Table Talk: Behar-Bechukotai
Dealing With Evil: Is it better to focus on destroying evil or on turning the evil into good? The verse in this week’s portion says, “I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land.” (Vayikra 26:6) Targum Yonatan explains that God will not allow the animals to hurt anyone. It does not mean that there will not be any wild beasts in Israel. The Torat Cohanim teaches that this was actually a debate between Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Shimon: Rabbi Judah taught that there will no longer be dangerous animals in Israel. Rabbi Shimon taught that the word for “Stop” – “V’hishbati” – shares the same root as “Mizmor Shir l’yom HaShabbat” – The One Who Stops destructive forces from causing damage. He compares this to Isaiah 11:6: “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” The two rabbis seem to be debating whether that there no longer be evil beasts in the land, or that they continue to exist but God prevents them from harming anyone. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 9) teaches that although David successfully “killed” his Evil Inclination, he was not as great as Abraham who transformed his into a friend! This seems to follow Rabbi Shimon’s approach. The Turei Zahav (Orach Chaim 585:12) believes that we pray to achieve a level at which even Satan will becomes an advocate for us. Discuss which approach you believe and then examine which approach you take when battling your Yetzer Harah.
“Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” (Vayikra 26:42) Jacob’s name is spelled with an extra “Vav” as it is in four other places in the Bible. Elijah’s name is spelled five times with the letter “Vav” missing. Rashi explains that Jacob took the “Vav” from Elijah as security that Elijah would come to announce the coming Redemption. How could Jacob grab a letter from Elijah’s name? How does the letter serve as security that Elijah will announce the Redemption? I offer a hint: The Sefer HaPardes teaches: “ When God was about to create Adam, some angels argued and said, “What is man that You even think of Him?” (Job 7:17) God took out His finger and burned them. He then summoned the angel Elijah and asked him what he thought. “Master of the Universe! If it is good to you then it is good to me. If You desire I will descend as a man and serve you as one.” That is why Elijah was sent down from the heavens as a man during the time of Ahab.” The first angels understood man’s failings and did not believe that he could rise above them and serve God as he should. Elijah appreciated the potential of a human being and was willing to act on his understanding. He was willing to be sent to this world as a human being with struggles and limitations in order to have the opportunity to serve God even as a man and not an angel. Elijah’s existence is a statement of faith in human potential.
Having a Rebbi
One of my Uncle Noach’s students asked if he could keep 5 rather than 6 hours after eating meat according to the custom of Rav Noach, his Rebbi. “You cannot claim that I am your Rebbi if you don’t know the 48 Ways by heart!” The student didn’t know them. He still waits 6 hours after eating meat. I want to defend my uncle’s ruling: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When a man shall clearly utter a vow of persons unto God.” (Vayikra 27:2) There are times when a husband may release his wife of a vow, just as a father may release a child. A Talmid Chacham – Torah Scholar is empowered to release someone from a vow. However, he too has limited authority. God was upset when Yiftach made a vow to offer the first thing that greeted him when he returned victorious from battle. (Judges 11:31) Will Yiftach offer a camel or donkey or dog if they are the first to greet him?” God sent Yiftach’s daughter to be the first to greet her victorious father. (Vayikra Rabbah 37:4) Yiftach could have gone to Pinchas to be released of his vow, but he did not. The Chidah (Chomat Anach: Matot 3) explains that the sage can only release someone from a vow if that person accepts the Sage’s authority. (Based on Kli Yakar: Beginning of Matot) The Sefat Emet (Ta’anit 21b) applies this concept further: A Rebbi’s merit can protect a student only if the student accepts the full authority of his Rebbi and honors him appropriately.