056 Torah Portion of the Week – Bechukosai – How to be Blessed – The Jewish Answer to Success – A Powerful Parable about Not Giving the Doctor a Gift – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – More on Criticism
The Torah Podcast Transcript
056 The Torah Podcast – How to be Blessed – The Jewish Answer to Success – https://globalyeshiva.com
Torah Portion of the Week – Bechukosai
The Parsha starts out, “If you will follow my decrees and observe my commandments and perform them, then I will provide your rains in their time, and the earth will give its produce and the tree of the fields will give its fruit.” The verses continue, giving all the blessings to the Jewish people. And if God-forbid, we don’t listen to the Torah, then all the forces are going to fall on us, chas veshalom. Rashi explains, “What does it mean that if you follow, walk in my ways, ‘Im bechukosi teilechu,’ It means ameilus baTorah, working hard in learning.” This is the real job of every Jew, to sit and learn when he has time, when he can, he should learn with all his ability. This is where the blessings are to come from, that’s what Rashi tells us. There’s a famous Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz which I love to speak about. He brings the Gemara in Yoma. The Rabbis taught, the pauper, the rich man and the wicked one all stand in Heavenly judgment. The poor man is asked, “Why didn’t you learn Torah?” He says, “I was poor, and busy supporting myself.” So they ask him, “Were you poorer than Hillel?” Hillel had nothing, and still he learned Torah. Then when the rich man comes to judgment, they asked him, “Why didn’t you learn Torah?” and he answers, “Listen, I was wealthy. I was occupied all day with my business.” So they say to him, “Were you wealthier than Rav Eliezer? His father left him a thousand cities, and a thousand ships. Still he learned Torah.” Then when the wicked man gets judged, they ask him, “Why didn’t you learn Torah?” He said, “I was handsome and preoccupied all day with my evil inclination.” They say to him, “Were you more handsome than Yosef?” The Gemara ends that the poor people will be held accountable because of Hillel, the rich people because of Rav Eliezer, and the wicked people will because of Yosef.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks an unbelievable difficulty. He said, “Wait a second. Why did this Chazal take in the difference of stature? Why should every person be judged by Hillel? Hillel was a giant. Why should every rich person be judged by Rav Eliezer? He was also one of the tenaim. Because somebody’s good looking, he’s going to be judged by Yosef? Yosef was one of the shevatim, one of the 12 tribes. How is it possible that because they were obligated to learn under their circumstances, that regular people like you and me are also obligated to learn? It’s an unbelievable difficulty. And the answer is also unbelievable. I’ve spoken about this many times before. The answer is, since Torah itself is the source of our spiritual life, it’s the source of ourselves next world, of all of our reward, so the playing field is level. He says it’s like the difference between a luxury item and bread and water. When it comes to a luxury item, so okay, different people try to get it. They work hard, but some people buy it and some people don’t. But when it comes to bread, everybody’s equal. No one just waits in their house for the bread to come. Every person goes out to look for bread, because it’s the source of our lives. Without it, we can’t live. So too, the Torah. The Torah is the purpose of our lives. It’s our life blood. Therefore, everybody is equal. We don’t take into account that Hillel was so big, or that Yosef was so great. Everybody’s the same when it comes to life or death. So we see from here how important it is to fix times to sit and learn, and to work hard in learning, like Rashi says. But the Malbim has a kasha, question. If you look in the possukim it says, “What’s going to happen if the guy does sit and learn? You’re going to get rains in their time. The earth will give forth its produce, and the tree of the field will give its fruit. You will eat bread and be satisfied. And you’ll dwell in security in your land.” All these rewards are physical. The Malbim has a question, what about the next world? Why doesn’t the Torah itself talk about the next world? It’s only in Yeshayahu that it says, “The reward is so great that no eye has ever seen it.” That’s where we know, that’s the source for the next world. That’s the main reward. Why does the Torah talk about the rewards in this world? And not only that, we know we’re not supposed to serve God to receive a present, to receive gifts. We have to serve God just out of the goodness of our hearts, out of appreciating that we’re alive. So, what are all these rewards about?
The Malbim brings a parable. One time there was a king who had this beautiful garden, and he wanted to invite everyone to come to eat food there, such pleasure, such entertainment. It was going to be great. It was everything that a person wanted. He says to them, “If you come to my garden, I will give you a bag of silver.” Why does he have to offer them a bag of silver? It’s enough that they come to the garden, they don’t need the bag of silver. They’ll come on their own to the garden. That in itself is the reward. The same thing in this week’s Parsha. The real reward is in the next world. No eye has ever seen it. It’s something that we can’t imagine. So, why is the Torah saying that if you do my mitzvos and learn my Torah, you’ll get rain, you’ll get bread. You’ll get all these things. That’s nothing compared to the real reward that you’re going to get. So, the Malbim answers, “Just like in the moshul, there is no reason at all for the king to promise his friends the delight of the garden, because that’s what he offered in the first place. He’s offering them to come to the garden. That’s not the reward, that’s the offer itself. And he’s offering them the gold in order that they should come to receive the offer. So too here, the Torah itself is what God’s giving us. And the Torah itself is the reward. We have it now. And the Malbim explains, if it wasn’t for our physicality, we would get so much pleasure from the Torah, we’d have olam haba, the world to come, right here, right now. We would be in olam haba. We’re receiving the reward right now just by sitting and learning. He says, “Adam’s greatest delight” – Adam haRishon, the first man – “and the entire purpose of his being in paradise was the fulfillment of the commandments.” Torah study and mitzvah observance is the eternal delight for the righteous, which means that if we in touch with reality, we would be receiving our reward right now, just by sitting and learning. If you have had the opportunity to sit and learn for many hours, you could have tremendous spiritual experiences. It’s the greatest intellectual pleasure.
The Zohar says that part of Shavuos is that Hashem purifies us, that we can appreciate the Torah itself. Hashem purifies us on Shavuos in order to be able to learn the Torah, and appreciate the Torah. And Rav Wolbe brings down, What does it mean “If you will follow my decrees”? The Ohr HaChayim actually gives 40 different perushim, explanations of what it means. But I’m not going to bring that down now. I’m just going to bring here Rav Wolbe. Teilechu means to go, to go in the ways of Torah. The answer is, the Torah is endless. You go deeper and deeper. Every time you learn it over again, you learn Gemara a different time, another chiddush and another chiddush, another new idea, another angle, another way of looking at it. It’s endless. It’s infinite, and you could go further and further. That’s why a person can never say, “No, I already learned that.” An 80 year-old man is learning the same thing as a 15 year-old kid, the same Gemara. How can that be? Where do you see a book in the world where the old and the young all learn it together? You go over it again, and over it again. And more juice comes out, more light. That’s what Rashi says and the possuk says, that’s where the blessing comes from, from going over and over it again. That’s the reward. That’s the pleasure in this world. So, the question now is, why don’t we feel that way? Why don’t we live that way? How could we become that way?
Rav Henoch Leibowitz brings down the Vayikra Rabba 35:1. Many people speak on this Midrash on this week’s Parsha. The possuk in Tehillim says, Dovid haMelech said, “I contemplated my path and my feet returned to your testimony.” The Midrash explains what that means. It’s that Dovid haMelech every day he would decide where he has to go, and what he has to do. He was the king. He had a lot to do. But every day somehow, his feet would literally carry him off and bring him back to the beis midrash, to sit and learn. Here is the king, he has all these responsibilities, and he has to take care of them. And somehow he always winds up back sitting in front of a Gemara, back in the beis midrash. Rav Leibowitz says, “Wait a second. Was he neglecting his public office? If you are the king, you have to take care of the people. It can’t be that’s pshat, there must be a different problem here. He wants to explain the challenge that Dovid haMelech had, the challenge that all of us have, is to figure out what is necessary to do, and how much time do we actually have to sit and learn. Of course we have to take care of things in life. People need parnassa, they need money, they need to take care of their family. But the question is, when and where. How far does that go? Is your drive to get back to the beis midrash? Do you have appreciation for Torah, so as soon as things calm down you go back? Or are you over-emphasizing these external things? You don’t have a minute left for learning. Every second you have to make money? Every second you have to take care of your kids, and your wife?
He explains, it’s just the opposite. Really 24/7 you should be sitting and learning. And when it’s muchra, when you have to take care of the outside things, so you have to go take care of them. And that was Dovid haMelech. Every day he would go out to take care of the things he had to take care of, but the default position was back in the beis midrash, and that’s where he wound up. So, that’s the answer of how to bring the blessing into your life. You have to figure out what you’re emphasizing. You have to re-align your value system. You have to do a spiritual accounting, to see how much you’re spending on outside things. And kvia ittim laTorah, fixed times for learning; an hour before the davening, an hour after the davening. All these little differences make a difference. You’ll say here, “But I’m not a very good learner. I don’t know how to learn. I don’t really enjoy the learning. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.” The Chassam Sofer brings down the verse from Mishlei, “All the days of a poor person are bad.” Who is that referring to? Students of the Talmud, because everybody who sits in front of a Gemara, the further he goes, he’ll realize the less he knows. Why should we do it? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. That’s not our job. Our job is to sit and learn. The blessing will come eventually, and the understanding will come.
I want to end off with the Chofetz Chaim. He brings down a Gemara in Brochos 28B that says, “We the students of Torah toil, and they toil as well. We toil and receive reward, and they toil but they do not receive reward.” Who’s they? They’re the people who are working all day. He says, “Wait a second. It doesn’t make any sense. What do you mean, they don’t receive reward? Of course they receive reward. If a tailor makes a suit and sells it, he gets paid. A shoemaker makes a shoe, he gets paid for it. They do receive reward.” He answers, “No. The Gemara is talking about toiling, working. We work hard and receive reward even if we don’t produce the fruits. A tailor, if he doesn’t produce the suit, he doesn’t get paid. A shoemaker doesn’t make the shoe, he doesn’t get paid for it. But we just by working and learning, we receive reward from that. And we get pleasure from that. We don’t have to produce the finished product. It’s nice obviously, and eventually our understanding will grow. But the main thing is that we have to fix times to learn. And before Shavuos is a time, now is the time. It’s an eis ratzon, it’s a time of mercy, particularly in the ability to mekabel upon ourselves ol Torah, to receive upon ourselves the yoke of Torah. Now is the time and if we fix a time to sit and learn, we make a chavrusa, learning partner, we find the time to learn, then we will receive all the blessings that God wants to give us.
A Powerful Parable
The verse says, “And if you walk contrary to me, then I too will walk contrary to you.” The translating of the word bekeri which means a happenstance, a happening. In other words, if you only go and do mitzvos some of the time, so I’ll only deal with you some of the time. That’s what Hashem says to the Jewish people. The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a parable. He says, one time there was a king. He used to give out gifts at certain times of the years when there were holidays, he give gifts to all of his servants and his ministers. He also had a set of doctors, but he didn’t give them gifts. But if they got into trouble, he would help them out.
One time, one of the king’s advisors asked the king, “Why don’t you give gifts to the doctors also? The king explained. He said, “The servants are the ministers. They’re always my servants, and always my ministers. Every single day they work for me. But the doctors are only around when I get sick. When I’m healthy, they don’t even remember that they work for me. So, I treat them the same way. I don’t give them gifts, but if they get in trouble I help them.” What’s the nimshal, conclusion?
If the Jewish people are constantly serving God in a kavua way, in a fixed way, so God will be with us constantly. But if we serve Him bekeri, by happenstance, once in a while, so God too, He’ll be around once in a while when we need some help.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
One time Rav Shach was deeply immersed in learning. He was sitting on the porch in front of the yeshiva. He was deep in his thoughts. But one young boy rushed into the yeshiva, didn’t notice Rav Shach was there. He bumped into him, and he knocked him down in front of his chair. So, too other young men immediately came and they picked him up and put Rav Shach on his chair. The young boy was so scared, he didn’t know what to do. He begged Rav Shach for forgiveness. “Please forgive me.” Rav Shach says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then the boy got more nervous. He says, “Please, please. Ask Rav Shach to forgive me.” One of the other boys came to Rav Shach and he said, “Listen, our friend Rav Shach, he wants you to forgive him.” Rav Shach says to him, “Now I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He explained to him, “The boy came and he knocked you down, he knocked you out of your chair.” He says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Nobody knocked me down.” This is a true story. Rav Shach was so involved in his learning and his thinking, he didn’t even know he was knocked down and put back into his chair. That was the quality of the gedolim, the great Torah scholars. They were totally involved, and this reminds me of another story of Rav Baruch Ber.
One time somebody came to Rav Baruch Ber to ask him a sheilah, to ask him a question. He said, “Come back in two hours to give me time to come out of this sugya.” In other words, he wanted two hours to come out of what he was learning in order to be able to answer this question.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen continues to talk about criticism. You should never say, “You shouldn’t have done it that way, but you should have done it this way.” Why? Because the first half of the sentence knocks out the second half. And you surely shouldn’t say, “It would have come out better if I would have done it,” because you’re telling the other person, I’m better than you.” You have to soften things up. You should say something like this, “I think we – we should not have done it that way.” And don’t compare your spouse to somebody else. Don’t say, “I wish you were like my sister.” It’s just provoking them. And if you need to tell your spouse something, you should help out in the house a little bit before. Where do we learn it from? Moshe Rabbeinu. It says, Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t give rebuke to the Jewish people until he conquered Sichon v’Og and gave them the land. Once they got the land, then he rebuked them.
Now, there’s a lot of different reasons why people criticize. Maybe they’re just a negative person. Maybe they picked it up from their parents. Maybe they suffered a lot, and they feel a permanent sense of discontent. Or maybe they’re lacking in their family life, so that’s what they’re complaining about. And they’re trying to vent their frustration. In that case, you have to check out what’s the underlying problem. Does a person feel unappreciated? So then you have to praise them more. And don’t say, “How can I give a compliment to this person who is constantly criticizing me?” Ada rabba, just the opposite. The compliments will solve the criticism. And sometimes criticism is very subtle. For example, if you say, “Why?” it comes out as a criticism. “Why don’t you come to the table? Why are these toys all over the floor?” That’s criticism, or sarcasm. “Oh, I really appreciate that.” That’s a type of a criticism also. When you give non-constructive criticism to another person, it cuts off all forms of communication. And really, all the person is doing is he’s venting his own personal anger, because his needs are not being met. He’s venting his anger.
Rav Dessler says on this, “You have to be very careful, because a person will be judged in the Heavenly Court for hurting another person, or causing them pain for your own enjoyment.” Here are a couple of rules for what not to do. Do not criticize your mate the moment they walk in the door. These things are so obvious, but everybody does them. The person’s coming home from a hostile environment. Who knows what happened on the road, what happened today. They want to come into their house to feel relaxed, to feel safe. The last thing they want is a critical remark as soon as they walk in the door. Just wait a while.
Also the opposite, don’t criticize as soon as you walk in the door. If you want your spouse to say, “Well, I hope he doesn’t come home. I hope they don’t come home. Maybe they’ll be late. Maybe I’ll get lucky, something will happen to them along the way, I won’t have to deal with them.” It destroys the relationship. Also, don’t criticize as soon as the person’s about to leave the house. It’s very common. People want to vent their anger as soon as the person’s about to leave, so they don’t have to have a fight. But at least they get the point in. It’s very destructive. Why? Because the person all day thinks about what their spouse said to them as they walked out of the house. And they see other couples talking to each other. They see other people and they’re thinking, “Everybody in the world is more friendly and more nice to my wife or my husband.” Also, don’t criticize when you’re about to go out for dinner. These things are so obvious, and everybody does them. Why? Because before you have to go out, there’s all kinds of pressure in the house to get out, and the kids are acting up, and the pressure goes up. But shut your mouth. If you want to have a pleasant evening together, don’t start the night criticizing each other.
And another rule – don’t criticize when the other person is trying to make things pleasant. You’re going to ruin it, and they’re not going to want to try again. Also, do not criticize at mealtime. At mealtimes, everybody wants to sit down and relax. The pleasure that you get from the meal helps a person to relax. You don’t want to make the meal full of tension. You’re just going to build the tension in the house.
And don’t criticize right after something negative happened. Let’s say something happened, they did something wrong. Wait. And lastly, never criticize your spouse in front of other people. This is the worst. Why? Because now she feels or they feel that there’s a whole team against her. It’s not only you, it’s you and the guests, and it’s very bad for the relationship.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please go to iTunes right now and leave a comment and a rating. Thank you.
Stephan Sundkvist says
Teaching is in itself a reward, as you may add some good to your life. And we need to avoid any kind of intellectual greed, as this is only a way to raise ourselves above others. Humility is the leading star in all learning processes. And we must never believe that we have reached any peak of knowledge, as the Torah is an endless stream of knowledge with no limits.
G-d will judge us measure for measure, as He is the Truth Himself and always just and fair.
May G-d help us to keep and maintain peace at home and wherever we are, not to find faults in others and project our own failures and frustrations on others.
Peacemakers are constructors, critics are destroyers.