Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI In Passaic – Parsha Chukas

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Timely Torah Insights

by Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

Associate Rosh Yeshiva  
Our True Culture

In life, there are people, circumstances, and scenarios which we understand and there are those that leave us perplexed.  Sometimes it’s due to lack of knowledge or familiarity and sometimes it’s just beyond our comprehension. The purification process, where the Kohen sprinkles the ashes of the Parah Adumah on the defiled, is a pure enigma.  In this process, the impure becomes pure yet the pure becomes impure.  That is why the Torah introduces this process as a Chok – Zos Chukas HaTorah – This is the law of the Torah.  As Rashi explains, the word “Chok” means a law without any obvious rationale, as opposed to a Mishpat – which is a law whose purpose we can comprehend.  However, the word Chok also has a second meaning –to inscribe– as is used regarding the Luchos (tablets of the Torah) “Chakuk Al Pi Luchos” – that is, to be inscribed, or etched, into the stone.

Rav Hirsch tells us that in Lashon Hakodesh (the holy Hebrew language), if a word has two meanings, there is a common concept they share.  So what is the connection between Chok as a law without rationale and Chok as an etching?  There is a very telling Rashi in Parshas Acharei Mos (18:3) “Uvchukoseiheim lo seleichu” –and in the Choks (ways) of the Nations do not go. Rashi explains that the Chukim of the nations refers to the cultural ways of the nations, which are ‘chakukim,’ “etched,” into the fabric of society, i.e., widely accepted; for example, going to theaters and stadiums. Thus Rashi explains how a Chok is a cultural phenomenon (not necessarily based on logic) which is etched into the fabric of society, thereby uniting both uses of the word Chok.

When one writes something on paper, two separate items result: the paper and the words which are written on the paper.  However, in an etching, the surface itself forms the words.  As such, a Chok is something which is part of the fabric itself. This explains a puzzling Chazal which expounds on the verse, “Zos Chukas HaTorah, adam ki yamus b’ohel….” This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent.” (Chukas 19:14) We learn from this that Torah is acquired by those who kill themselves to understand it. (Gemara Brachos 63b) This is a very strange way to describe the need to apply oneself to Torah study.  Why such an extreme?

I remember hearing an interview on the news with a Yankee fan after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series after eighteen years of not even making it to the World Series.  The fan said, “The Yankees won the pennant; now I can die!”

A little extreme, right? Is this logical? Is this what he was living for??  Really, he was expressing a feeling about something he felt was part of him.  The Yankees were his life.  Why do people enjoy watching sports?  Sports is a national and international craze. But what does your favorite team really have to do with you?  People are so taken with the game and its players, yet receive no direct benefit from the team.  Why?  No need to look for logic here- they just enjoy it.

We find the word Chok used in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai: “Im Bechukosai Seleichu….” Rashi explains this means if you toil in my Torah, then you will merit all the blessings. So we see that the Torah uses the word Chok in regard to diligent Torah study.  The reason is as we quoted– Zos Chukas HaTorah, but the interpretation now is: This is our culture – the Torah. Other peoples have theaters and stadiums as staples of their culture, but our culture is only the Torah.

Now we can understand how Torah is acquired by one who “kills himself” to understand.  It’s not an extreme, but rather an expression of how acquiring Torah knowledge is the core of a Jew’s life, into which he puts his all, like the person (l’havdil!) who felt the Yankees’ victory was his whole life.

There is an incredible insight from the Ohr Hachayim which says we are compared to parchment and every time we learn Torah, we are carving the words of Torah into ourselves.  A Jew’s true essence is Torah.  That’s what we should live for and that’s what we should die for. As we say in Maariv each night, “Torah is our life and lengthens our days, and in Torah we toil day and night.”

Indeed, the Torah is the essence of who we are. May we all accept the concept of Torah as our culture, in which we revel.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim Of PTI On Parsha Korach

Striving to Make Peace
Korach, Dasan and Aviram. Not exactly top tier names when a baby boy is born. Indeed, within the Chumash, these names are nothing short of synonymous with utter discord and defiance. In Sefer Bamidbar, we are introduced to many individuals and groups who act in extremely abhorrent ways, yet the Baalei Musar refer to Sefer Bamidbar as Sefer Hamidos, the Sefer that teaches us the proper rules of conduct.
We interact with people all day. Very often, we encounter individuals that we do not get along with. Yet, our lives are governed by the Torah, which demands a higher level of conduct, recognizing at each moment that all human beings are created in the image of Hashem.
The most enigmatic people in this week’s Parsha are surely Dasan and Aviram. They have a long history of causing trouble. Our first introduction to them is when Moshe encountered the pair in the midst of a quarrel. Moshe screams “Rasha, Lamah Sakeh as Rei’acha – Wicked man–why do you strike your friend?” (Shemos 2:13) Their response is even more shocking. “Hal’hargeini … Will you kill us like the Mitzri you murdered yesterday?” insinuating that they are going to report Moshe to the authorities. It is hard to imagine such a level of insolence. Moshe says, “Achen Noda Hadavar – Now the matter is known.” (Shemos 2:14) Rashi tells us Moshe was saying that he now knew why the Bnei Yisroel were in Galus – exile– since there were informers! And indeed, they did report Moshe to the authorities, causing Moshe to flee from Mitzrayim to Midyan to escape certain execution.
One would assume that this wicked duo perished during the plague of darkness when 4/5ths of the Jewish people who were not deserving of being taken out of Egypt died. Yet, much to our surprise, they survived. Why?
Rav Shimon Schwab explains the mystery. Because Dasan and Aviram believed in Hashem and stood at Har Sinai and said Na’aseh V’nishma- we will do and we will hear- they merited to be taken out of Mitzrayim. Nonetheless, they had a personal issue with Moshe Rabbeinu. They felt he was improperly usurping all the power, which should have been shared with others (including them, of course!). Rav Schwab suggests they were also angry with Moshe as a result of having been punished with poverty for informing on Moshe (Gemara Nedarim).
So here we have Dasan and Aviram, who have a personal vendetta against Moshe. Our normal inclination is to focus on the negative behaviors of Dasan and Aviram, so that when similar situations arise, we will know what conduct needs to be avoided.
However, doing this alone potentially has a great pitfall. Do you remember telling yourself that you definitely will not copy certain negative language or actions of your teachers and parents?  Yet, much to your surprise, you find yourself as an adult or parent doing and saying those exact things! Why is that?  Rav Wolbe zt”l tells us that when a challenging situation arises, most of the time, our brains cause us to react automatically based on past experiences, even if those experiences are negative. The only way to ensure a positive response is to affirmatively replace the bad reactions with the proper reactions. How? One excellent way is to watch talmidei chachamim; to be trained by their actions, rather than go on auto-pilot and be governed by negative experiences and environmental influences.
If we focus on how Moshe interacted with these instigators, we will be surprised to see the extent of how we are expected to treat and interact positively with those with whom we do not get along.
Despite the treachery of Dasan and Aviram in reporting Moshe to Pharoah and challenging his power, Moshe appointed them as Kri’ei Ha’ideh – leaders of assembly, who are seated in front at all public gatherings. Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people, also tried to dissuade them from taking part in the dispute regarding his power, even going to their tent.  Rashi tells us from here we learn that one needs to take positive action to put an end to any disagreement. Moshe did so even after Dasan and Aviram responded with unprecedented insolence, saying “even if you would poke out our eyes we will not come speak with you!” (Korach 16:14)
Moshe Rabbeinu is teaching us how one must treat the other party in a disagreement One must place his personal honor and pride aside and accord the other party honor and respect in trying to settle the dispute!
May Hashem help us train ourselves to act and treat all people with the honor they deserve and to learn from appropriate role models.
Practical Halacha: 
Halachos of Tzedakah – Maaser Part 4
by Rabbi Gershon West
Maggid Shiur
Maximum Amount of Tzedakah
Is there a maximum amount of money that one is permitted to give away each year to tzedakah? The Gemara in Kesubos[i] says Chazal stipulated one may not spend more than a fifth of one’s profits on tzedakah each year. The reason is because if one he exceeds this, he may then need to take tzedakah himself. Therefore, they made a takanah not to give away more than a chomesh to tzedakah.
The Rema in Shulchan Aruch[ii] brings this Halacha to not give away more than a chomesh of his profits to tzedakah.
Exceptions to the Chomesh Cap
Are there any exceptions to this rule? The Gemara in Kesubos[iii] tells the story of Mar Ukva. When Mar Ukva passed away, he left half of his assets for tzedakah. The Gemara explains that only during a person’s lifetime is he restricted to giving a chomesh. This is because he may give away so much tzedakah that he may need to take tzedakah himself. However, when a person passes away, there is no longer that issue. Therefore, Mar Ukva was permitted to give away more than a chomesh when he passed away.
Rema[iv] brings this Gemara and states the halacha that one may bequeath in his will as much money as he likes to tzedakah. This implies there are no limitations at all[v].

However, Rabbi Akiva Eiger[vi] quotes the Shiltos DeRav Achai Gaon that the gift to tzedakah at the time of one’s passing is limited to a third of one’s assets.  Apparently, the Rav Achai Gaon had a different girsah in the Gemara in Kesubos that said a third instead of a half.

Others[vii] state the halacha based on our girsah in the Gemara, which permits up to a half of one’s assets.
The Meiri[viii] writes that how much a person should give to tzedakah in his will depends on numerous factors.  How much did he miss the opportunity to give to tzedakah during his lifetime? How many assets does he have and how many children does he have who will inherit those assets? The amount he should leave to tzedakah depends on these questions. The Meiri seems to say that one may give as much tzedakah as one wishes, and he is not limited to a third or a half of his assets.[ix]

[i]דף נ ע”א.
[ii]סימן רמט ס”א.
[iii]כתובות דף סז ע”ב.
[iv]סימן רמט ס”א.
[v]עיין בפרי מגדים או”ח סימן תרנו ס”ק ב במ”ז.
[vi]בגליון השו”ע.
[vii]פרי מגדים או”ח סימן תרנו ס”ק ב במ”ז, וצוין ברעק”א.
[viii]כתובות סז ע”ב.
[ix]בדרך אמונה פ”ז ממתנ”ע ס”ק כו משמע דנקט דגם לפי המאירי השיעור הוא מחצה או שליש. אמנם עיין בשט”מ בדף נ ע”א בשם תר”י דמותר לבזבז כמה שירצה רק שישאיר קצת ליורשיו, עיי”ש.ועיין ערוה”ש סימן רמט ס”א וחכמ”א כלל קמד סי”ב.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim On Parsha Shelach

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Timely Torah Insights

by Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

Associate Rosh Yeshiva
Truly Seeing What You See
While living in Eretz Yisroel, I was delayed many times due to a chefetz chashud – a suspicious package – but I never got to witness the procedure up close.  A friend of mine did.  The bomb squad pulled up in a special van. After the area was cordoned off, the back door of the van opened and a special robot was wheeled out.  The robot drove towards the suspicious package, pulled the package inside a cavity in its center and then detonated the package.  If this was a bomb, the explosion would have occurred inside the robot, thus shielding everyone around.  Baruch Hashem, the bag was not a bomb.  A half hour later, when the crowd disbursed, all that was left on the floor was the remains of a small pink school bag, which a little girl forgot at the bus stop on her way to school that morning.  (Better to err on the side of caution in these instances.)
When the meraglim -spies- which Moshe sent to scout out the land of Eretz Yisroel returned, they reported that “the land consumes its inhabitants.”  (13:32) To their credit, this report was based on real events they had witnessed. They saw that every town they entered was engaged in funeral processions and the townspeople were all distraught with grief.  So many people were dying. The meraglim came to the conclusion that the land itself must be deadly. Why else should there be so many deaths? (Gemara Sotah 35a) However, they failed to consider that these deaths were not caused by something inherent in Eretz Yisroel, but rather by the Hand of Hashem, Who arranged all these deaths to preoccupy the inhabitants with their losses, thereby keeping the meraglim undetected.
Harav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky zt”l (known as the Steipler) proves these deaths were uncommon from the fact that everyone was so distraught.  Had they been common, only the immediate families would be distraught.  So why did the spies not properly analyze what they were observing?
The answer is a pasuk we recite daily in the last paragraph of Shema.  “Do not stray after your heart and eyes” (15:39) There are two components in seeing.  The eyes physically view the image and then our brain processes the image.  Just how our brain interprets what it sees, depends on our hearts.  It seems the meraglim had ulterior motives.  They were all the heads of their tribes and knew they were going to lose their positions when the Bnei Yisroel moved into Eretz Yisroel.  This impending change in status predisposed them toward giving a negative report to prevent them from entering the land. Indeed, the Torah concludes with a warning that we not make the same mistake of explaining circumstances based on our own personal interests.
To see how an event can be viewed differently, in good faith, let’s look at a simple modern-day illustration: a policeman’s body camera.  The footage as shown from the body cam of the policeman shows him going toward someone standing in a parking lot looking suspicious. The policeman approaches closely and says, “Sir, what are you doing here?”  We then hear screaming and the view jostles violently for a few seconds. We next hear a thud and apparently the policeman is on the floor, as the view is now looking up.  We would naturally conclude the person attacked the policeman!
The same scene is then replayed from an outside camera, which shows the view of both the policeman and the individual. Again, the policeman approaches and says, “Sir, what are you doing here?”  We then see and hear a woman nearby screaming as her young child is about to step off the sidewalk into heavy traffic. The policeman turns to help and trips, landing on his back.   What a different story! The man did not attack the police officer. The view was jostling because the policeman tripped and fell!
It’s all in the eye of the beholder, who interprets that which he sees.
In fact, our human anatomy makes this all so clear! The image our eyes see is really upside down and the brain has to turn it right-side up. If our brain would not invert the image we see, we would literally see the world upside down.
So how do we know if we are interpreting what we see correctly? Rav Dessler points out that we are biased to our own self-interests.  However, our friend or neighbor viewing exactly what we see, can be objective when it doesn’t concern him.  As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos implies, it’s crucial to have a Rav and a friend to keep us on the right path and help our eyes see that which is really there.