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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5776

Ein Ayah: Learning Lessons from a Disease

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:250)

Gemara: When our masters entered Kerem B’Yavneh (The Vineyards of Yavneh), Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi Shimon were there. They were asked: this affliction (askara), why does it start in the intestines and end up in the mouth? Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Ela’i, the first to speak in every setting, answered: Even though the kidneys give advice, the heart understands, and the tongue enunciates, it is the mouth that finishes.


Learning Lessons from a Disease

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:250)


Ein Ayah: The purpose of afflictions, whether of the collective or the individual, is that they should help bring ethical improvement, whether in actions, emotions, or beliefs. It is as the pasuk says: “You returned man to difficulty and said: ‘Repent, people!’” (Tehillim 90:3).  

Every phenomenon in creation has many elements to be contemplated, whether regarding its internal workings or how it interacts with the rest of the world. This applies to afflictions as well. Horrible diseases need to be contemplated in order that they can provide their full positive effect. The more an affliction attracts contemplation about its characteristics, the more it can bring ethical change.      

Everything in the world is Hashem’s doing. It is fitting that people should improve their minds to discern the “word of Hashem” that is contained in each phenomenon, according to its prominence and its ability to improve the world in the most important way – ethically. All wonderful elements of creation must have an internal educational element for the mind and for the development of justice and kindness.

The consequences of askara, which was one of the most severe deadly diseases (see Berachot 8a) and impacted people so significantly, must have profound characteristics that deserve attention. Askara starts in internal organs and works its way to the outside of the body, finishing in the mouth. This hints that the sin that causes it [lashon hara ­– see last week’s piece] starts within a person and finds expression in his external life. In the disease, the parts that precede the mouth are significant. So too, regarding the sin, internal factors that cause the sin to be perpetrated are critical to deal with.

Only great people in the generation who understand life by tapping into Hashem’s secrets can uncover the explanations that are capable of “scraping off the honey” from the horrible curse of askara. That is why the rabbis of Yavneh were asked the question about the disease, with confidence that they would have insight and help return the nation to the proper path. Why, people wanted to know, does askara start at the intestines and end in the mouth? 



The Point of Practical Damage

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:252)


Ein Ayah: The great evil of lashon hara is that it is hard to accept how damaging it can be. The reason that speech can be so ruthlessly effective in harming the object of slander is that speech is an incredible power of the internal spirit.

It starts with the “advice” that the kidneys give and the understanding of the heart as to how to promote the kidney’s idea and prepare the tongue to have the message impact on the one who listens. All of this is carried out with full force by the mouth.

The same is true of the disease that mirrors the sin. The main power of the disease relates to the place at which the main damage is done, in this case, the mouth, just as regarding the sin. Rabbi Yehuda, the expert on practical halacha, stressed to contemplate the point where things occur practically. He mentions the source of the problem but connects it to the final point.

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