Parshas Behar - Bechukosai
May 7th-8th, 1999
Iyar 22, 5759
Due to technical difficulties, our usual Insights edition could not be produced this week.
Here, in its place, is a beautiful chapter on Parshas Behar from the book, Outlooks
and Insights on the Weekly Torah Portion, by Rabbi Zev Leff, Rav of Moshav Motisyahu in
Israel, and well-known writer and lecturer. See you next week.
Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d; for I am
Hashem, your G-d. (25, 17; Artscroll translation.) [This verse describes the
prohibition of onaas devarim, hurtful or deceitful words.]
ONAAS DEVARIM--TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD.
In addition to the prohibition of onaas
mamon, cheating ones fellow man monetarily by overcharging our underpaying, the
Torah also prohibits various forms of onaas devarim, verbal deceit. Onaas
devarim takes many forms: inviting someone for a meal knowing that he will be out-of-town
on that day; inquiring about the price of merchandise when one has no intention of buying,
but only wishes to compare it to the price of an item already purchased; reminding a baal
teshuvah [one who has returned to religious observance] of his previous sins; telling a
person who is suffering misfortune that he is being punished for his sins.
In the first two cases of onaas devarim, the element of deceit is relatively
clearcut. By inviting someone knowing they cannot accept, one creates a sense of
reciprocal obligation on their part. Similarly, posing as a would-be customer causes
the merchant to waste his time and effort in anticipation of a would-be sale. But
where is the deceit in the last two examples? Reminding a baal teshuvah of his
sins may cause him pain, but how is it cheating or deceitful? And if someone tells
his friend who is suffering that he is being punished for his sins, there is certainly an
element of truth in the statement.
To understand how all those examples are linked, we must refine our understanding of onaah
(oppression). With respect to onaas mamon, the essence of the sin is not the
monetary loss caused another since that is already subsumed in the prohibition on theft.
Rather the essence of the sin is the creation of a false impression about the value
of the object being sold.
It is difficult to see what false impression is created by taunting a baal teshuvah
or a ger [convert] with reminders of their past, yet it is there. Chazal [our Sages, of
blessed memory] tell us that a convert is like a new-born person and he is no longer
connected to his past. So, too, a baal teshuvah totally divorces himself from
his past sins; they are not only forgotten but can even be transformed to merit through
teshuvah. Hence, one who reminds these individuals of their pasts, as if it is still
part of them, creates a false impression that causes them pain.
Similarly, telling someone who is suffering that his
suffering is a result of his sins may falsely imply that he is not an essentially
righteous person, and that his apparent fear of G-d is but a pretense, when in fact, his
suffering is the result of specific shortcomings which in no way define his spiritual
Truth is the seal of Hashem. Truth is real and enduring; falsehood fleeting.
Reality bears Hashems seal, for He can be discerned within it. One who
distorts reality, thereby hides Hashem. For that reason liars are among those who
will not receive the face of the Shechinah [Divine Presence.] G-d cannot be found or
identified in falsehood.
The word emes (truth) represents the totality of
existing reality. Its letters span the entire aleph-bais, aleph being the first
letter, mem the middle letter, and sav the final letter. All the letters stand
firmly on a base or two legs. By contrast sheker (falsehood) is composed of three
letters grouped together at the end of the aleph-bais and which stand either on a point or
one leg. As Chazal say, sheker has no legs. It is neither substantive nor
The attribute of emes is personified by Yaakov.
For this reason Satan chose to wrestle with Yaakov and not with Yitzchak or
Avraham. Avraham personified chesed (kindness) and Yitzchak personified avodah
(service to Hashem).
Satan knew that as long as emes was not firmly
established in the world, he could live with chesed and avodah. Without emes, chesed
can be distorted into sexual immorality and avodah into idolatry. Once emes is
firmly established, however, then chesed is true chesed and avodah is true avodah.
The Telzer Rosh HaYeshivah, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz, ztl, explained the
words of Chazal, The study of Torah is equal [literally opposite] all of them [the
mitzvos], as follows: To be sure that our mitzvos are truly mitzvos, they must be
placed opposite Torah learning, i.e., appraised in light of the emes of Torah, lest they
be corrupted into distortions of chesed or avodah.
We live in the period of ikvesa dmeshicha [the footsteps of the Messiah], the last
stage of exile, about which Chazal say, Truth will be missing. The
Jerusalem Talmud says that when people lie, nature follows suit. Clouds form, and it
appears that rain will fall, but no rainfalls. Today a person can arise in the
morning and dress in imitation cotton clothing, put on imitation leather shoes, sit on an
imitation wooden chair, eat a breakfast of imitation egg with imitation meat, salted with
a salt substitute and washed down with fruit juice that contains no fruit. We live
in a period where truth is lacking--hence the proliferation of synthetics and imitation,
even in nature itself.
During Elul a milkman came to the Telzer Rav and
confessed that he had been diluting the milk and cheating his customers. He sought a
program of repentance. The Telzer Rav told him that the first step was to
immediately stop diluting the milk. A week later the milkman appeared before the
Rav, obviously upset. I have stopped diluting the milk as the Rav prescribed,
and my business is suffering. People refuse to drink my milk. They say it doesnt
taste right. Once can become so used to sheker, that it appears to be emes.
It is no wonder, then, that the Shelah HaKadosh [Rabbi Yeshaya Hurwitz, 1560-1630]
emphasizes that success in child raising and education must be founded on the attribute of
truth. One must strive to inculcate in every Jewish child an unswerving respect for
the truth, which will create a foundation for proper conduct in all other areas.
Let us seek to be among those who love truth and
peace, and in this merit see the world of falsehood disappear as smoke and make way
for the world of truth with the coming of Mashiach soon in our days.
[Copied from Outlooks and Insights on the Weekly Torah
Portion, by Rabbi Zev Leff, Artscroll/Mesorah.]
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