Weekly Torah Portion

Ki Tavo – Happiness and Peace

Devarim, 28:47: “Because you did not serve HaShem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.”
The Torah outlines the devastating curses that will take place if the Jewish people do not follow HaShem’s will.  In the midst of this account, the Torah gives a reason for the punishments; because the people did not serve HaShem with happiness. 

The Ramban[1] writes that the klalot (curses) in this Parsha correspond to the destruction of the Second Temple and the subsequent exile.  Based on this, Rav Yissachar Frand shlit’a, poses an interesting question. 

As is well-known, Chazal[2] tell us that the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple was sinas chinam, baseless hatred.  Accordingly, Rav Frand notes a contradiction.  Based on the Ramban, the Torah itself is telling us that the cause of the Second Temple’s destruction was that we did not serve HaShem with joy.  Consequently, how can the Gemara say that the cause of the destruction was baseless hatred?!

The Mishmar Haleviim[3] cites Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, zt”l’s  explanation of a Maamer Chazal as the key to answering this contradiction.  The Gemara[4] states that Talmidei Chachamim increase peace in the world.  The commentaries discuss why this is the case:  Rav Abramsky explains that a Talmid Chacham is not merely a person who knows a great deal of Torah, rather he is a person who is at peace with himself, and satisfied with what he is accomplishing. 

As a result of this, he appreciates what is genuinely important and does not ascribe any value to anything that is not in the spiritual realm never.  Accordingly, he never has reason to be jealous of other people because of their success in the non-spiritual realm.  Because of all this, he succeeds in avoiding Machlokes and is at peace with everyone.  This is why Talmidei Chachamim increase peace in the world.

With this explanation, we can now resolve the contradiction between the two reasons given for the destruction of the Second Temple.  In truth, the Torah was giving the root cause of the destruction, which was a lack of happiness in Mitzva observance.  This pervasive negativity gave rise to the sinat chinam that was the immediate cause of the destruction. 

When a person lacks joy in spiritual pursuits, he is more interested in transient pleasures such as honor, power, money and lust, and he is far more prone to feeling negative emotions towards people who threaten his attainment of any of those ‘values’. 

For example, if a person wants honor, he is likely to be jealous of someone who receives more honor than him and this jealousy is often the underlying cause of hatred that develops.  Accordingly, when a person has a lack of spiritual satisfaction in his life, he is far more likely to develop feelings of hatred to others.  Thus, the cause of the sinat chinam that plagued the nation was a lack of true joy in the spiritual realm.  In contrast, Talmidei Chachamim exude peace because they have joy in their Torah observance and are above this-worldly concerns.

The following story, recounted by Rav Yechiel Spero, shlit’a, demonstrates this phenomenon[5]Rav Lazer Gordon zt”l was the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of the city of Telshe.  When he suddenly died, the people needed to choose a successor as quickly as possible.

He had two sons-in-law, both of whom were worthy to be his successor.  The older one was Rav Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l, the Lutzker Rav and the author of Oznayim LeTorah, a great Talmid chacham with a strong following.  The younger son-in-law, Rav Yosef Leib Bloch, was also an outstanding scholar, and an excellent choice to take over for his father-in-law.  It was widely assumed that Rav Sorotzkin would be chosen, since he was older. 

However, when Rav Zalman sensed that there was a small chance that there would be machlokes over who would assume the roles, he decided to move to Eretz Yisrael with his family.  This way, the position of his father-in-law would be able to go to Rav Bloch without any dispute.  To ensure that his brother-in-law received the position, he asked his wife to go into town and to gather as many signatures as possible on a petition stating that the people of the town wanted Rav Bloch to be the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva. 

This amazing story provides a wonderful example of how a Talmid Chacham’s disregard for the intoxicating pleasure of honor, enabled him to flee from Machloket.  A person who desired honor would never be able to forego that honor for the sake of maintaining peace, and sadly, many damaging disputes have taken place when the desire for honor overrode the recognition of the damage of Machloket.

May we merit to find joy in our Mitzva observance and enjoy the fruits of peace that emanate from that joy.

Notes and Sources

[1] Vayikra, 26:16. He writes the klalos in Parshas Bechukosai correspond to the destruction of the First Temple.
[2] Yoma, 9b.
[3] Dh: U’bebiur. Rav Frand also cites Rav Abramsky.
[4] Brachos, 64a.
[5] ‘A Touch of Purity’, pp.41-42.

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