Shabbos Parshas Bechukosi: June 1, 2019 – 27 Iyar 5779

How do I communicate the joy of this Shabbos, so the reader feels my joy.

Highlights:

  • Staying in Lakeview for Shabbos
  • Friday night Carlebach Davening at ASBI
  • Sholom davening with me Friday night
  • Inviting a guest for our Friday night meal
  • Eating by my kids on Shabbos
  • Having great Friday night conversation with our guest
  • Walking our guest partially home
  • Davening at the Hashkamah minyan and having Cholent at the Kiddush
  • Discovering my Chiddush in the Ahavas Shaul
  • Listening to the Rabbi’s Drasha (speech at end of this post)
  • Giving the Chumash Shiur at 12:30 – great Shiur
  • Listening to Professor Ruth Lander giving a class on the origins of the Siddur

Friday Night – May 31, 2019:

I decided to stay in Lakeview for Shabbos by my sons, Sholom and Tzvi. This Shabbos is Shabbos Mivorchim Sivan and ASBI has a Carlebach Shabbos Friday night service. I arrived at the Shul a little late with Sholom. The davening was magnificent. Rabbinit Sarna spoke and afterwards I told her it was the best Torah I heard from her.

I walked out of Shul after davening and saw Danielle sitting outside the Shul. I understood that she needed a meal. Although I was staying at my sons’ house, I invited her. It was a great meal. Danielle writes movie reviews, interviews directors and other movie personalities to various film festivals, such as Toronto, Cannes, etc. She talked about her experiences. Look her up at solzyatthemovies.com. Tzvi also loves movies. I brought cold cuts and salad. We had plenty to go around. After the meal we walked her halfway home. It was a beautiful evening. Danielle had no invitations for Friday night and she appreciated a meal and the company.

Shabbos Morning – June 1, 2019:

Arrived at ASBI at 7:55 AM and davened at the Hashkama minyan which started at 8:00 AM. I received an Aliyah. They served tasty Cholent at the Kiddush.

Went upstairs and learned from Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Shochet’s Sefer Ahavas Sholem with Binyamin Cohen. He helped me understand the Torah. I joyously discovered that I had the merit to be M’Chavin to his Torah and added to it. Went into the main Shul to hear Rabbi Wolkenfeld’s Shabbos Drasha. Excellent speech.

After Davening I went to the Kiddush. Sholom came and we talked.

I gave the 12:30 PM Chumash Shiur and read the Torah of Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Shochet on Bechukosi. I also gave historical background using the attached three pages from the book Jews of Chicago, written by Irving Cutler. I also discussed the Haskomos in the Sefer from the Ridvaz, Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky written in 1902 and from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook written in 1903 when he was still Rabbi in Boisk, before he made Aliyah.

The following is the Torah I said from Ahavas Sholem, page 76 and 77 – on Parshas Bechukosi: Comments in brackets are what I added.

Chapter 26, Verse 6:

ווְנָֽתַתִּ֤י שָׁלוֹם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ וּשְׁכַבְתֶּ֖ם וְאֵ֣ין מַֽחֲרִ֑יד וְהִשְׁבַּתִּ֞י חַיָּ֤ה רָעָה֙ מִן־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְחֶ֖רֶב לֹא־תַֽעֲבֹ֥ר בְּאַרְצְכֶֽם:

“And I will grant Peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten you; I will remove wild beats from the Land , and no army will pass through the land.”

The explanation is that through the merit of learning our holy Torah, we will be protected from baseless hatred among us Jews, there will be actual peace among us. Because Torah scholars increase peace in the world. Therefore, even when you sleep, you will have nothing to fear. (This is what the Ibn Ezra says using one word on ווְנָֽתַתִּ֤י שָׁלוֹם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ – “Benachim” – Among Yourselves.)

The Torah continues “ and I will drive out wild beasts from the land”. This means that God will remove wild beasts from the land of Israel and it does not mean that he will destroy them completely.

The Ahavas Yisroel spends the better part of page 76 on this – that the wild beasts will be moved out of Israel and into surrounding lands.

The Ahavas Yisroel concludes beautifully on the top of page 77 as follows:

“It comes out from everything I have laid out that when the Jews are dedicated to Torah for its own sake, even inanimate objects sprout and produces. Nothing natural stands in our way. In addition, Hashem Yisborach promises us that he will give peace amount us.

The problem is this:

The Gemara in Brcohos 33 states that everything is in the hands of God, except for fear of heaven. Free choice is up to man and the greatest sin is Machlokes – bitter disagreement and separation of hearts. This was borne out by the second temple, that just because you have Torah, you may not have fear of heaven. The second temple, despite being full of Torah, was destroyed because of internal fighting. Their Torah was “Sh’lo Leshmah” not for the sake of heaven.

Although we find there is value in learning Torah “Sh’lo Leshmah” – not for the sake of heaven. As we find in Pesachim 50B that people should learn “Sh’lo Leshmah” because learning not for the sake of heaven leads to learning for the sake of heaven. However, when you are still learning Sh’lo Lishmah, not for the sake of heaven, and have not yet arrived to Leshmah, there will be Machlokes – bitter disagreement.

However, a person who is able take his Torah to a level of אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כו and learns Torah Leshmah – for its own sake and watches the commandments to keep them will bring peace in the world.

How do we understand the Gemoro Kedushim 30B:`

What is the meaning of the phrase “enemies in the gate” with regard to Torah study? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba says: Even a father and his son, or a rabbi and his student, who are engaged in Torah together in one gate become enemies with each other due to the intensity of their studies. But they do not leave there until they love each other,”

That even a father -son, teacher-student that learns Torah together start out as enemies. Since בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ refers to learning our holy Torah, it would seem that disagreements will spread among the Jews, but in truth the Gemara concludes that they do not leave there until they love each other. Therefore, through learning Torah, I will give peace among the Torah scholars and not only will there be peace among them but there will be peace in the land.  Meaning, there will be no war, enabling the people to lie down and not be afraid, not from war and not from hatred between men.

What the Ahavas Shaul is saying that learning Torah Leshmah brings peace. Is the peace on a metaphysical level or on a practical level? About ten years ago I said based on the Rashi quoted above on Chapter 26, Verse 3 that Im Bechukosi Talachu means that if you learn intensely then God will provide plenty for the Jews in Israel. Then, as the Ibn Ezra says on Chapter 26, Verse 6 on the words וְנָֽתַתִּ֤י שָׁלוֹם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ, I will give peace Among Yourselves”. What the Ahavas Shaul is saying is based on this Ibn Ezra that if there is true learning Torah intensely then there will be peace. How does this work?

The answer is that we all have our own understanding Torah. I will understand Torah using my abilities different than others. It may be subtle or major. If a Rosh Yeshiva says an explanation, I can disagree with it and we can both be correct, or I alone can be correct. Through going through the battle of Torah which is Truth, we will develop mutual respect and love for one another and this will bring Peace in Klal Yisroel. Meaning, if the Rosh Yeshiva in Ponovich gave Shiur at Atareth Cohanim in the old city and all the students wore knit Yarmulkes, the love between them will be intertwined.

People arguing and fighting over ideology, Hashkafah, how to dress, will not lead to mutual respect but bitter fights. Learning Torah intensely and arguing over Torah leads to love and respect. 45 years ago my study partner, Harold Katz. said that after Purim in Israel, no one learns. I said at the time, wouldn’t it be great if after Purim all the Rosh Yeshivas have to say Shiur in other Yeshivas. The Rosh Yeshiva of Mir say a Shiur in the Gush, the Rosh Yeshiva of Gush in Ponovich, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovich in Bar Ilan University Imagine the Ahavas Yisroel that would have been created over the last 30 years that Klal Yisroel has lost.

There is a story of the Chidusshi Harim and the Lissa Rov on my website that illustrates this point.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld
ASBI Congregation
Behukotai 5779

Safety in Numbers
Some of you may know that I went to a specialized math and science high school. I don’t often draw upon that element of my education but I do want to work through an arithmetic problem with you all this morning.
Five is to one hundred, as one hundred is to….
Well…five times twenty is one hundred, and so one hundred times twenty is two thousand.
But the opening verses of our Torah portion this week present a different sort of mathematics:
וְרָדְפ֨וּ מִכֶּ֤ם חֲמִשָּׁה֙ מֵאָ֔ה וּמֵאָ֥ה מִכֶּ֖ם רְבָבָ֣ה יִרְדֹּ֑פוּ וְנָפְל֧וּ אֹיְבֵיכֶ֛ם לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם לֶחָֽרֶב׃
“Five of you shall give chase to a hundred, and a hundred of you shall give chase to ten thousand” Five victorious Israelites can pursue one hundred adversaries, and one hundred victorious Israelites, blessed with Divine favor can pursue ten thousand adversaries. This is not a linear progression, this is an accelerating growth curve. How can we understand or explain this mathematical progression?

Rashi explains:
אֵינוֹ דּוֹמֶה מֻעֲטִין הָעוֹשִׂים אֶת הַתּוֹרָה לִמְרֻבִּין הָעוֹשִׂין אֶת הַתּוֹרָה
“A small number who follow the Torah cannot be compared through a simple comparison to a large number of people who follow the Torah.”

The verse illustrates the power of a community coming together. When we join together we become force magnifiers for one another other. A friend can offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on – but a community can fill a shivah home with visitors offering condolence and can provide a minyan for kaddish. A brother or sister can slap you on the back with joy when hearing your good news, but that cannot replace being surrounded by a community dancing at a wedding or a bar mitzvah or at some other simcha.
אֵינוֹ דּוֹמֶה מֻעֲטִין הָעוֹשִׂים אֶת הַתּוֹרָה לִמְרֻבִּין הָעוֹשִׂין אֶת הַתּוֹרָה
“A small number who follow the Torah cannot be compared through a simple comparison to a large number of people who follow the Torah.”

The context of the mathematical dynamic in our parsha, however, relates to self-defense and confronting our enemies. Everyone understands there is safety in numbers, two are stronger than one, but not as strong as three, which in turn, is not as strong a four. Even Kohelet, in its most cynical and world-weary mood tells us that two are stronger than one and three is stronger than two. It doesn’t get more simple that that. Or does it? The Torah is saying something different in this week’s parasha. The Torah’s numbers demonstrate that the
safety in numbers multiplies at a faster rate than do our numbers. When just a few more of us stand together, we become so much safer and can confront our adversaries in a much more effective way.

I thought about this dynamic a lot this week. I traveled to Springfield this Wednesday with the Orthodox Union to speak to legislators on behalf of an initiative to secure state funding for security enhancements for communities that are at threat of being victimized by hate crimes. Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, a new State Representative from the Northern suburbs is one of the co-sponsors of this initiative and he welcomed our delegation from the statehouse floor and then called, one by one, each of our representatives to come off the statehouse floor to speak with us. When you are introduced as “the rabbi of the synagogue that was firebombed two weeks ago” people pay attention and listen. But standing side by side with a Baptist pastor from the South Side and a Syrian priest, a Muslim cleric, a Sikh scholar, and a Hindu communal leader gave each one of us added weight and authenticity to speak. That too is a form of safety in numbers. The coalition of men and women of good will from various faiths and diverse ethnic backgrounds, who all recognize that none of us are safe so long as all of us are not safe, is a force multiplier just as the Torah describes.

Another story from earlier this week brought home that same message. In response to a worrisome rise in antisemitism in Germany, the government’s own commissioner responsible for combating antisemitism, Felix Klein, announced that Jews should take responsibility for their safety by refraining from wearing a kippah or other outward identification marker as Jews. “I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany.” he said. Indeed, the common practice, of many observant Orthodox Jews in Italy and France and elsewhere is in line with these recommendations. I have vivid memories of visiting Paris almost 15 years ago and seeing not one single outwardly identifiable Jew on a street with four kosher restaurants. (Sara and I went incognito; I wore a wool newspaper-boy cap and Sara wore a bright blue tichel; we fit right in). But the story in Germany, at least this week, took a different turn. One German tabloid newspaper printed a cut-out kippah on their front page and encouraged their readers to cut it out and somehow wear it proudly in solidarity with Germany’s Jewish community. (I’m imagining something akin to those cardboard kippot they give out at the kotel). Julian Reichelt, the newspaper’s editor, wrote, “”If even one person in our country cannot wear the kippah without putting themselves in danger, then the only answer must be that we all wear the kippah. The kippah belongs to Germany!”

There is safety in numbers. These two examples are the safety in numbers that are available to us when non-Jewish allies step forward and stand beside us, whether they are Germans committed to combating antisemitism or our own neighbors in Chicago. But what about our own numbers? Three people, all strangers whose names I do not know, approached me on the street in the past two weeks and said, “I think I recognize you from television.” I have to admit that in none of my previous delusions of grandeur (and I have many delusions of grandeur) have I ever imagined that someone would say those words to me. These three individuals spoke to me to offer their solidarity and support for our community. And, indeed, nearly 100% of the interactions I have had with strangers on the street in Chicago because I wear a kippah in the nearly six years that I have lived here have been positive (including the random joggers and bikers and passers-by who routinely wish my family Shabbat Shalom as they swoosh past on Shabbat afternoons).

But, the reluctance of many European Jews to be visible in public as Jews stems from an anxiety I sometimes feel too. A close friend of my father’s once characterized their differences by saying, “I am American Jew and could not believe anything bad could happen; he was a European Jew and knew that it had.” And each of us need to balance the American Jewish optimism with the sober awareness of the nature of Jewish history and an awareness of the darker potentials of the Jewish present. But, I want to encourage you to think about what you might gain through a more public expression of your Jewish identity and your Jewish commitments. The earliest references in the Talmud to Jews covering our heads as a form of religious devotion occurs in the context of a discussion of an apparent obligation of married women to have some form of head covering whenever they are in public. Later in the Talmud, there is evidence of some very pious, but not all men, covering their heads as well.

Rabbi Nahman bar Yitzhak’s mother, according to a Talmudic legend, was told by a Chaldean astrologer that her son would grow up to be a thief. To prevent this from happening she ensured that his head was always
covered. She raised him to keep his head covered and to, “cover your head so that the fear of Heaven will be upon you.” He had no idea why she said this. Until one day, sitting under a fruit tree that did not belong to him, a gust of wind uncovered his head, and overcome by desire, he reached up and plucked fruit that was not his to take. Somehow his head covering had kept him from theft all those years.

The head covering of women, the head covering of pious men, the head covering that prevents theft, are perhaps all motivated by the same ethos of cultivating an awareness that one stands in the presence of God. All of these forms of head coverings could be our way to echo the head coverings worn as part of the
uniform by the kohanim as they served in the beit ha’mikdash . Indeed, all of the rabbinic restrictions on heating food on Shabbat, (such as shehiyah and hazzarah) are motivated by a fear that we will forget it is Shabbat and stoke embers into a fire on Shabbat to speed up the warming of our food. But in the beit hamikdash there were no rabbinic restrictions on heating food on Shabbat because the kohanim would remind one another to be aware of God and the sanctity of Shabbat.

We too are enlisted in the service of God no less than the kohanim. I am very lucky that I work for the Jewish community and it is considered quite appropriate for me to embrace this Jewish practice even where I work. I understand that it might not be considered professionally appropriate to wear an identifiably Jewish head covering or even a Jewish necklace at the courthouse or hospital or factory or school where you work. But I do know that when we are not at work, we have more freedom to express ourselves and embrace parts of our identities and religious practices that we might keep more hidden when we are on the job.

I also know that the more of us who make the choice to display our Judaism in an outward way in the supermarket or on the playground, the more comfortable it will be for each one of us to do so. Years ago, when Noam was three years old, we drove from Princeton into Manhattan to attend the Salute to Israel Parade. We parked our car near my mother’s apartment and began the walk through Central Park towards the parade route on Fifth Avenue. As I pushed Noam’s stroller through the park, he saw another Jewish man headed for the parade and called out while pointing, “there’s a Jew!” And then two minutes later, as we saw someone else headed for the parade, he called out again, “I see another Jew!” Fortunately, the novelty of seeing other Jews on the street wore off before we reached the parade and its tens of thousands of marchers.

Let us find ways to recognize the presence of God above us always, whether we are at work or in the supermarket or in the park. And let us support one another, each one of us on his and her unique path of growth in Torah and mitzvot. In this way, may we merit the blessings of this morning’s Torah portion:

וְנָתַתִּ֤י שָׁלוֹם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ וּשְׁכַבְתֶּ֖ם וְאֵ֣ין מַחֲִר֑יד

“I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone.”
Through coming together, within our community, and with allies on the outside, may we recognize that it is God’s own blessing that entails:
אֶתְכֶ֖ם קֽוֹמְמִיּֽוּת׃ 􀋂 וָאוֹלֵ֥

“It is I,” God says, “who cause you to walk upright.”
(We have found that internal strife brings destruction in Klal Yisroel. The most famous is during the destruction of the second temple, when the Romans were at the gates of Jerusalem, there was civil war within the city or when the city supply of food and fuel were destroyed. The other example was in the late 1700s when a Misnaged went to the authorities to libel the Ba’al Hatanya thinking he was doing a virtuous act, endorsed by the Torah scholars.)

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