By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 90 – Watch What You Eat
“And they shall eat them that he will gain atonement through them.” From this pasuk we learn the rule that Kohanim ochlim u’baalim miskaprim, when the Kohanim eat the meat of the korban that is when the one who brought the korban gains his atonement.
Interestingly enough, it turns out that this concept is not exclusive to Kohanim. Obviously, regarding korbanos it certainly is. No one other than a Kohein is allowed to eat those parts of the korban that the Torah assigned for their consumption. However, in terms of the idea that human consumption can carry such incredible power and kedusha, that is not limited to Kohanim. Consider the following words of the Ramchal in Messilas Yesharim.
“And behold, the individual who becomes sanctified with the kedusha of his Creator, even that person’s physical actions become matters of kedusha. Literally. An indication of this is the consumption of korbanos which is itself a mitzvas aseih, and Chazal said Kohanim eat and the owner gains atonement…A holy person who is constantly cleaving to his Lord, and his soul walks amongst the true intellectual awareness of love and awe of his Creator, behold it is considered for that person as if he is walking before Hashem in the land of the living even while he is here in this World. And behold, a person like this is himself like a Mishkan, Mikdash, and Mizbeiach, as Chazal said…the tzaddikim, they are the chariot, because the Shechina dwells upon them as it dwelt in the Mikdash. That being so, the food that they eat is like a korban that is placed upon the fires (of the Mizbeiach). Certainly, it is considered a tremendous uplifting for those things that would go up upon the Mizbeiach since they were [thereby] being brought before the Shechina. It was such an advantage for those things to the extent that the entire species thereof would be blessed throughout the world [as a result], as Chazal say in the Medrash. So too, the food and drink that the ish kadosh consumes, it is an uplifting for that food and for that drink, and literally as if it were brought upon the Mizbeiach.”
Now, you may be thinking, “That’s nice, but what does that have to do with me?” Good question. One answer is that even if you may feel that you do not have the opportunity to merit this in of yourself, you nevertheless may have countless opportunities to do so through others. And the truth is that it has a lot more to do with you than you may have thought.
There is a Gemara in Brachos (10b) that says anyone who hosts a talmid chacham in his house and gives him to benefit from his possessions, the Torah considers it for that person as if he brought the korbanos Tamid on the Mizbeiach.
Don’t think that this is only talking about the Gadol Ha’Dor or otherwise great hidden tzaddikim or something like that.
Until relatively very recent Jewish history, there was no such thing as a dorm and dining room in a Yeshiva. A Yeshiva was a relatively unstructured environment of a group of bachurim learning with the local Rav, who, back then was almost invariably a great Gadol B’Torah. Parenthetically, just to get an idea of the caliber of many Rabbanim back in Europe, consider the following short anecdote. Once, during a Yoreh Deiah shiur, one of the talmidim asked Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky a question and he responded by quoting by heart an entire passage of Pri Megadim verbatim that addressed just that question. He explained to the talmidim that in Lithuania, just to be considered for semicha one had to know the entire Pri Megadim by heart! So, coming back, a Yeshiva was generally a rather informal grouping of talmidim around the Rav of the city or town who would guide them in their learning and deliver shiurim from time to time, or daily, as he would see fit.
So where did the out-of-town bachurim sleep and eat back then? Simple. In the home of a local family. Many families would house yeshiva bachurim as full-fledged bnei bayis, as if they were part of the family. Sometimes, though, perhaps as the level of the generations dwindled and poverty in certain countries increased, there was the essen-teg system. Basically that meant that bachurim would have a rotation. This was not ideal, it meant that a bachur would eat with a different family every day. If he was lucky. Some bachurim would not manage to find families for every day of the week. They would just have to go hungry that day. Sleeping was also an issue. Many bachurim, at least in between the two world wars, had no choice but to sleep on the cold, hard benches of the local Shul. In a nutshell, towards the end of European Jewry (as it was then), the situation with yeshiva bachurim had seen better days.
It was about this system – or lack thereof by his time – that the Mishna Brurah (180:3) wrote the following.
“The Shlah wrote…I praise those communities that throughout the year support on their own tables bachurim who are learning, like one of their own children. By doing so, the Baal Ha’Bayis is fulfilling two things; the mitzvah of supporting the poor, and the mitzvah of having words of Torah spoken at the table as well. Most (out-of-town) bachurim that are learning are poor, and also most such bachurim will generally speak divrei Torah at the table. And certainly that which is eaten on the table morning and evening is considered like the two korbanos Tamid.”
We see, then, that the Shlah and the Mishna Brurah are extending this concept to anyone who is involved with full-time Torah study. At first glance, this would seem to contradict the Ramchal who said that only the consumption of people on a very high level of kedusha is considered as a korban. Certainly, not every yeshiva bachur is on the amazingly lofty madreigah described by the Ramchal. The truth is, though, that it is not a contradiction. You see, the pasuk says, “Yekarah hee mi’pninim, Torah is more precious than pearls.” On this, Chazal darshen, it is more precious than even the Kohein Gadol who goes lifnai v’lifnim, in to the innermost chamber of the Kodesh Kadashim. Based on this, the Mishna says a halacha, a mamzer who is a talmid chacham has precedence to a Kohein Gadol who is an am ha’aretz.
The maalah of Torah is even greater than the maalah of Kehunah. The maalah of Kehunah is inherent, irrespective of a particular Kohein’s conscious awareness or lack thereof. Even a Kohein who is not manifestly holding on a high level of kedusha can eat the korbanos and the atonement of the one who brought it is effected thereby. So too is the maalah of Torah inherent, irrespective of the conscious awareness of the lomeid Torah of that maalah. The inherent, internal dveikus ba’Hashem that is generated by the learning of Torah is a reality. Even if the one possessing that Torah has not yet managed to raise his conscious awareness up to that incredible level of kedusha that is inherently manifest in his internal connection with the Torah, the fact is that the connection is nevertheless there. His essential reality is intimately bound up with Torah, which is of course the whole purpose of creation. Therefore, that which sustains him is inherently considered to be on the highest level of material usage, like a korban which is brought before the Shechina.
If you are zocheh to have sons or sons in law who are engaged in full-time Torah study, then every bit of support you provide to them is as if you are bringing a korban in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. When you have bachurim over for a meal, you are literally doing the same thing as being makriv a korban on the Mizbeiach. If you yourself are zocheh to be amongst the lomdei Torah, then your own consumption is like a korban. Irrespective of whether or not you are consciously aware of it; that is the reality.
And, it must be emphasized, even if you are not one of those who is engaged in full-time Torah study, you also have a cheilek in this. How so? It’s simple. Even someone who may not be a full zahir may have at least a facet of zehirus to him. Although one may not be a full zariz, he certainly has certain nekudos of zerizus. Even though we are very far from kedusha in the overall sense, we all have a nekudah of kedusha within us. The same thing applies to one’s connection to Torah. Even one who may not be rosho v’rubo involved in learning Torah; nevertheless, to whatever extent he is involved in learning Torah he has this maalah as well. I don’t know if you can mathematize it and say that if one spends 10% of his time learning then 10% of what he eats is considered a korban. But what is for sure is that he definitely has a shaychus and connection to this reality. Certainly, when a guy comes home after a long day of work and takes a few quick bites to eat so that he can have energy for his night seider, there is no question, at least in my mind, that what he ate then is definitely like a korban. And whether he ate it quickly or not or whether it was just a few bites or a whole square meal really has nothing to do with it.
Halevai that we would be able to bring up our conscious awareness to even a mashehu of the kedusha and gadlus that is inherently within us. But even if we are not consciously aware of it, we can still chap arein and take incredible pleasure in all the myriad opportunities that the Ribbono shel Olam gives us to be part of this amazing system and structure of kedusha, of dveikus ba’Shechina. Whether it be with our sons, sons in law, guests, or our very selves, it is an incredible taanug and source of great joy to at least have an inkling of the amazing kedusha that exists in what we do, and even in what we eat.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.