Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5769

שבת טעם החיים פרשת בהר-בחוקותי תשס"ט
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5769

Sustenance Torah and Shabbos
In the difficult economic times that are currently prevalent, it is worth noting that this week’s parasha provides the solution. It is said (Vayikra 26:3) im bichukosai teileichu, if you will follow My decrees. Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim that interprets this verse to mean, “if you toil in Torah,” then you will receive all the blessings mentioned further on. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 35:1) states that it is said (Tehillim 119:59) chishavti derachai vaashivah raglai el eidosecho, I considered my ways and returned my feet to Your testimonies. Dovid HaMelech said, “Master of the world! Every day I calculated where I would go, and my feet brought me of their own accord to the synagogues and study halls.” This is what is meant when it is said “and returned my feet to Your testimonies.”
Running to your sustenance or away from it?
The Pinei Menachem writes that it is said in the name of one of the Mussar giants that he once witnessed a person running. The mussar giant queried the person regarding his destination and the person responded that he was running to attain his livelihood. The Mussar giant asked, “how do you know for certain that the destination which you are running to is where you will find your livelihood? Perhaps your sustenance is right here and your running is distancing you from it.” The Pinei Menachem writes that perhaps this is the meaning of the Medrash that Dovid declared, “Master of the world! Every day I calculated where I would go, and my feet brought me of their own accord to the synagogues and study halls.” A person thinks that he will go after hours to grab more business in another place, when in reality, the opposite is true. One who enters the study hall to engage in Torah study is the one who really attains something.
Torah is primary and earning a livelihood is secondary
Let us understand this idea. HaShem certainly wishes that a person should make a living, and one never knows from which source he will earn his livelihood. How can a person then justify his time studying Torah if at that time he is really required to earn a livelihood? While there are no clear answers to this question, it would appear that even according to the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael (Brachos 35b) that one must study Torah and conduct himself in the ways of the world, ones thoughts should always be on returning to the study hall to engage in Torah study. Regarding Torah study it is said (Yirmiah 33:25) koh amar HaShem im lo brisi yomam valaylah chukos shamayim vaaretz lo samti, thus said HaShem: If My covenant with the night and with the day would not be; had I not set up the laws of heaven and earth. The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) understands that this verse means that if not for the Jewish People engaging in Torah study, the world would not have reason to be in existence. One can certainly admit that one was not created to earn a livelihood. Rather, earning a livelihood is a penalty for Adam HaRishon having sinned, and so that one should not remain idle. Thus, while one is required to earn a livelihood, his thoughts should always be on the true accomplishment in life, which is the study of the Holy Torah.
The Shabbos connection
The Medrash (Tana Divei Eliyahu) states that HaShem tells the Jewish People, “although you work during the six days of the week, Shabbos should be entirely Torah.” The Zohar states that the six days of the week find their source of blessing in Shabbos. It would behoove all of us to strengthen our Shabbos observance and toil in the study of Torah on Shabbos, and then HaShem will surely provide us with a proper livelihood, which we can use to serve Him even more.
Shabbos Stories
Good Shabbos to the trees
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: Rav Mordechai Gifter (1916-2001) related an incident involving the Ponovezer Rav (1886-1969). In a Shemittah year, the Ponovezer Rav went over to a tree, kissed the tree and said “Good Shabbos to you.” Just like there is a special day - Shabbos - on which we have to feel special, so too in Eretz Yisroel during the Shemittah year, it is Shabbos for the land.
There’s always a better tomorrow
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman writes: A teacher once told me: “Even when I get very upset at a student; even when I've had to punish him severely, and inside I'm burning at his lack of derech eretz (manners), I still smile at him and tell him “A gutten tug” before he leaves my classroom. I know tomorrow he’ll be back, and even though today was a total failure, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully a better one. But if he thinks that I’ve given up on him, why should he even bother trying harder tomorrow?”
Rabbi Hoffman writes further: It is told that, as an orphaned boy just past the age of bar-mitzvah, Yisrael Meir Kagan - later known as the Chofetz Chaim - studied in Vilna under a renowned teacher and mentor whose other disciples were four and five years his elder. Yisrael Meir’s great mind, it seems, came to the attention of the city's powerful Haskalah (“Enlightenment”) movement, which sought to introduce Yeshiva students to the world of secular culture. The maskilim ran a government-sponsored academy in the city, and they greatly desired to lure the young prodigy to join their academy. In his own quiet but determined way, Yisrael Meir resisted all their attempts.
On one occasion, the dean of the academy challenged him: “Do not the Sages state, of those who toil in Torah, ‘You are fortunate, and all is good for you! (Tehillim 128:2)’ – ‘you are fortunate in This World, and all is good for you in the World to Come! (Avos 6:4)’ Now, can you honestly tell me that this is so? So many Torah scholars live in abject poverty and deprivation! Where is the happiness? Where is the fortune?”
“Show me true toil in Torah,” the youth answered with quiet conviction, “and I will show you true happiness and fortune.” [For Love of Torah p. 151-152]
Rabbi Hoffman writes further: There’s another reason why our humble Torah and mitzvos may in fact be very dear in Hashem's eyes. The Chofetz Chaim used to explain this with a parable: In the early 1900’s, in a large Russian city, a grain merchant complained to the Chofetz Chaim about his difficulty making a living. At the time, there was an abundance of grain, and the Chofetz Chaim was surprised that with such favorable conditions it was hard to be successful.
“It’s a buyer’s market,” the merchant said. “There’s so much grain to be sold that the buyers pick and choose only the highest grade - and that at bargain prices. Plus, they force me to extend them credit, and it takes me forever to see my money. They leave me with all the low-grade produce, which I'm forced to sell for almost nothing to farmers and cattle-raisers for animal feed.”
Many years later, after WW1 had taken its toll, and food and produce were scarce, the Chofetz Chaim again met the merchant. “How’s business?” he asked.
“Rebbe, Baruch HaShem it’s great! There’s a severe shortage of grain on the market. Whenever I have grain to sell, the buyers line-up in anticipation. An ad-hoc auction ensues, and I’m able to sell my produce at a very handsome mark-up. They’re so desperate to buy that they don't even check the quality – they’re ready to take shipment immediately, sight unseen! And they pay up-front in cash. I make more today on one wagon-load of grain than I did years ago on a month's worth!”
“Do you hear?” the Chofetz Chaim used to tell people when he would relate this incident. “When there’s abundance, things are cheap and buyers are picky. But when there’s a shortage, prices are high and no one even checks to see how good the merchandise is! In our forefathers’ times - in the times of the Tanaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim - even the early Acharonim, there was a great abundance of Torah. Their minds were brilliant, and they had tremendous patience and discipline. Back then, only the purest Torah - that learned with a perfect heart and righteous intentions (lishma) - was acceptable.
“But in our times,” he would say, “there’s such a severe shortage of Torah and mitzvos that they’re ‘selling’ at massive premiums - and Hashem hardly even checks the quality of the ‘merchandise!’ ‘Just bring me all your Torah and mitzvos,’ He says. Nowadays, whatever a Yid can do has value we can’t even begin to estimate!”
A learned Talmid Chacham once remarked to me, “Who can imagine the sechar (reward) for those who choose to dedicate their lives to Torah study in our times, when there’s so much out there to distract and divert, and when true dedication and commitment are such rare qualities.” Our mitzvos may indeed pale in comparison to the deeds of earlier generations, but when there's a shortage in the market, and we’ve got the merchandise, we’d be fools not to maximize our leverage and “sell” whatever we possibly can.
[Reprinted with permission from]

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Parashas Behar-Bechukosai 5769
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Beis Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, an hour before Mincha
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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