Thursday, April 23, 2015

nigei batim and the zechus of Eretz Yisrael

1) Why is it that Reuvain, who advised that Yosef be thrown into a pit even though he knew “ha’bor reik ain bo mayim – aval nechashim v’akravim yesh bo,” that there were scorpions and snakes down there, gets credit in the Torah for saving Yosef, “vayishma Reuvain vayatzileihu m’yadam,” but about Yehudah, the one who actually pulled Yosef out of that dangerous pit, albeit to sell him to Yishmaelim, but sof sof Yosef lived and went on to greatness from of that sale, Chazal say that “ko ha’mevarech es Yehudah ain zeh elah men’eitz?” Why does Reuvain get credit and Yehudah gets scorn?

The R' Shmuel Ya'akov Rubenstein in his She'eiris Menachem answers that true Reuvain had Yosef thrown into a pit, but that pit was a pit in Eretz Yisrael. Even if there were scorpions and snakes in there, Reuvain knew that in Eretz Yisrael the zechus of Ya’akov Avinu, if not Yosef himself, would ensure Yosef’s safety. Yehudah, however, pulled Yosef out to sell him to travelers headed into chutz la’aretz. No matter that Yosef would rise there to the greatest heights – at the end of his life he would be forced to ask Klal Yisrael to take an oath and would plead that they remember “pakod yifkod…” and take his bones when they leave because chutz la'aretz is not a place that  Jew can know rest.  

2) Rashi explains that nigei batim were brought by Hashem because the Canaanim had hidden treasures in the walls of their homes. When a nega came and a person was forced to tear down the walls, they would discover the buried treasure. We build walls around ourselves with our ga’avah and ta'avah for olam hazeh that prevents us from thinking and communicating properly.  Hashem sometimes does us a favor and sends us difficulties to contend with to help us break down those walls. When we do so, we can discover the treasures buried inside ourselves (based on the Kozhiglover in Eretz Tzvi).

It’s interesting that the halachos of nigei batim only apply in Eretz Yisrael. Ibn Ezra (14:34) explains that this is a testament to the kedushas ha’aretz, which does not tolerate sin. The gemara (Brachos 5) distinguishes between negaim in Eretz Yisrael and nega’im that come in chutz la’aretz; one is yisurim shel ahavah, the other not. The Netziv explains (contrary to Rashi) that it is the nega’im of Eretz Yisrael, where the metzorah must suffer being expelled outside the camp, that are yisurim shel ahavah, because through suffering the metzorah merits to be cleansed of his sin. Extending the thought of the Kozhiglover, perhaps davka in Eretz Yisrael, which is one of the things that is only acquired through yisurim, do we face challenges because davka in Eretz Yisrael do we have the siyata d’shemaya to be able to break break down the walls of the yetzer ha'ra and dig up those treasures inside ourselves.

3) “Who wants long life?” cried the peddler in the market. Rav Yanai followed the gathering crowd to see what elixir this salesman was hawking. The peddler gave the secret away: Mi ha’ish he’chafetz chaim? Netzor leshoncha mei’ra… Stop speaking lashon ha’ra! The Midrash ends by telling us that Rav Yanai said that he never understood the pasuk before he heard it from that peddler. 

We’ve discussed this Midrash many times before, but there is always something new to add. Even when the Torah promises “v’ha’arachta yamim,” a reward of long life, as it does in the parsha of kibud av and shiluach ha’kan, Chazal reinterpret that promise to mean a long life in olam ha’ba, not that you will outlive your peers in the old age home. The Torah speaks to our eternal reward and salvation, not to what will necessarily make life easier in olam ha’zeh (see Kiddushin 40). Before hearing that peddler, Rav Yanai understood that the “chofetz chaim” refers to life in olam ha’ba as well. What he learned from the peddler, as the Dudai Reuvain explains, is that not speaking lashon ha’ra makes life better even in olam hazeh. The remedy for the metzorah – sitting outside the camp in isolation – is not some spiritual hocus pocus, but is designed to cause the person to reflect on how he can manage his interpersonal relationships better. It’s a remedy that makes life better in the here-and-now, not just the hereafter.


  1. I haven't seen the ibn Ezra, but would he say that when there's no kedushas haaretz (if you hold lo kidsha leasid lavo for example) that there are also no nigei batim?

    Rav Lichtenstein had an article in Beis Yitzchak 8 (I think it's reprinted in the new Minchas Aviv sefer of his collected writings) on smicha in e"y and chutz laaretz, where he mentions that nigei batim in eretz yisrael is not tied to kedushas haartez but depends on shem eretz yisrael. (As the Rav explained on kidush hachodesh and others.)

    1. I think you are asking a halachic question on a hashkafic comment. The Ibn Ezra is just explaining why the dinim of nigei batim apply on E.Y. Just like the Rambam in Moreh paints in broad brush strokes and says you can't hold him to explain the details of every mitzvah, same would apply here. Kedushas ha'aretz vs shem E.Y is just a technical detail.