Monday, July 30, 2007

Parshas Eikev

וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אתָם--וְשָׁמַר יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ לְךָ, אֶת-הַבְּרִית וְאֶת-הַחֶסֶד, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע, לַאֲבתֶיךָ.

"In the future, as a consequence of your heeding these laws, and your guarding and fulfilling them; Ad-noy, your G-d, will guard for you the covenant and the kindliness that He swore to your forefathers." (Sefer Devarim, 7:12)

Rashi: "If, even the lesser commandments which a person treads on with his heels, you will heed, [then He will keep his promise to you."

I was perusing Manny's Seforim shop in Meah Shearim and I stumbled across this 2-volume set on Chumash called the "Areshes Sifaseinu" by R' Eliyahu Schlesinger, the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Gilo. In it he has "mussary" vorts on the Parsha, similar to the Imrei Barch that I laud and quote so frequently. R' Schlesinger offers the following insight on these verses:

Rashi's comment explaining the word "Eikev" referring to the Hebrew word, "heel", is puzzling as it seems that Rash is admitting that there are certain Mitzvos that are "lesser" than others. Can someone of Rashi's stature really claim that this is the case? Certainly, this statement begs further explanation.

The Hebrew in the text of Rashi translates "lesser commandments" as "Mitzvos haKallos". However, there is another version of Rashi that leaves out only one letter of this phrase and reads "Mitzvos Kallos". As it fits in with the rest of the (similar) Hebrew text of Rashi, removing the "Hey" changes the word "Kallos" from modifying "Mitzvos" to modifying "Adam/person." (yes, you must forgive that Kallos is feminine and plural, while Adam is singular and masculine) Thus, according to this version of Rashi, it isn't the commandments that are "Kallos", but rather, certain people; and with this, we answer our original question about Rashi's statement about "lesser commandments." However, what is this version of Rashi referring to when it discusses a people who are "Kallos"?

R' Schlesinger gives a mashul which explains this mindset nicely: regarding driving a vehicle on Shabbos, everyone knows that it is forbidden, as it is an outright violation of the Sabbath. These people know that if they were to drive on Shabbos their actions wouldn't be in accordance with Torah Judaism and they could no longer consider themselves "frum". However, there are many people that, while they would never consider driving on Shabbos, aren't so careful about the subtleties of Hilchos Borer, regardless of the fact that each act is a violation of one of the 39 prohibited activities on Shabbos. But, despite this fact, many people fail to hold these two prohibitions at an equal level. For some it may be a lack of knowledge, but there is at least a subset of people who have the knowledge, but, for whatever reason, view these Halachos as "Mitvos Kallos."

This is exactly what Rashi is explaining when he refers to people who are Kallos - they have the aforementioned mindset. And, while that mindset is horrible, it only festers and worses over the generations. Children who grow up seeing their parents violate Halachos that they are learning in school are witnessing a type of Yiddishkeit where corners can be cut. Sure, this Jew would never drive on Shabbos, but as more and more generations grow up with this attitude, what was once black and white may (chas v'shalom) become gray. This reminds me of an argument I was in recently with a friend. He lives in a town where many people get together for a "Shabbos softball game." The Rabbi of the town, upon hearing about this, sent out an e-mail to the congregations informing them of all of the potential Shabbos prohibitions that one can violate by participating in such a game and urged that the game be cut from the Shabbos agendas of many. Many people viewed the Rabbis actions as silly; after all, who was going to listen to him? I asked my friend if the Rabbi would be right to send out the e-mail if he knew that his Shomer Shabbos congregants were driving on Shabbos, to which he answered in the affirmative. The point I tried to make to him was that just because in the eyes of some certain prohibitions are on a lower level than others doesn't mean that this was the case in the eyes of the Rabbis who codified Halacha as we know it.

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