Parsha Potpourri: Shavuos / Parshas Beha’aloscha

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Vayitzbat lah kali (Rus 2:14)

After Boaz noticed Rus gathering grain in his field, he begged her to remain in his fields and promised to take care of her. When mealtime arrived, Boaz gave her some parched grain to eat. The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 5:6) comments that if he would have known that his actions would be recorded in Tanach, he would have instead given her fattened calves. Similarly, the Medrash says that if Reuven knew that the Torah would record his efforts to save Yosef from being killed by his brothers (Bereishis 37:21-22), he would have personally carried Yosef home to Yaakov on his shoulder. Also, had Aharon known that the Torah would record that he rejoiced when he heard that Moshe would be the redeemer of the Jewish people (Shemos 4:14), he would have gone out to greet him dancing and playing instruments.

 Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher questions the comparison of Boaz’s actions to those of Reuven and Aharon. The Medrash correctly notes that Reuven and Aharon should have realized the significance of their actions – saving Yosef from being unjustly killed, and going to greet Moshe as he came to redeem the entire nation from slavery in Egypt – and personally done more to further these lofty objectives, but how can Boaz’s private interactions with Rus be mentioned in the same breath? Moreover, he already gave her preferential treatment by inviting her to his meal and giving her the same food that he himself was eating. Was the leader of the generation really supposed to take a cow and personally slaughter it and prepare it in the middle of the hot field so that Rus could eat from it?

Rav Sher explains that the Medrash is teaching us the tremendous power of every single act of chesed that we do. No matter how small and trivial it may seem, it contains within it tremendous potential if done properly, as Boaz’s actions with Rus, which seem at first glance to be a simple act of kindness with a poor widow, in fact set in motion the events which led to the creation of the Davidic line of kings, no less significant than the rescue of Yosef or of the Jewish people from Egypt.

Vayecherad ha’ish vayilafeish v’hinei isha (3:8)

Boaz was sleeping in the granary in his field when he was started to wake up and discover that he wasn’t alone. Rashi explains that he was afraid that his visitor was a spiritual demon sent to attack and harm him, but before he could scream, Rus pacified and reassured him, and he realized that she wasn’t a demon. Interestingly, the Sefer Chassidim (1155) writes that when he recognized that she had hair, he stopped worrying because he knew that female demons don’t have hair.

Still, Chazal point out how much strength Boaz must have possessed to refrain from screaming at her. He was the elderly leader of the generation, who was forced to sleep with his grain to guard it from thieves, and he woke up in the middle of the night to discover a woman with whom he had done so much kindness putting him in such an awkward situation. He should have cursed her and kicked her out, but because he recognized her sincerity, he was overcome with compassion and blessed her.

The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:16) teaches that this episode is what Dovid was referring to when he wrote (Tehillim 119:62), “at midnight I arise to thank you.” Dovid was thanking Hashem for the miracles that He performed for his great-grandmother Rus in the middle of the night. Dovid recognized that had Boaz followed his natural instincts and cursed and rejected Rus, Boaz would have died the next day, and Dovid would have never been born.

The Alter of Kelm explains that a true leader must be a person who lives his entire life and makes every decision with total and complete intellectual clarity, never overcome by emotions. In selecting Boaz as the progenitor of the Davidic line of kings, Hashem was actually testing him by placing him in a situation in which he had every right to be angry at Rus and to respond to her in such a manner, yet he kept his cool and responded appropriately, in contrast to Dovid’s older brother Eliav, whom Hashem told Shmuel not to anoint because he had disgusted Hashem by becoming angry (Rashi Shmuel 1 16:7). In the merit of Boaz passing this test and maintaining his equanimity even under these unusual and unexpected circumstances, he became the forbearer of Dovid and Moshiach.

Shalaf ish na’alos (4:7)

In order to finalize the legal transaction by which Boaz acquired the right to marry Rus and purchase her ancestral land, Boaz and Ploni Almoni used a shoe, with one of them removing the shoe of the other. Why did they use a shoe for this purpose? The Divrei Shaul explains by pointing out that the morning blessing “Who has made for me all of my needs” is associated with putting on shoes (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 46:1). What is the connection between this blessing and wearing shoes?

The Maharshal explains that the Creation can be divided into four categories: inanimate objects, plants, living creatures, and man who can speak. Each level is superior to and rules over the category beneath it. The vegetation derives its nourishment from the inanimate ground, the animals eat the plants, and man can kill or use the animals for his purposes.

The Maharshal explains that when a person takes the skin of an animal and transforms it into leather for the shoes that he wears on his feet, he demonstrates his dominion over other living animals and all the more so over the plants and inanimate objects. In other words, the donning of shoes shows that the entire world was created to serve us, and for this reason, we make the blessing “Who has made for me all of my needs” at this time. The Be’er Yosef explains that for this reason Hashem commanded Moshe to remove his shoes at the burning bush (Shemos 3:5). Because shoes symbolize our dominion in the world, it is inappropriate to wear them when we are in front of the Divine Presence, and for this reason Kohanim must be barefoot in the Beis HaMikdash.

In light of this insight, the Divrei Shaul explains that when transferring ownership of an object from one person to another, the ideal way to demonstrate that the present owner is relinquishing his dominion and control is through the use of a shoe, which symbolizes this concept.

Vayikach Boaz es Rus vatehi lo l’isha vayavo eileha (4:13)

The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Rus 608) teaches that on the night after Boaz married Rus, he died. The Gemora in Bava Basra (91b) derives from Boaz the importance of having as many children as possible, as it records that he had 60 children – 30 sons and 30 daughters – all of whom died during his lifetime. Only on the final night of his life did he merit conceiving a child who would live and continue his legacy in creating the foundation for the Davidic line of kings.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky points out that at the time that Boaz married Rus, there was a tremendous dispute regarding the permissibility of doing so due to her descent from Moab (see Devorim 23:4), as evidenced by the fact that her closest redeemer refused to marry her for precisely this reason (Rashi 4:6). When people heard that Boaz died the night after marrying her, they must surely have assumed that it was because he erred regarding the permissibility of marrying Rus and was punished for this sin. However, in reality, he did nothing wrong, and his natural time to die happened to arrive on that night. The Chasam Sofer even writes that this was the day on which Boaz was born, and Hashem completes the years of the righteous.

Not only did Boaz do no sin in marrying Rus, but he established the foundation for the Davidic line of kings, and the propriety of his conduct was only clarified generations later. Had Boaz lived his life concerned about what people would say about him, he would have refrained from marrying Rus and would have been punished for preventing the birth of Dovid. The lesson that can be derived from here is that we should live our lives focused solely on what Hashem wants us to do in each situation, without concern about what the gossipers will say or think.

V’Chetzron holeed es Ram v’Ram holeed es Aminadav (4:19)

Megillas Rus ends by tracing the ancestry of Dovid. However, there is a glaring difficulty with the record of his lineage. In reward for Yocheved and Miriam refusing to listen to Pharaoh’s instructions to kill the male babies, the Torah says (Shemos 1:21) that Hashem made houses for them. Rashi explains that this doesn’t refer to physical houses, but to spiritual ones, as Yocheved merited the houses of priests and Levites through her sons Moshe and Aharon, and Miriam merited the dynasty of kings through her descendants with her husband Calev. However, in the Megillah’s record of the ancestry of Dovid, no mention is made of Calev. What happened to Hashem’s promise to Miriam?

The verse in Divrei HaYomim (1 2:9) records that Chetzron had three sons: Yerachmiel, Ram, and Calev. Why didn’t the firstborn Yerachmiel merit that the Davidic line of kings be descended from him? The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 8:1) explains that Yerachmiel married a beautiful non-Jewish woman from a royal family, and for this reason he lost this merit, which was passed to his younger brother Ram. However, even if Yerachmiel lost his merit, if it was transferred to Ram and not to Calev, how was Miriam’s blessing and promise fulfilled? The Maharsha (Sotah 11b) raises this difficulty and suggests that one of Ram’s sons married a woman who was descended from Calev and Miriam, in which case Dovid was only maternally descended from Miriam.

Alternatively, an obscure commentary on Megillas Rus by Rav Vidal HaTzarfasi suggests that either Calev or Ram married Miriam but died without children. She then married the other brother to fulfill the mitzvah of yibum – levirate marriage. As such, her child from the second marriage was biologically the descendant of her new husband, but through yibum was also considered a continuation of her first husband. As a result, Dovid was considered a descendant both of Calev, as mentioned by Rashi, and also of Ram, as recorded in the Megillah. Since yibum is considered the highest form of chesed, as it is performed with the dead solely to give them another chance at perpetuating their name, it is most fitting to find yibum at the end of Megillas Rus, which according to the Medrash (Rus Rabbah 2:14) was written for the purpose of teaching us the tremendous reward for those who do kindness with others.

He’anochi harisi es kol ha’am ha’zeh im anochi yelidtihu … me’ayin li basar laseis l’chol ha’am ha’zeh (Bamidbar 11:12-13)

The S’fas Emes was once approached by the son of one of his close chassidim, who came to complain to the Rebbe that his father was uninterested in his economic difficulties and wasn’t doing anything to assist him financially. The next time that he encountered the man’s father, the sagacious S’fas Emes called him over to ask him for an explanation of his unwillingness to help out his struggling son. The father expressed his concern for his son’s well-being, but explained that he was simply unable to do anything to be of material assistance.

The Rebbe replied by asking him why Moshe, in his complaints to Hashem, began by asking whether he had conceived and given birth to the Jewish nation, and only subsequently continued to express his inability to supply them with the tremendous amount of meat necessary to meet their desires. If Moshe knew that he lacked the means to provide them with their request, why was it relevant whether he gave birth to them?

The father remained silent. The Rebbe continued, explaining that we derive from here that only because Moshe didn’t conceive the Jewish nation was he able to excuse himself with the argument that he was incapable of meeting their demands. However, if somebody did give birth to another person, a claim of a lack of means to assist and support them is completely invalid.

Shavuos/Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Gemora in Bava Basra (91a) teaches that Boaz had 60 sons and daughters, all of whom died during his lifetime as a punishment for the fact that he refused to invite the barren Manoach (the father of Shimshon) to the weddings of his children because Manoach would be unable to “pay him back” by inviting him to the weddings of his children. How could the righteous Boaz make such selfish calculations? (Maharsha Bava Basra 91a)

2)     The Medrash (Sifri V’zos HaBeracha 2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world. Each of them asked what is written in it, to which Hashem responded with the single mitzvah which would be most difficult for the people of that nation to observe. Not surprisingly, they all declined. The Jewish people told Moshe (Shemos 19:8) that everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do. Had they instead asked the same question as the other nations, which mitzvah would have been deemed the most difficult for them and presented to them to determine the sincerity of their willingness to accept the Torah?

3)     The Medrash (Tehillim 8) teaches that when the angels objected to the giving of the Torah to mere mortals, they were reminded of the fact that they had violated the prohibition against eating meat and milk together when they were guests of Avrohom, who served them milk, cream, and the meat of a cow (Bereishis 18:8). As the meat and milk dishes weren’t cooked together, in what way did the angels transgress a Biblical prohibition? (Birkas Peretz Parshas Vaeira)

4)     Rashi writes (Shemos 20:1) that Hashem initially said all of the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments) simultaneously, and then repeated each one individually because the human ear isn’t capable of understanding two things said at the same time. What was Hashem’s purpose in initially stating the Aseres HaDibros in an incomprehensible manner? (Ayeles HaShachar)

5)     The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 756:1) that a person is obligated to spend up to one-fifth of his money to perform a positive commandment. Why is the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents (20:12) different, as the Gemora rules (Kiddushin 32a) that a person is only required to honor his parents using their money but needn’t spend any of his own? (Zahav Sh’va, M’rafsin Igri)

6)     Rashi writes (Bamidbar 10:35) that the Torah wrote a reversed letter “nun” before and after a short section of the Torah to teach that it was written here out-of-place to interrupt between two portions dealing with sin and retribution. Why specifically was the letter “nun” used to convey this message instead of any other letter? (Baal HaTurim, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Siddur HaGra)

7)     How is to be understood that the generation which received the Torah at Mount Sinai fell so far so quickly and complained about such mundane matters as the taste of the Manna (11:4-6)? (Darkei Mussar, Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

8)     Rashi writes (11:5) that the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it desired, except for 5 tastes which it couldn’t take on because they are unhealthy for nursing women. The Gemora in Berachos (48b) teaches that after eating the Manna, the Jews recited Birkas HaMazon. Was this the case only when they elected that the Manna should taste like bread, or even if they caused it to taste like a food which doesn’t require Birkas HaMazon? (Taima D’Kra Parshas Beshalach)

9)     After listening to the complaints of the mixed multitude about the Manna and forbidden relationships, Moshe told Hashem (11:15) that the burden of the nation was too much for him and asked Hashem to kill him to spare him from so much suffering. Why was this sin so much greater than the sins of the golden calf and the spies, which Moshe was able to endure and even pray for atonement on behalf of the sinners? (Ayeles HaShachar)

10)  After the Jewish people had complained and demanded meat to eat (11:4), Hashem caused a wind to blow quail from the sea into the Jewish camp (11:31). May one derive from here that poultry is legally considered a form of meat, and if not, why didn’t Hashem satisfy their request? (Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh 143, Yad Shaul Hilchos Nedorim 216, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

11)  The Torah praises Moshe (12:3) for being exceedingly humble – “v’ha’ish Moshe anav me’od.” The Mishnah in Avos (4:4) advises a person to be exceptionally humble in spirit – “me’od me’od hevay sh’fal ruach. Why doesn’t the Torah use the word “me’od” two times describing Moshe’s extraordinary level of humility, and if he wasn’t able to reach such a level, how can the Mishnah in Avos advise others to aim for it? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.