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Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Insights on Chumash

Highlighting: “Rav Moshe on Chumash, Vol 2” by Rabbi Avraham Fishelis. Adapted by Rabbi Avrohom Biderman. ArtScroll Mesorah Publications. 2022. English. Hardcover. 420 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422631676.

During his lifetime, thousands of Jews flocked to hear Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, the acknowledged Torah leader of the generation, speak. His depth and breadth of knowledge, his understanding of Torah and of human nature, and his awesome humility all came through clearly in his shmuessen and derashos.

Rabbi Avraham Fishelis, z”l, was a talmid muvhak (devoted student) of Rav Moshe, as well as a menahel at his yeshivah, Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem. In his multivolume Hebrew Sefer Kol Rom, he presented insights from thousands of Rav Moshe’s shmuessen and derashos.

ArtScroll’s Rav Moshe on Chumash has adapted Sefer Kol Rom into a flowing English work. These pieces on the Chumash contain gems of hashkafah and Jewish thought, insights and life lessons. This new sefer is perfect for the Shabbos table or to be savored by anyone looking to be inspired once again by the gadol hador. The divrei Torah are short, practical and easy to repeat.

The first volume covered Sefer Bereishis and Sefer Shemos. The brand-new ArtScroll volume covers Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim. The following are a number of excerpts from the new sefer on this week’s parsha, Bechukosai.

 

Walking the Walk

If you will go in My decrees (26:3).

The Torah generally refers to “performing” decrees or “safeguarding” them. Why does it sometimes use the term teileichu, “you will go”?

There are times when a person with noble spiritual goals sets out to achieve them in his own unique way, but his method might be contrary to the Torah. Hashem is saying, “Go in My decrees; follow the well-trodden path of those who preceded you, without changes or leniencies, because that is how you will truly bring honor to the Torah.”

In the very first pasuk of Tehillim, King David says, Praiseworthy is the man “who has not walked” in the counsel of the wicked. Wicked people know that if they want to successfully influence others, they cannot suggest acts that are blatantly sinful. Instead, they try to convince people that the “old-fashioned ways” are no longer relevant, and they have new ideas that will make the world a better place. “Walking in their ways” means being ensnared in their trap, the first “step” toward spiritual disaster.

For example, some people try to draw young men away from full-time Torah study by contending that if they were to become Torah-observant professionals or businessmen, they would be successful in inspiring others to observe mitzvos. Although those making the argument may be sincere, this is actually “the counsel of the wicked.” In reality, the way to attract others to Torah observance is by bolstering our own Torah study, Divine service and fear of Hashem.

Another reason the pasuk refers to “going” is that our Torah study and observance must accompany us—go with us—wherever we are. We must use every opportunity to learn Torah, no matter where we are—even thinking Torah thoughts when no texts are available—and we must follow the Torah’s many laws in all our dealings and interactions.

Another lesson is based on Rashi’s explanation that “go in My decrees” refers to toiling in Torah study. To go in a specific path indicates forethought and consistency. A person cannot decide that he can learn proper Torah behavior by simply watching and copying those around him. He must actively go in the way of Torah, studying a great deal and making certain that he clearly understands what he studies, in order to know how to act properly.

Some people suggest that since we now have an abundance of printed Torah works, there is no need for yeshivos. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, we are told (Kiddushin 66a) that King Yannai became heretical the moment he entertained the suggestion of the wicked Elazar ben Poriah that there is no need for Torah Sages because Torah study could be continued by using written works. We need yeshivos and their rebbeim to transmit the Torah and to guide their students to properly understand the many printed works.

It is impossible for a person to fully immerse himself in two pursuits; one invariably yields to the other. Since we can truly acquire Torah only by going in its ways, and a person going in a specific way is completely on that path, it is wonderful that we have kollelim that enable young men to continue their studies even after marriage. Freed from the need to pursue careers, they can immerse themselves completely in their studies and develop into great Torah scholars.

 

How Does the Rain Become Yours?

Then I will provide your rains in their time (26:4).

The Gemara (Berachos 35a-b) notes an apparent contradiction between two pesukim in Tehillim. One (24:1) says “To Hashem belongs the earth and all that is in it,” while the other (115:16) says “The heavens are Hashem’s, but the earth He has given to mankind.” Does the earth continue to belong to Hashem, or did He give it to mankind?

The Gemara explains that the earth is Hashem’s before we recite a bracha (blessing), but once a person makes a bracha, Hashem gives it to him, i.e., He allows us to enjoy His world as if it is our own. Indeed, the Gemara there teaches that if a person benefits from this world without making a blessing, he has unlawfully benefited from Temple property.

While we can apply this concept to food and certain other benefits over which we recite a bracha, it would seem that every pleasure that does not require a bracha, such as rain, continues to belong to Hashem. How, then, can our pasuk refer to “your” rains?

To resolve this question, let us explore a different one: How is it that infants, who cannot recite a bracha, are allowed to eat? Although an employer pays his worker only after the job is done, he provides the employee meals so that he will have the energy and the state of mind to do his job better. Even if something arises after the meal preventing the employee from doing his job, he need not pay for his meal since he was prepared to work at the time he ate. This proves that whatever the employee ate actually belonged to him.

Hashem provides a child’s food for a similar reason; He is investing in the child’s future service. This, then, is another way for a person to acquire something from Hashem.

The Rambam (Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel 13:13) writes that anyone who has been inspired to shun the mundane affairs that occupy most people, and instead devotes himself to serving Hashem and the pursuit of His knowledge, is like a member of the tribe of Levi and becomes “Hashem’s portion.”

In our pasuk Hashem is speaking to a person who follows His decrees and observes His commandments and performs them. Since this person is fully committed to His service, the rains that come are truly “his,” provided by the Employer Whom he stands ready to serve.

 

The Best of Both Worlds

You will eat your bread to satiety (26:5).

The Torah already said that there would be abundant crops, which would lead to having plenty of food. Rashi explains that “you will eat your bread to satiety” is an additional blessing: You will eat only a small amount, and the food will be “blessed in your innards” so you feel satiated.

But if we have enough food anyway, what is the benefit of this blessing?

Someone with spiritual aspirations does not want to be busy with physical pleasures. While he takes proper care of himself, he understands that preoccupation with such pleasures steals time from his spiritual pursuits and draws him into further indulgence, luring him from Torah and fear of Hashem. Thus, the blessing here is that a person will be able to spend less time on his physical needs while being fully satiated.

 

Divided We Fail

I will provide peace in the land (26:6).

Rashi explains: Although we will have food and drink, as promised in the previous pesukim, they are worthless if we do not have peace. Hashem therefore reassures us that He will give us peace. “This teaches us,” says Rashi, “that peace is equal to everything else, as it says [in the daily prayers], He makes peace and creates everything.”

Our pasuk cannot be discussing peace as opposed to armed battle, because in wartime there are shortages of food and drink. Furthermore, people’s lives are in danger during war, so it is obvious that peace is more important than any pleasure; there would be no need for Rashi to quote a passage to establish this.

Our pasuk must therefore be speaking of a different kind of peace: peace within our own ranks. And Rashi is teaching that we might have all our material needs, but it is all worthless if there is internal discord.

When there is strife among Torah-observant Jews, the damage is far worse than not having food or drink. It does harm to the honor of the Torah, to mitzvah observance and to proper middos. Since those are the primary reasons for our existence in this world, if discord diminishes them, all material advantages become worthless. (Rav Moshe shared this thought at a conference of yeshivah principals. He added that it is doubly important for there to be harmony among the staff in a school, principals and teachers alike. If there is friction in a school, the staff cannot achieve its vital goal of sanctifying Hashem’s Name, enhancing His honor, and setting students on the path of proper Torah behavior.)

 

Let People See

Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword (26:8).

When five people pursue 100, each person pursues 20 people. Proportionately, 100 should be able to pursue 2,000, so how can the pasuk say that 100 will pursue 10,000?

Rashi explains that when many people do a mitzvah together, their power is exponentially greater. Thus, the power of each individual in a group of 100 is five times as great as one who is part of a group of five.

The Torah places great value on walking modestly with Hashem, your G-d (Michah 6:8)—the mitzvos we do privately, in the inner sanctums of our homes. However, when others see us and learn from our example, our reward is multiplied and we have the merit of having many students. And our pasuk teaches that when we impact others through doing a mitzvah publicly, the mitzvah itself becomes that much more potent. Just as we must learn Torah, support its study, and fulfill mitzvos, it is also important to influence others by letting them see that we do so. Similarly, we benefit from watching others doing mitzvos since we are motivated by them.

 

A Matter of Attitude

I will place My Sanctuary among you; and My Spirit will not loathe you (26:11).

Our pesukim speak of the blessings Hashem grants us when we obey Him. It would seem obvious that Hashem should love us when we observe the Torah; why does He have to reassure us that He will not loathe us?

Sometimes people perform mitzvos and follow the Torah only because they are obligated to, rather than doing so with joy and excitement at the privilege of serving Hashem. While He certainly rewards such a person, He does so only out of obligation, rather than willingly, because, in reality He finds such performance loathsome. Our pasuk is exhorting us to enjoy the opportunities Hashem gives us to serve Him so that He will not loathe our mitzvos.

There is another way to understand why Hashem can loathe a person who performs mitzvos: when the person remains spiritually stagnant. The pasuk is telling us that even a Torah-observant Jew must make certain to constantly grow and develop, and not become loathsome to Hashem by continuing to perform mitzvos apathetically, simply by rote.

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