jew.” We shall say those words tonight: “ashamnu mikol am,” “we are more guilty than any other people;” “boshnu mikol dor,” “we have incurred more shame than any other generation.” Perhaps, indeed, our greater guilt is the result of the fact that we have more to be ashamed of than any generation of Jews that preceded us.

Shall we not be ashamed to the core of our souls when every time we read statistics about the religiosity of the American people, the Jews always trail the other major religions in the degree of their religious devotion? What Jew is not embarrassed by the fact that the leading peddlers of smut, and their most articulate defenders, have intensely Jewish names? Or that the most disgraceful and degenerate novels are by Jewish authors about Jewish life? Boshnu mikol dor – how disgraceful! What shall we say to the blasphemous abominations of a member of the Supreme Court of Israel who compares our Talmudic laws, which declare a child to follow the faith of its mother, with the infamous Nuremberg laws of the Nazis? If this is the fruit of the summer’s end of fifteen years of independence, if this is the harvest of all our tears and toil and hopes and work and sacrifice, then Jeremiah is right – indeed, “we are not saved,” we have a long way to go!

How dreadfully frustrating and devastating to learn that pious Jews, so-called, with all the outward appurtenances of Old World devoutness, are arrested because of illegal dealings on an international scale. What a sense of frustration for all of us who devote our lives to the teaching that Judaism leads to a different kind of conduct! What an
embarrassment!

At this juncture, each and every congregation must pose before itself the same question. What kind of year have we had? Most synagogues and temples can probably produce impressive figures and overwhelming statistics: increased membership, more people, greater attendance, more activities – a wonderful congregational harvest! And
yet, if they are honest, then the rabbis and leaders and members of a congregation – any congregation! – must be ready to admit that to a large extent “we are not saved,” we are yet unredeemed. As long as our people do not translate affiliation into the observance of Shabbat, membership into greater honesty and integrity in their business and social lives, participation in “activities” into greater dedication to Jewish education, dues-paying into an increased sense of responsibility for Jewish philanthropy, then much of the fruit of our harvest must go to waste
and the summer must end on a frustrating note. “The harvest has past, and the summer is ended, but we are not saved.” To a large extent we have tilled the wrong field, planted the wrong seeds, and harvested the wrong fruit. Last year’s harvest was plenty – but a good part of it was, like gourds, outwardly attractive, but inedible and unable to sustain life. Do I mean to say that the picture is all bleak? Heavens, no! There are many shafts of light that cut across the gloom, there are many reasons for healthy and realistic optimism. More of our youth is returning to Judaism, Orthodoxy is achieving a greater prestige, our educational institutions are increasing. In fact, one can say that the last several years have seen a decided improvement and an upward trend.

What I am emphasizing is that there is a time and place for everything. We American Jews have silently accepted a new dogma – that you must always assume that this is the best of all possible worlds, that to admit less than success is neurotic and bad business, and that to congratulate yourself is to keep in the spirit of things. This dogma may come from Madison Avenue, but certainly not from Mount Sinai. And at this time of the year, at summer’s end, in the season of Seliĥot, we turn the eyes of our mind and our heart to our failures, our inadequacies, our shortcomings.

Such an admission of error, of frustration, of spiritual poverty amidst material wealth, of having pursued the wrong goals and succeeded in the wrong ambitions, can be wonderfully creative – but it requires courage, guts, backbone. The weak, the immature, the incompetent – they cannot abide anything but compliments and blanket surface-optimism. The strong, the mature, the stable – they can face up to the truth even if it be unpleasant, they can bare their hearts and acknowledge failure. For they know that the road to ultimate triumph in the things that really matter is paved with the cobblestones of little failures freely acknowledged and lovingly corrected.

Now we begin a new year, and if we realize the mistakes of the past we can prevent them in the future. Now we must plant new seeds of the spirit, of Torah, and above all of love – love of God, love of Israel, love of mankind. Let us plant them with care, with devotion, with tenderness. And if the planting is marked with tears for the failures of yesteryear, may they end this next year in a song of joy for a harvest of happiness. “Hazorim bedima berina yiktzoru” (Psalms 126:5) – may those who sow in tears reap the harvest of all their efforts and their work in joy and in happiness.