In connection with the terrible tragedy that happened in Meron where so many young people, each one special in his own way, were plucked from us in such a quick and cruel way. People have been searching for meaning and therefore we should start with the simple and basic meaning of all this.
The Rav began with a story he heard from his Rebbe Reb Berel Soloveitchik. Reb Chaim Brisker had three sons and the least known was Reb Yisrael Gershon who was a bit eccentric. One Erev Pesach there was a Chassidish Rebbe, a pseudo Rebbe, who was baking Matzos and he had a Minhag to make יב חלות out of the dough. So he was slowly cutting the dough into twelve pieces, with a lot of כוונה and would chant “Aleph” and then he would do the same for the second and so on. Reb Yisrael Gershon was standing there looking at his watch and he saw it was almost eighteen minutes so he yelled out “CHAMETZ.” The Rebbe calmly responded, with his hand upward to שמים, “Oy Chametz, it’s such a serious Aveirah that even a drop of Chametz is Assur unlike any other Aveira. How could a human being even make sure not to be עובר on a משהו of Chametz? It must be that if a Yid does what he needs to do, what he is supposed to do, then the Ribono Shel Oilam will take care that he shouldn’t be נכשל in a משהו of Chametz. So I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing, cutting the יב חלות, and the Ribono Shel Oilam will take care to make sure he isn’t נכשל in a משהו of Chametz. Obviously, this story shows how things can be turned upside down and instead of us being responsible for what we need to be responsible for, we put that on the Ribbono Shel Oilam.
It would seem that in our time, this became the attitude towards Pikuach Nefesh. Pikuach Nefesh is such a sever thing to the point where even a Safek Pikuach Nefesh is דוחה כל התורה כולה so how could we make sure we avoid even a ספק פיקוח נפש? Therefore we developed an attitude that as long as we do what we need to do, like make big weddings during the pandemic, dance holding hands, not wear masks during davening, and gather in crowded places, the Ribono Shel Oilam will watch out for us and make sure that we aren’t נכשל in Pikuach Nefesh.
In Meron, particularly the place where the tragedy happened, there was a permit which allowed for 3,651 people and there were actually 20,000 people. How does such a thing happen? Because the organizers obviously felt that Pikuach Nefesh is such a big Aveirah, how could be even deal with such a thing and therefore we just have to do what we need to do, which is crowd as many people as possible into the space to see the Hadlaka and the Ribono Shel Oilam will watch out for us. Those leaders that are guilty and haven’t yet said one word of remorse, regret, or apology. That is their problem. But we need to know that leaders only behave as such as a result of an entire culture and attitude where we disregard the basics of רוצח ושמירת נפש. In the times of the Rishonim, they struggled to explain how we should fulfill even the Mitzvos Chukim, which we don’t understand. But today, it’s only the Mitzvos that we don’t understand that that have an appeal, the appeal of the irrational, and anything that makes sense is treated as something irreligious and therefore making sure we don’t get hurt and don’t hurt other people is not on our list of priorities. That brings about this kind of attitude, even adopted by our leader’s רחמנא לצלן.
Therefore, if a person asks what the message is, there is no need to look anywhere far. There is no need to attack the smartphones or Shaitels. If we act irresponsibly, we will suffer the consequences.
In this context, the Rav was reminded of a story of a couple that had a fish which got spoiled. The wife wanted to throw it out and the husband said “how could we throw it out, its Baal Tashchis.” When she responded what we should do with it, the husband replied we have a poor neighbor and he could eat it and so they did. The next day, they hear that the neighbor was taken to the hospital. So the man goes to visit his neighbor in the hospital. A day later he dies and he the husband goes to the Levya and gives a Hesped. The next day he goes to Menachem Avel the children. Finally his wife says to him, look what you did, don’t you feel guilty. So the husband responds why should I feel guilty? Through one small, little, spoiled fish I was able to fulfill so many Mitzvos. I did Tzedakah, Bikur Cholim, Halvyas Hames, and Nichum Aveilim.
The same thing we see with Meron. First of all, the Askanim thought there should be no limitations on who could come and they took credit for that effort at every given opportunity. They sold all sorts of Yeshuos and Brachos that one could get through the Hadlaka at Meron. But it was the irresponsibility of the organizers that killed such holy souls and they immediately go into the drashah mode, teaching us all kinds of lessons that we can learn from this terrible tragedy. They start suggesting people should do this and that, write a Sefer Torah. It’s amazing that from one Lag Baomer, they can squeeze out so many things.
Unfortunately today, everything is cheap. Kedoshim is a term said about a Jew who dies while standing up against Goyim who are trying to force him to worship Avoda Zarah or according to some opinions it’s about any Jew that is killed by a Goy because he is a Jew. But how are people that get killed in a stampede called Kedoshim. It is a tremendous tragedy that such fine people died, and at such a young age. But why should it be considered Korbanos or Kedoshim. Everything is cheap today. People say these things and it gets accepted and taken on immediately as if it makes sense.
Of course each individual should be מתחזק himself in his own personal life when such a tragedy occurs and it is מחייב him to do Teshuva. But that additional התעוררות took the place of the basic and more obvious message. We shouldn’t view this event as מקרה rather it has to do with the fact that we have been מזלזל in the value of human life. Instead of looking far and wide and blaming other things and having those reason replace the basic and obvious reason, we should learn a מוסר השכל from what is right in front of our eyes.
Pulling Back and Then Engaging
Parshas Behar begins with כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת לה' that when Klal Yisrael comes to Eretz Yisrael, there will be שמיטה. The next Pasuk says שש שנים תזרע שדך ושש שנים תזמר כרמך ואספת את תבואתה that for six years, they will work the field. And then the next Pasuk reiterates ובשנה השביעת שבת שבתון יהיה לארץ שבת לה' שדך לא תזרע וכרמך לא תזמר that the seventh year will be שמיטה.
The first question is that the order of the Psukim is seemingly wrong that the first Pasuk should be שש שנים תזרע שדך and then afterward it should say ושבתה הארץ שבת לה' because chronologically, it will first be the six years of work and then the seventh year will be שמיטה. So why does the Pasuk first start off with the fact that there is שמיטה and then mention the six years of working, and then circle back to repeat that there will be a seventh year of שמיטה. Not only are the Psukim seemingly out of order but the last Pasuk ובשנה השביעת שבת שבתון is seemingly superfluous.
Perhaps an answer could be as follows. When the Jewish people were in the Midbar, they were living on miracles. They were eating the מן, drinking water from the באר, and protected from the ענני הכבוד. They were completely removed natural life. Under such circumstances, they were able to see clearly the constant involvement of Hashem in their life. But now as they are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, כי תבאו אל הארץ, they are entering a reality of תזרע שדך תזמר כרמך ואספת את תבואתה. This new way of life puts them at risk of believing that all their success and achievements is because of their own effort and work-כי תאמר בלבבך כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה and they would fail to recognize Hashem in their success. Therefore, before they get to Eretz Yisrael and begin working on the land, they first must know בשנה השביעת שבת לה' that everything is really from Hashem. Although in the order the six years of work comes before the seventh year of not working, the idea is so important to realize beforehand because if they would begin working without that recognition, they wouldn’t stop.
The same idea is with the six days of work and the seventh day being Shabbos. Adam Harishon needed to be born on Friday right before Shabbos in order to experience Shabbos to have this recognition that everything comes from Hashem and then afterward can follow six days of work. But if he would’ve been created on day one with a full week ahead of him, he would’ve never stopped when Shabbos came.
This idea also has to do with the beginning of Bechukosai. The Medrash Raba in the beginning of the Parsha says the following:
הה"ד (תהלים קיט) חשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך אמר דוד רבש"ע בכל יום ויום הייתי מחשב ואומר למקום פלוני ולבית דירה פלונית אני הולך והיו רגלי מביאות אותי לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות
Dovid Hamelech says that every morning he was thinking should he go here or should he go there והיו רגלי מביאות אותי לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות. What is this all about? The idea is that not only in Gashmiyus should a person not become possessed by possession and he shouldn’t take the produce for granted rather he should recognize כי לי כל הארץ. So to also in Ruchniyus. If a person goes to the Beis HaMedrash and it’s something that is self-understood and habitual, then it loses its meaning and we lose our gratitude and we lose the זכות that Hashem gives us to be of the יושבי בית המדרש. Therefore Dovid HaMelech says that every day he started all over again and he thought maybe he should do this, or maybe he should do the other thing, maybe he should go do business. So he writes חשבתי דרכי that he gave חשיבות to his ways but ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך that he returned to the Beis HaMedrash. The reason is because if it’s habitual and self-understood, then it has no חשיבות. In order to retain the חשיבות, it needs to be new every day.
This is the same idea in the Pasuk שבתי בבית ה' כל ימי חיי לחזות בנעם ה' ולבקר בהיכלו. The word ולבקר is a visit but someone who is שבתי בבית ה' כל ימי חיי is not a visit rather is permanent. So the idea is that the permanence should not take away the daily excitement and it should have the excitement of that of a visit and it should be like new every day. This is the connection to beginning of Behar where it says שש שנים תזרע שדך and ושבתה הארץ that just like in Gashmiyus one must first pull away and then have the engagement, so too in Ruchniyus that maybe a person should first consider not going to the Beis Medrash but then decide to go.
מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני
Parshas Bechukosai begins אם בחקתי תלכו and Rashi says שתהיו עמלים בתורה. Rashi in the beginning of Behar says מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני and explains because מה שמיטה נאמרו כללותיה ופרטותיה ודקדוקיה מסיני וכו'. But even with this answer, it still needs to be understood why the Mitzvah of שמיטה was chosen to tell us this about other Mitzvos and therefore there must be a connection between שמיטה and הר סיני.
The Torah was given on Har Sinai and it was chosen for Matan Torah because it was מכיך מכל טוריא-the lowest of all the mountains. But if the idea is for it to be given on something lowly, then it should’ve been given in a valley which is lower than a short mountain. It must be that for Torah, complete שפלות is not what is required rather הר דמכיך which is the דרך הממוצע-the middle path. In Judaism, there needs to be a balance. This is the idea of שש שנים תזרע but on the other hand its שבתה הארץ.
Counting Yovel and Counting Sefira
When it comes to counting the years of יובל, the Pasuk in Behar says וספרת לך שבע שבתת שנים שבע שנים שבע פעמים. However, regarding the counting of the Omer, the Pasuk in Parshas Emor says וספרת לך שבע שבתות תמימות. On that Pasuk, the Gemara Menachos 65b says וספרת לכם-שתהא ספירה לכל אחד ואחד that each individual should count. Tosfos points out that by Yovel the Pasuk says וספרת לך which is only for the Beis Din. Therefore when the Pasuk by the Omer says וספרת לכם, we need a special drashah of שתהא ספירה לכל אחד ואחד to teach us that each individual needs to count the Omer as opposed to the counting towards Yovel which is only done by Beis Din. Why is it that the counting for יובל is only for the Beis Din but counting of the Omer is for each individual?
Perhaps the reason could be that it’s only the Beis Din, the Sanhedrin, who are the עיני העדה-the leading visionaries, who have the ability to look at a fifty year unit, as opposed to the vision of individuals which is much more limited. They don’t have the ability to look fifty years forward. Therefore, only a Mitzvah of counting seven weeks is a Mitzvah for each individual as opposed to counting fifty years which is only something that Beis Din can be in charge of.
In a similar vein, in the אגרות הרמ"ה (עמוד קנא) he writes that counting the weeks of the Omer is only מדאורייתא when there is a Beis Hamikdash but counting the days is מן התורה even nowadays without a Beis Hamikdash. The Ohr Sameach in הל' תמידין ומוספין פ"ז הכ"ב, quoting the רמ"ה writing about this says ואם תשאל מדוע, ע"ז אומר גזירת מלך הוא, ובסוד אלוקי מי יבוא. But it could be this same idea as above, that when there was a Beis Hamikdash, even though the individual wasn’t able to see fifty years ahead, nevertheless he was able to see seven weeks ahead. Whereas now during the Galus where we live day by day, we can’t even be expected to see a full week at a time. Therefore, nowadays, the Torah doesn’t demand from us to count the weeks, but only the days of the Omer.
לחמכם בתנור אחד
In the תוכחה, the Pasuk says ואפו עשר נשים לחמכם בתנור אחד (כו,כו). Rashi says the reason will be because מחוסר עצים-out of lack of wood. However the Rashbam says כי אשה אחת לא תוכל למלא את התנור פת meaning there will be a lack of food. How did Rashi know to explain the reason why ten women will bake in one oven is because of the lack of wood?
In Pesachim 37b, the Gemara says the following:
ורבי יהודה סבר: אין לחם אלא האפוי בתנור מעיקרא, וכיון דמעיקרא לאו בתנור אפייה - לאו לחם הוא. אמר רבא: מאי טעמא דרבי יהודה - דכתיב ואפו עשר נשים לחמכם בתנור אחד לחם האפוי בתנור אחד - קרוי לחם, ושאין אפוי בתנור אחד - אין קרוי לחם וכו'.
Reb Yehuda holds that בשלו ואח"כ אפו is פטור from חלה that if someone cooks something and then bakes it, it’s פטור from חלה because he has a drashah that something that was only baked in one oven is called לחם. But if it was first cooked in one oven and then baked in another oven, that’s not called לחם because only something that was processed in one oven is called לחם.
According to this Rashi understood that if the issue was the lack of dough but they had enough wood, then they wouldn’t bake it בתנור אחד rather they would first cook it and then bake it, which is not בתנור אחד, and then they would be פטור from חלה. So if they would be limited in food, then they would’ve done it in a way to פטור themselves from חלה. Therefore, it must be the issue was that in the תוכחה there will be food but the difficulty will be the lack of wood.
The Pasuk in the beginning of the Haftorah for Parshas Bechukosai says ה' עזי ומעזי ומנוסי ביום צרה אליך גוים יבאו מאפסי ארץ ויאמרו אך שקר נחלו אבותינו הבל ואין בם מועיל (ירמיה טז:יט). This that the Goyim will say אך שקר נחלו אבותינו הבל ואין בם מועיל-“Our ancestors inherited only falsehood, futility that has no purpose” is the idea in the Gemara Chullin 13b א"ר יוחנן: נכרים שבחוצה לארץ לאו עובדי עבודת כוכבים הן, אלא מנהג אבותיהן בידיה.