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Torah Sparks

May 24, 2008 – 19 Iyar 5768

Annual: Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34 (Etz Hayim, p. 747; Hertz p. 542)
Triennial: Leviticus 26:3 – 27:15 (Etz Hayim, p. 747; Hertz p. 542)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 763; Hertz p. 551)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Israel will be blessed with peace and prosperity if it follows God’s laws and obeys His commandments. However, if Israel chooses not to obey God’s laws, its people will experience increasingly severe punishments – disease, famine, war, and exile. God promises that even after these terrible things befall the people, He will not destroy Israel completely but will remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and will welcome Israel’s teshuvah.

God tells Moses to instruct the people about the fulfillment of vows and provides details about how much to pay to reclaim a vow for various categories of human beings as well as animals, houses, and land.

First-born animals are not subject to vows – they are automatically consecrated to God. First-born kosher animals are to be brought for sacrifice and first-born impure animals must be redeemed for money. Tithes of produce and animals are described.

1. Study and Practice

If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments... (Vayikra 26:3)

  1. If you follow My laws: I might think that this refers to the fulfillment of the commandments; but where it states and faithfully observe My commandments, there the fulfillment of the commandments is already stated. How, then, shall I explain If you follow My laws? That you shall toil in the Torah. Study the Torah laboriously for the purpose of observing and fulfilling, as it is stated, “Study them and observe them faithfully” (Devarim 5:1). (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. If a Jew is less than scrupulous in observing the commandments but toils in Torah study, his Torah study will eventually bring him to repent. If you follow My laws – if you toil in Torah study, the result will be that you will faithfully observe My commandments. (Rabbi Zvi Hirsh of Liska, 1798-1874, Hungary)
  3. Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the home of Nitzah in Lydda when this question was raised before them: Which is greater – study or practice? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Practice is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. All spoke up and said: Study is greater, for it leads to practice. (Kiddushin 40b)
  4. Rabbi Hiyya taught: This verse [above] speaks of one who studies in order to practice. As for him who studies without intending to practice, it were better if he had not been created. (Vayikra Rabbah 35:7)

Sparks for Discussion

Our commentators understand the outcome, if not purpose, of Torah study to be observance of the mitzvot. Do you think that Torah study necessarily leads to increased observance? Do you think that Torah study should lead to observance? What other reasons do people have for studying Torah? What inspires people to become observant?

2. Who Blesses His People Israel With Peace

I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts and no sword shall cross your land. (Vayikra 26:6)

  1. Perhaps you shall say: Behold there is food and there is drink; (but) if there is no peace there is nothing. Scripture states after all this, I will grant peace in the land. Hence (we derive) that peace is balanced against every thing... (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. I will grant peace in the land – amongst yourselves. (Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, 1092-1167, Spain)
  3. In the generation of Saul there were many scholars but, nevertheless, they did not gain victory over their enemies. This is because there were informers among them and disputes. And then we find that in the generation of Ahab they were all idolaters but, nevertheless, they gained victory over their enemies. This is because there were no informers among them but peace reigned in the camp of Israel. (Yerushalmi Peah 1)
  4. So that there will be peace among you, and no man shall fight with his brother, or “peace” may mean that I will give the land respite from vicious beasts and no sword shall cross your land. You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. (Ramban [Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, 1194-1270, Spain])
  5. Great is peace, for even the angels in heaven need peace, as it says: “He makes peace in His high places” (Job 25:2) Now, can we not reason from the less important to the more important? If peace is necessary in heaven, a place where there is no hatred or enmity, how much more is it necessary on earth, where so many conflicts are found! (B’midbar Rabbah 11:7)

Sparks for Discussion

Ibn Ezra and many others understand the phrase I will grant peace in the land to mean there will be peace within the Jewish community; Ramban points out that the context of our verse seems to refer to peace from external enemies and war. Which do you think is the greater blessing? Is one possible without the other? How do you define the word “peace”?

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