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Shabbat Parashat Behar Bechukotai| 5770

Ein Ayah: When to Downplay Physicality

(condensed from Berachot 4:38)

Gemara: When [Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai] was about to die, he said to [his students]: Remove the utensils from here because of impurity and prepare a place for Chizkiya, the king of Judea, who is coming.


Ein Ayah: It is a serious failure for a leader of the community at large to ignore physical needs because his aspirations lie only in the realm of shleimut (completeness) of spirituality. This is because the physical state has an impact on the spiritual state.

However, the above is a shortcoming in the leader only when he is not diligent about physical shleimut because he does not realize its value. This would be a sign of a diminished spirit, for a great spirit will, despite its high spiritual level, be able to “look down” and be careful about little things as well, as they impact on important matters. However, sometimes the leader decides that the nation has to give up on physical matters because of an important cause, in which case, one should respect his decision.

[Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the leader at the time of the fall of the Second Beit Hamikdash and Commonwealth, and he was in a special situation where he could ask a major favor of the Roman conquerors (see Gittin 56b).] Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai gave up on the national shleimut in the political realm and only asked that the rabbinical academy in Yavneh be preserved to create a shleimut of Torah in Israel. In this way he was similar to Chizkiya, who pressured the people to dedicate themselves to Torah study at the expense of financial advancement (see Sanhedrin 94b). Chizkiya realized that this was crucial because Bnei Yisrael had gone down several levels and became overly engrossed in physical desires at the time of his father, Achaz, to the extent that they had become estranged from Hashem. Therefore, it was seen that there was a need to take steps that are usually against the prescribed Torah-ordained balance and put an excessive emphasis on spirituality. Chizkiya’s laxness on physical pursuits was not out of a lack of understanding of its value, just that for the needs of the time, he trampled them to make way for great Torah scholarship.

We see from the Torah itself that financial concerns are of great importance. One such case in the Torah is the halacha that before a kohen declares a house to be afflicted with leprosy, he has the house evacuated of its utensils, so that they not need to be discarded (Nega’im 12:5, based on Vayikra 14:36). We find a similar concern for simple utensils regarding Yaakov, who with all his preoccupation with love of Hashem, found time and energy to go back for small vessels left behind as he traveled (Chulin 91:1).

Since great people know the value of material possession, if they give these up to gain other things, we can imagine how great the things that they purse are. This is what Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was trying to communicate as he died and was entering the world of the holy. Chizkiya was to visit at that time, as the prototype of a leader, like him, who had sacrificed the physical for the needs of the spiritual, by preventing the Torah from falling. He also told his students to remove the utensils so that they not become impure to show that he, like Yaakov, valued even simple utensils, as he had not forsaken the concept of concern for worldly pursuits. It had been because of the crucial importance of preserving Torah leadership that he had appeared to be uninterested in other elements of the nation’s needs.


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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
David Zvi Tarshansky z"l


R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.



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