Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5768
Belief in a Broad Segment of the Nation - Excerpts from the introduction to Eretz Hemdah - From the works of Rav Yisraeli zt”l
[Eretz Hemdah is a book that explains many “laws of the Land of Israel,” both in terms of its sanctity and its connection to the nation and in terms of instructions to farmers to follow the land-based mitzvot properly. In the following segments from the introduction, we see glimpses of Rav Yisraeli’s attitude of admiration toward farmers in Eretz Yisrael who follow the laws of the Land. For many of those farmers, Rav Yisraeli was either their rabbi in the agricultural moshav, Kfar Haroeh, or a national mentor through his many endeavors in the field of halachic agriculture.]
The Torah was not given only to those who push themselves to the limit in the “tents of Torah.” “You are all standing before Hashem, your G-d: your heads of tribes, your elders, your officers … from your wood cutters to your water drawers” (Devarim 29:10). Furthermore, those mitzvot that are connected to the life of activity of plowing and reaping, etc. can only be fulfilled by those who are involved in those areas of life. “To work it and to guard it” (Bereishit 2:15) refers directly to literal working and guarding. Only on the second level does it apply to following positive commandments and negative ones, respectively. This is the big secret of torat emet (a Torah of truth), which encompasses all forms of life and does not limit itself to a special elite group. It turns the whole nation into an elite nation- a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
“Because of Kamtza and Bar KamtzaJerusalem was destroyed” (Gittin 55b). [Someone’s messenger invited Bar Kamtza instead of Kamtza to a party, and when Bar Kamtza came, he was kicked out in a disgraceful manner. Bar Kamtza went to the Romans and convinced them that the Jew’s were rebelling. He did so by putting a hidden blemish in a sacrifice, which R. Zecharia ben Avkulos rejected, thus infuriating the Romans.] The Jerusalem Talmud’s version is slightly different. R. Zecharia was criticized not for rejecting the sacrifice but for not preventing the disgrace of Bar Kamtza by protesting against his ouster. About that the Rabbis said: “The humility of R. Zecharia ben Avkulos burned our temple.”
The humility of R. Zecharia was on the whole a good thing. It stemmed from a constant striving for perfection, a lack of satisfaction with what had been attained, and constant self-criticism. Under those circumstances, he did not leave room to give guidance to others or protest their actions and seek to improve them. There might have also been mixed in a portion of disdain toward the general public whose thoughts were in the vanities of the world, a simple populace who was involved in the here and now and not in the eternal life to come. What did he have in common with them? One can anyway not expect much of them, so why put in too much effort? Isn’t it a waste of time from one’s Torah study? While R. Zecharia was sitting and engaging other scholars in discussion of halachic intricacies, with all of their beauty, the groundwork for the destruction of the Temple was being laid.
It is maybe for this reason that R. Yochanan ben Zakai chose Yavneh for the seat of the reconstituted Sanhedrin after the destruction of Jerusalem. After all it was a Yavneitic slogan that epitomized the approach of respect for different modes of service of Hashem: “I am a creation, and my friend is a creation. My work is in the city (study hall) and his is in the field… Maybe you will say that I do more and he does less? We have learned: it does not make a difference if one does more or less as long as he focuses his heart to [service of] the Heaven” (Berachot 17). According to this approach, an entire nation creates a unit. One cannot give up on the contribution of one because maybe another’s is greater, and one may not give up on the close connection between Torah scholars and the rest of the nation. Only in that way could the nation be rebuilt.
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