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Dedicated by Leibish Polnauer of Rechovot, Israel, in memory of his father, Itzhak ben Natan Halevi Polnauer, who passed away on 28 Iyar 5744, and in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson, Itzhak Polnauer.
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PARASHAT BECHUKOTAI 5757
"I will cause dangerous animals to cease from the land" -- Rebbi Yehudah explains this to mean, "I will eliminate them altogether." Rebbi Shimon says that it means "I will curb their dangerous behavior, so that they do no damage" -- but they will still be in existence in the land. Said Rebbi Shimon, "Which is more of a praise for Hashem -- that there be no dangerous animals at all, or that there be dangerous animals who, against their nature, do no damage? You must admit that it is the latter that is a greater praise for Him." (Torat Kohanim, ad loc.)
Two Tanna'im disagree as to the exact interpretation of the verse "*Vehishbatti* Chaya Ra'ah" -- one of the blessings reserved for those who follow the ways of Hashem. Literally, the verse can be translated as "I will cause dangerous animals *to cease*." But in what way will Hashem cause dangerous animals to "cease" when Israel is deserving of His blessing? By eliminating the animals themselves -- or by preserving them but changing their vicious natures? Rebbi Shimon and Rebbi Yehudah took opposing opinions on this matter.
At first glance this seems to be a simple difference of opinion
concerning a technical grammatical point, without practical bearing on any
Halachic issue. However, several recent commentators have suggested that
this argument is based on a much broader issue which does indeed have
significant Halachic implications.
In Pesachim (21a) there is a Mishnah that states the following: "Rebbi Yehudah says the disposal of Chametz (in preparation for the Pesach holiday) must be carried out by burning it. But the other Sages say that one may even crumble it and scatter it in the wind or throw it into the sea." According to the Sages, any method of disposal which renders the Chametz inedible satisfies the demands of the Torah for the "disposal" of the Chametz.
The Gemara (ibid. 27b) quotes the Sages as defending their position by quoting the verse "By the first day [of Pesach] you shall cause all Chametz to cease ("Tashbittu") from your houses" (Shmot 12:15). This implies, claim the Sages, that any method of "causing to cease" suffices. Even crumbling the Chametz and dispersing it makes it "cease to exist," since it can no longer be used as a food. The words of the Sages clearly imply that if the *quality* of the Chametz, i.e. its defining characteristics, have changed, then it has "ceased to exist."
Rebbi Yehudah, however, rejects this argument. He apparently interpreted the word "Tashbittu" in a more limited sense. It may be suggested that he read the word to mean a complete, total destruction of the item in question -- i.e., an obliteration of the actual "quantity" [= presence] of the Chametz, and not simply a change in its defining qualities.
The words "Tashbittu" (in reference to Chametz) and "Vehishbatti"
(in reference to the dangerous animals of our Parasha) are two conjugations
of the same root. Since Rebbi Yehudah interpreted the word as implying
total destruction when it concerned Chametz, he interprets the word in this
way in our context as well -- the dangerous animals will cease to exist in
Eretz Yisrael altogether. Rebbi Shimon, however, must have been one of the
"other Sages" who interpret Tashbittu as causing an object to become
nonfunctional. He therefore explains the word similarly in our Parasha. The
animals will be there, but they will not act in their vicious manner!
The Gemara (Berachot 35b) records a disagreement concerning the interpretation of a passage in the second paragraph of the Shema prayer that we recite twice daily (which is taken from Devarim 11:14). The Torah, when listing the blessings reserved for those who hearken to Hashem's Mitzvot, states, "I will send the rain in its time... and you will gather your grain, grape and oil crops." The Torah tells us that those who do the will of Hashem will gather their own crops. Rav Yishmael infers from this that although we are bidden to study the Torah "day and night" (Yehoshua 1:8), the Torah allows us to pursue our livelihoods in a normal fashion as well. It is entirely acceptable for even an outstanding scholar to indulge in agricultural pursuits.
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, however, protests: "If someone would plow during plowing season, sow during sowing season, harvest during harvest season, etc., what would become of Torah study!" Rather, says Rebbi Shimon, the second paragraph of the Shema speaks of a situation where the people are *not* completely dedicated to the will of Hashem and are thus still tilling the soil. They can be rewarded for "hearkening to Hashem's Mitzvot" when they act in this manner, but they have not yet reached the *highest* level of divine service. When one has attained the loftiest of spiritual heights, he abandons all material pursuits and Hashem, in return, sends others to perform his labors for him in order that he may remain free to engage in Torah study. Rav Yishmael's "compromise" of toiling while studying Torah is not an acceptable one, in Rebbi Shimon's extremist view. (See Parasha-Page, Ekev 5755.)
Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai's views on this matter are evident
elsewhere in the Talmud as well. In Shabbat 33b it is related that Rebbi
Shimon [bar Yochai], upon seeing people plowing and planting their fields,
exclaimed in disbelief, "These people are forsaking eternal life (Torah
study) for transient life (pursuit of a livelihood)!" In Shabbat 11a we
find that Rebbi Shimon did not even take a break from Torah study in order
to pray the daily prayers. The Gemara (ibid. 10a) reasons that praying
during time that one could use for studying the Torah may also be called
"forsaking eternal life for transient life," since we pray for Hashem to
grant us a livelihood and our other physical needs (Rashi ad loc.).
When a person is without sin he cannot be hurt by even the most dangerous of animals. Similarly, in Makkot 11a the prophet Eliyahu [=Elijah] informs Rav Yehoshua ben Levi that if he would be on a high enough spiritual plane, not only would he himself be protected from wild animals, but all those who lived in Rav Yehoshua ben Levi's region would be protected as well!
It is for this reason that the prophet Yeshayah tells us that in the Messianic era "a baby will play by the viper's hole." (Yeshayah 11:8). In the times oft he Messiah there will be no more sin and people will reach the highest spiritual levels possible (ibid. 1:9). A situation will thus be reached where wild animals would be rendered harmless (see Ra'avad, Hil. Melachim 12:1).
However, Hashem only bends the rules of nature in order to protect the righteous during moments that the righteous people are involved with otherworldly concerns (see Shabbat beg. of 30b, Makkot 10a). When they are preoccupied with their spiritual growth, they are "freed" of the physical travails of this world. It is as though they are momentarily transported to the more spiritual realm upon which their minds are dwelling. Even the righteous are subject to the everyday laws of nature, however, when their minds are involved with their own physical needs.
It is clear that all the magnificent rewards in this week's Parasha that were promised to the Jewish people if they follow the Torah's commandments were meant to be given only if they reached the *optimum* level of doing Hashem's will (see Rashi 26:2, Ramban 26:6). According to Rebbi Shimon, then, the Bnai Yisroel will only receive these benefits if they abandon all physical and mundane pursuits in their never ending quest for attaining spiritual heights. If these are the type of people we are dealing with, says the Meshech Chochmah, then it is possible to promise them that although dangerous animals will *not* completely disappear from the land, they would present no physical threat. Since the people would be using every waking moment for attaining spiritual growth, at no time would they be vulnerable to the physical dangers of vicious animals. Therefore, Rebbi Shimon can interpret the word "Vehishbatti" to mean that the animals will be present, but will be rendered harmless.
According to Rav Yishmael, on the other hand, even people who are engaged in mundane activities as well may be considered to have achieved the highest level of doing Hashem's will. They are eligible for the blessings listed in this week's Parasha even if they tend to their fields and otherwise earn their bread during part of the day, since they can still be described as maximally performing the will of Hashem. For such people, though, it would be hazardous to coexist with wild animals. If they should be confronted by a lion during the non-physical part of their day, while they delved into the laws and ways of the Torah, they would certainly be free from harm -- but what would happen if they would be attacked while tending their fields? At that moment they would be subject to the mundane "laws of the land," and therefore at risk from physical dangers. Thus, according to Rebbi Yishmael, the appropriate reward would necessarily be that there be no harmful animals in the land at all. If Rebbi Yehudah of the Torat Kohanim (that we quoted at the start of our essay) accepted Rav Yishmael's world-view, the reason that he interpreted "Vehishbatti Chaya Ra'ah" the way he did is obvious!
The Rogatchover explained why Rebbi Yehudah had to interpret
"Vehishbatti" the way *he* did. The Meshech Chochma added that only Rebbi
Shimon was able to explain the word they way *he* did!
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