Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tazria, Vayikra 13:13. A Kohen Must Declare the Tzaraas. Damon Runyon and the Lutzker Rov.

Why does the Torah keep repeating that the Kohen has to see the negah? This passuk alone says it twice.

The Lutzker Rov (Aznayim Latorah) answers this question. The rule (Sifri here) is that a Kohen am ha’aretz or Shoteh cannot pasken on these complex halachos by himself. Instead, he must examine the nega with a Yisroel talmid chochom, the talmid chacham will then tell the Kohen what the halacha is, and then the Kohen makes his pronouncement. If so, we would think, the Kohen is really irrelevant, and there is no point in having him examine the negah. So the Torah has to stress, over and over, that the Kohen must examine the negah.

The idea that a counter-intuitive truth must be stressed and reviewed is evident in another context as well. A member of my shiur conveyed a question his son asked: why is it that we only say Krias Shma, which is de’oraysa and an essential declaration of faith, twice a day, but we say Ashrei, which is just another part of tefillah, a derabanan, and which appears to be no more significant than any other chapter of tehillim, three times a day. (Of course, we say Shma in Le’olam and al hamittah, for a total of four times, but those are add-ons and not essential. (The double requirement for Shma and the triple for Ashrei are requirements explicitly stated.) I answered that Shma is kabalas ohl malchus shomayim, and this is something one can understand and accept upon himself. But in Ashrei we say "posei’ach es yodecho", which means that we accept that it is Hashem that decides who will have enough to eat. But we work all day to earn our food, and that seems to show that we really do not believe that Hashem will provide. Despite this inconsistency, we do know that our bitachon is true, and that Hashem wants both faith and hishtadlus. But we have to repeat Ashrei three times a day to remind ourselves that it is not kochi ve’otzem yadi that brings us hatzlocho.

This answers another question. Reb Moshe Feinstein was careful to not interrupt davening with anything that would interfere with kavana. For example, he would gather his tzitzis before Ahava Rabbah, not at "mei’arba kanfos ho’oretz," because it would distract him from kavanas tefilla. So why were Chazal misakein that exactly when you say the most important possuk in Ashrei, "Posei’ach es yodecho," you should touch your tefillin so that you are not meisi’ach da’as from them. This is even worse than gathering tzitzis, because the whole point is to cause you to think about the tefillin, which interferes with thinking about Ashrei! The answer is that we have to train ourselves to not be distracted by the effort we put in to making a living, we should not come to think that we are the architects of our own success. We have to remember to be memashmeish our tefillin and remind ourselves that it is only through siyata dishmaya that we are matzliach even while we work at that success. Our tefillin show us that our arms and our minds, our physical and mental efforts, only yield the result that Hashem wishes. It is the presence of Hashem, represented by the shel yad and shel rosh, that enable our yad and rosh to be matzliach. The same way a person must train himself not to be misguided into thinking that he is the architect of his success, a person has to be able to be memashmeish his tefillin without being distracted from the kavono of posei’ach es yodecho. It is not a distraction, it is a reinforcement of the idea of posei’ach es yodecho.

(There are two ideas here: One: just as a person must train himself to not be distracted by his work into thinking kochi ve’otzem yodi, so, too, must he train himself to not be distracted from posei’ach while being memashmeish the tefillin, and Two: mishmush tefillin is not a distraction, it is a reinforcement of the idea of posei’ach es yodecho, that it is Hashem that enables our work to be design. The whole point is that we cannot let outselves be distracted from our bitochon by our hishtadlus.)

Ashrei addresses the apparent conflict between hishtadlus and bitochon, and tells us that the two can co-exist. The Gemora there says that Ashrei is choshuv because it has both the Aleph Beis and Posei’ach. The Aleph Beis represents the laws of nature, predictability, A is followed by B, B plus C equals D, a world of natural law and cause and effect, a world in which one plans and strategizes on the basis of experience and reason. Posei’ach represents our faith that it is Hashem’s hashgacha pratis that ultimately determines our success and our parnassah. These two concepts would seem to be mutually exclusive. But Ashrei reminds us that there is no stirah, and that even though we do hishtadlus, we believe that Hashem determines our hatzlocho.

This was nicely encapsulated by Damon Runyon. He said, "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." (More Than Somewhat," in reference to Ecclesiastes 9:11.)


  1. Very nice vort. Shkoyach.

    (This comment is not meant to imply that where there are no comments, the vort was somewhat deficient. The sole purpose of this comment is to express hakaras hatov for the enjoyable divrei torah that you post week after week and to let you know that although I usually do not comment on your posts, I am religiously reading them, enjoying them, occasionally incorporating them into my own divrei torah and hopefully, growing from them.)

  2. Thank you.

    I was wondering whether what I was posting was getting too long and complex for the casual net surfer, who wants a quick Torah thrill with no effort on their part. That's one of the reasons I decided to start putting in pictures. I was concerned that they would put off the serious readers, like you; I'm relieved they didn't.

  3. I was going to ask what's up with the sudden infusion of pictures, but I guess your previous comment answers that.

  4. love the pics!!!
    oh yeah the vort was good too!
    I always thought that yichus was good(as in kohenship) but ya gotta get there on your own(as in torah).