Sharing is Caring

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Emor - Lag B'Omer
Sharing is Caring

Our parsha opens with the words, "Vayomer Hashem El Moshe, Emor El Hakohanim B'nei Aharon, V'amarta Aleihem Linefesh Lo Yitama B'amav" (And Hashem said to Moshe, say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and tell them, each of you may not contaminate himself to a dead person among his people; Parshas Emor, 21:1).

The Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh asks that most topics in the Torah begin with the famous words, "Vayidaber Hashem El Moshe Laymor" (And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying). However, in this verse, there is no mention of dibur (speech), just amira (saying). Why does this parsha deviate from the norm?

Moreover, there is a double lingo in this verse. It says, "Emor V'amarta." Rashi (ibid, citing a Bereisa in Yevamos, chap. 14, "Cheresh Shenasa", pg. 114a) says that this comes to teach us to "(c)aution the adults concerning the minors." Meaning, adult kohanim must not only protect their own sanctity from coming into contact with dead bodies, but they must also protect the sanctity of their children by teaching them to stay away from contact with corpses.

Why does Hashem introduce this idea about educating our children specifically by kohanim? This is the case throughout the entire Torah. Adults must always teach their children to follow Hashem's laws. Why are we first learning about this with respect to kohanim?

Since we are currently living through Sefiras Ha'Omer, let us share its story and see how it relates to this week's parsha.

The Talmud (Yevamos, chap. 6, "Haba Al Yivimto", pg. 62b) reports that Rebbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students who all died during one period of time, between Pesach and Shavuos, because they did not behave with each other in a manner of respect. When that happened, the world was almost desolate of Torah. Rebbi Akiva picked himself up, went to the southern part of Eretz Yisrael, and collected five Torah scholars to teach. They were: Rebbi Meir, Rebbi Yehudah, Rebbi Yosi, Rebbi Shimon, and Rebbi Elazar ben Shamuah. They restored the Torah to the Jewish people.

The Tzvi Latzadik (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Bloshiver, Moadim, Iyar, 3:6) asks how such great people could die on account of such a minor sin. Yes, they were guilty of disrespect. As such, they should have gotten a slap on the wrist. But, to die in such a horrible plague, with bodies piling up, seems like the punishment does not fit the crime.

The Tzvi Latzadik answers his question by saying that each one of these students held on so strongly to the teachings that they received from Rebbi Akiva that they did not share them with each other.

This is supported by a Midrash in Koheles Rabba (11:6) which says that after Rebbi Akiva's students died, he ordained the five sages mentioned above. Then, Rebbi Akiva said to them, "My first students died because they were stingy with their Torah and would not teach each other what they knew. You must never ever repeat their mistake." The new five students of Rebbi Akiva adhered to his words and disseminated their teachings so much that Eretz Yisrael was filled once again with Torah as it had been before.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds to the Tzvi Latzadik by citing the Gemara in Berachos (chap. 9, "Haroeh") which says that Torah can only be acquired in a group. Rebbi Chanina said that the sword will come against Torah scholars who sit and study Torah by themselves. We see this from a verse in Yirmiya (50:36) which says, "A sword against the "badim" (sorcerers)." The root of the word "badim" is "bad" (alone), as in the word "levad" (all alone). Therefore, the verse is also saying that the sword will come against those who sit and study Torah all by themselves, with no intention of teaching others.

This leads us to a Mishna in Pirkei Avos (2:8) which says, "Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai used to say, if you learned a lot of Torah, Al Tachzik Tova L'atzmecha (Do not take credit for yourself), because this is what you were created to do."

The Midrash Shmuel (Rabbi Shmuel di Ozida, one of the Gurei Arizal - students of the Arizal) and the Maggid of Koznitz (Avodas Yisrael, Avos, 2:8) explain this Mishna on a deeper level. When it says, "Al Tachzik Tova L'atzmecha," it means, "Do not hold on to the good just for yourself." The word "tova" (good) refers to Torah, as it says, "I have given you a "tov" (good) teaching, (it is) My "Torah", do not forsake it" (Avos, chap. 6, Bereisa 3; Mishlei 4:2). Therefore, when it says, "Do not hold on to the good," it means do not hold on to the "goods" which is the Torah. Meaning, do not keep the Torah all to yourself. Rather, share it with others. Because this is what we are created for. We were not created to learn Torah. Learning is not enough. We were created to teach Torah to others.

The Maggid of Koznitz finds a hint to this in the verse, "Ki Adam L'amal Yulad" (For man is born to toil; Iyov, 5:7). The word l'amal (to toil) is spelled: lamed, ayin, mem, and lamed. These four letters serve as the acronym for, "Lilmod Al Menas Lelamed" (Learn on condition to teach). With this new hint, the verse can be read, "Ki Adam Lilmod Al Menas Lelamed Yulad" (For man was born to learn on condition to teach).

Only when we teach others is it called Toras Chesed (a Torah of kindness; See Succa, chap. 4, "Lulav Va'arava", pg. 49b; Rebbi Elazar; Mishlei, 31:26). When we are kind to other (by sharing our Torah knowledge), Hashem is kind to us and judges us favorably. Only then can we survive in this world (See Rashi Parshas Bereishis, 1:1; citing Bereishis Rabba, 12:15). However, if we do not teach others, our Torah is not a chesed type of Torah; rather, it is a Torah of din (harsh and strict justice). If that is the way we behave, Hashem will treat us the same way. If Hashem judges through the lens of din, most people do not have the ability to survive. It is too hard to survive with Hashem scrutinizing every action, word, and thought.

This explains why Rebbi Akiva's students had to die. As we mentioned, they would not share Torah with each other. Perhaps we could suggest that they did not even share Torah with their chavrusos (study partners). They were careful to speak with each other in such a way that they would not surrender any of their Torah knowledge with each other. This was a Torah of din. Since they treated each other with din, Hashem also viewed them through the lens of din. Since they were judged through din, they could not last. This explains the as to mechanics as to why they had to die.

Perhaps this is why the Yeshiva system was crafted in such a way that the boys typically learn with a study partner. Then, they go to class with their Rebbi. They rarely learn alone. They always study Torah in a group. As a matter of fact, when the Rebbi asks one of the boys to give a class to his peers, it is called giving a "chabura" (group). This further impresses upon us the importance of studying in a group. The smallest group is made up of just two people. Maybe this was instituted so that they would constantly share Torah with each other. Only then would it be a Torah of chesed. Only then would Hashem examine us with chesed. Only then would we be able to survive.

At this point I would like to share something personal with you. Last Friday night, I had a dream. If I were to ask you what the colors of a standard mainstream yeshiva is, you would probably say, "black and white." This is because those are the colors of the yeshiva dress code. Why were specifically those colors picked?

Well, here goes the dream. After it had snowed considerably, the sun came out and a scientific test was conducted. A black towel was laid out across the snow, and next to it, a white towel. As the day wore on, the black towel sank into the snow at a much more accelerated rate than the white towel. This is because the color black absorbs sun light. Therefore, it got heated quicker and melted the snow under it faster. However, the color white reflects sunlight. Therefore, it got heated slower and melted the snow under it slower.

Thus, the reason for the yeshiva dress code. The black teaches us that first we must absorb the light. The light of Torah. The white teaches us that afterwards they must reflect the Torah's light onto others.

This is where Rebbi Akiva's students made a mistake. By just absorbing and not reflecting, they placed themselves in a world of din. Who could survive under those conditions? It was inevitable that they would die. In the end, they paid the price of stinginess with their lives.

All of this will fit in nicely with a very famous Rebbi Akiva teaching. The pasuk says, "V'ahavta L'reyacha Kamocha" (Love other as yourself; Parshas Kedoshim, 19:18). Rashi (ibid) cites the Toras Kohanim which says, "Amar Rebbi Akiva, Zeh Klal Gadol BaTorah" (Rebbi Akiva said, this is a great principle in the Torah). The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that it was after the deaths of Rebbi Akiva's students that Rebbi Akiva began to spread this motto of his. When he saw what happened to his students for not living up to this expectation, Rebbi Akiva made sure to repeat this adage with everybody he met.

However, this Rebbi Akiva teaching appears to be difficult when contrasting it with another Rebbi Akiva teaching. The Gemara (Baba Metzia, chap. 5, "Eizehu Neshech", pg. 62a) discusses a case where two people are walking through a desert and they only have one canteen of water. If they both drink from the canteen, they will both die because there is not enough hydration for both of them to make it back to civilization. However, if one of them drinks the whole canteen, he will survive, but his friend will die. What should a person do under those circumstances?

Ben Petura said that it is better for both of them to drink and die rather than one of them drink and witness the death of his friend. Apparently, this was the halacha (law) until Rebbi Akiva came along and cited the verse that says, "V'chei Achicha Imach" (and the life of your brother is with you; Parshas Behar, 25:36). This pasuk teaches us, "Chayecha Kodmin L'chayei Chaveyrecha" (your life precedes the life of your friend). The way Rebbi Akiva understands this verse is as follows.

One must be concerned about the "chai" (life) of his "ach" (brother) as long as it includes "imach" (himself). Meaning, as long as caring for one's brother results in the preservation of his own life, then, go right ahead, and help your brother.

However, the inference is, that the moment one's concern for his brother's life results in his own death, then, we are supposed to drop brother like a hot potato and watch out for numero uno, which is himself, and let the other guy die.

The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, Parshas Kedoshim) asks that we now have a possible contradiction in the Torah, and we certainly have a seeming contradiction with Rebbi Akiva himself. On the one hand, Rebbi Akiva said that the greatest teaching in the Torah is, "V'ahavta L'reyacha Kamocha." From the perspective of that verse, the two people in the desert should split the canteen, like Ben Petura said. This is because the pasuk says that one must love other just as much as he loves himself. This sounds like equality. That means we are supposed to go down the line, 50 - 50. Therefore, split the canteen.

Yet, the same Rebbi Akiva said that your life comes before the life of another. This is no longer equal. Each person must view the situation as 51 - 49 in his own favor. This seems contradictory.

The Chasam Sofer answers his question by differentiating between two categories. The first category is the physicality of this world. The second category is the spirituality of the next world.

When it comes to Olam Hazeh (matters that pertain to this world), each person has to watch out for himself. Yes, we are supposed to care for each other, but, when it comes down to the bottom line of preserving one's own physical existence, when it's either him or me, the law is, it's me! When it comes to physicality, Rebbi Akiva went with the verse, "V'chei Achicha Imach."

However, when it comes to Olam Haba (matters which pertain to the next world), we must treat each other equally. One of the primary examples of spiritual matters which pertain to the next world is the area of Torah study. Imagine Reuven asks Shimon to teach him Torah. Shimon might say to himself, "Why should I take out the time to teach Reuven? During the time I would be spending with Reuven, I could be mastering countless tractates of Talmud."

This is when Rebbi Akiva goes with the verse, "V'ahavta L'reyacha Kamocha." In this situation, they are to be treated equally. Shimon must divide his time in half. One half to advance his own learning, and the other to teach others.

The Chasam Sofer says that this distinction is even hinted to in Rebbi Akiva's words. "V'ahavta L'reyacha Kamocha, Amar Rebbi Akiva, Zeh Klal Gadol, Batorah." This does not just mean that this is a huge rule of thumb in the Torah, rather, it means that this huge rule of thumb applies only in the category of Torah. (For a further analysis of this topic, see Igros Moshe, Even Ha-ezer 4, chap. 26, number 4, pg. 55).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this will explain the famous Rebbi Akiva story. Rebbi Akiva used to gather large groups of people and teach them Torah publicly, even though the Romans issued a decree forbidding the teaching of Torah. Teaching Torah was punishable by death. Eventually, the Roman authorities realized what was going on. The Roman police apprehended Rebbi Akiva and threw him into jail. Finally, the Romans tortured Rebbi Akiva to death by ripping his skin off and tearing his body into pieces (Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 61b).

What's striking about this story is Rebbi Akiva's actions. Why did he put himself in mortal danger to teach Torah? Is that the law? Why couldn't he teach Torah underground in a cellar? Why did he have to rub it in the Romans' faces?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Rebbi Akiva guilted himself for the deaths of his students. He felt that their deaths were his fault. He thought that had he taught them better, they would have never been so stingy with their Torah. He felt responsible for thousands of lost lives.

This is the way of all true Torah leaders. They always blame themselves for the shortcomings of the generation (See Rashi, Parshas Devarim, 1:13, citing the Sifri, 13).

Therefore, in order to fix the damage done to his soul, Rebbi Akiva put himself into mortal danger in order to teach Torah publicly. This was intended as a way of atoning for his sin. By going to such an extreme to teach Torah, maybe people would finally get the message about the importance of teaching Torah to others. This is what Rebbi Akiva felt he had to do for his own tikkun.

Now we can return to the word "dibbur" and "amira" and the lack of consistency in the verse, "Vayedaber Hashem El Moshe Laymor." The Ropshitzer Rebbe (Zera Kodesh, Parshas Shelach) says that "dibbur" is din, whereas, "amira" is chesed and rachamim. Therefore, the pasuk begins, "Vayedaber Hashem El Moshe." Hashem told Moshe that if the Torah I teach you starts with you and ends with you, meaning, if it's just "El Moshe," then, it's "dibbur" and filled with din.

This is why the pasuk ends with "Laymor." The word "Laymor" means "Lech Emor" go and tell the Jewish people about what I have taught you (Ramban Parshas Vaeira, 6:10; Rabbenu Bachya Parshas Bo, 13:1; Radak, Sefer Hashorashim, Shoresh Emor). Because, when you do, you will have turned a Torah of din into a Torah of rachamim, which is also hinted to in the word "Laymor."

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the beginning of our parsha only uses the lingo of "amira." There is no mention of "dibbur." This is because the Zohar (Parshas Naso, pg. 145b) states that the souls of kohanim are rooted in chesed. This is why Hashem told the kohanim to bless the Jewish people every day. It was so that they would draw chesed upon the Jewish people, like it says, "So will you bless the Jewish people, 'Emor' (say) to them." Therefore, only the lingo of amira is fitting for them.

This also explains why Hashem introduced the idea of adults being concerned with children, specifically with respect to kohanim. Since kohanim are all about chesed, they must not only care about their own sanctity, but, they must also be concerned with the sanctity of others (Shvilei Pinchas).

Perhaps we could suggest that Hashem was actually speaking to all Jews in the beginning of this week's parsha. This is because all Jews are called kohanim, as it says, "And you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim, and a holy nation" (Parshas Yisro, 19:6). We must all be concerned with each other.

Practically speaking, let us try to share a little more Torah with others. You don't need a classroom to be a teacher. Anybody can share an idea with other people. We should try to do so in a non-obtrusive and non-condescending way. Rather, let us share Torah in a pleasant way. We should always have a short vort to take with us throughout the day and share it with somebody in a car, on a walk, at the store, or at home. The Torah idea should be something positive, uplifting, and comforting. Why should we be the only ones to benefit from the Torah's wisdom? Let's try to spread the goods a little bit more. In this way, we will have fulfilled the Mishna that says, "Al Tachzik Tova L'atzmecha."

So, may we all be blessed with a good eye and share sweet amira Torah with others, which will fix the sin of Rebbi Akiva's students, by bringing chesed down to the Jewish people and to the entire world.