Thursday, February 26, 2015

the beauty of the zayis

1. The Midrash opens our parsha by explaining why Hashem chose to call Bnei Yisrael specifically a zayis, an olive, when there are so many other beautiful plants that the Jewish people are compared to in Tanach:

 ואתה תצוה הה"ד (ירמיה יא) זית רענן יפה פרי תואר קרא ה' שמך וכי לא נקראו ישראל אלא כזית הזה בלבד והלא בכל מיני אילנות נאים ומשובחים נקראו ישראל בגפן ותאנה שנאמר (תהלים פ) גפן ממצרים תסיע תאנה שנאמר (הושע ט) כבכורה בתאנה בראשיתה כתמר שנא' (שיר ז) זאת קומתך דמתה לתמר כארז שנא' (תהלים צב) כארז בלבנון ישגה כאגוז שנאמר (שיר ז) אל גנת אגוז ירדתי וקראן בכל מיני שלחים שנאמר (שם ד) שלחיך פרדס רמונים ובא ירמיה לומר זית רענן יפה פרי תואר אלא מה הזית הזה עד שהוא באילנו מגרגרין אותו ואח"כ מורידין אותו מן הזית ונחבט ומשחובטין אותו מעלין אותו לגת ונותנין אותן במטחן ואח"כ טוחנין אותן ואח"כ מקיפין אותן בחבלים ומביאין אבנים ואח"כ נותנין את שומנן כך ישראל באין עובדי כוכבים וחובטין אותם ממקום למקום וחובשים אותן וכופתין אותם בקולרין ומקיפין אותן טרטיוטין ואח"כ עושין תשובה והקב"ה עונה להם מנין שנא' (שמות ב) ויאנחו בני ישראל וכן (דברים ד) בצר לך ומצאוך כי אל רחום ה' אלהיך הוי זית רענן יפה פרי תואר
Just as the zayis is pounded and crushed and beaten until it finally produces a drop of precious oil, so too, Bnei Yisrael are sometimes beaten and oppressed by our enemies until we finally cry out a precious cry to G-d and he answers us.

How does that answer the question?  Why not compare us to the grape or the fig or some other fruit that doesn’t require pounding and beating to bring out its beauty? 
The Sefas Emes (5639) explains that it’s no chiddush to say you are wonderful and beautiful when everything is perfect and life and smooth.  What Chazal are telling us is that even when we need a little pounding, even when Hashem is forced to bring suffering on us, when we are not looking so good, it doesn’t mean he loves us any less or wants to hurt us.  Even when we are being punished, that punishment is like the crushing of the zayis – it removes the outer chaff and reveals the wonderful oil that is stored inside (see this previous post for a different approach).

2. There is an interesting Midrash in the middle of the parsha that says that when Hashem told Moshe, “V’atah hakreiv eilecha es Aharon achicha v’es banav…” Moshe was angry and upset.  Hashem consoled him by noting that Moshe was the one who delivered the Torah to Klal Yisrael and therefore has that merit.

Is it possible that Moshe was jealous of Aharon being selected instead of him?  The same Moshe Rabeinu who pleaded with G-d to select Aharon to be the go’el of Klal Yisrael instead of him?
There are a bunch of meforshim who all take basically the same approach, but I’m going to use a Ksav Sofer because he puts the answer in the context of a vort from his father the Chasam Sofer that at least for me, given the events I’ve been dealing with, had a little more meaning.  The Navi (Melachim I 2:1-3) writes that when David haMelech grew old and was about to die, he commanded his son saying as follows:

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי דָוִד לָמוּת וַיְצַו אֶת שְׁלֹמֹה בְנוֹ לֵאמֹר
אָנֹכִי הֹלֵךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ כָּל הָאָרֶץ וְחָזַקְתָּ וְהָיִיתָ לְאִישׁ:

He then goes on with additional instructions about being a mentch and keeping Torah, etc.  There is one phrase that doesn’t fit.  “Anochi holeich b’derech kol ha’aretz” is not, as the rest of what David goes on to say is, an exhortation to Shlomo to do anything.  It’s a description of David’s condition, a recognition that he is about to die.  Shouldn’t it therefore come before the word, “Vayitzav…,” before David starts giving Shlomo a final charge?

The Chasam Sofer answers that once a person passes on, they are no longer a “holeich.”  Their situation is static – they cannot “go” anywhere.  They are spiritually fixed in place.  But there is an exception.  If a person has decedents who take inspiration from his life and therefore dedicate themselves to doing more mitzvos and learn Torah, that person’s spiritual “stock” (so to speak) continues to rise even after death -- they continue to be a "holeich."  David exhorted Shlomo to first and foremost make him a “holeich,”make him someone who will continue to grow and not remain static after death.
When Moshe heard that not only Aharon, but also his children as well, were called to be kohanim, he was jealous of that spiritual legacy that Aharon would be able to pass on to his children.  Moshe Rabeinu did not have children who were like him, but he desired to be a "holeich" even after death as well.  Hashem consoled Moshe with the observation that he, Moshe, gave us Torah, and through our learning, we, all of Klal Yisrael, not just Moshe’s children, in effect carry on his legacy. 


  1. Doesn't shtim with the words בדרך כל הארץ, but excellent nonetheless. It's also nice to know that even if a person's kids are third rate, his spiritual legacy can continue through others.

    1. It bothered me also that the lashon doesn't fit so well (and the lashon haMidrash also doesn't work out perfectly) but I liked the Chasam Sofer too much to not mention it.

      Someone else can continue the legacy, but I'm not sure it's the same. I saw IIRC in the Netai Gavriel on Hil Aveilus that when you learn l'zecher nishmas someone, you have to mention who you are doing it for. The exception to the rule is when a son learn for a parent, where we assume br'a mezakeh aba even b'stama. (Moshe's status as the nosein haTorah is not really comparable to anything else.)

  2. When a person lives a true life of Torah, then his whole metzius and life is an iluy nishmas.
    I was saddened to hear about your loss, and with you as his legacy, There's an eminent iluy nishama!

  3. When a person lives a true life of Torah, then his whole metzius and life is an iluy nishmas.
    I was saddened to hear about your loss, and with you as his legacy, There's an eminent iluy nishama!