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Shabbat Parashat Shelach 5777

Ein Ayah: Proper Greatness in Ones Surroundings

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 5:12)

Gemara: [We continue with the story involving R. Elazar ben Azarya and a cow that carried something on Shabbat.] There is a Tannaic source: It was not his cow, but it belonged to a female neighbor. Because he did not protest her action, the cow was called his.


Ein Ayah: Just as greatness can be seen in major and public events, so it becomes apparent in small and private matters. Regarding Hashem, just as we say, “How great (large) are Your actions” (Tehillim 92:6), so too we are amazed about how detailed (small) are His actions. “He sits on high and lowers Himself to see” (see Tehillim 113:5-6).

Only a great person, fit for significant leadership, can fully appreciate the value of a plethora of detailed halachot that are connected to a storehouse of sanctity when performed properly and are destructive when not taken seriously. When such a person functions properly on the broader plane he misses no detail. No application is too minute and no personal moral feeling that causes to view a matter differently detracts from the goal.

Divine Providence arranged for R. Elazar ben Azarya to be nasi, as he was wise, of good lineage, and very wealthy. This happened because Providence is interested in the possibility of great things and preserving spiritual matters. Preserving the exact shapes of letters over generations as well as the exact pronunciations, rules of grammar, and cantillation preserve the nation, and its importance should be recognized.

It is regretful when a great person is not sufficiently sensitive to his surroundings and his responsibility for them. He must not be restrained by his own softness, the vulnerability of the person to whom he needs to protest, or the appearance of imperfect modesty if these hinder the protection of a value. When R. Elazar ben Azarya did not live up to his greatness, we describe him as possessing but one cow. His reluctance to protest the violation of Shabbat certainly stemmed from a combination of mercy and modesty toward his female neighbor. But because of the highest standards held toward him, the smallest stain on his behavior is magnified.

Women are good at developing a mitzva’s significance in the emotional realm. However, Hashem’s wisdom surpasses the greatest emotion even in the realm of the individual. The idea of one’s animals resting on Shabbat (Shemot 23:12) appeals to the sensitive heart, but the divine beauty of this concept transcends any human emotion.

A matter’s honor surpasses the matter itself. The crown of the honor of Torah scholars that applied to R. Elazar ben Azarya (see Yerushalmi Sota, ch. 9) is commensurate to his personality and increased due to his status of nasi. The honor of the divine halacha that says that one’s animals must rest is more lofty than the most important acts of man and the most sensitive of human emotions, even that of a woman. Only the divine light can decree that a cow cannot go out with a rope hanging from its horn. Laxity on this issue weakens the soul, which should be focused on the divine grandeur of the mitzva. It can extend not only to the perpetrator but to great people who witness their neighbor’s action and do not take action to stop it.

A woman can be susceptible to the problem because she is liable to be drawn emotionally to the central issue and not to the details, whereas men, who are involved in the “battles of Torah,” are more drawn to details. When a great man like R. Elazar ben Azarya is guilty in a matter, there is no room to mention the impact of his riches on his standing with the crown of Torah [which is why only one cow was attributed to him].

“Moshe and Aharon in his priesthood and Shmuel among those who call out in His name, they will call to Hashem, and He will answer. In a pillar of cloud He will speak to them, they will follow His statutes and He gave him a law” (Tehillim 99:6-7).
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