August 13, 2020 12:00 am at 12:00 am #1891617abukspanParticipant
Re’eh — The Need to Be Free
רק חזק לבלתי אכל הדם כי הדם הוא הנפש ולא תאכל הנפש עם הבשר: לא תאכלנו על הארץ תשפכנו כמים
Only be strong not to eat the blood, for the blood it is the soul, and you shall not eat the soul with the meat. You shall not eat it, you shall pour it on the ground like water (Devarim 12:23-24).
The Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, Shoresh 9) writes that this is one of at least seven times where we are commanded not to eat blood. In addition, it is the only mitzvah of all 613 that carries with it the word “Chazak — Be strong!” Why does this mitzvah, over all others, come with this exhortation?
The Sifrei (76) brings a machlokes between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai (cited by Rashi). Rabbi Yehudah says that we see from here that the Yidden actually ate blood before Matan Torah, so they had to be strong to stop themselves.
Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai disagrees. He says that there was no real struggle in regard to abstaining from eating blood. Rather, this teaches us that if a person requires chizuk to not eat blood, which is not very tempting and most likely repugnant, then a person most certainly needs a lot of chizuk for the forbidden activities that are generally alluring.
Rabbi Shimon’s explanation still needs some clarification. Why does a person need any chizuk to not do an aveirah for which there is no temptation or desire, especially if, as Rabbi Shimon also states, it is the easiest of all mitzvos to keep?
This issue also comes up in a Mishnah (Makkos 23b): Even though man is disgusted with the thought of digesting blood, he is still rewarded for holding back from its consumption. Just as we need to understand the requirement for chizuk in its abstention, we also need to understand the basis of reward for doing so. Why am I entitled to reward for abstaining from something that I would never even consider eating?
I once read a way to answer this: Prior to Matan Torah, while there was no mitzvah to stay away from consuming blood, there was also no desire to consume it, and thus no reward for avoiding it. But after we received the Torah, including the restriction on ingesting blood, a new yetzer hara arose, which attempts to make drinking blood more palatable. Once something becomes forbidden, even if I originally had no interest in it, a countervailing desire sets in, and it becomes tempting and alluring. The repugnant becomes desirable.
Shlomo HaMelech tells us (Mishlei 9:17), “Mayim genuvim yimtaku — Stolen waters are sweet.” The water is the same, being pumped from the same source. Yet when I steal yours, the taste and experience are better. That is why the Torah needs to urge us to keep strong and not eat blood, and why we are truly deserving of reward for refraining. Once it is prohibited, we suddenly have a desire for it.
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731, Eved Hashem #25; also see 5732, #16) cites a Gemara (Sanhedrin 26b) as an illustration of this basic principle of human nature. The Gemara says that a person who is suspected of transgressing sins of arayos is not believed if he testifies about the marital status of a woman. Ravina (or Rav Pappa) countered that he is only not believed when he says she is unmarried (as we are suspicious that he may want to marry her), but he is believed when he claims that she is a married woman (as we have no reason to suspect him of lying in this case).
The Gemara asks: Why would we even think that he is lying if he testifies that she is married, when he has nothing to gain? The Gemara answers: Because one may have thought that he prefers that the woman be married, so that in a relationship with her, she will be “mayim genuvim,” stolen waters. Because she is now prohibited to him by halachah, the pleasure of his sin will be enhanced.
However, if he knows the truth of her marital status, he knows whether he lied or not, so what does he gain by lying and saying that she is married? We see, says Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, that when something is forbidden, an appetite for it is created. So much so, that he may build in his mind a wall of a prohibition, just so that he could enjoy transgressing the imaginary issur that he created. (See Michtav Me’Eliyahu 1: Kuntrus HaChesed, addition to Chapter 7.)
Just how strong is the desire for what we cannot have can be seen from an event in Sefer I Melachim (Chapter 2). In his very last words, David HaMelech instructed his heir Shlomo to take care of some unfinished business with people who had severely wronged him. One of these people was Shimi ben Geira, who had viciously cursed David (II Shmuel Chapter 16). At the time of the incident, David had forsworn vengeance of his own, so now he asked Shlomo to punish Shimi in his own wise way.
Shlomo called for Shimi, told him to build a home in Yerushalayim, and made him swear that he would never leave Jerusalem proper. If he did, Shlomo reiterated, it would be considered as if he were rebelling against the king, an offense punishable by death. Agreeing to the terms, Shimi built a home and for three years never ventured outside the city. After three years, though, Shimi`s servants escaped, and he followed them out of the city in an attempt to bring them back. Upon hearing of this violation of the oath, Shlomo sent for Shimi and decreed that since he had violated the terms of their agreement, he was to be executed.
While the ploy of Shlomo worked out in the end, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (ibid.) questions its wisdom and how this would satisfy the request of his father for vengeance. First, the home that Shimi was to build may have been palatial in its construction and furnishing. Staying in the capital city — the spiritual home of all Klal Yisrael, with the Beis HaMikdash at its center, and the Sanhedrin (which Shimi headed) right there — doesn`t seem that hard. But more than that, why did Shlomo have to spell out the threat to Shimi (v.37): “On the day you leave it …. you should know well that you will certainly die.” Shimi knew what violating the king’s order would bring. Merely telling him not to leave would have been enough; anyone who violates the king’s edict is considered a rebel and deserving of death.
How was the wise Shlomo helping his cause of fulfilling his father’s wishes by spelling out to Shimi its deadly consequence? How did he know that Shimi would actually break his oath and leave? And why did Shimi, the wise head of the Sanhedrin, suddenly commit such a foolish mistake, one for which he paid the ultimate price?
Rav Chaim explains that it’s true that a person can live happily in a certain location, never leaving until the day he dies. However, when it becomes a mitzvah to stay in the same place and there is no freedom to choose otherwise, a person feels constrained and longs to break out, until he finally does. If it’s my choice to stay, I can abide. When the choice is taken from me, that tends to break my spirit. A person’s normal inclination is to desire liberty and freedom and to struggle against any limitation placed upon him.
That’s why Shlomo added the oath. At first glance, it seems like an addition just to keep Shimi in check, yet in reality, the oath turned into cuffs and shackles for him. Although Shimi’s “jail” didn’t resemble the typical cell, in that he was free to enjoy everything offered by the city of Yerushalayim, he felt unnaturally confined.
This also explains why Shlomo spelled out the obvious consequence of death were Shimi not to adhere to his house-arrest. Shlomo wisely created a challenge, knowing that Shimi would push back eventually, as his need to be free would win out. Thus, he was certain that he would be able, in a dignified manner, to fulfill his father’s wishes, by having Shimi bring about his own death.
Stolen waters are sweet.August 13, 2020 8:02 am at 8:02 am #1891700charliehallParticipant
The question is raised by Chazal of whether there is greater reward for one who does something that is commanded, or something meritorious without being commanded. The Bavli in Kiddushin 31a concludes that one who does something commanded is greater than someone who does something voluntary. Commentators point out what the author of this Dvar Torah points out, that the yetzer hara is very powerful and to do something commanded requires overcoming that “Need To Be Free”.
But wait — there is a Yerushalmi that disagrees. In Shevi’it chapter 6, the Yerushalmi discusses the question of whether the oleh Bavil were commanded to keep the Shemittah year. The actual question isn’t really resolved (and in fact it remains a machloket even to this day) but they do say that if they did so without being commanded that was more meritorious than had they been commanded and if they were commanded but observed with joy their merit was increased to what it would have been had they done so without being commanded!
I have a resolution. The mitzvah given as the example in the Bavli is a personal one — honoring father and mother. The mitzvah example in the Yerushalmi is a communal one. When a community takes on a custom voluntarily there can be great merit, as it unifies the community — even though it is not commanded. But any individual mitzvah requires us to conquer our yetzer hara. I write this in memory of my mother o”h whose 28th yahretzeit is today. May I always be able to overcome my yetzer hara to honor this great intelligent woman who gave me so much, and may I always embrace my community’s minhagam.August 13, 2020 8:10 am at 8:10 am #1891766abukspanParticipant
Wow, great question (gotta look that up) and a nice and meaningful answer. Thank you for both and may Her neshama truly be elevated.August 13, 2020 8:55 am at 8:55 am #1891777Reb EliezerParticipant
The Binah Leitim explains what it says rotzo HKBHl lezakos es yisroel that Hashem commanded us mitzvos that is repugnant and not done anyway, to benefit us provided when we spill it like water something needed and refrained from because of the commandment and not because of its disgust.August 13, 2020 10:57 am at 10:57 am #1891782Reb EliezerParticipant
He also explains that we need extra strength to refrain from not eating blood for the right reason because it is forbidden and not because it is repugnant.
Charlie, the Ksav Sofer explains that the honoring of parents should be as commanded in moroh where the parents did not do anything for their child as everything was provided for them, so honor them because Hashem’s commandment and not what they do for you and that is why the yetzer hara resists us from doing the mitzva.August 13, 2020 10:58 am at 10:58 am #1891797charliehallParticipant
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