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Questions and Answers on the Torah Reading and Haftarah of Yom Kippur

Questions and Answers on the Torah Reading and Haftarah of Yom Kippur


"וידבר ה' אל משה אחרי מות שני בני אהרן בקרבתם לפני ה' וימתו... ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש"
“And G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon, when they approached before G‑d and they died...‘He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.’ ” (Vayikra 16:1-2)

QUESTION: 1) Why after the death of Nadav and Avihu did Hashem instruct the Kohanim not to enter the Beit Hamikdash while intoxicated (10:9), nor to enter the Sanctuary at all times?

2) What relevance do these prohibitions have to all Jews, even in contemporary times?

ANSWER: The death of Nadav and Avihu was not simply due to the violation of an ordinary Torah precept. It was a spiritual death which was caused by their immersion in the deepest esoteric teachings of Torah and detachment from this mundane and physical world.

Chassidut analyzes this spiritual immersion in terms of the concept of “ratzo” and “shov” — advancing and retreating — as in Ezekiel 1:4. When the soul senses the all-encompassing greatness of G‑dliness, it is aroused to a passionate desire for “ratzo” — running — seeking to be merged in G‑dliness. In this state, the soul yearns to leave the body and the world, but the Divine will is for it to remain on earth and to establish a dwelling place for Hashem. Thus, man must “shov” — retreat — return to this world and observe Torah and mitzvot.

Comprehending the beauty and profundity of G‑dliness, Nadav and Avihu reached the level of “kelot hanefesh” — expiration of the soul through absolute attachment to Hashem — and thus they departed from their physical bodies. From this we learn that ratzo without shov — advancing without retreating — caused their unfortunate end.

“Kelot hanefesh” can occur in one of two ways: either through understanding the profundity of G‑dliness or by perceiving the lowliness of this physical world. When a person realizes the extent of his degradation, that he has succumbed to his evil inclination and transgressed the Torah, he may resolve 1) to dispense with physical existence, or 2) live a holy life in seclusion.

The Torah does not approve of either of these approaches, and consequently, after the spiritual death of the sons of Aharon, the following Torah decrees were issued: “Beware of becoming intoxicated with wine” and “He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.”

Wine alludes to the secrets of Torah. (“Yayin” [יין] — “wine” — and “sod” [סוד] — “secret” — have the same numerical value of 70). The prohibition of priestly drunkenness thus teaches all scholars of Torah that, even while involved in the most esoteric and sublime teachings of Torah, one must remember that the neshamah has to remain vested in a physical body in this world and not become so “intoxicated” with holiness that the soul loses its moorings in physical reality.

The prohibition of “Al yavo” — “not to come” — “bechol eit el hakodesh” — “at all times into the Sanctuary” — teaches Jews of all levels that when one repents for inappropriate behavior and is in a Yom Kippur spirit, the resolve should not be to enter a life of seclusion from worldly matters. A Jew must exist in this physical world and, through Torah and mitzvot, make it a dwelling place for Hashem.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ז, ועי' אור החיים)

ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש
“He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.” (16:2)

QUESTION: What personal lesson can every individual learn from this directive?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Ketubot 50a) says that the pasuk “Praiseworthy are the guardians of justice, who perform tzedakah bechol eit — charity at all time” (Psalms 106:3) — refers to one who sustains his sons and his daughters when they are minors. A person is only morally obligated to support his minor children aged six or older but not halachically. Since these children live at home and are constantly dependant on their father for their livelihood, the father, “performs charity at every moment” by supporting them.

When one strives to enter “the holiness” — i.e. elevate oneself spiritually — a way to accomplish it is through the merit of the mitzvah of tzedakah. Thus, the message of this pasuk is that the tzedakah should not be of the sort which is in the category of “performing charity bechol eit” — at every moment — i.e. feeding his own children; rather, there must be actual expenditures of sums of money for needy individuals and noble charitable causes and endeavors.


"ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש"
“He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.” (16:2)

QUESTION: The phrase “bechol eit” — “at all times” — forbids the Kohen’s constant presence in the Sanctuary, but seems to permit occasional visits. Since he was allowed to come in only on Yom Kippur, what is the reason for the strange construction of this verse?

ANSWER: It is Satan’s mission to continuously induce the Jew to sin. The Gemara (Yoma 20a) notes that “hasatan” (השטן) — “the Satan” — has the numerical value of 364. From this we may infer that, during 364 days of the solar year, the Satan has permission to cause trouble, but on the 365th day of the year — Yom Kippur — this permission is revoked. Thus, the day of Yom Kippur is very different from the other 364 days of the year.

The message that Hashem conveyed to Aharon was that he should not come “bechol eit” — “at all times” — any ordinary day of the year. The only day when he could enter the Inner-Sanctuary was on the special day of the year — Yom Kippur.

(כלי יקר)

"בזאת יבא אהרן אל הקדש"
“With this Aharon should come into the Sanctuary.” (16:3)

QUESTION: Since the Torah details all the things that the Kohen Gadol had to do on Yom Kippur, the word “bezot” (בזאת) — “with this” — seems superfluous.

ANSWER: On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we proclaim, “Uteshuvah, utefillah, utzedakah ma’avirim et ro’a hagezeirah” — “Repentance, prayer and charity can avert the severity of the decree.” In every machzor, above these three words, the words “tzom, kol, mamon” (צום, קול, ממון) — “fasting, voice, money” — appear in small print. Each of these words has the numerical value of 136, totaling 408, which is the numerical value of the word “zot” (זאת).

The Torah is hinting to us that in addition to all the karbanot that the Kohen Gadol must bring on Yom Kippur, another important element is “zot” — the three things that add up to 408, and through these he will be able to avert any evil decrees against K’lal Yisrael, G‑d forbid.

* * *

A similar interpretation can be applied to King David’s statement “Im takum alai milchamah bezot ani voteiach” — “If a war would rise against me, I am secure with zot” (Psalms 27:3). King David also said, “uchesil lo yavin et zot” — which in light of the above may mean, “A fool does not understand the significance of zot” (Psalms 92:7).

(נחל קדומים - פרדס יוסף)

"ומכנסי בד יהיו על בשרו"
“Linen breeches shall be upon his flesh.” (16:4)

QUESTION: The words “al besaro” — “on his flesh” — teach us that the garments must be worn directly on his flesh and there should be nothing acting as a barrier between the garment and the kohen’s flesh (Zevachim 19a).

On Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol would immerse in a mikvah, dry himself, and change into other garments. He needed to dry himself so that there would be no water between his flesh and the garments (see Rambam, Avodat Yom Hakippurim 2:2, Mishneh Lemelech).

The Gemara (Zevachim 35a) praises the Kohanim for walking in blood up to their knees while they performed the service in the Beit Hamikdash. A question is raised: Why isn’t the blood considered a chatzitzah — separation — between their feet and the floor? The Gemara answers that liquids are not considered a separation. If so, why was it necessary for the Kohen Gadol to dry himself after immersing?

ANSWER: The halachah does not forbid a chatzizah — separation — between the Kohen’s foot and the floor, nor is there a requirement that his foot must touch the floor. The only thing required is that he stand on his own in the Beit Hamikdash while performing the service. Thus, if one foot is on the floor and the other on a pedestal, and should it be removed he would fall down, the service is disqualified, since he is not actually standing on his own in the Beit Hamikdash. But the fact that he is standing on one foot or a pedestal is not considered a chatzizah, if he does not need the pedestal to support his standing. Hence, even if a Kohen would perform the service while standing in the air, it would be permissible were it not for the fact that it is an inappropriate way of performing the service (see Zevachim 26a).

Consequently, though liquids are a foreign substance they do not create a separation, and even if they are under his feet it is nevertheless considered that he is standing on Beit Hamikdash property without any assistance.

In the case of the garments, however, there is a specific halachah that they must be al besaro — tightly fitted and in contact with his flesh — and even an air space between his flesh and the garment is considered a chatzitzah — separation (see Zevachim 19a). The Kohen Gadol must therefore dry himself thoroughly after immersing, because in regard to the rule of “al besaro,” the water would be a separation, since the garments would not be firmly in contact with his flesh.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי, ונדפס בשמו בירחון המסלה שנה א' חוברת ט–י, תשרי-חשון תרצ"ג – ועי' בספר תפארת ציון סי' כ"ג ממו"ר הרב משה דובער ז"ל ריווקין, שהביא הקושיא בשם שו"ת עמודי אור או"ח סי' ל"ז וביאר באריכות ב' מיני חציצה)

"ונתן אתם על ראש השעיר ושלח ביד איש עתי המדברה"
“And place them upon the head of the he-goat, and send it with a man to the desert.” (16:20)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Yoma 66b) relates that Rabbi Eliezer was asked, “If the he-goat becomes ill, may he carry it on his shoulder?” Rabbi Eliezer replied, “Yachol hu leharkiv ani ve’atem” — “He is capable of carrying me and you.”

Rabbi Eliezer’s response is enigmatic: Who is ‘he’ referring to, and how do his words answer the question posed to him?

ANSWER: The statute of the “scapegoat for Azazeil” serves as a metaphor of the Jewish people. For many years we have been under the reign of alien regimes, oppressed and persecuted. Whenever something has gone wrong anywhere in the world, the Jew has been made the “scapegoat.” Like the scapegoat who was sent out of the camp to the wilderness, the Jewish people, too, have been expelled from one country after another, and have gone through a stage of wilderness before establishing themselves in another part of the world.

Fortunately, regardless of their trials and tribulations, the Jewish people have managed to “stand on their feet,” to remain firm in their commitment to Torah and mitzvot and to miraculously survive all attempts to destroy them physically and spiritually.

Rabbi Eliezer was asked, what if the “scapegoat” — the Jewish people — becomes ill; i.e. what if their suffering sickens them to the extent that they no longer have the strength to ‘stand on their feet’? Should they yield in their Torah observance and accept the ways of the prevailing forces? Should they acknowledge the dominant powers and compromise on their Yiddishkeit?

Rabbi Eliezer’s answer is an unequivocal “no.” He told the worried Jews, “Yachol hu leharkiv ani ve’atem — He [Hashem] is capable of carrying me and you. Do not, G‑d forbid, falter one iota in your Yiddishkeit. Indeed, galut may be difficult to endure, but be assured that Hashem is able to take us all out of it, and He will do so very speedily.”

Moreover, the one who leads the scapegoat is referred to as “ish iti,” which, according to commentaries, means a person whose time has come to die and who will not live more than a year (see Chizkuni). Not only will Hashem take the Jewish people out of galut, but all their oppressors will perish and the Jewish people will exist forever.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"ושלח ביד איש עתי המדברה"
“And send it (the he-goat) with a designated man to the desert.” (16:21)

QUESTION: Why is the designated man known as “ish iti”?

ANSWER: The word “iti” stems from the word “eit,” which means “time,” and “ish iti” means “a timely man,” one who has been told to be ready for a particular time. According to Rashi he was prepared for this task from the preceding day, and according to Targum Yonatan ben Uziel the appointed man was designated for this mission after Yom Kippur of the previous year. Thus, he had been chosen for a long time prior to his actual service.

According to the Rashbam, he was called “ish iti” because he had spent much time in the wilderness and knew the roads.

According to Chizkuni, the messenger was destined to pass away before the next Yom Kippur. Thus, “ish iti” means a person whose time to leave this world has arrived. By referring to him as “ish iti,” the Torah is emphasizing that although he knew his life would end with his mission, he did not hesitate to perform it. He gladly agreed to give up his life in order to assure that K’lal Yisrael received Divine atonement for all their sins.

"והיתה לכם לחקת עולם בחדש השביעי בעשור לחדש תענו את נפשתיכם"
“It shall be for you an eternal decree; in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month you shall afflict your souls.” (16:29)

QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (Devarim 2:14), when the angels ask Hashem for the dates of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, He tells them, “Let us go and inquire of the Beit Din below on earth.” What does it mean that Hashem has to ask others to clarify the dates of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

ANSWER: In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 428), there is a rule thatRosh Hashanah cannot be on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday. The Midrash Tanchuma (Mishpatim 5) states that when judgment occurs below, no judgment takes place above. Consequently, on Monday and Thursday, the days when aBeit Din is officially in session, there is no judgment from Heaven.

The angels asked: Since “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as days of judgment. When does Rosh Hashanah take place? It cannot be Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday. Neither can it be Monday or Thursday. The only days left are Tuesday and Shabbat, which are also disqualified since Yom Kippur would then occur on Thursday and Monday, respectively. But this is impossible because when there is judgment below there is no judgment above.”

Hashem informed them, “Indeed Rosh Hashanah is on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbat. As to your question, ‘How can Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur be on Monday or Thursday,’ we will go down on that day to the Beit Din below and G‑d’s judgment will emerge from the court below.”

(שמנה לחמו)

"והיתה לכם לחקת עולם בחודש השביעי בעשור לחדש תענו את נפשתיכם"
“It shall be for you an eternal decree; in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month you shall afflict your souls.” (16:29)

QUESTION: Regarding Shabbat the Prophet states, “Vekarata laShabbat oneg — “Shabbat shall be a day of delight” (Isaiah 58:13). According to the Rambam (Shavuot 1:6, see Rashba, Responsa 614), one must eat on Shabbat, at least a kezayit — a quantity the size of an olive. (Some consider this a Biblical obligation. See Shulchan Aruch Harav 242:1.) Yom Kippur is violated if one eats an amount the size of a “kosevet hagassah” — “a thick date” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 612:1). A “kezayit” is smaller than a “kosevet hagassah.”

In the Gemara (Yoma 73b) Reish Lakish is of the opinion that eating less than the prohibited amount is not considered a violation of Torah law. If so, when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, why isn’t one required to eat a “kezayit,” which is less than the amount prohibited on Yom Kippur and thus fulfill the Torah obligation of delight on Shabbat?

ANSWER: Although Reish Lakish maintains that a person did not violate halachah if he ate less than “kekosevet,” it is forbidden, however, to do so by Rabbinic ordinance. The halachah is that a Rabbinic ordinance must be obeyed even if it entails non-fulfillment of a positive commandment from the Torah (b’sheiv ve’al ta’aseh — inactive non-compliance), in this case not eating the amount of kezayit (see Yevamot 90b).

* * *

Alternatively, a person who eats on Yom Kippur violates both a positive commandment and a negative commandment (Rambam, Shevitat Asor 1:4). Delight on Shabbat is only a positive commandment and the requirement to experience delight is not strong enough to supersede both a positive and a negative commandment. The Rabbis have endowed their opinion with the authority of a Torah prohibition. Thus, a Rabbinic ordinance carries the authority of a Torah prohibition. Hence, although according to Reish Lakish, the prohibition (of eating less than a kosevet on Yom Kippur) is only of Rabbinic origin, it has the same strength as a Scriptural positive and negative commandment and cannot be superseded by a positive Scriptural commandment. (See Talmudic Encyclopedia, vol. 15, p. 94.)

* * *

Alternatively, when the Torah states the law of fasting on Yom Kippur, it does not distinguish between a weekday and Shabbat. Thus, it applies equally to every day of the week, including Shabbat. The intent of Torah is that when Yom Kippur is on Shabbat, the mitzvah of delight on Shabbat does not apply because it is superseded by the mitzvah of enduring deprivation and discomfort on Yom Kippur.

(When Yom Kippur is on Shabbat, one actually fulfills the mitzvah of delight through fasting, as the halachah specifies in the instance when food is detrimental to one’s health on an ordinary Shabbat [see Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 288:2]).

* * *

It should also be noted that according to some opinions (ibid., 291:1), delight on Shabbat is accomplished with eating food equivalent to the size of an egg. Consequently, since kekosevet is less than the size of an egg it is impossible to fulfill the mitzvah of delight on Shabbat, without violating the Torah law of not eating on Yom Kippur.

(שו"ת צמח צדק או"ח סי' ל"ו)

"והיתה לכם לחקת עולם בחודש השביעי בעשור לחדש תענו את נפשתיכם"
“It shall be for you an eternal decree; in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month you shall afflict your souls.” (16:29)

QUESTION: According to our calendar, Yom Kippur cannot be on Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday (Orach Chaim 428:1). Why?

ANSWER: The Mishnah in Keilim (17:14) says that “a vessel made from materials created on the first day [of creation] can become defiled; one made from materials created on the second day cannot be defiled. One made from materials created on the third day can become defiled and one made from materials created on the fourth and the fifth cannot become defiled; a vessel made from anything created on the sixth day can become defiled.”

On the first day — Sunday — earth and water were created. An earthenware vessel can become defiled, and water is a conductor of defilement (something wet can become defiled). On Monday, the firmament was created and defilement does not apply to it. On Tuesday, trees were created and wooden vessels can become defiled. On Wednesday, the sun and moon were created, and defilement does not apply to them. On Thursday, birds and fish were created, and vessels made from their bones or skin cannot become defiled. On Friday, beasts, domestic animals, swarming creatures, and man were created. Vessels made from the bone or skin of any of these can become defiled.

Yom Kippur, the day when everyone is cleansed and becomes pure, only occurs, therefore, on the days that are associated with purity.

(אוצרות חיים)

"בחדש השביעי בעשור לחדש תענו את נפשתיכם"
“In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls.” (16:29)

QUESTION: Does a person who must partake of food on Yom Kippur have to make Kiddush before eating?

ANSWER: According to halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 618:10) a sick person who is forced to eat on Yom Kippur does not have to make Kiddush, although he is obligated to recite berachot and Birkat Hamazon — the Blessing after a Meal — (including Ya’aleh Veyavo) over the food he eats.

* * *

When the famous Torah scholar Rabbi Avraham [Borenstein] of Sachetchav (1838-1910 — popularly known as the Avnei Nezer) was five years old, his father instructed him to go home to eat something after Shacharit on Yom Kippur. When he returned to shul, his father asked him, “Avremele, did you remember to make Kiddush?” to which he replied, “I did not make Kiddush.” When his father asked him why not, the young genius replied, “In truth, a minor does not have to perform any mitzvot. The only reason he fulfills mitzvot is for chinuch — training to prepare for the time when he will become Bar-Mitzvah and be obligated to perform them. Thus, I make Kiddush every Shabbat so that I will be accustomed to remember not to eat the Shabbat meal before reciting Kiddush. However, when I will be older, I hope to fast on Yom Kippur, so there is no reason for me to make Kiddush today while I am a minor.”

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

"כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם"
“For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you.” (16:30)

QUESTION: In the Gemara (Yoma 85b) Rabbi Akiva says that the Jews are lucky because “Just as a mikveh cleanses et hatemei’im — the defiled — so Hashem purifies the Jewish people.”

Since only the defiled need a mikveh in order to become clean, the words “et hatemei’im” — “the defiled” — seem superfluous?

ANSWER: The way we merit purification from Hashem is through teshuvah. Frequently, people who have committed numerous transgressions avoid rectifying some of their wrongdoings, erroneously thinking that concerning Judaism it is “all or nothing.” For instance, they reason: “Why should I start putting on tefillin if I am not a shomer Shabbat?” or “Why should I eat kosher if I do not put on tefillin?”

Rabbi Akiva, with the phrase “cleanses the defiled,” refutes this logic. A mikveh can purify a person from certain defilements even if he will still require additional purification from other defilements for which the time to immerse and become clean has not yet arrived (see Mishnah, Berachot 3:6).

Thus, Rabbi Akiva is teaching us that, just as the mikveh can purify the defiled [who were defiled for more than one defilement] even if they remain defiled to a certain extent, so too, Hashem accepts and wants our teshuvah, even if it is done in parts.

(לקוטי שיחות חי"ז)

* * *

A mikveh can purify only be’ashboren (באשבורן) — if the water is gathered together in one place. If the water is flowing or leaking out, then it is an invalid mikveh and the one who immerses in it does not accomplish anything.

The mikveh is a metaphor for the Jewish people: When they are united together as one, Hashem purifies them and forgives all their sins.

"כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטאתיכם"
“For on this day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins.” (16:30)

QUESTION: The word “mikol” — “from all”— seems to be unnecessary. It could have said “meichatoteichem” — “from your sins”?

ANSWER: The Tur Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 581) relates that it is the custom in Ashkenazic communities for prominent people to fast on Erev Rosh Hashanah and explains the reason with a parable. A country had a large debt of unpaid taxes to its king, who descended on the country with his army to collect. An entourage consisting of the prominent people went out to greet him. “We do not have any money to give you,” they told him. Touched by their pleas, the king pardoned one-third of the debt. As he came closer to the city, a contingent of the middle-class people went to meet him and after pleading, again he pardoned a second third of the debt. As he came very close to the city, everybody went out to greet him and after listening to their pleas, he freed the entire city of its debt.

The inhabitants of the country are the Jewish people. During the year they go into debt because of their transgressions. On Erev Rosh Hashanah the “prominent” people fast and Hashem forgives one-third of our sins. During Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) the “middle-class” people join in the fast and a second third is forgiven. On Yom Kippur, everybody fasts and Hashem pardons us completely.

The Beit Yosef asks: “How can it be that Erev Rosh Hashanah should be equal to the nine days of teshuvah and even to Yom Kippur itself?” He explains that on Erev Rosh Hashanah, Hashem forgives the first third of the sins, the ones that are easier to forgive. To forgive the second third is more difficult, and therefore a period of nine days is necessary. And finally, the last third are the most difficult to forgive and this is accomplished on Yom Kippur.

Referring to Yom Kippur, the Torah says that “For on this day He will provide atonement”; although two-thirds of your sins will already be forgiven, the uniqueness of Yom Kippur is that you will be cleansed entirely “mikol chatoteichem” — from all your sins — including the final and most difficult third.

(כתנות אור)

"ועניתם את נפשותיכם חקת עולם"
“You shall afflict yourselves; an eternal decree.” (16:31)

QUESTION: The purpose of affliction is to inspire man to do teshuvah — repent. The Gemara (Yoma 86a) states “Teshuvah is great, for it reaches as high as the Kisei Hakavod — Hashem’s Throne of Glory.” What is the connection between teshuvah and the Kisei Hakavod?

ANSWER: In gematria there is a method of computation in which each letter is counted individually and also cumulatively. Thus, the phrase "כסא הכבוד" can be calculated as follows: כ=20, כס=80, כסא=81, כסא ה=86, כסא הכ=106, כסא הכב=108, כסא הכבו=114, כסא הכבוד=118, for a total of 713.

The word "תשובה" itself in regular gematria also equals 713. Thus, there is an equivalence between teshuvah and the Kisei Hakavod.

(ר' שמשון זצ"ל מאסטראפאלי)

"ועל הכהנים ועל כל עם הקהל יכפר"
“Upon the Kohanim and upon all the people of the congregation shall he bring atonement.” (16:33)

QUESTION: The word “hakahal” — “of the congregation” — seems to be superfluous. The text could have read “and upon all the people he shall bring atonement”?

ANSWER: The word “hakahal” alludes to the concept of “hakheil” (Devarim 31:12), which means unite, gather together. The Torah is emphasizing the importance of unity among the Jewish people. When “Ha’am” — the people — are “hakahal” — united and together — the Kohen is able to beseech Al-mighty G‑d to forgive their transgressions.

(באר משה)


"שלום שלום לרחוק ולקרוב אמר ה'"
“Peace, peace to the far and the near.” (Isaiah 57:19)

QUESTION: Since Hashem first extends greetings to the one who was “far” and repented, and afterwards to the one who was “near” all along, the Gemara (Berachot 34b) derives that, “Makom sheba’alei teshuvah omdim tzaddikim gemurim einam omdin” — “In the place where the penitents stand, the completely righteous do not stand.” Why are the penitents greater?

ANSWER: The penitent soul, having been infinitely removed from Hashem, now thirsts for Hashem even more than the soul of the righteous. This religious experience is unknown to the perfect tzaddik, who has never sinned and who consequently has never experienced the remorse and yearning of a repentant soul.

(לקוטי אמרים — תניא פ"ז)

* * *

Alternatively, the Rambam (Dei’ot 1:4) says that a person should avoid going to extremes and always conduct himself in the way which is in “the middle of the road.” For instance, one should not be exceedingly extravagant or excessively stingy. One should also not be very arrogant and conceited or totally removed from worldly matters and extremely self effacing. An exception to this rule involves a person who was conducting a misguided lifestyle and who was an extremist in his behavior. To correct himself, he should go to the opposite extreme and eventually work his way back to the middle path.

Thus, while the tzaddik always conducts himself in the middle path, the ba’al teshuvah who is mending his ways and was once extremely on the “left,” now has to go over to the extreme “right” (ibid 2:2). Hence, “In the place where the ba’al teshuvah stands” — to the extreme right — “the tzaddik cannot stand” — since he always has to be in the path which is in the middle.

(אור יקרות)

"הלוא פרס לרעב לחמך... ותפק לרעב נפשך..."
“Surely you will break your bread for the hungry... Offer your soul to the hungry...” (Isaiah 58:7-10)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Bava Batra 11a) tells us a story about Binyamin HaTzaddik, who was a supervisor of the charity fund. One day a woman came to him in a year of scarcity, and said to him: “Rabbi, assist me.”

He replied, “I swear, there is not a penny in the charity fund.”

She said, “Rabbi, if you do not assist me, a woman and her seven children will perish.” He then assisted her out of his own pocket. Some time afterwards he became dangerously ill. The angels addressed Hashem saying: “Sovereign of the Universe, You had said that he who preserves one soul of Israel is considered as if he had preserved the whole world; shall then Binyamin HaTzaddik, who has preserved a woman and her seven children, die at so early an age?” Immediately his sentence was torn up. It has been taught that twenty-two years were added to his life.

Why was he granted twenty-two additional years of life?

ANSWER: The Gemara (ibid. 9b) says that for giving tzedakah to a poor man one receives six blessings and for saying a comforting word which helps him endure his unfortunate situation, one receives an additional eleven, for a total of seventeen. When the woman first approached Binyamin HaTzaddik for tzedakah, he said to her, “I promise, there is absolutely nothing available in the charity fund.” Afterwards, when she said to him, “Rabbi if you do not support me, a woman and her seven children will expire,” he helped her with his personal money [which he really needed for himself — Maharsha]. Undoubtedly, when he told her that the charity fund was depleted, he consoled her with soothing words.

The seventeen berachot for financial and moral support one merits for helping the poor are based on the seventeen berachot which the prophet Isaiah says one will receive when, “Haloh feros lara’eiv lachmecha” — “Surely you will break your bread for the hungry” and “Vetafeik lara’eiv nafshecha” — “Offer your soul to the hungry” (see Isaiah 58:7-12).

In a twenty-two year period there are two hundred and sixty-four months plus an average of eight leap months (a second month of Adar to even out the solar and lunar systems), for a total of two hundred and seventy-two months.

The word “ra’eiv” (רעב) — “hungry” — has the numerical value of two hundred and seventy-two. For Binyamin HaTzaddik’s exceptional giving of tzedakah to the ra’eiv — hungry — and his genuine interest in their plight, he was rewarded with “ra’eiv” (רעב) — an additional two hundred and seventy-two months of life — a total of twenty-two years, to enjoy the seventeen blessings he earned for supporting and comforting the poor mother and her seven children.

(עיון יעקב)

"אם תשיב משבת רגלך עשות חפציך ביום קדשי"
“If you restrain your feet because of Shabbat from attending to your needs on My holy day.” (58:13)

QUESTION: Why the emphasis “raglecha” — “your feet” — wouldn’t the same rewards apply for not attending to one’s needs because of Shabbat with one’s hands?

ANSWER: The rabbis of the Talmud (Megillah 29b) suspended the performance of three mitzvot when a Holiday falls on Shabbat: shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, taking the lulav on Sukkot, and reading the megillah on Purim. The reason is concern that one may take one of the three items used for these mitzvot to an expert to learn how to properly perform the mitzvah and inadvertently carry it four amot through a public domain, which is a violation of Biblical law.

One who observes this decree is not lacking a mitzvah, because in merit of the extra stringency in the observance of Shabbat, the Shabbat itself accomplishes for him what he would have achieved for himself from the fulfillment of these mitzvot.

The word “mishavat” (משבת) has the numerical value of seven hundred and forty-two, as do the words “shofar, lulav, megillah” (שופר, לולב, מגילה). Thus, the prophet is saying, “If you will restrain mishavat — from doing the three mitzvot alluded by the numerical value ofmishavat — [because of] raglecha — concern that you may inadvertently ‘walk’ with them in a public domain — be assured that you will not lose by this. On the contrary, Hashem will reward you: ‘You shall delight in Hashem, I will make you ride on the high places of the earth, and I will nourish you with the heritage of Yaakov your father.’ ”

(זר זהב - סטריקוב)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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