Parsha Pearls: Parshas Vayikra

A Jewish Heretic is Worse Than a Gentile
A Torah Scholar Must be Perceptive
Yishuv Eretz Yisroel: Obligation or Permission

If any man among you offers an offering to Hashem, from the animals, from the cattle or from the sheep shall you bring your offering. (1:2)

The Toras Kohanim says that from the word “man” we learn that gerim (converts) may also bring offerings. The Korban Aharon asks: Why did the Torah have to teach us this? It is well known that even gentiles may bring offerings, as the Torah mentions later (22:25; see Rashi there). Why should a convert be any worse than a gentile?

We can answer this question using the Gemora in Chullin 5a. The Gemora derives from the word “mikem” (among you) that we do not accept offerings from a mumar. “Mumar” is defined in this case as a Jew who worships idols or violates Shabbos in public. Then the Gemora derives from the same word that this exclusion of mumar only applies to Jews, but we may accept an offering from a gentile even if he worships idols.

Why is a Jewish idolater worse than a gentile idolater? After all, the gentiles are also forbidden to worship idols. The answer is twofold. First of all, because a Jew has more holiness, he has a greater level of defilement when emptied of that holiness. This concept is explained by the Ohr Hachaim in Parshas Chukas, in the context of the laws of the defiling power of a dead body. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai holds that the dead body of a Jew renders anyone in the same room defiled, whereas the dead body of a gentile does not. The Ohr Hachaim gives the analogy of two barrels, one full of honey and the other full of manure. When emptied out and then left in the sun to rot, the barrel that once contained honey attracts more flies, due to its sweetness. So too, when a Jewish body is emptied of its holy soul, the powers of defilement are attracted to it more than to a gentile’s dead body, because the gentile’s soul had less holiness.

Secondly, a Jew who goes off the path of Torah is more likely to influence other Jews than a gentile. A person is naturally more influenced by one of his own kind. The Rambam expresses this in his Laws of Idolatry (10:1): “One may not kill a gentile idolater, but Jewish informers and heretics were to be killed and thrust into the pit of destruction, for they afflict Israel and lead the people astray from following Hashem.” Therefore, we do not accept offerings from a Jewish “mumar”, in order to stay as far from him as possible.

Now we can explain the statement about converts. Of course a convert may bring an offering, but one might have thought that a convert has the status of a gentile as far as the exclusion of “mumar” is concerned, that even if he reverts back to his old religion and worships idols we may accept an offering from him. The Torah teaches that no, he is a full Jew with the same holiness and influence as any other Jew, and therefore if he worships idols we do not accept his offering. (Divrei Yoel, p. 60)

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In the late 1800's, the maskilim influenced the Hungarian government to pass a law that all Jewish boys must go to school and learn Hungarian and other secular subjects. Then they attempted to influence the government to found separate Jewish schools, in which the Jewish children could learn from Jewish teachers. The Kedushas Yom Tov fought against this idea, saying it was better to go to a gentile school than to learn from "enlightened" Jewish teachers who would lead children astray. Such schools were built throughout Hungary, but in Marmarosh, the province surrounding Sighet, the Kedushas Yom Tov's influence was such that no secular Jewish schools were built there during his lifetime.

Once the gentile mayor of Sighet came to the Kedushas Yom Tov's house to discuss the matter with him. "Is it a sin," asked the mayor, "for a Jewish child to sit with an uncovered head?" "Yes," said the Kedushas Yom Tov. "In the gentile schools," said the mayor, "the Jewish children are forced to sit with uncovered heads. But we are giving you permission to build a separate Jewish school in Sighet, which will be under your supervision. The children can cover their heads, and keep every detail of the Torah. Why won't you agree to save them from sin?"

"Whatever sins the child does in the gentile school," answered the Kedushas Yom Tov, "he is forced to do, and G-d will not hold it against him. We need not fear that what he sees there will make an impression on him and cause him to act that way for the rest of his life, because he knows that the teacher is not a Jew and although he learns math and language from him, it will not occur to him to learn from the teacher anything relating to religion. As far as religion, his home will be the sole influence on him. But if the teacher is Jewish, the child will come to respect him and see him as wiser than his own father, since his father does not know these secular subjects. He will imbibe the teacher's views on religion as well, and these views will stay with him for his whole life. These Jewish teachers tend to be heretical or at least critical of our ancient beliefs. Their influence on our children would be far worse than a few sins the child will be forced to commit." (Shailos Utshuvos Divrei Yoel, Choshen Mishpat 141)

And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying…" (1:1)

The Midrash comments that Moshe, in his wisdom, knew not to come into the tent of meeting before G-d called him. From this we learn, says the Midrash, that a Torah scholar who lacks knowledge (deah) is worse than a dead animal (Vayikra Rabbah 1:15).

In the Holy Tongue there are two words for knowledge: "chochmah" and "deah". What is the distinction between them? Rabbi Avigdor Miller explained, "Chochmah" means wisdom, but "deah" means wisdom with real perception. A person who has deah recognizes G-d's guiding hand in the world as a reality, as if he could see it with his eyes. The Gemara says: "If one acquires this [deah], he lacks nothing. If one does not acquire this, what did he acquire?" (Nedarim 41a) If one lacks clear emunah, then what are his other attainments worth?

We must accustom ourselves to the words of Chazal, "If a person sees that afflictions come upon him, he should examine his deeds" (Berachos 5a). If he has a toothache, he should think perhaps he spoke forbidden words. If a Jew is aroused to repent by small mishaps, he will be spared bigger mishaps. In not, he will need bigger and bigger hints, until he begins to examine his deeds and realize that all is in the hands of G-d and there are no accidents in this world.

"He Who chastises nations, is He not thereby rebuking them?" (Tehillim 94:10) G-d punishes only in order to teach those who remain and all future generations. "He is the one Who teaches man knowledge" (ibid. 11) – the entire purpose of all misfortunes and wars is only to teach man knowledge.

The Torah says, “Also every illness and every plague that is not written in the book of this Torah, Hashem will bring them upon you until you are destroyed, and you shall be left few in number” (Devarim 28:61). All misfortunes and catastrophes that have ever since befallen our nation are here foretold. This establishes a principle: every form of adversity is G-d’s retribution for disobedience, and therefore all adversity must be utilized as a reminder. To say that “we do not understand the ways of G-d”, to fall back on the indolent and unthinking pretence of pious trust in G-d's ways, is a contradiction to the principles enunciated in this verse. (Shmuess; Fortunate Nation p. 322.)

And he shall pinch its head opposite the nape, but he shall not separate it. (5:8)

The Gemara in Zevachim 66a explains this to mean that he need not separate it, but he may do so.

Since this is an example of a verse that can be learnt as an obligation or an optional mitzvah, we are going to use it as an introduction to the case of the Ramban's view on the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel, which, as is well known, the Zionists use as a basis to claim that the Ramban does not rule in accordance with the Three Oaths.

The Gemara asks: If this is true (that the words "he shall not separate" really mean "he need not separate it"), when the Torah says, "If a man opens or digs a pit and does not cover it" (Shemos 21:33), perhaps it means that he need not cover it, but he may. The Gemara answers that there the Torah says that if an animal falls into the pit he must pay, so it is clear that he should have covered it.

Tosafos asks: Why does the Gemara ask from the pit and not from every other negative commandment in the Torah? Perhaps “do not work on Shabbos” means that one need not work on Shabbos, and "do not eat non-kosher meat" means that one need not eat non-kosher meat. Tosafos answers that with every negative commandment in the Torah, there is no reason to think that one would be obligated to, for instance, work on Shabbos, that the Torah should have to permit us to stop working. But here there is reason to think that one would be obligated to cut the sacrificial bird's neck completely, in order that more blood should come out when he splashes it on the altar; therefore the Torah says “he need not separate it.” This is why the Gemara cites the case of the pit as comparable: one would think that the digger is obligated to cover his pit, therefore the Torah says "he need not cover it."

We see an important principle from here: whenever the Torah says a certain act should not be done, and that act could easily have been thought to be an obligation, the Torah only means to lower the act to optional status, not to forbid it.

A similar principle applies to positive commandments. The Gemara in Sotah 3a lists three apparent commandments in the Torah that, according to Rabbi Yishmael, are actually optional: charging one's wife with unfaithful behavior, a kohein burying his close relative, and keeping a slave permanently. The reason is that in each of these cases, there would have been good reason to believe that the act was forbidden. Therefore, when the Torah says to do it, it only means to raise it from forbidden to optional status, not to make it an obligation.

The Ramban in Sefer Hamitzvos argues that the Rambam should have counted settling in Eretz Yisroel as one of the 613 commandments. This commandment is found in Bamidbar 33:53: "And you shall take possession of the land and live in it." The Ramban brings proof that this is a commandment from the story of the spies. Before the spies were sent, Moshe said to the people, "See, Hashem your G-d has placed the land before you; go up and inherit as Hashem, G-d of your fathers, has spoken to you; do not fear or worry" (Devarim 1:21). When the spies gave their report and the people refused to go up, Moshe said, "You rebelled against the mouth of Hashem" (v. 26). This, says the Ramban, proves that "you shall take possession of the land and live in it" is a commandment, not just a promise.

Why doesn't Rashi say that the borders were written to tell us where the mitzvah to settle Eretz Yisroel applies? Clearly he didn't hold there was such a mitzvah.

We see here clearly that the Ramban considered the explanation of Bamidbar 33:53 as a promise rather than a command (as Rashi in fact explains it, and as the Rambam would presumably explain it) reasonable and valid. The only reason he rejects it is because of the story of the spies. Furthermore, the words "go up and inherit" themselves do not prove the Ramban's point, because they could also be a promise. The proof is only from the fact that their refusal to go to Eretz Yisroel was termed "rebelling against the mouth of Hashem."

Understanding "go up and inherit" as a promise would be in line with the principle of Zevachim 66a and Sotah 3a explained above. Moshe needed to say "go up and inherit" because if not, the people would have thought it was forbidden to take over the land. Therefore, his "go up and inherit" only comes to permit the conquest and promise its success, not to command it as an obligation.

That the people were afraid it was forbidden to take over the land is explicitly stated in the Yalkut Shimoni on Devarim, section 803: Moshe said to them, "You have come to the hill country of the Emorites. And if you say, the time has not yet come - see, Hashem your G-d has placed the land before you. I do not say this from guesswork or second hand information. You see it in front of you; go up and inherit."

However, now that it says "You rebelled against the mouth of Hashem," we know that "go up and inherit" must have been a command as well as a permission. How would the Rambam and Rashi respond to that?

The answer is that they would agree that Moshe's words "go up and inherit" were a command, but that does not prove that Hashem's words "you shall take possession of the land and live in it" are also a command. Moshe's command had the status of a temporary rabbinic mitzvah, and violating it was called "rebelling against the mouth of Hashem," since Hashem commanded us to obey rabbinic mitzvos: "You shall not turn away from the thing that they command you right or left" (Devarim 17:11).

The Ramban, on the other hand, was unable to explain it this way, because he holds (in his commentary on the Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvos Shoresh 1) that the Torah does not command us to follow purely rabbinic mitzvos, only rabbinic interpretations of Torah mitzvos. If the people's failure to follow Moshe's command was called "rebelling against Hashem," then it must be that Moshe's command was actually said in explanation of Hashem's command "you shall take possession of the land and live in it."

Some Zionists claim that by categorizing Yishuv Eretz Yisroel as a mitzvah, the Ramban rejects the Three Oaths as halacha and holds that we are commanded to conquer Eretz Yisroel at all times. The above analysis of the Ramban shows clearly that this is not the case. As it is clear from the Torah and the Yalkut, conquering the land was forbidden until the end of the forty-year period in the desert, and even then the people were afraid that perhaps the time had not yet come. The Ramban holds that as soon as the prohibition on conquering the land was lifted, it became not just an optional, permitted act but an obligatory act. During our current exile, the prohibition is in force once again and the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled, except by individuals in a non-confrontational manner. As the Ramban himself puts it, "It is a positive commandment for all generations, in which every one of us is obligated, even during the exile." In other words, during exile the mitzvah falls only upon "every one of us" as individuals; it is not a mitzvah of conquest on the Jewish people as a whole.