By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
וכל מעשר הארץ… כז:ל Regarding the fulfillment of a mitzvah, one needs to be aware if the mitzvah he is doing is d’Rabbanan or d’Oraysah (Rabbnicially mandated or Biblically mandated). If, when carrying out a mitzvah d’Oraysah, one mistakenly thinks that it is only d’Rabbanan, and he consciously intends to fulfill a mitzvah d’Rabbanan with his action, there is a strong argument to be made that doing so makes it that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. However, when it comes to hafrashas terumos u’maasros (tithing produce), that is not the case. Yes, regarding some types of produce the obligation to tithe is d’Oraysah, whereas with other types the obligation is only d’Rabbanan. However, awareness of the particular level of obligation pertinent to the produce at hand is not essential for the tithing to take effect. Even if what he is about to tithe is obligated on the d’Oraysah level, and he mistakenly thinks that it is only obligated on the d’Rabbanan level, there is no reason to posit that his cognitive error should prevent the tithing from taking effect. That in the act of separating the requisite amount of produce one must have clear intent to tithe is certain, but even if the person tithing thinks the produce is only obligated on the d’Rabbanan level whereas in reality it’s obligated on the d’Oraysah level, the tithing takes effect. (Audio recording)
וכל מעשר בקר וצאן… כז:לב Although the Torah gives a mitzvah to separate maaser beheimah, it does not say what to do with it. That it must be brought as a korban (unless it has a blemish) is clear, but to whom does the leftover meat belong to is left unspoken. The Rishonim say that, like maaser sheini, maaser beheimah belongs to its owner. Therefore, he is the one to whom the leftover meat – after it is sacrificed – belongs, and he gets to eat it. The only difference between maaser sheini and maaser beheimah is that the former can be redeemed with money (which, in turn, must be brought to Yerushalayim and used to purchase foodstuffs that will be eaten there) whereas the latter cannot (as the pasuk clearly indicates). There is a dissenting opinion, though. Rav Saadiah Gaon held that maaser beheimah is given to a kohen just like all the other matnos kehunah. Since we do not find maaser beheimah listed amongst the twenty-four matnos kehunah listed in parshas Korach (or the Gemara, for that matter), apparently, according to Rav Saadiah Gaon, it is subsumed under the category of bechor beheimah. (Audio recording)
Preparing to Receive the Torah Imagine that, instead of the year 5778, it is the year 2448 – precisely 3,330 years ago – and soon you are going to experience Maamad Har Sinai. Not a memorial, but the real thing. You are going to see Har Sinai smoking, thekolos u’vrakim, and of course receive the Torah directly from Hashem. How would you prepare for this awesome event, and what would you do afterwards? It is worthwhile asking ourselves this question, how would we go about preparing for Shavuos were we to view it as the day of Matan Torah in the most literal sense?
One of the areas that deserves our particular attention as we approach this day is taking under consideration the tools needed for receiving, absorbing, and containing the Torah. By way of analogy, imagine a boy who is on the cusp of becoming bar mitzvah. “You are going to receive as gifts many precious sefarim that contain abundant wellsprings of divrei Torah,” he is told. Excited and burning with a desire to learn from his “soon-to-be-mine” sefarim, the boy begins to map out a plan. First, he determines where in his home there is an appropriate place that he can sit down, with minimum disturbances, to learn. He makes sure that his chosen spot is sufficiently illuminated for night-time study. Next, he procures for himself a decent notebook and a pen with which he can record summaries of what he has learned and, he hopes intensely, his own novel thoughts as well. And so on and so forth. What is taking place in this mashal is that the boy is preparing the various tools that he’ll need for proper Torah study. The nimshal, of course, is that, in order to properly receive the Torah, there is a need to prepare the appropriate tools.
The Mishna tells us, hasken atzmecha, fix yourself up to learn Torah. What type of eyes are we going to use to gaze upon and read the words of Torah? With what type of ears are we going to listen to divrei Torah? With what type of mouth are we going to speak divrei Torah?
Of course, every day of the year we have a mitzvah to guard our eyes against improper sights, our ears and mouths from hearing and speaking forbidden words such as lashon hara and rechilus and all other forms of forbidden speech, and our minds from thinking inappropriate thoughts. But as we approach the day of Matan Torah, there is an added element to these mitzvos. In addition to the avoidance of evil, by purifying the senses and parts of our bodies that we use to learn Torah, we are fixing up and preparing the tools that we need to receive our holy Torah.
The truth is that even if this were “merely” a matter of kavod ha’Torah – demonstrating proper respect and regard for Hashem’s Torah – that would be more than sufficient a reason to give attention to maintaining the spiritual cleanliness of our eyes, ears, mouth, and mind. That the Torah should not be made to reside in soiled vessels. After all, Chazal (Megillah 3b) make it clear that kavod ha’Torah is of utmost importance, sometimes even taking priority over the study of Torah itself! There is even a midrash on Sefer Iyov that says that the main thing for which one is going to have to give an accounting for in the next world is kavod ha’Torah. Respect for Torah and those who learn it.
In our context, though, it’s not only a matter of kavod ha’Torah, but it is relevant to the actual study of Torah itself, which is “our lives and the length of our days”. Torah knowledge needs to reside in vessels that are clean and pure, to whatever extent possible.
(Adapted from Maamarei Chag Ha’Shavuos)
Quotables “Just as one would never say ‘he was my father’, so too does it make no sense to say ‘he was my rebbi’. A father-child relationship is unbreakable, and so too is a rebbi-talmid relationship forever.”
Vignettes “One time, in the midst of a conversation that took place on a regular weekday, Rav Twersky asked me – perhaps concerned that I sounded a bit melancholy – ‘Are you fulfilling the mitzvas ha’yom?’ Confounded by the question – as I said, this was a regular weekday – I responded, “Rebbi, what is the mitzvas ha’yom?!’ To which he answered, ‘To be b’simcha!” (A talmid)