Friday, April 27, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim

Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, for the next few weeks Eretz Yisrael and Chutz La'aretz will be one Parsha off. Since I am in Eretz Yisrael, I will be following the calender here. This week in Chutz La'aretz they will be laining Parshas Tazria-Metzora. For a link to the Dvar Torah, click here. We will continue to be one week off till Parshas Bechukosai.

      Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim discusses the Bnei Yisrael’s obligation to be קדוש, holy. As the chosen nation of Hashem and the (at this point in the Torah, future) residents of the holy land of Eretz Yisrael, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards to be deserving of our title. Some of the topics covered are immoral relationships, Avodah Zara, and various laws of בין אדם לחברו, interpersonal relationships, and בין אדם למקום, relationship between Man and God. The Torah makes very clear that a prerequisite for staying in Eretz Yisrael is the keeping of these standards. It explains how other nations were forced to leave Eretz Yisrael at various points in history specifically because many of these abominable acts were a normal part of their lives.
       I would like to take two similar pesukim from the end of Parshas Acharei Mos which express this idea and compare them. The first pasuk says, “וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ“The land became impure and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the Land vomited out its inhabitants” (Vayikra 18:25). Rashi has no comment on this pasuk. A few pesukim later, the pasuk says, “וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם“Let not the land vomit you out for having made it impure, as it vomited out the nation that was before you” (18:28). These pesukim are almost completely identical, yet here, Rashi gives a mashal (parable) on how to understand this pasuk. He explains that a prince who is used to eating only the finest quality foods, and one day is fed something of lesser quality, he will vomit it out. So too people who do Aveiros are forced out of Eretz Yisrael. Two questions immediately arise at this point. First off, how are these pesukim different that Rashi does not comment at all on the first pasuk but does comment on the second? Secondly, why does Rashi need to explain to me what vomiting is? The experience is most likely something familiar to us all, so why does Rashi feel the need to give me a mashal to explain exactly how it works?
       This week’s Parshah contains probably the most famous Ramban in the entire Torah and it is written on the pasuk we just brought, Pasuk 25. The Ramban asks, what do the immoral relationships that the Torah just spoke about (See 18:6-24) have to do with staying in Eretz Yisrael? The obligation to be moral is a physical commandment, not dependent on the land? He explains that every single country has a ministering angel which is its’ conduit between that country and God. While God still controls everything that goes on, there are certain laws of nature that are put in place which control what happens in that place. Everything flows with very few changes in the natural order of things, the seasons change, the weather is consistent and time goes on.
       In Eretz Yisrael however, everything works differently. There is no angel between God and the land, Hashem himself oversees everything that happens. This means that there are no rules of nature; if it is cold in the winter, it is because Hashem decided that this day in the winter should be cold and not just because there is a natural system in place running things. This idea is seen especially by rainfall which is not as simple in Eretz Yisrael as it is in other places. More than anything else, Hashem wants to see our actions and hear our tefillos before he brings rain, he does not just bring it because of natural law. And when we do pray for rain, Hashem will bring it in the best way possible. Chazal teach us that when the rain falls, it will fall only on Wednesday and Shabbos nights, which are times when people do not generally go out (at least at the times of Chazal), and only at the time of night when everyone is actually inside. This applies only to Eretz Yisrael and nowhere else. Outside of Eretz Yisrael, while Hashem certainly controls what goes on, since he uses an angel as a conduit, his presence is not as strong.
       The Ramban brings a Tosefta (Avodah Zara 5:5) which says that as long as Bnei Yisrael are in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem will be a God to us. However if we are not in Eretz Yisrael, then it is as if he is not our God. This point certainly presents some difficulty, how could this be that at certain times in history Hashem will act as if he is not our God? The Ramban then brings a Sifri (Eikev 43) which says that Hashem tells Bnei Yisrael that if they will be forced to leave Eretz Yisrael they must continue to perform the mitzvos while they are in exile in preparation for when they will perform them when they eventually return. What an incredible statement from the Sifri! The Ramban explains this statement that performing the mitzvos is only necessary in the land of Israel since only there is there a proper spiritual atmosphere. However, outside of Eretz Yisrael, they aren’t necessary! There is no obligation (and maybe even no purpose) to mitzvos outside of Eretz Yisrael. The only reason why we still do mitzvos nowadays outside of Eretz Yisrael is to make sure that we do not forget how to do them for when we return. However, the עיקר, the main purpose, of the mitzvos is to perform them in Eretz Yisrael. This is the natural form of Torah, to keep it in Eretz Yisrael.
       To summarize the Ramban, because Hashem’s presence is strongest in Eretz Yisrael more than anywhere else, it is more sensitive to Tumah than anywhere else. Therefore, if we do not act morally while we are here, the pasuk of “וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ“and the Land vomited out its inhabitants” applies. Secondly, Eretz Yisrael is the only place in the world where mitzvos can be performed to their fullest potential. Because of this, the obligation to do mitzvos outside of Eretz Yisrael is only in order to remember how to do them for when they can be done in Eretz Yisrael.  
       Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in his famous work, The Kuzari, says that every country in the world has something special which they produce better than any other place in the world. For example, France grows the best grapes for wine, the United States has tremendous wheat fields covering the Midwest, and so and so forth. What is the special material produced in Eretz Yisrael? The Kuzari says that it is Nevuah, prophecy. He explains that the natural effect of Eretz Yisrael is to bring someone closer to Hashem, ultimately resulting in the high spiritual level of Nevuah. Simply being in Eretz Yisrael leads a person on this path.
       If we put this together with the Ramban, we come out with an unbelievable idea. The Ramban says that Eretz Yisrael is constantly under Hashem’s watch and is the only place in the world where mitzvos can be done with the complete spiritual effect. Simply put, it is much easier to get closer to Hashem in Eretz Yisrael than anywhere else in the world. However, this closeness is only from the standpoint that Hashem is here. The Kuzari says that it is from the standpoint of Eretz Yisrael itself that we can get closer to Hashem! The land itself was created with a special ability to bring you closer to Hashem, bringing you closer to the level of Nevuah.
       My rebbi, Rabbi Elchonon Fishman, used these two Meforshim to explain our Rashi. In Pasuk 25 it says, “…וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיה“and I recalled its iniquity upon it…”. The pasuk says that Hashem will notice the Tumah that has been done in the land, and then “וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ“and the Land vomited out its inhabitants”, meaning that Hashem will throw them out. This is the pasuk that the Ramban comments on since his point is Hashem’s direct supervision over Eretz Yisrael and nowhere else. However, in pasuk 28, the pasuk says, “וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם“Let not the land vomit you out”. There is no mention of Hashem at all in this pasuk! It is the land that will throw you out, just like the Kuzari explained. Since we might not understand how it could be that an inanimate piece of ground could do this, Rashi brings this Mashal here of a prince. Since he is not used to eating foods of lesser quality, he will automatically vomit out something below his standards, simply as a natural reaction. He cannot prevent this from happening, he simply cannot handle this food! So too Eretz Yisrael cannot handle people of lesser quality, i.e. sinners and immoral people, and will automatically vomit them out. Rashi even brings the Targum here to translate this word, “תָקִיא”, to mean, “ריקון”, which means to empty itself out.
       In the first pasuk in the Torah, Rashi asks, why does the Torah start from the story of the Avos and the Shevatim? If the whole purpose of the Torah is to teach us the mitzvos, why don’t we start from Parshas Bo where the first mitzvah is recorded? Rashi answers that the entire Torah from Parshas Bereishis till Parshas Bo was written in order to prove to the world that Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish People. According to what we have explained, this makes perfect sense. Eretz Yisrael is the key to the entire Torah! It is the only place where the mitzvos can be performed to perfection. Therefore, before the Torah starts teaching us the mitzvos, we must know that we own Eretz Yisrael. It shows us that the whole point of creation, and the only place where every action you do is a mitzvah, is in Eretz Yisrael.        
       As Jews, the driving force in our lives is to get closer to Hashem. According to Chazal, Eretz Yisrael is the only place we can do this completely! Nowhere else can we fulfill the true potential of mitzvos. And when we do the mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael, we do not live under the laws of nature, rather, we live under the constant actions and monitoring of Hashem. A land where every step is a mitzvah, where every event is dependent on the Torah, where everything you do pushes you closer to God; why would you want to be anywhere else?

Shabbat Shalom!

Last year Parshas Acharei Mos fell out on Pesach so there was no Dvar Torah.

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