Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
Wow! As we conclude Sefer Vayikra this Shabbis, many of you should taka be proud of yourselves; especially those that have been reading my gevaldige insights since this endeavor began way back with parshas Devorim. We are mamish 4/5ths of the way there and though we will recite the following words at the conclusion of this week’s parsha, since I am the Oisvorfer, I shall begin with them. Chazak Chazak V’nischazek (be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened). So let’s not give up now, though this parsha could (should) mamish frighten a few souls away from the heylige Toirah learning, chas v’sholom!
Let’s begin with a few informational points, this way, you’ll efsher (maybe) have at least something intelligent to say at the shabbis table.. B’chukoisei is read separately in an iber yur (leap year) as the case happens to be this year; otherwise it’s read together with last week’s Parsha of Behar. Is that true? Well, that depends on where you live. If you live here in golus (the diaspora) it’s always the case, ober (but)- if you happen to live over in Israel it gets more complicated. So if you’re planning a bar mitzvah, halt kup (pay attention) to this detail. These two parshiois are also separated (even in a non leap year) in Israel when Pesach begins on Shabbis. Got that? It’s a shtikel complicated, but if you happen to be in Israel for Peasch next year, that’s exactly what you’ll experience.
And even though B’chukoisei is takah a small parsha (8th shortest), it packs one hec of a punch as we’ll soon learn. Nu, while on the mundane…the Shlishi aliya (3rd) happens to be the longest in the gantze Toirah, and consists of a whopping 37 pissukim. Why one needs to know this, I’m not quite sure but it’s certainly more pleasant information than what awaits us as we read the RBSO’s warning to the BNY. It’s there that we find one of the most dramatic and harshest sections of the entire Toirah, a section known as the “toichocho”. What is it and why is it so frightening? Simply stated, it’s a series of increasingly horrible events that will take place if we are to chas v’sholom abandon the RBSO and His heylige Toirah. Disease, famine, war and exile in all of their gory details are enumerated.If your blood pressure hasn’t spiked yet, read on. Yikes!
If you’re an occasional bed wetter, have trouble falling asleep, suffer from nightmares and or any other sleep disorder, do not read this parsha. Raboyseyee: parshas bechukoisei is not for the faint of heart.
This parsha is more well known for containing the toichocho (admonitions) than anything else contained in it (there is one other topic at the very end) and I’ve got news for you: they’re quite scary. And even though the toichocho found in this parsha is considered the “smaller” of the two found in the toirah (the other, in parshas Ki Sovoi), it’s still not too pleasant to read and hear. Ober, it’s not the style of the Oisvorfer to skip over sections of the heylige toirah. Hey- that’s what your Rebbe did in Yeshiva. Lehepech (the opposite): my job is to review and see if we can find a few hidden treasures in each parsha and lemayseh (in reality), usually we do. And with that gevaldige introduction, let’s taka see what the parsha has in store for us.
This parsha could have easily been named ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and taka that’s what the BNY are confronted with. The RBSO begins with these words: “If you follow my decrees and if you are careful to keep my commandments” (26:3), then good things will come your way. Note the double language of ‘if’ and ‘if’. Nu, it’s like this: if you follow the RBSO’s Chukim (decrees), all will be good: ober tomuh nisht (if not), all hell will break loose and you’re in big- no very big do-do. Shoin, got the picture?
Nu, to lure us in, the parsha begins with mamish a series of blessings that we will merit if we keep the Toirah. It’s only later, after we bought the ticket, that we are warned, quite graphically and sternly, of the calamities that will befall us if we do not. Among the brochois coming our way as a reward for being good yiddin is a promise of rain in its proper time. The heylige gemorah (Taanis 2a) tells us that rain is the deepest of all mysteries, (along with giving birth and the raising of the dead). Its source is above even the highest of spiritual worlds and its secret rests solely in the hands of the Creator Himself. The medrish tells us that the proper time for rain is on Friday night because that’s when people are home and don’t have to go out to work. Nu, I ask you: would you prefer rain during the week when you can get into your car and drive to work and are otherwise busy anyway or would you prefer rain on weekends? I don’t know about the rest of my readers, but I prefer walking to and form shul on Friday nights without rain. Ver veyst? Then again, the medrish predates the industrial revolution.
A very famous Rashi, one that zicher you’ve heard repeated many times, or at least should have, stated that the reason the RBSO gave us double language in the first possik is because more is demanded of us than just following the laws of the heylige toirah. And what might that be? Says Rashi: that we must be “Ameilim b’Toirah “, we must toil in Toirah. In other words: One must, if necessary, be prepared to eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation – but must toil in the Toirah. So we learn in Pirkei Ovois (6:4). And the more than givaldige news is that by reading the Oisvorfer’s toirah weekly, you are doing just that. You are learning, enjoying, laughing, discussing with chaverim (friends) and in general, toiling to chap every line and word. That’s what Rashi refers to by the words Ameilim, at least so I think.
Nonetheless, you’re still an oisvorf and therefore the RBSO in this week’s parsha set aside a great majority of the pisukim to warn the BNY and by extension, mistama us as well, to the Toichocho / Rebuke, which foretells the troubles and punishments that will (and have) come upon the Jewish People when they go off the derech (sin). The Toichocho warns repeatedly that we will continue to suffer as long as we attribute our suffering to “keri” (chance) rather than to our sins. Exactly what that means I was never exactly sure as my mind immediately wandered to the Baal Keri. Grada I was wondering as to why the RBSO went into such gory detail with the 49 curses that we find in the toichocho. Wouldn’t it have been just as effective or perhaps more so had He just said that something general like; ‘If you don’t keep my Toirah you’ll burn in hell’?
Back to Keri: The parsha makes it abundantly clear that many of the horrifying punishments enumerated are due to Keri אם תלכו עמי קרי – behaving casually with the RBSO. Which sin is explicitly described as an example of acting casually toward Him? You might have though it’s something big like having a casual fling ober (but) says the Shulchan Aruch that it’s forbidden to engage in work while one is reciting Birchas HaMozoin – bentching- (Grace After Meals). This too is Keri. The Mishnah Berurah writes that this prohibition includes not only a job which requires one’s attention and mental energy, but even a trivial task or looking into a book of Divrei Toirah. He adds that this prohibition is not limited to the recitation of bentching, and it applies to any blessing or prayer that a person is saying. The Chofetz Chaim explains that somebody who engages in other activities while he is blessing the RBSO is embodying the concept of אם תלכו עמי בקרי, as he is demonstrating a casualness and lack of respect toward mitzvois, for which the punishment is quite severe. Not that I’m belittling bentching, chas v’sholom but Efsher taka (maybe) Keri means only little things.
I was also thinking about how tough the BNY were; what thick skinned people we are. Alternatively, what sinners they were. Despite all the dire warnings in this week’s parsha and again repeated later in Sefer Devorim, the BNY seemingly shook them all off. Isn’t it emes that throughout history, the yiddin didn’t learn much of a lesson from these curses? They lost the Beis Hamkidash twice, were exiled from the land, and experienced innumerable other pogroms and massacres and yet the BNY continued to go about life without an accounting. Nu, who am I to give mussir? Anyway, the parsha is scary enough and the emes is that I don’t feel like talking about the gory details; instead we’ll look at a few factoids that pertain to the toichocho.
There was a time when no one wanted the dubious honor of being called to the Toirah to recite the brochois (blessings) before and after the Toichocho aliya: mistama they thought the parsha meant them specifically or that the Rabbi, Gabbai or head of the ritual committee was sending a message. Nu- in many shuls, this could taka be true. Way back in the 1920’s it was the minhag (custom) to have a pre-Bar Mitzvah bochur actually read this aliya. Today the minhag is to call the Ruv or the Gabbai, or the Baal Koirah himself to take this aliya. The toichocho is always contained within one aliya which begins and ends on cheerier notes, like the shmeer on the behind before the needle.
Says the mishna in Megila (31A) that: “ein mafsikin be-klalois” literally, “we do not interrupt the [reading of the] curses.” This refers to the reading of the toichocho. The mishna teaches that we may not end an aliya in the middle of this section; the one who begins must complete it. And what’s the basis for this ruling? Of course there is more than one opinion and here they are. According to Rav Asi, someone who has read only part of the klalois (curses) and stops is avoiding rebuke, and that’s a no no. An individual who is sincere about his avoidas Hashem (serving the RBSO) should be only too happy to have someone point out how they are lacking and what can be done to improve himself. According to Resh Lakish the issue is about making a bracha on this reading. It seems out of place to be able to stand up and make the Birchas Hatoirah with enthusiasm before reading the harsh rebukes and warnings found in the pesukim of the toichocho.
Of course the gemorah asks: what’s the solution to the brocho issue and how do we fix it? Of course the gemorah almost always asks a question only when it has an answer and suggests azoy: that one should add a posik (or a few pesukim -see Toisfus) before and after the toichocho so that the brocho relates to them (the added pisukim) as well. In other words: they found an elegant fix for the issue.
Not everyone liked this idea and a new minhag sprang up in many shuls which entailed reading the toichocho portion without a brocho, i.e. the one who received the aliyah would make the final brocho before the toichocho and then the toichocho would be read without anyone having made a brocho beforehand. As expected, this minhag had its own difficulties and detractors and was eventually abandoned. Bazman hazeh (in our times) the person getting this choshovo aliya does in fact make the borcho’s but the baal koirah reads the toichocho portion in an undertone, barely audible in a larger or noisy shul. More on that in a moment.
Says the heyige Gemorah (31B) that this halacho evolved (according to one opinion) from a principle mentioned in Sefer Mishlei (3:11) that we should not “despise rebuke.” By bringing the aliya to a close before concluding the sharp words of admonition, one gives the impression that he attempts to avoid the continuation, that he has heard enough. Nu, can we taka blame him? Do do you enjoy being admonished even by the eishes chayil, lectured and warned over and over? Shoin ginig (enough already)! Ober (but), Chazal (our sages) instituted that we must read the entire toichocho straight and uninterrupted to its completion, symbolic of the message that we must confront the bitter truth honestly, rather than trying to escape it. The fact that the curses of this section are very unpleasant to the ears, not to mention the heart, does not make it any less relevant to our lives; nor does it excuse us from carefully listening to and studying its harsh details.
All this got me thinking: if the RBSO wanted to warn us about what may lie ahead for the sinners and if the Mishna taka established that this reading is us critically important that we cannot make an hafsoko (stop), then why does the baal Koirah read them in a soft undertone so that barely anyone can hear him? Does this make sense to you? Wouldn’t you have imagined that someone should be yelling these out to us? Ver veyst?
Ok..veyter: Nu, another gemora mistama you didn’t learn in yeshiva states (Kiddushin 39b) that שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא ליכא – the RBSO doesn’t give a person reward in this world for the mitzvois that he does. You mean we do all this davening, learning and all these mitzvois for naught? And if that’s the case, how can our parhsa begin by stating that if the BNY study the Toirah and perform the mitzvois properly, that He will bless them in this world with rain and other goodies? Says the Ramabm: that although somebody who properly performs the mitzvois will receive the blessings which are promised by the Toirah, these are not considered his full and primary reward. The primary reward is yet to come in the World to Come. Mamish gevaldig. Incentive mamish!
Another borcho coming our way if we behave is that the RBSO will cause dangerous animals to cease from the land. Exactly what this means is avada also subject to a shtikel machloikes between Reb Yehudah who suggests that they will cease to exist mamish and Reb Shimon who says that they will continue to exist but their tendencies will have changed. Behavior modification efsher? Ver veyst. Let’s move on.
Nu, after hearing about the dangers of not following the RBSO’s orders, avada now you’re all back on the right derech (track) and mistama ready to move on to another topic; me too. Besides, unless you want gory details, I’m out of content and humor on this subject. Unlike the reading of the toichocho, I am avada allowed to jump around a bit and thought I might do so by mentioning that this past Wednesday, we celebrated another Yoim Toiv. What? You didn’t know Wednesday was a holiday? Which? What? How could it be holiday if it didn’t cost any money or if you and then entire family didn’t fly away, or at least go shopping for food and clothing? It can’t be! But it was: this past Wednesday we celebrated the yom toiv of Pesach Sheynee. What’s that you ask?
Unfortunately, most of you had no clue that you missed it and even fewer, know what this is. A holiday went by and you didn’t fly away to Florida, Israel, Arizona? The emes is that as a kid, I never heard of it either but given that my tafkid is to teach what the Rebbe didn’t, and even though, this topic is only mentioned in the toirah later on in Sefer Bamidbar, we’ll give it a shtikel introduction right here and now. The emes is that I can’t really fault the Rebbe since sefer Bamidbar is mostly read during the summer months and who was going to learn chumish in August?
Nu, Pesach Sheni – the “Second” Pesach, is always celebrated on the 14th day of Iyar, and this year, Wednesday past was the day. Basically, it’s a make-up date for individuals who were tamei (unclean), or traveling during Pesach, the first Passover. In The Sefer HaChinuch, this holiday is listed as positive mitzva #380. Perhaps one year you’ll get there.
Who was tamai and why? First, a little background: A person who was tamai (ritually unclean), was not allowed to bring and partake of the Korban Pesach, the Paschal Offering. In Bamidbar (9:6-8), we find that a group of people approached Moishe and Aharoin at the time the first offering was brought after Yitzyias Mitzrayim (the exodus). They, because of the fact they were ritually unclean from contact with a corpse, were not able to bring the offering. This group asked Moishe and Aharoin “Why are we being prevented to bring the offering with the rest of Israel, in the proper time?’ The response from Moishe was, ” Stand and hear what the RBSO has commanded you.” Then, the Toirah relates the laws concerning Pesach Sheni, an opportunity for all those who missed bringing the Korban Pesach in the proper time through no fault of their own, to bring this offering, and fulfill this special mitzvah.
What makes the Korban Pesach so special that the RBSO gave us a “make-up” date in the event we were not able to bring it on Pesach? I have no idea! Do we make up Succois if we missed eating a meal? Mistama, the Koraban Pesach is important enough that the RBSO wanted everyone to have the opportunity to partake. And though, these laws were not given in the ordinary manner, meaning the RBSO told them to Moishe who passed them along (in this case Moishe went to ask), seemingly they are quite important. Therefore, one who was unable to bring the offering for a reason beyond his control had the opportunity to bring the offering a month later, in the month of Iyar.
Not just anyone was able to bring a “make-up” sacrifice on Pesach Sheni. The Toirah mentions that the following can bring their sacrifice on Pesach Sheni: a person who was ritually unclean due to contact with a corpse at the time of Pesach and, a person who was in a distant place at the time of Pesach. The Ramban says that all that missed bringing the offering at Pesach have to bring it on Pesach Sheni. However, only people who were in a situation where their inability to bring the offering was beyond their control were exempt from bringing it on Pesach (and therefore not subject to any punishment.). This is not a loophole (unlike many others that we’ve grown accustomed to) for people who want to save money by missing the first Pesach and only celebrating Pesach Sheni.
Who taka qualifies? Let’s try some more gemorah (Pesachim 93a). Our Rabbis taught: The following keep the second [Pesach]: the Zov and the Zovo – remember them from a few weeks back?, male and female lepers, a nidah and those who had intercourse with a nidah, women after confinement, those who did not observe the first Pesach inadvertently, and those who are forcibly prevented, and those who [neglect it] deliberately, and he who is unclean, and he who was in ‘a journey afar off’. Not such a tiny list and seemingly includes a few categories that you may recognize, if you chap.
Rashi points out that indeed, even if a person stood on the threshold of the courtyard, right outside where the Pesach lamb is being sacrificed, and intentionally refused to join in the sacrifice, even this person is to be given a second chance. In effect he had been on a distant journey; he wandered far away from serving the RBSO. The message being clear: everyone deserve a second chance, if you chap.
So how do we taka celebrate Pesach Sheni? Seemingly there isn’t much to do and not much practical significance to this day as far as any performances or observances go. We do not say the Tachanun (a prayer of supplications which is normally not said on holidays) and some people have a minhag (custom) of eating left-over matzo, to commemorate the offering which was eaten with matzo. Then again, many others have a minhag of eating leftovers every Sunday- Tuesday of the entire year. This minhag was instituted by the neshei chayil (our wives). The good news is that we don’t have to sell our chometz to a goy in some questionable transaction.
A gitten shabbis and enjoy Lag B’oimer.
The Oisvorfer Ruv