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27 Tammuz 5761 - July 18, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Importance of Thoughts And Intentions: A Shmuess For Parshas Mattos

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron, zt'l

Harmful Intentions

"And if her father prevents her on the day he hears . . . and Hashem will forgive her" (Bamidbor 30:6). Rashi quotes the comment of the Sifrei: "What is the posuk [`and Hashem will forgive her'] referring to? To a woman who took a vow of nezirus and her husband heard and annulled it, and she didn't know and was transgressing her vow, drinking wine and becoming tomei. Such a case requires atonement and pardon, even though the vow had been annulled (and no longer existed). If annulled vows (that were transgressed) need pardoning, how much more so is this true of vows that were not annulled and were transgressed!"

The gemora (Nozir 23) relates that "When Rabbi Akiva used to arrive at this posuk, he would cry (and say), `If a woman intended to eat pig's flesh and instead she happened to take lamb's meat (as in this case, where her husband's annulment renders her intended aveiros innocuous) she still needs forgiveness, how much more so is this true of someone who intended to eat pig's flesh and actually took pig's flesh!"

My master and teacher, the gaon and tzaddik HaRav Leib Chasman asked what need there is here for a kal vochomer? Of course someone who eats pig meat has transgressed a negative commandment!

He explained the gemora's meaning as follows: If she intended to eat pig's flesh and through some merit was saved and took lamb's meat instead, she still requires forgiveness. Even though there was no actual misdeed, she requires atonement for her sinful intention, because she meant to do something that is forbidden. Kal vochomer then, when there was an aveiroh and she ate the pig's flesh, she is also punished for her intentions. This is why Rabbi Akiva wept when he came to this posuk.

This is the same Rabbi Akiva whom the gemora (Shabbos 127) tells us worked for three years as a hired hand, at the end of which he was not paid his wages. The Chasam Sofer writes that this took place while Rabbi Akiva was still an am ho'oretz. He judged his employer favorably (see the gemora for the details of how he did so several times) and subsequently Rachel, the daughter of Kalba Savua, married him because she saw his wonderful character, despite the fact that her father took a vow preventing her from benefiting from any of his extensive property. She lived with him in great poverty, as is well known, until he grew to become the great Rabbi Akiva, with twenty-four thousand disciples.

The Chasam Sofer also points out that Chazal say, "The hatred of amei ho'oretz for talmidei chachomim exceeds the nations' hatred of Klal Yisroel." While Rabbi Akiva was an am ho'oretz, he would say, "Give me a talmid chochom, and I'll bite him like a donkey" (a donkey's bite being strong enough to break bones). He spoke like this despite his gentleness and his fine character, which we have noted. Subsequently, Rabbi Akiva certainly repented out of love for Hashem, which transforms deliberate aveiros into merits yet he wept because one needs forgiveness for bad thoughts as well.

Cause for Regret

There is a well-known story about Reb Dovid Doktor, who became a baal teshuvoh and climbed higher and higher until he became one of the greatest of the Lelover chassidim. He would also travel to visit the Chozeh of Lublin zt'l. There was a certain chossid -- a Chortkover chossid I think -- who was ill with tuberculosis R'l, who also travelled to the Chozeh. In those times, there was no medical cure for this disease.

The chossid visited the doctor, Reb Dovid, who was not then known as Reb Dovid but simply as Doktor. The doctor told the chossid, "There is no cure. You had better go and arrange your affairs."

The chossid went to his Rebbe and told him what the doctor had said. The Rebbe's response was, " `Permission has been given to doctors to heal' but not to give up." The Rebbe gave the chossid some cheese to eat and beer to drink, both of which were considered by the medicine of the time to be extremely dangerous for tuberculosis sufferers. After consuming these items, the chossid fainted and was left lying in bed for several hours -- following which he woke up perfectly healthy.

While walking outside he met an amazed Doktor, who asked him if he had risen from the dead. The chossid told him about the Rebbe's blessing and the former was very impressed and became a baal teshuvoh, who himself travelled to the Rebbe and became his chossid.

Towards the end of his life, Reb Dovid Doktor fell ill and Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchov zt'l, came to visit him and found him crying. He asked Reb Dovid the reason for his tears and Reb Dovid told him that he was recalling the times before he became a baal teshuvoh. The rebbe told him, "Actually, teshuvoh turns deliberate sins into merits, so you ought to be getting up and dancing . . . "

Reb Dovid however, continued weeping and said, "True, aveiros where a deed was done become mitzvos, but who knows whether sinful thoughts become mitzvos?"

This was why Rabbi Akiva cried, because of the pardon that has to be obtained for sinful thoughts, as we see from the posuk, "And Hashem will forgive her."

Keep Away!

The gemora (Yoma 29) says, "Sinful thoughts are worse than an actual sin." Rashi explains that they are worse for the body but the Ramban gives a different explanation.

I heard an explanation of this statement of Chazal's from the kodosh, Rav Elimelech Mintzberg Hy'd. He explained that after a person has done an aveiroh, he is finished with it. However, he can spend an entire day entertaining sinful thoughts, becoming completely embroiled in sin chas vesholom, without interruption.

I heard a comment from the gaon HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, on the gemora (Bovo Basra 57), that comments, that the posuk (Yeshayah 33:15-17), `And one who closes his eyes so as not to see evil . . . will envisage a king in his beauty,' applies to someone who doesn't look at women as they engage in clothes washing. The gemora asks, "What case are we dealing with? If there is an alternative route, then he is a rosho!" The Rashbam explains that, "Even though he closes his eyes, he is still a rosho, because he shouldn't have gone near there but should have kept far away from doing any aveiroh, as the posuk says, "Keep a distance from anything unseemly."

HaRav Lopian pointed out that a person can be walking along the street with his eyes closed and be thought of by people as a tzaddik, but in reality be called a rosho by the gemora, for taking that route when he could have taken another which would have avoided the problem altogether.

The gaon and tzaddik HaRav Aharon Luria zt'l, asks in his sefer, Avodas Penim, why the posuk uses the term ve'otzeim einov, for "one who closes his eyes," instead of a different word for closing [such as soger]. He explains this as alluding to the necessity for guarding one's eyes and keeping them in one position, like a bone (etzem). Just as a bone cannot be moved from its position without a person's conscious will, a person should also stop his eyes from moving in all directions, confining them to looking at what is both permitted and necessary to look at.

This comment is worthy of the person who uttered it. This gaon and tzaddik lived in Tiveria, and many stories are told about his holiness. He would be seen walking in the street with one eye closed, looking out of the other one.

Although there are many stories about him, I will just tell one of them that is well known in Eretz Yisroel, about the petiroh of this tzaddik. The night before he passed away was leil Shabbos. The author of Toldos Aharon was spending that Shabbos in Tiveria, and he held a tisch for his chassidim in the neighborhood where Rav Luria lived. The latter came out to them and asked for a minyan to come to his house. They came, he lay down on the ground, said Shema Yisroel and in front of the members of the minyan he had called, his neshomoh departed.

Genuine Fear

The posuk (Tehillim 147:10) says, "He does not desire the might of the horse . . . Hashem wants those who fear Him." We need to understand what is meant by saying that Hashem does not desire the horse's might. I have told the story a number of times, of a bochur from Kfar Chassidim who asked the mashgiach, Rav Eliyohu Lopian, for permission to travel to attend a wedding. Rav Lopian knew that this boy's family were not chareidim and he asked him whether the men and women would not be keeping mixed company there. The bochur replied that in fact they would be but, "I and my parents will be sitting at a separate table away from them and if they engage in mixed dancing, it doesn't bother me."

Rav Lopian grew angry with him and said, "I am boruch Hashem an elderly man of eighty, and I can't see anything at all out of one eye. Yet, when I go out into the street, I am worried about transgressing the aveiroh of velo sosuru, not to let one's eyes wander . . . and you, a young bochur, say that it doesn't concern you!"

The posuk can thus be explained in the following way: "Hashem doesn't desire the horse's might" -- don't display your prowess over your `horse' i.e. the yetzer hora, by withstanding temptation . . . "Hashem wants those who fear Him" -- yiras Shomayim dictates that a person should flee from any trials . . . then he will be one of "those who hope for His kindness."

The Path to Destruction

The gemora (Gittin 58), relates that, "It happened that a certain person took a fancy to his master's wife; he was a carpenter's apprentice. His master once needed to borrow money. He said to him, `Send me your wife and I'll lend her the money.'

"The master sent his wife to the apprentice. They stayed together for three days. The master came to him and said, `Where is my wife, whom I sent to you?'

"He replied, `I sent her back immediately and I heard that the youths molested her on the way.'

"The master asked him, `What shall I do?'

"He said, `If you'll listen to me, divorce her.'

"The master said, `But her kesuvoh is large.'

"He said, `I'll lend you the money and pay her the kesuvoh.'

"The master went and divorced her, and the apprentice married her. When the time arrived for the master to repay the loan and he didn't have the money, the apprentice said to him, `Come work for me to pay off your debt.' They were sitting eating and drinking and the ex-master was standing and serving them. Tears fell from his eyes into their cups. That was when the decree (of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh) was sealed."

The Maharsho explains, "It is possible that when he spent the three days with her in the beginning that they did not sin together, so that she was permitted to him after her husband divorced her. However, the decree was sealed when they plotted to persuade him to divorce her and to enslave him through the payment of her kesuvoh."

Here we see the tremendous severity of sinful thoughts. Although they committed no sin, the decree to destroy the Beis Hamikdosh was finalized because of their evil plans.

Priorities Askew

The Medrash Rabba on this parshah (22:9), also shows us the terrible effects of sinful thoughts. On the posuk (Bamidbor 32:1), "And the children of Reuven and of Gad had large flocks," the medrash comments, "This is the meaning of the posuk (Koheles 10:2), `A wise man's heart is to his right, while a fool's heart is to his left.' `A wise man's heart is to his right,' refers to the yetzer hatov, which is on the right. `A fool's heart is to his left,' refers to the yetzer hora, which is on his left. Another explanation of the posuk is, `A wise man's heart is on his right,' this refers to the tzaddikim, who apply themselves to Torah, which comes from the right, as the posuk (Devorim 33:2) says, `From His right, [He gave] to them a law of fire.' -- `A fool's heart is on his left,' this refers to the evildoers, who set their sights upon attaining wealth, as the posuk (Mishlei 3:16) says, `In His left hand, wealth and honor."

This medrash requires explanation. "The posuk in Koheles speaks about `a fool's heart,' and the medrash says that this refers to evildoers. But this is astonishing! Is it forbidden to become wealthy? We find several Tanoim and Amoro'im who were wealthy. Why does the medrash call fools `wicked' because they `set their sights upon becoming wealthy?"

We can explain with a parable which the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, used. The world says that, "A good businessman can turn rags into riches." For example, a grocer stands in his store selling bread. If, when a customer comes in to buy, he thinks, "He needs the bread to sustain him. I am giving him this bread as an act of kindness, in order to sustain a living soul," then he is even entitled to take payment for his service. Just as the customer needs sustenance, so does the storekeeper.

All the endeavors of such a person are devoted to serving Hashem. His only object in running his business is to sustain himself from the income, so that he should not need to turn to others and should be able to set aside times for Torah study and for serving Hashem. All his actions are thus holy, for everything is devoted to Hashem's service.

This man is making gold out of the money which he earns, for all his efforts are dedicated to Hashem yisborach. Even if he becomes wealthy, as "Hashem's blessing that brings wealth" comes to rest upon him, he remains wholly dedicated to serving Hashem. He has truly taken rags -- ordinary money -- and turned them into gold -- spiritual treasure.

On the other hand, if a grocer stands in his store, or an owner in his factory, thinking only of the money that he stands to earn, and not at all about serving Hashem or about providing for the needs of his customers, he is turning gold -- the potential for amassing true wealth -- into rags -- a few paltry coins.

This is stated explicitly in the commentary of the Maharzu (by HaRav Zeev Wolff Einhorn zt'l), on the above medrash, who writes (referring to the posuk, `A wise man's heart is to his right'), "A person's principle strength and dexterity are on his right side and the left side is subordinate to the right. This is why all main things are called `right' and secondary ones are called `left.' "

Further on, the medrash says, " `A fool's heart is to his left;' this refers to the sons of Gad and Reuven, who made the principle secondary and what was of secondary importance, into the main thing, because they loved money.

Use and Misuse

The medrash also says (22:7, on the posuk, "And the children of Gad and Reuven had large flocks," "Three gifts were created for the world which, if a person merits any one of them, he takes all the world's treasures. If he merits wisdom, he wins everything. If he merits strength, he wins everything. If he merits wealth, he wins everything. When? When these gifts come from Heaven and when they come through the power of Torah . . . " However, if these gifts do not come from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, they ultimately stop . . . "Our teachers learned: Two wise men arose in the world, one from Yisroel and the other from the nations and they were both lost . . . Similarly, two wealthy men arose in the world, one from Yisroel and one from the nations, Korach from Yisroel and Homon from the nations, and they were both lost. Why? Because their gifts were not from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, for they grabbed them for themselves. Similarly, we find that the children of Gad and Reuven, were wealthy and had large flocks and that they loved their money. Therefore, they were exiled first of all the tribes."

This medrash also needs to be understood. What is the meaning of the answer given by the medrash to the question why the two wise men etc. were lost -- "Because their gifts were not from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, for they grabbed them for themselves?" Do we imagine that anyone can simply `snatch' wisdom or wealth for himself without it coming from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, chas vesholom?

The medrash means that if a person merits any one of these three gifts, he should realize that he has not merited it to use for himself, but to benefit others and the world at large. His wisdom is not for himself alone, as the commentaries explain the mishnah in Ovos (2:8), "If you have learned much Torah, do not give yourself credit for it . . . " in other words, don't use it only for yourself, teach it to others as well.

Similarly, when Heaven bestows wealth on a person, it is not only for him to use. He is merely a guardian, or trustee for the wealth, his task being to use it in order to benefit others. The `owner' of this wealth is like one of the employees in a bank. If a customer comes in with a young child and the child sees the teller counting vast sums of money, the child imagines that the teller is enormously wealthy because of the large sums that are in his hands. Is this true? If the teller helps himself to a single dollar, he will be sacked from his job.

So it is with the wealth which Heaven gives a person. It is not only for him to "snatch for himself" as the medrash says. He is a guardian and is supposed to use it to educate his family and to support them, as we explained earlier with the Chofetz Chaim's parable. Then, his gift "comes from the hand of Hakodosh Boruch Hu and comes through the power of Torah."

Towards Rectification

I will tell you a story about Reb Boruch Ber zt'l, the Kamenitzer Rosh Yeshiva, who travelled to the United States in order to raise funds for his yeshiva in Kamenitz. A gabbai in one of the botei knesses which Reb Boruch Ber visited rose and started to enumerate the visitor's praises: his Torah greatness, his fear of Heaven and so on. When Reb Boruch Ber heard all this, he began banging his hand on the table and protesting that it wasn't true. His chaperone on this visit went over to him and said, "Rebbe, if they don't sing your praises and say how great you are, we won't collect a single penny for the yeshiva!"

Reb Boruch Ber responded, "If it's for the yeshiva's benefit, he can continue," and subsequently he held his coat over his ears, so as not to hear his own praises. Following the speech a meal was held in Reb Boruch Ber's honor. The secretary, who was his chaperone for the trip, went over to him and said, "Rebbe, don't eat the fish, it has a bad smell." Reb Boruch Ber was angry and said that he couldn't smell anything wrong with it and he ate his serving.

That night, after they had retired, the secretary heard Reb Boruch Ber vomiting in the adjoining room. He entered the room and said, "Rebbe! I told you that you shouldn't eat the fish!"

"Chas vesholom!" replied Reb Boruch Ber. "The fish was good! I'm vomiting all the praises that were said about me!"

Thus goes the story, which is pertinent to the topic of our discussion.

In the Yerushalmi (Yoma 1:1) we find, "Rabbi Yochonon bar Torta said, `We find that (the Mishkan at) Shiloh was only destroyed because they slighted the festivals. We find that the first Beis Hamikdosh was only destroyed because of idol worship, immorality and murder. However, with the second Beis Hamikdosh, we know who the people were. They toiled in Torah, were meticulous over keeping mitzvos and every good trait could be found in them. (So why was it destroyed?) Because they loved money and hated each other without cause."

Let us end by quoting a statement of Chazal's: "Whoever possesses comprehension (da'as), it is as though the Beis Hamikdosh was rebuilt in his time." Let us strengthen ourselves in loving one another without cause, emulating the words of the posuk, "They loved truth and peace," and may we merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdosh and the complete redemption, swiftly, in our times, omein seloh!

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