Surf A Little Torah
Yeshivat Har Etzion
by Rav David Silverberg
In Parashat Ekev, Moshe makes a brief reference to the incident of Korach's rebellion: "… and what He did to Datan and Aviram… when the earth opened up and swallowed them along with their households, their tents, and everything in their train… " (11:6). The final clause of the citation is somewhat difficult to translate: "v'et kol hayekum asher b'ragleihem." Firstly, what does the word "yekum" mean? (When we quoted the verse, we avoided the problem by translating the word as "everything.") Secondly, the verse writes that this "yekum" was "b'ragleihem," literally, "in the legs" of Datan and Aviram (Korach's cohorts). What does that mean?
Rashi understands "yekum" as a reference to money, "which puts an individual on his feet." The Keli Yakar follows this line of explanation, that "yekum" refers to money, only with a more elaborate etymological basis. The word "yakum" occurs in Chumash in the context of assault, of rising up against another (see Devarim 22:26). The expression, "asher b'ragleihem," suggests the Keli Yakar, refers to the control man possesses over his assets. Money and property have no mind of their own; the owner alone decides what to do with them. However, this very same money, which is found "under one's feet," often becomes "yekum," a force that turns against the individual and controls him. All too often, the lust for wealth and luxury dictates a person's life and literally exerts control over his most critical decisions in life, while ideally money should remain under one's feet, subject to the control of the owner.
This depiction of money very well suits the context of this verse. As Chazal stress, the participants of Korach's rebellion were motivated largely by greed. They allowed their instinctive drive for power to overcome them to the point of irrationality. Datan and Aviram witnessed all that Moshe had done for Benei Yisrael, but still had the startling audacity to accuse Moshe and Aharon of taking them from a "land flowing with milk and honey" - a cynical reference to Egypt - to die in the wilderness. Indeed, their lust for power had grown to such an extent that they could defy the authority of Moshe on the most absurd bases. Their assets were indeed "yekum," property that turned against and seized control of their owners.
Parashat Ekev receives its name from the second word in the parasha: "V'haya ekev tishm'un…" God promises blessing and prosperity should Benei Yisrael obey the mitzvot. Rashi comments that the use of the word "ekev," which literally means "as a result of," implies here the other meaning of the word "ekev" - a heel. Meaning, the Torah here refers specifically to those "mitzvot kalot" - "light mitzvot" - that "individuals step on with their heel."
The standard explanation of Rashi's comments involves mitzvot that, for whatever reason, people treat with less seriousness than others. The Taz, however, in his commentary to Rashi, suggests that the mitzvot to which Rashi refers are good deeds above and beyond the strict letter of the law - "lifnim mishurat hadin." God promises us prosperity if we not only observe the mitzvot, but demonstrate a willingness to perform beyond the minimum required mode of piety.
The Pardes Yossef suggests that we view in this light the seemingly strange interpretation of the Da'at Zekenim M'Ba'alei HaTosafot. The Da'at Zekeinim explains that the mitzvah of which Chazal speak in this context is none other than the mitzvah of tzitzit. The Pardes Yossef explains this approach based on the fact that, strictly speaking, one bears no obligation to don tzitzit. The Torah requires that should one wear a four-cornered garment, he must append tzitzit to the corners. No obligation exists to wear the four-cornered garment. Yet, the prevalent custom is for men to make a point of wearing four-cornered garments in order to purposely obligate themselves in and perform this mitzvah. Thus, tzitzit is representative of the attitude of which the Taz speaks. The greatest level to which we can aspire is the longing and yearning to fulfill God's command. Such a mindset will lead one to actively pursue opportunities of mitzvah observance, rather than seek for legal loopholes to excuse oneself from one halakha or another. It is this approach to mitzvot that renders us worthy of God's eternal blessing: "He will favor you and bless you and multiply you…"
Parashat Ekev opens with God's promise of prosperity should Benei Yisrael observe the mitzvot. The word "ekev" ("as a result of"), after which the parasha is named, has caught the attention of commentaries throughout the ages. As discussed in an earlier S.A.L.T., Rashi understands the term, which also means "heel," as an allusion to specifically those mitzvot most often ignored ("trampled upon with one's heel"). Other commentators and "darshanim," however, offer various other interpretations.
The Ketav Sofer also adopts the meaning of heel in this context, but arrives at a different interpretation of the verse. He translates the phrase, "V'haya ekev tishm'un" as, "If afterwards, you will listen…" Meaning, Benei Yisrael are bidden to "listen" - to understand, only after their actual performance, as the verse continues, "… ushmartem va'asitem otam…" The Torah here speaks of reward if we first perform the mitzvot and only thereafter seek rationalizations thereof. Only such absolute obedience demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our covenant with the Almighty, thus warranting the reward mentioned in the verse: "Hashem your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant that He made on oath with your forefathers."
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev likewise accepts the reference to the human heel, only he focuses not on the chronological element raised by the Ketav Sofer but rather the association of the heel as something of lesser significance, a mere afterthought. The ultimate reward for mitzvah observance is beyond quantification in worldly terms; it comes only in the infinite World to Come. The reward of which the verse states, which involves material success and prosperity, is but the heel, an afterthought. The tail-end of the reward awaiting mitzvah observers is described in Parashat Ekev; the main reward cannot be described, even by the Torah itself.
The second of the three parshiyot of shema appears in this week's parasha, Parashat Ekev. Both of the first two parshiyot of shema make reference to the obligation of loving God "with all your heart and with all your soul." A third clause, "and with all your might," appears only in the first parasha, in Parashat Vaetchanan, but not in the second parasha, in Ekev. Some commentators attribute this discrepancy to the fact that whereas the first parasha is written in the singular form, directed towards the individual, the second parasha addresses itself to the community as a whole. (This approach appears among the commentators in different forms - see Keli Yakar; another explanation along these lines is offered in the name of Rav Chayim of Volozhin, "v'akmal.") Reb Yisrael of Rizhin, however, bases this difference on a more fundamental distinction between these two parshiyot. The mishna in Masekhet Berakhot (2:2) tells us that in the first parasha of shema we accept upon ourselves "the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven." That is, we declare "Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad" in order to reaffirm our recognition of the Almighty as the supreme authority over us and the world at large. In the second parasha, says the mishna, we proceed to the second stage - the acceptance of "the burden of mitzvot." After having proclaimed our allegiance to the Almighty, we then go ahead and affirm our unwavering commitment to His laws.
Therefore, says the Rizhiner, "with all your might" appears only in the first parasha. When it comes to the fulfillment of mitzvot, there are limitations in the scope of theirapplication. (See, for example, Bava Kama 9a-9b regarding the maximum expenditure required for the fulfillment of "mitzvot asei.".) The Torah could not have written "with all your might" in the context of mitzvah observance, since there are points at which one is not expected to use all his strength, be it financial, physical, etc. The first parasha, however, demands that we love God even with all our might. Our basic, existential awareness of God as our supreme Ruler knows no limits. There are no circumstances under which one may for even a fleeting moment loosen the yoke of Heaven from his shoulders. So long as he breathes the breath of life, one must see himself as bound by divine authority. The practical application of mitzvot is subject to the myriad details of halakha, and at times one may find himself exempt from a given obligation. But this is only the second parasha of shema. In the first parasha, however, there is no such thing as exemptions. At every moment, in every sense, an individual is subject to the unlimited authority of the Master of the world.
Among the mitzvot found in the first two parshiyot of shema (the second of which appears in our parasha) is the mitzvah of tefillin. One of the important halakhot regarding this mitzvah is that of "guf naki," bodily cleanliness, which requires an especially strict standard of hygiene and control over one's bodily functions while wearing tefillin.
A startling expansion of this halakha emerges from the writings of the Chatam Sofer. The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat 49a and 130a tells about a man named Elisha Ba'al Kenafayim. The Roman government issued an edict prohibiting Jews from wearing tefillin under the threat of death. Elisha defied the order and wore tefillin publicly and unabashedly. Once, a Roman officer found Elisha wearing tefillin, and Elisha immediately fled. The officer chased after him, and just before he caught up to the "criminal" the latter quickly removed the tefillin from his body and held them in his hand. The officer came to Elisha and asked, "What's in your hand?"
"The wings of a dove," came the strange reply. Elisha opened his hands and, miraculously, his hands contained the wings of a dove. Elisha then became known as "Elisha Ba'al Kenafayim," or "Elisha the Person of the Wings," in commemoration of this remarkable incident.
Tosafot question why Elisha first removed his tefillin before confronting the officer. After all, the halakha requires one to sacrifice his life for the sake of any mitzvah during times of governmental decrees prohibiting their observance. Elisha should have therefore kept his tefillin on even at the threat of death. Tosafot answer that removing one's tefillin for a brief moment does not constitute an act of neglecting the mitzvah. Therefore, he was under no obligation to keep them on continually, even when the authorities outlawed the performance of the mitzvah of tefillin.
The Chatam Sofer asks perhaps a more obvious question regarding Elisha's conduct. Halakhic considerations aside, what did he gain by first removing his tefillin? Either way he was dependent upon a miracle; what advantage did he have by removing his tefillin before confronting the official?
The Chatam Sofer explains Elisha's actions based on the requirement of "guf naki." Elisha knew that he would have to lie to the official and tell him that he had with him dove's wings instead of tefillin. Although lying to save one's life is permissible, it violates the requirement of "guf naki," of physical cleanliness while wearing tefillin. Uttering falsehood, even when permitted, renders one's body unsuitable for tefillin. (This idea may find an allusion of sorts in the Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillin 4:25.)Therefore, removing the tefillin actually constituted a mitzvah in this instance, insofar as it preserved the inherent sanctity of the tefillin. It was therefore specifically in the merit of the maintenance of the sanctity of tefillin that Elisha earned this miracle. (For an elaboration of the Chatam Sofer's approach, see Rav Eliezer Waldenburg, Tzitz Eliezer vol. 13, 10.)
Leaving aside the difficulty in accepting this inclusion of impeccable honesty under the requirement of "guf naki," certainly a powerful lesson emerges. Dishonesty inevitably affects an individual, even when doing so is sanctioned. Although we may not understand how lying adversely affects one's physical being, we can clearly appreciate the effect it yields on one's personality. Even when some form of dishonesty is permitted, one must be wary of the possible impact doing so will have on his habitual routine of speech and conduct.
In Parashat Ekev, Moshe recounts the events surrounding Ma'amad Har Sinai. Twice, he speaks of his prolonged stay atop Mount Sinai: "I sat on the mountain forty days and forty nights" (9:9); "And I stood on the mountain like the earlier days, forty days and forty nights" (10:20). The Gemara in Megila 21a notes the apparent contradiction between these two verses regarding Moshe's position during his stay on the mountain. The first verse implies that he sat, while the second suggests that he stood. (The second verse speaks of Moshe's receiving the second tablets, which occurred after Moshe's forty-day stay to receive the first tablets, and thus the Gemara's question seems out of place. The Maharsha upholds the question based on the second verse's explicit comparison between these two periods of study, which indicates that they were both conducted in a similar style.)
The Gemara presents several resolutions to the contradiction, concluding with that suggested by Rava: Moshe stood for the easier topics of study and sat when grappling with the more difficult issues. What does this mean?
Rav Chayim of Volozhin explains that, as that same Gemara states earlier, standing during learning shows respect for the sanctity of the subject matter. Only as a result of the onset of general frailty did people begin sitting during Torah study. Therefore, Moshe stood while learning Torah atop of Mount Sinai. Standing, however, naturally weakens an individual and could potentially interfere with his concentration. Therefore, Moshe decided to sit when he encountered particularly difficult subject matter. He would not allow the respect manifest by standing to get in the way of his comprehension.
Rav Chayim derives from here an interesting axiom: Torah learning itself takes precedence over "kavod haTorah" - respect for the Torah. Generally speaking, of course, the two can and must coexist. A Torah student cannot possibly engage in learning properly if he does not afford the honor that the divine Word so clearly deserves. At times, however, these two ideals conflict. Moshe teaches us that when this occurs, one should prefer the actual learning and comprehension over the highest standards of respect for the Torah. (Nefesh HaRav, p.314)
Towards the end of the second paragraph of shema, which appears in Parashat Ekev, we encounter the mitzvah of mezuzah. An interesting contemporary issue relating to this mitzvah arises regarding elevators. If a Jew owns a building with elevators, must he affix mezuzot to the door posts leading in and out of the elevators? When the construction of multilevel buildings with elevators began gaining popularity in Israel, this question became very relevant and reached the desk of Rav Yitzchak Weiss zt"l, who penned a response to this issue in 1964. His discussion was then published in Minchat Yitzchak vol. 4, 93.
As Rav Weiss notes, one may theoretically exempt an elevator door from the obligation of mezuzah for one of two reasons. First, there is the issue of size. As codified in the Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 286:13), a room requires a minimum size of four-square "amot," which equals either 6- or 8-square feet - for the obligation of mezuzah to apply. Many elevators lack this minimum size. Secondly, a mobile chamber is not included in the mitzvah of mezuzah. For example, rooms in a ship do not require a mezuzah (Y.D. 286:11).
Nevertheless, Rav Weiss argues that one should, in fact, place a mezuzah on an elevator do. He bases his contention on the view of the Chamudei Daniel (cited in Pitchei Teshuvah, Y.D. 286:11) who introduces a significant limitation on the exemption of small rooms from the obligation of mezuzah. The Chamudei Daniel maintains that this exemption applies only to residences less than 4x4; when dealing with a residence, the small size of the chamber testifies to the impermanence of its use as a residence. However, a door leading to a garden, porch, or storage room less than 4x4 must have a mezuzah. Since these types of rooms are often small, there is no reason why the obligation of mezuzah should not apply, the size indicates no lack of permanence. Therefore, claims Rav Weiss, since an elevator is not considered a place of residence, it falls under the same category as the doors spoken of by the Chamudei Daniel, and size plays no role in determining the obligation of mezuzah.
Rav Weiss then proceeds to extend the Chamudei Daniel's provision to the second issue, as well - the elevator's mobility. He contends that regarding this halakha, too, the Chamudei Daniel would require a mezuzah. A mobile residence does not generally require a mezuzah since it cannot, by definition, be considered permanent. An elevator, however, clearly does not serve as residence; it functions as part of the building, and therefore its mobile quality does not render it "temporary." Hence, one cannot exempt it from the mitzvah of mezuzah. However, given the fact that the Chamudei Daniel represents the minority view, Rav Weiss recommends that owners of buildings with elevators affix a mezuzah to elevator doors without a berakha. Furthermore, he adds that one who wishes to rely on the Chamudei Daniel's disputants may do so and exempt themselves from placing mezuzot on elevator doors.
Rav Weiss also adds that one must distinguish between the door of the elevator itself and the door outside the elevator on each floor. Regarding the latter, he notes, certainly no obligation applies. If the elevator itself requires a mezuzah, then the mezuzah of the elevator suffices for the outer doorway, as well. Conversely, if the elevator door itself does not require a mezuzah, then one cannot obligate the outer doorway, whereas it leads into an area exempt from the obligation of mezuzah.
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