Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah institute – Shavuot – Growing our Relationship with Hashem

A couple of years ago, we hosted a guest for a Shabbos meal. At the end, we passed around benchers for Birkas HaMazon from our collection of benchers at weddings we attended. One guest looked at his bencher and said, “Hey, this was my wedding bencher!” Oops! We felt bad, as he was recently divorced. Subsequently, we removed any wedding benchers relating to couples who got divorced.

Many of the circumstances of the Giving of the Torah suggest an association between it and a marriage. The Gemara [1] says that Hashem suspended Har Sinai on top of Klal Yisrael. Some commentaries explain that this was the wedding chuppah (canopy) for the Jewish nation. The mountain was adorned with pretty flowers, as is the custom for a chuppah. Hashem was the Chosson, and Klal Yisrael was the Kallah. The gifting of the Torah was what effected the marriage. Hence, Shavuos represents the union of Klal Yisrael with Hashem.

However, the marriage “honeymoon” was seemingly short lived. Just forty days later, Moshe descended the mountain with the Luchos (Tablets). Upon seeing the Jewish people dancing around the golden calf, Moshe threw down the Luchos and smashed them! 

The Gemara [2] says that the broken pieces of the first Luchos were placed in the Aron (Ark) along with the second Luchos which Moshe later brought down. The smashing of the Luchos is almost similar to a marriage that ended with divorce. Why is Hashem keeping the bencher from the wedding that resulted in divorce?

There are two additional Yomim Tovim which have an element of receiving the Torah: Yom Kippur, when Moshe came down with the second set of Luchos, and Purim, when Klal Yisrael “re-accepted” the Torah…out of love. [3] Why in Kiddush and Shemoneh Esrei do we refer to the Yom Tov of Shavuos as “Zman Matan Torah” – the time of the giving of the Torah? After all, that union was seemingly severed. Maybe we should put away the Zman Matan Torah bencher that has the wedding date of Shavuos and instead label Yom Kippur or Purim as Zman Matan Torah?

As Rav Gedaliah Schorr [4] explains, the fact that Hashem told Moshe to place the broken pieces of the first Luchos together with the second Luchos demonstrates that the smashing of the Luchos was not a divorce. It was just a reaction to a bad mess-up and Klal Yisrael had to repair the relationship.

Rav Wolbe [5] says people mistakenly think that Shalom Bayis – a peaceful relationship in a home – occurs when two people have the same opinions and feelings; they’re always on the same page. The true meaning of Shalom Bayis is when people with different opinions and feelings manage to make peace and harmony between themselves. For a couple to have Shalom Bayis means they are able to learn from each other, work out their differences, and thereby live happily together.

The Jewish nation had a lot of work to do in order to get back together with Hashem after the sin with the golden calf. Moshe was able to work with Klal Yisrael to help restore their connection with Hashem. The first Luchos were kept together with the second Luchos in the Aron because they demonstrated the growth of the relationship. The pieces of the first Luchos represent a reminder that our bond with Hashem was not permanently damaged because of Klal Yisrael’s bad behavior, but rather it became deeper and stronger because of it.

Although Yom Kippur and Purim have elements of Kabbalas HaTorah, we celebrate Matan Torah on Shavuos since the marriage truly was on Shavuos. The other events just mark times when the relationship was restored.

Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky once told me that each year we should experience Shavuos as a new Kabbalas HaTorah. It’s a time to focus on developing a deep internal connection with Hashem and with the Torah He gifted to us.

Everyone has their ups and downs. Sometimes we falter and fail. The fact that we celebrate Shavuos as Kabbalas HaTorah demonstrates that the bond which Hashem created with us on Shavuos is eternal and can never be severed. Whatever we might have done in the interim, Hashem always waits for us to repair the relationship. Thereafter, the area in which we failed will be placed alongside our subsequent achievement, just as the broken pieces of the Luchos were placed together with the second Luchos.

[1] Shabbos 88a
[2] Bava Basra 14b
[3] Shabbos 88a
[4] Ohr Gedalyahu Moadim; Shavuos p. 80
[5] Alei Shur Vol. 2

Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen – Elimelech And Boaz – A Stark Contrast

Elimelech makes a fleeting, but significant appearance in the Book of Ruth.  It begins by describing him anonymously as a man from Beis Lechem Yehuda who leaves Eretz Yisrael with his family, in a time of famine to sojourn in Moav.  The second verse reveals his name as Elimelech, who Chazal tell us, was from the Tribe of Yehuda and was a descendant of Nachshon Ben Aminadav.  The Navi continues to tell us that his two sons married Moavite women, and tragically, Elimelech and his sons soon perished. 

Chazal explain that Elimelech was very wealthy and was the Parnas hador (the one who provided for the people).  However, when the famine struck, he fled the country because he knew that many people would come to him for help and he chose to avoid that pressure by leaving.  As a result, he was punished with death.  The question arises, the Gemara states that it is permitted for a person to leave Eretz Yisrael in the time of famine.  Why then, was he treated so harshly, when his behavior was permitted?

The answer given is that Elimelech was no ordinary person – he was the provider of the generation. Therefore, he was held to a stricter judgment than regular people.  He was the person who had the ability and responsibility to remain and help the people even if it meant undergoing his own hardship.  Moreover, he was from the Tribe of Yehuda and he knew that the Kingship and ultimately the Moshiach, would arise from that line.   Indeed, his name means, ‘to me is the Kingship’.  This symbolizes that he felt that he was destined to be the progenitor of what became the Malchus Beis David, (the Kingdom of the House of David).  Thus, he had a sense of entitlement, which makes his wrongdoing greater.  In Torah, any position of power, comes with heightened responsibility, not just greater honor.  Elimelech wanted greatness, but when the situation became difficult, he was not willing to take the responsibility that accompanies the perks of power.   With this background, we can understand why he was punished so harshly for leaving the land, even though it was technically permitted.  His position of prestige meant that he was judged more severely than a regular person, for whom it would be permitted to leave the land in a time of famine.

It is possible to add that Elimelech is also put in a negative light when compared to his illustrious ancestor, Nachson Ben Aminadav. Nachson was the first person to step into the Yam Suf, before it split, and whose actions played a vital role in defining the line of Yehuda as the family of Malchus.

The Tosefta tells us that at the Yam Suf, all the tribes were arguing about who should step into the sea first, each one trying to avoid the responsibility to take the first brave steps.  Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea and sanctified G-d’s name[1].  The Tosefta explains that this was one of the actions that earned the tribe of Yehuda the merit of being the tribe of Malchus (kingship), which in turn would produce MoshiachNachshon took responsibility at a difficult time, when everyone was afraid to enter the sea, on the hope that it would split, and this generated the merit to lead to the Kingship.  Elimelech faced his own challenge of responsibility and failed, instead choosing to escape the responsibility.  Consequently, he lost the opportunity to be the progenitor of the Malchus.

Elimelech had a relative who also features in Megillah Ruth, who succeeded where Elimelech failed – Boaz[2].  Where do we see this? Firstly, it is evident from the fact that Boaz was also a person who people relied on financially, as is seen in the episodes involving his kindness with his fields.  Yet, unlike Elimelech he remains in the land despite the famine, and continues to help people as much as possible.

Secondly, the incident involving the redemption of Elimelech’s property, and marriage to his daughter-in-law demonstrates Boaz’ ability to take responsibility.  As we have discussed in another article,[3] Ploni Almoni refused the opportunity to marry Ruth because of an unfounded fear that a future Beis Din may rule that it is forbidden to marry a female Moavite convert.  His underlying motives were a level of selfishness and unwillingness to take a difficult step.  The consequence of his actions is that he is confined to anonymity.  Boaz, in contrast, did not hesitate to marry Ruth despite the naysayers and critics.  The result, was the birth of Ehud, who in turn had Yishai, to whom David HaMelech was born.  Thus, in the same way that Nachshon’s brave action of taking responsibility bore tremendous fruit, so too did Boaz’s bold actions.

We have seen from the strict punishment that befell Elimelech that positions of power come with heightened responsibility – Elimelech strove to be the forebearer of Malchus but was not willing to undergo the mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) required to be a leader.  Boaz, in contrast, readily assumed the mantle of leadership and merited to be the progenitor of Moshiach.  Their contrasting examples teach us that as intoxicating positions of power and honor may be, they invariably required a heightened sense of responsibility and self-sacrifice.

[1] Tosefta, Brachos, C h.4, Halacha 16.

[2] One opinion in Chazal says that he was Elimelech’s younger brother (Ruth Rabbah, 6:2), and another (Bava Basra, 91a), says that he was Elimelech’s nephew.

[3] Ploni Almoni – Good but not Great.