Thursday, May 30, 2019

Following ALL of Moshe's Teachings

Parshat Bechukotai

by Rabbi Avi Billet

The last verse of the Tokhacha (great Rebuke) of Chapter 26 says the following: “These are the decrees, laws and codes that God set between Himself and the Israelites at Mount Sinai through the hand of Moses.” (26:46)

Anyone who paid attention last week probably recalls that the opening verse of Parshat Behar noted that the teachings following that verse were all taught at Sinai. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, famously noted that just as the details of the Sabbatical year (Shmittah) were taught at Sinai, details of all Mitzvot were taught at Sinai.

One of the great commentaries, Chaim Ibn Attar (Or HaChaim) questioned why Rashi needed to make such a pronouncement, when the reality is that such a statement could have been made regarding any mitzvah! Why was Shmittah the one specifically isolated as the mitzvah whose details demonstrate for us that all details of mitzvoth were taught at Sinai. His answer focuses on the first half of the verse, which discusses what will happen when the people come to the land – a common theme in the book of Vayikra, to not live lives influenced by the current inhabitants of the land (Canaanites) or like their former masters, the Egyptians.

More pointedly, however, is the last verse in Chapter 26, as noted above, which seems to say the same thing as the opening verse in Behar, while being much more broad! Midrash Aggadah even makes the exact same comment as Rashi does in Behar, that the laws of the Torah, with all of its details, were taught at Sinai. As Or HaChaim noted, we don’t need to attach this sentiment to a specific mitzvah! It stands alone, and is perfectly fine remaining in generic territory!

Rashi’s grandson, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) connects the two ideas noting that the Tokhacha had a relatively heavy emphasis on Shmittah suggesting that exile, rebuke, curses, drought, are connected both to Shmittah and to Sinai.

Most fascinating to me is the insight of Rabbi Moshe Alshikh, who suggests that the verse in question (26:46) should really be the final verse in the Torah! Let it not be lost upon us that the method through which the Torah and its laws were given were “through (in) the hand of Moshe!” In other words, while most people are subject to forgetting, the Torah is indicating to us that the way Moshe received and absorbed the rules and laws of the Torah were through a kind of osmosis we can’t relate to. Even were others to forget, Moshe would not.

Thus the verse belongs here, at this time, while Moshe is very much alive, while Moshe is very much all of 80 or 81 years old, so the people can see and realize that he is available for the consultation, for the clarification, to teach another class, to elucidate, to give over more information, that he is at the ready to answer questions for those who seek to understand or be reminded of what they'd learned and forgotten.

We know that Moshe lives another 39 years or so, only because we have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, and we know the rest of the tale. But he was ready at that point to be the address where people could seek out true understanding.

I think it is worthy asking ourselves how seriously we take the role of Moshe in our day to day behaviors. I don’t just mean this in terms of considering the words of his warning to us in this parsha, though that is certainly important, but how we take the rest of the Torah, both what is written in the Torah itself, and what is given to us through the Oral Torah (Rashi on this verse notes how the verse refers to both the written and oral traditions).

In the Ani Maamin list, principles 6-9 reference the concept of prophesy and the Torah as being true for all time, while 7-8 specifically mention Moshe as the greatest of prophets and the giver of the Torah we currently have, in the format in which we have it. Do we care about all the mitzvoth? Do we pick and choose which ones work for us? Do we know the rules of Lashon Hora, for example, about which the Maharal of Prague, in his Teshuva drasha of 1684 said is the wort of all sins a Jew could commit?

One of my favorite teachings of the Chafetz Chaim is this: "The Rishonim have written that if these sins [of baseless hatred] had the power to cause a standing edifice to be destroyed, then certainly their continued presence [among the Jewish people] will prevent a new Temple from being built… To our misfortune, even those who have an understanding of Torah law do not accord these sins the severity of other sins.

"It is written that a single congregation which is meticulous in maintaining peace amongst itself can merit bringing the Messiah. Thus, the coming of Messiah is in our hands. It is well known that true peace is impossible without zealousness in avoiding sinas chinam (baseless hatred) and lashon hara (gossiping, slander, etc). Every person who will strive to correct these sins will have a share in the building of the Third Temple, for without such people the Temple would remain destroyed forever, heaven forbid."

Who was the greatest advocate of Jewish unity in the Torah? Unquestioningly, Moshe. (Pirkei Avot teaches of Aharon’s role in playing peacemaker between individuals) Whenever there was a question of possibly destroying the nation on account of the sins of the few, Moshe stood up to God and said “They are ALL my people.”

I am very fearful that in the disunity we are seeing in some areas of Jewish life, we are forgetting the most important lesson of Moshe Rabbenu, and we are guilty of what the Chafetz Chaim warned against – preventing the Temple from being rebuilt.

1 comment:

  1. I am fearful of those who seek to limit freedom of speech. Usually it’s people who are afraid of criticism. They typically have a low sense of self esteem and feel very fragile inside. The slightest constructive criticism is perceived as a grand blow to their ego.