Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Bechukosai. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Bechukosai 5776
Trading in the Crown
This Shabbos, we focus on preparing for Shavuos, the day on which we accept the Torah. How do we do this? The Midrash (Vayikra Raba 35:1) teaches that the beginning of the parshah, which starts (Vayikra 26:3), “If you walk with my decrees,” alluding to the study of Torah, is connected with Dovid Hamelech’s statement (Tehilim 119:59), “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws.” What path should we be thinking about to help us turn our feet back toward Hashem’s laws?
The truth is that our preparations for Shavuos are more extensive than for any other holiday in Yiddishkeit. We prepare by counting for forty-nine days until we reach the day we receive the Torah. In addition, we cannot even miss a single day in the count, as the passuk says (Vayikra 23:15), “They shall be seven complete weeks.” Why do we have nearly two months of preparations for Shavuos, unlike any other holiday?
The Chofetz Chaim teaches that the one can discern how important something is from how much time and effort one spends preparing for it. Something unimportant requires little serious preparation. If one wants to make a cup of tea, this takes very little effort because a cup of tea is not that important in the big scheme of things. If one wants to make a fancy dinner, this is more important, so a person may work for a number of hours preparing for it. And if one wants to hold a bar mitzvah or wedding reception, because these are important events, one may spend many months preparing and planning. If one wants to become a doctor, because this is an important profession, he must study for many years before he will be granted a license to practice medicine. This is all because of the principle articulated by the Chofetz Chaim – there is a direct correlation between how important something is and how much time and effort one spends preparing for it.
We also see that the Mishnah (Avos 4:16) says that all of life in this world is simply a preparation for life in the World to Come. It must be that there is nothing more precious in the world than that. If every moment of our entire lives is a preparation to the world to come, this demonstrates that it is the most important thing.
Similarly, if the preparations for Shavuos and our acceptance of the Torah are more extensive than they are for any other holiday, it demonstrates that Shavuos has a unique importance not shared by any other day of the year. If Hashem commands us to count toward and long for the arrival of Shavuos for forty-nine days, it shows that we should value the Torah more than anything else. This preparation and the value we place on the Torah is therefore part and parcel of how we receive the Torah.
Unfortunately, even observant Jews usually place more importance on our silly obsessions than we do on Torah.
The Chofetz Chaim offers a parable: A king once commissioned two of the greatest artisans in his kingdom to create the most beautiful crown in the world. He spared no expense, permitting them to buy the largest, most perfect and precious stones available. In addition, he sent them to travel to another city, where the greatest goldsmiths and gemologists lived, to work on the crown with them. This “dream team” spent over six months toiling day and night on the crown. In the end, the king sent guards to escort the two artisans back to the kingdom along with the crown. On the way, the group passed a field where a few simple farmers were working their field, using two oxen to push a plow.
One of the two artisans said to the other, “I would like to show you something fascinating.” He then walked over to the farmers and introduced himself. “Good morning. I and my friend are passing through here on the orders of the king.” The farmers were duly impressed. He then continued, “Our job was to make the king the most beautiful crown in the world and our mission is complete. We are now carrying this crown back to the king. Would you like to see it?” “Of course!” they answered. So the man brought the box containing the crown to the farmers and opened it so they could gaze upon its beauty. They agreed that it was a magnificent crown. They were overwhelmed by its beauty.
The man then said to the farmers, “I will make you a deal. I will give you the crown in exchange for these two oxen. What do you say?” They thought for a moment and then the senior farmer said, “We have to discuss it. Just a minute.” They conferred privately for a few minutes and then the farmer relayed their decision: “I’m sorry but we cannot accept this trade.” “Why not?” “Because while we agree that the crown is very beautiful, without our oxen, how would we ever finish plowing our field?” The artisan thanked them and walked away, having demonstrated the wondrous foolishness of the farmers to his friend. How could they be so small as not to realize that if they had the crown, they would never have to plow another field again! How could they not realize the true value of the crown?!
The Chofetz Chaim explains that we make the exact same mistake as these farmers. We all love and value the Torah. We admire its unique beauty. But when it comes down to giving up a little bit of the silliness we normally obsess over in favor of taking out time for Torah, it just does not seem worth it to us. We give up infinite value in favor of fleeting enjoyment. Unfortunately, we are no wiser than the foolish farmers in the Chofetz Chaim’s parable.
That is what we are supposed to accomplish during Sefirah. Because we intuitively understand from our physical lives that the more one prepares for something, the more valuable it is, counting the days as we journey closer to the day we receive the Torah helps us internalize that the Torah is the most precious thing in our lives. By valuing the Torah more, it makes it easier to give up on the emptiness which had heretofore gotten in the way of our truly accepting the Torah.
That is why the seforim hakedoshim teach that the word Omer (עמר) has the same numerical value as the word yakar (יקר) – precious. It is also no coincidence that a word which is used more in this week’s parshah than in any other place in Tanach is keri (קרי) – haphazard or casual. Rashi (on Vayikra 26:21) explains that this means “temporary, by chance, something happening only occasionally.” It refers to when keep Torah and mitzvos only when they suit us, when it’s convenient and there is nothing else to do. And this word keri has the same letters as yakar, but in the opposite order, because such a casual attitude toward Torah is the antithesis of the recognition of its true, precious value. Only recognition of the true importance of the Torah in our lives can nullify our previously flippant approach to Yiddishkeit.
We have the power to nullify the 49 curses found in the rebuke section of the parshah, which are the result of taking Yiddishkeit too lightly, by counting the 49 days of the Omer, whereby we recognize the incomparable value of Torah by preparing for the day when we receive it.
This is why the Midrash quotes Dovid HaMelech’s statement, “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws,” when discussing our parshah. The way to walk in Hashem’s ways is by thinking about our path – by recognizing its profound significance and meaning.
How often do we think about how we spend our time to ensure that we make the right decision? On a summer Shabbos afternoon like this one, by the time one completes his Shabbos seudah, he will have five or six hours free before attending a shiur or minchah in the afternoon. How will he spend those hours? Let us say that one is going to take a long nap, even an hour or more. That still leaves several hours. How will he spend that time? Will he abandon the crown of Torah in favor of a couple of cows? Will he spend the afternoon reading articles or shooting the breeze with his family or friends, talking about sports, politics, or the like? Will he recognize the true value of whatever type of Torah he feels drawn to study? Or will he waste away the time this Shabbos, and then the next, and then the next? The alternative is living in a way that enables him to say, “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws.”
The truth is that if we recognize the importance of our goal and do not permit ourselves to gaze at all of the distractions around us, we can reach this goal. When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, zy”a, was a little boy, he was playing outside with his friends one day. And as boys are wont to do, they made up a somewhat dangerous game. They placed a plank up against a building and took turns attempting to run as close to the top as possible. Unbeknownst to the boys, the Alter Rebbe, zy”a, the Tzemach Tzedek’s grandfather, was watching them from the window of his study. After watching the game, the Rebbe asked someone to bring the young Tzemach Tzedek to him. His grandson came into the room and the Alter Rebbe asked him, obviously proud of how well he had performed in the game, “Tell me Mendel’eh, how is it that you were able to reach the top of the plank while none of the other boys could do it?” He answered, “Zayde, all of the other boys looked around them as they began walking up the plank. So they quickly became frightened of falling and came back down. But I just looked at the top and ran for it, without looking to the sides at all.”
This is how little Mendel’eh became the Tzemach Tzedek. He set his eyes on his goals and did not allow the distractions around him divert his attention away. He kept his eyes on the prize. He simply “thought about his way” and never stopped climbing.
May we too merit to recognize the true and infinite value of Yiddishkeit in our lives, such that none of us will ever mistake the oxen or other distractions in our lives as being more important than the Torah in our lives.
Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.