June 25, 2024
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The Beraita tells us in Masechet Megillah, “Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar said: Ezra enacted that the Jews should read the tochacha (rebuke) in Bechukotai two weeks before Shavuot and the tochacha in Ki Tavo two weeks before Rosh Hashanah.” What is the significance of reading these sections before Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah and why two weeks before and not the week before?

The Yerushalmi tells us about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar who, upon coming out from the cave where they’d been for 13 years, saw a trapper trapping birds. When the trapper held up his net to trap a bird, a voice from heaven said “guilty” and the bird was caught. When a voice from heaven said “exempt,” the trapper missed and the bird got away. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai turned to his son and said, “If the birds have such personal hashgacha and not one bird is caught before its time, then we can leave the cave free of worry for the bounty on our heads.” After spending 13 years steeped in Torah in the cave, did these Godly Tannaim really need the birds and a voice from Heaven to remind them of God’s hashgacha pratit (personal providence) in the world?

Rabbi Nebenzahl says that this message is not so much for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son but really for us. Often in life we know of a value or halacha, we read something that sounds logical, but it remains in our minds as an intellectual achievement. It remains as “and you shall know this day” but never reaches “and consider it in your heart” (Devarim 4:39). Rabbi Nebenzahl explains that the whole purpose of mussar, studying ethics, is to take what’s already in a person’s mind and to bring it to action. The book Mesillat Yesharim opens with the author writing that he’s not teaching us anything new, just reminding us of what we already know.

The Rambam explains that the mitzvah of temurah (substitution) in this week’s parsha also echoes this idea. An animal that is designated for a specific sacrifice cannot be switched with a different animal. If switched, it’s a sin and both animals must be sacrificed. The Rambam explains in Hilchot Temurah that this is because the Torah understands a person’s mindset. We are often inspired to do something but that inspiration can be fleeting. It’s human nature to want to amass wealth, and in our excitement we may promise to give something but then regret it afterward. The inspiration doesn’t always last. So an animal designated for sacrifice remains the designated one. The Torah laws are Divine advice from the Great Adviser, all for our own good, ensuring that our actions follow what our minds know is right.

This may explain the break between the messages of tochacha and Shavuot. If Shavuot would fall straight after we read the tochacha we may do good only out of shock or fear. With an extra week to digest and imbibe the messages, internalize them and act based on them, then it shows we didn’t just hear the tochacha, “and you shall know this day,” but have also placed it deep in our hearts.

We can relate this to the current period between Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, the time of year to renew our connection to Eretz Yisrael. So many of us know Eretz Yisrael is the place to be but often that knowledge remains in our minds and doesn’t translate into “consider it in your heart.” Let us try to strengthen our connection to the Land of Israel—to think more seriously about moving here, visiting here and sending our children here—to not only have Eretz Yisrael in our minds but also in our actions.


Rabbi Shalom Rosner is a rebbe at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh and rabbi of the Nofei HaShemesh community. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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