Just a few quick thoughts - I have not had time to focus much this week.
1) “Af ani eleich imachem b’chamas keri…” I don’t know about you, but sometimes anger gets the best of me and then I’m not really myself. Dibra Torah k’lashon bnei adam, the Torah speaks in anthropomorphic language we can understand. G-d is going to get angry at us, but even that warning has a silver lining. The message between the lines is that kavyachol G-d too is not really being himself when he is angry. Sometimes anger is warranted and even necessary, but we should know that those moments are exceptions to the rule.
2) Rashi famously comments that “Im b’chukosai teileichu” means that we need to be “ameilim baTorah,” to not just learn, but to toil and work at learning. I went to a shiur last night and the person introducing the main speaker quoted this Rashi and asked (as some meforshim do) why Rashi interprets the word “chukim” here differently than he does in other places. Doesn’t Rashi himself tell us elsewhere (e.g. Parshas Chukas) that chukim refers to laws that have no reason, or laws whose reason eludes us?
I would say (based on the Shem m’Shmeul) that kushya m’ikara leisa – Rashi in fact is consistent with how he understands the word chukim in other places. Amielus baTorah is a chok! Chazal tell us that every day on Har Sinai for 39 straight days Moshe Rabeinu broke his head trying to learn Torah, and for 39 straight days he closed the book at the end of the day and found that he had absorbed nothing and understood nothing. If Moshe Rabeinu couldn’t get it, why should I think I will absorb anything no matter how hard I work at it? Hashem on day 40 finally took the Torah and put it in Moshe Rabeinu’s brain – he gave it to him as a gift. What’s the point of all the ameilus if at the end of the day Torah is just a gift anyway? What’s the point of working so hard if “yaga’ti u’matza’si,” at the end of all the yegi’a Torah is just a metzi’ah anyway and there is no causal relationship between the effort and the results? And if you tell me that effort doesn’t produce the knowledge, but it prepares the person’s brain and persona so he is able to receive the gift of knowledge from G-d, then can you please explain to me how thinking about level of tumah in the sugya of R’ Chanina Sgan haKohanim does that better than my sitting on a mountain and meditating would do it? You can’t. Don’t bother trying – it’s a chok.
3) After saying, “V’nasati mishkani b’sochechem” the pasuk promises “v’lo tigal nafshi eschem” (26:11). Ramban asks, if we are worthy of the hashra’as haShechina of having a Mishkan, doesn’t it go without saying that G-d will not be repulsed by us? We gave a few answers to this last year already, and this year a new one caught my eye.
One of my daughter’s recently asked about why R’ Akiva’s students were punished – could they really have acted so badly? I explained to her that the greater the person, the higher the bar is raised and the greater the expectations. Because R’ Akiva championed the idea of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha” being a cardinal principle, his students were held to a higher standard when it came to interpersonal relationships.
We recently read parshas Tazria-Metzora where Rashi quoted the din that a kohen does not pasken on the tzara’as of a chassan during his sheva brachos week. The meforshim ask how it’s even possible for a chassan to get tzara’as then. Tzara’as is a punishment for sin, and we know a chassan is forgiven for all his wrongdoings. Why now davka after his big kapparah would he get tzara’as? One of the answers is that before having his slate wiped clean, the chassan would have been judged like any other regular Joe and whatever he did wrong that might give rise to tzara’as was not significant enough to stand out. Now, after his slate is clean from everything else, the sin that would warrant tzara’as stood out and caused damage. After becoming a chassan the bar was raised, and what passed and was allowed before now stood out for punishment.
This is one of the reasons a yahrzeit is a yom din. The neshoma has a aliya, but with that aliya comes renewed scrutiny – what was overlooked when the neshoma was on a lower level now is unacceptable and needs tikun (whatever that means).
The Wright brothers could build an airplane out of wood and fabric because they were only flying a few feet off the ground. If they tried to fly that plane at 35,000, it would be torn to shreds. If you want to spiritually soar to the stratosphere, you need to make sure you can withstand the pressure. The higher you fly, the greater demands on your aircraft.
Coming back to our pasuk, the Torah is telling us that we will be zocheh to reach great heights and have the Shechinah among us. Lest you worry that climbing to such great heights will invite greater scrutiny by the midas ha’din, lest you worry that once the bar is raised you won’t past muster, the Torah reassures, “v’lo tigal nafshi escham.”
4) Yom Yerushalayim is almost upon us! "V'zacharti es brisi Ya'akov v'af v'es brisi Yitzchak v'af es brisi Ya'akov ezkor v'ha'aretz ezkor." (26:42) R' Charlap explains that if we have the bris of Ya'akov, the Av that was kollel all the midos of the Avos combined, then surely we will be worthy of geulah. But even if we lack that, if we just have the bris of Yitzchak, we have mesirus nefesh like Yitchak showed at the akeidah , that alone is enough to merit geulah. And even if we lack that, if we just have the bris of Avraham, we show generosity and do chessed, that too is enough. And even if we lack all of the above, if we just return to Etetz Yisrael and love the land, rebuild the land, and make it our home, "v'ha'aretz ezkor," that itself is a zechus that will bring us to geulah.