The entire series has been published in a book titled "Reachings" and can be ordered by calling 845-356-8948.
Comments and questions are always welcome.
In the Torah we often learn about moral heights to which we can aspire, heights which we might not otherwise have imagined. In today's parsha we read about moral depths to which we can sink.
"But if ye will not hearken unto Me and will not do all these commandments, and if ye despise My Laws, and your soul reject My social regulations so that all My commandments be not fulfilled, whereby ye break My covenant, then I also will do the same unto you ..." (Lev. 26: 14-16, trans. Hirsch/Gruenfeld).
Rashi, who is always worth studying, is especially so in this parsha; he seems to have illuminating insights on every sentence. The phrase quoted above: "And if ye despise My laws" ("Ve-im bechukosai timasu"), he explains as: "If you despise the performance BY OTHERS of My laws". The Mizrachi (R. Eliahu Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1448-1526, commentator on Rashi) explains this as meaning: "If you yourself perform mitzvos, but resent the same thing in others"!
What does this mean? Because so much depends on this (a blessing one way, a curse the other!) it is worth while considering this carefully.
It is perhaps easiest to understand this by considering the workings of organizations. Suppose you are involved with teaching Torah, and have built up a certain reputation, and then some other person (or organization) moves into town, to do the same. What should your reaction be? That depends on what you view as the purpose of your work. If it is for the glory of G-d, then you should be pleased about it: the more, the better! But if it is for your own glory, then you may find yourself resenting the newcomer. His presence, and his successes, detract from your status. You are no longer the only game in town.
As we come towards the end of the period of counting the Omer, let us remember that during part of this period we mourn the loss of thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students. We may assume that they all learned the Torah day and night, and observed the mitzvos. So why did such a terrible fate befall them? The Gemara says that they did not show proper respect to one another. Rashi explains: they did not rise for one another, and they called one another by their first names.
Clearly, they did not need to show one another the same respect they showed their Rebbe, Rabbi Akiva, but they should each have realized that their colleagues were also talmidei chachamim, and shown one another some elementary courtesy. (Instead of addressing a colleague, for example, as "Chaim", they could have said: "Reb Chaim.") It seems that each student was more concerned with his own status as a Torah scholar than with giving honor to his colleagues.
Among observant Jews, there is probably not such a great problem with resenting our neighbors' material progress (their new home, or their new car). But there is, I am afraid, quite a problem with resenting their spiritual progress, whether in learning or whether in the performance of mitzvos. Perhaps we feel that such progress on their part threatens our own status, or even shows up our own deficiencies!
We should be as concerned with, and as happy about, our friends' spiritual progress, as we are with our own.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"
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