Just about every single Yom Tov in our calendar comes along with its own cheftza shel mitzvah. In a very large way, these items put the Yom Tov into a framework for us. It is through the intensive preparations of these items before the Yom Tov as well as the correct usage of them on the Yom Tov that we are capable of properly celebrating the day and maximizing what we are capable of taking away from it. Who could imagine a Pesach without the weeks-long preparation of ridding the house of chametz, and the many more months-long preparations of making the matzah! What would a Succos be like without spending many long hours on putting up the succah, finding a spotless Esrog and a Lulav whose t’yomes is sealed far tighter than even the most classified government documents! Can you imagine a Rosh Hashana without a shofar? Yom Kippur without fasting? Chanuka without a menorah or Purim without a megillah?
There are however, two Yamim Tovim which do not seem to come along with any specific mitzvos. Shemini Atzeres is a regel bifnei atzmo, a separate Yom Tov all to itself, and then we seem to actually lose mitzvos! We leave our sukkos, we put down the arba minim and do nothing particularly special other than to sing and dance! Shavuos too, although we do not lose any mitzvos, it hard to see any particular cheftza d’mitzvah associated with its observance. These are the preliminary findings of a cursory glance at the calendar.
Baruch Hashem, however, who has allowed us to look at his Torah more than just once! There is no need for us to stand outside in the rain with the doors of understanding locked firmly before us! A deeper look will yield us many more results. I believe that there is a cheftza shel mitzvah associated with each of these Yamim Tovim. If we can succeed in digging deeply enough into these Yamim Tovim, we will be able to find the parts of life where they hit home the hardest. This knowledge will allow us to focus our avodah properly and maximize the returns that we receive from all the effort that we put into the celebration of the Yom Tov.
Let us take the example of Shemini Atzeres. Although not officially a mitzvah, on this day we go back into the house. We have just completed a week of living outside, with no shingles or ceiling, nothing at all which could separate between us and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It was a diras arai where the feeling of closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu was palpable. Although we are headed back indoors, chas v’shalom, that we should leave the wonderful company of the Ribono Shel Olam outside in our now vacant sukkos! Though the Torah does not state this in so many words, it does not have to! The avodas hayom is to take HaKadosh Baruch Hu back with us into the house, and turn what just two weeks ago was a very permanent diras keva into one which reflects the nature of the diras arai that we have just stepped out of. Today is of crucial importance for anyone who wishes to keep Sukkos with them throughout the rest of the year. We must make the nature of our home our utmost priority on Shemini Atzeres, to the extent that it would be absolutely correct to say that what the sukkah is to Sukkos, the house is to Shemini Atzeres.
What about Shavuos? Is there a cheftza shel mitzvah for this Yom Tov as well? I believe that there is. The cheftza shel mitzvah is the human body and the avodah that we do with this cheftza shel mitzvah is to work on improving its posture.
Before your mind wanders to the world of chiropractors and back exercises, let me assure you that we are not talking about anything that has anything to do with physical therapy. We are talking about the Torah’s description of the ideal Jew. Let us walk our fingers back through the pages of the Chumash. Our destination is Parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:13):
אֲנִ֞י יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִֽהְיֹ֥ת לָהֶ֖ם עֲבָדִ֑ים וָאֶשְׁבֹּר֙ מֹטֹ֣ת עֻלְּכֶ֔ם וָאוֹלֵ֥ךְ אֶתְכֶ֖ם קֽוֹמְמִיּֽוּת:
I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Mitzrayim from being to them as servants and I have broken the staves of your yoke and I have led with an upright stature.
This pasuk is an unbelievable description of Yetzias Mitzrayim. It was a process, one which began with the shattering of that unbelievably heavy yoke which Pharaoh had laid upon our necks, and which culminated in our walking around with the upright stature of free men! Although walking around with an upright stature is actually something which is forbidden to us, that is only when we are doing so with a false sense of pride, thinking that we have made ourselves into something or someone of distinguish. The erect posture of komemiyus is something entirely different! That stems from the knowledge that we are noble and distinguished personalities – because the Ribono Shel Olam made us be so!
This noble posture is something which hits home very strongly come Shavuos time, being that it is really a sugia in the parsha of Matan Torah. There we find the really unbelievable words of Rashi in the give and take between Hashem and Klal Yisroel in the pesukim leading up to the Aseres HaDibros (Shemos 19:6):
ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים – שרים כמה דאת אמר (שמואל ב’ ח יח) ובני דוד כהנים היו:
And you shall be to me as a kingdom of Kohanim – princes, as you find said “And the children of Dovid were Kohanim.”
At Matan Torah, Hashem did not merely hand us an instruction manual and tell us “Here, do this and don’t do that!” Receiving the Torah wrought an incredible change in our nature! We became nobility! Noblesse oblige, what Hashem did was to bestow upon us a status which itself demands of us to conform to an entirely different standard of behavior! It is this G-d bestowed nobility which grants us the ability to stand up tall. Thus, at the end of seven weeks of counting up from Yetzias Mitzrayim to Matan Torah, we find the culmination of the process which started with the violent smashing of the Egyptian yoke that weighed us so heavily down, and ended with the straight and kingly posture with which we stood at Matan Torah.
Let us take a few minutes now to think about what we are saying. Nobility and royalty are what allow us and demand from us to stand up tall. That is a very interesting thing in light of several other halachos that we know about kings (Rambam Hilchos Melachim 2:6):
כדרך שחלק לו הכתוב הכבוד הגדול, וחייב הכל בכבודו, כך צוהו להיות לבו בקרבו שפל וחלל שנאמר ולבי חלל בקרבי, ולא ינהג גסות לב בישראל יתר מדאי, שנאמר לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו, ויהיה חונן ומרחם לקטנים וגדולים, ויצא ויבא בחפציהם ובטובתם, ויחוס על כבוד קטן שבקטנים, וכשמדבר אל כל הקהל בלשון רבים ידבר רכות, שנאמר שמעוני אחי ועמי, ואומר אם היום תהיה עבד לעם הזה וגו’,
In the same way that the Torah apportioned to the king vast honor and obligated everyone to honor him, so too did the Torah command that his heart remain low and morose, as it says “and my heart is pierced within me.” And he must not comport himself in a manner that is overly comfortable with Yisroel, as it says “So that his heart should not become lifted above his brothers” and he shall be compassionate and merciful to the small as well as to the great. He shall come and go, i.e. he shall conduct his affairs for their needs and their good, and he shall be concerned for the dignity of the smallest of the small, and when he speaks to the public in a lashon rabim he shall speak gently as the pasuk says “listen to me my brothers and my nation” and it says further “if you will act today as a servant to this nation.”
לעולם יתנהג בענוה יתירה, אין לנו גדול ממשה רבינו והוא אומר ונחנו מה לא עלינו תלונותיכם, ויסבול טרחם ומשאם ותלונותם וקצפם כאשר ישא האומן את היונק, רועה קראו הכתוב, לרעות ביעקב עמו, ודרכו של רועה מפורש בקבלה כרועה עדרו ירעה בזרועו יקבץ טלאים ובחיקו ישא וגו’.
He shall forever comport himself with exceeding humility; we have no one who was greater than Moshe Rabbeinu and he said of himself “and what are we, not upon us are your complaints” and he carried their toil, their weighty issues, their complaints and their wrath, just as the nursing mother carries the infant. The pasuk calls him [Moshe] a shepherd, “to shepherd in Yaakov his nation”, and the way of the shepherd is explicitly stated in the tradition “As a shepherd grazes his flock, with his might he gathers the lambs and in his bosom he carries them…”
What we see here about the king is something incredible! He is the one who stands head and shoulder above everyone else. He is the one who must bear himself with majestic composure and demeanor. No infringements whatsoever may be made upon his honor, and one who trespasses the bounds of his dignity forfeits his life! Yet he is simultaneously the singular most self-effacing person in the entire nation! He does not hold himself above even the lowest of the low. He relates even to the homeless pauper sleeping beneath a bridge with due dignity! He is at one and the same time the fearless leader of his nation as well as their devoted servant. The dichotomy is overwhelming!
The truth is that the contrast is indeed very sharp. But it is natural and self-explanatory once we understand where true dignity derives from. We must bring ourselves to understand this truth, that the ability to stand up straight is completely dependent upon and derived from the ability to bend down low! The king is only a king because he is a servant of the people! If he loses sight of that fact then he becomes nothing more than a pompous fool [albeit a very dangerous one]!
It was only after we had first been bent nearly in two beneath the Egyptian yoke for several hundred years that we were capable of undergoing the seven-weeklong process leading up to Matan Torah and attain our erect posture there. Only after experiencing the harshest of servitudes imaginable were we able to attain our noble nature, a nobility that runs far higher than any mortal kingship. It was there that we learned in the greatest detail how a servant has to serve his master in every single aspect of his life. Having learned the meaning of servitude in the greatest detail, we are now capable of applying that knowledge toward our service of the Ribono Shel Olam and through it attain the highest form of nobility that exists.
The Definition of Nobility:
Okay. We have heard a lot so far about the fact that we are noble people, occupants of the highest order of nobility ever to be known to this world. What does that mean to us in a practical sense? How are we supposed to actually work on keeping our backs nobly ramrod straight?
A good place to start would be to find out for ourselves a working definition of what a noble and a freeman is? We will use the definition that Chazal imparted to us (Maseches Kallah Rabasi 5:3)
אין לך בן חורין אלא ההוגה בתורה.
There is no one who is truly free except for one who expresses words of Torah.
Every single person who walks upon this planet does so while carrying a great deal of weight upon their shoulders. Servitudes, of all kinds and of every shape are constantly crushing down upon us. Some of us are slaves to our mattresses. Without just the right sleep number we simply cannot sleep. Others are enslaved by their appetites, yet others are subjected by all sorts of whims and fancies. There are simply an unlimited amount of rulers who rule upon the average person with an iron fist. Only one who has emancipated himself from all of these rulers can truly call himself a free man. The only one who can truly effect such an emancipation proclamation is one who throws himself completely into his learning. Only one who is constantly involved in the study of Torah and who has accepted the complete and utter mastery of the Ribono Shel Olam and His Torah upon himself can possibly free himself from all these other masters in this fashion. It is this servitude that we are called to take upon ourselves. It is this abject servility which confers upon its bearers the utter nobility that we speak of!
It is with these words in mind that we repeat our statement from the beginning of this essay. What is the cheftza shel mitzvah of Shavuos? It is the human body, and the avodah that we do with it is to break the chains of bondage which bind it to any other master other than the Ribono Shel Olam! Yes, everything that we hear about Shavuos being a Yom Tov of Torah is one hundred percent true. But this Yom Tov of Torah demands that we undertake this avodah of sublimating and elevating the body!
The Properties of Dust:
I believe that this avodah is very strongly born out from the parsha of the Sotah. I would like to read a little bit from what Rav Alexander Mandelbaum Shlita writes about this parsha in his Sefer Mima’amakim. It is somewhat of a lengthy quote so we will relegate it to the footnote and instead paraphrase it here:
The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 9:15) teaches the following about the procedure of the Sotah:
“Why did the Torah say that we should use dirt for the Sotah? Because if she is meritorious then a son will emerge from here who is like Avraham Avinu of whom it is written (Bereishis 18) ‘And I am dirt and ashes’. And if she is not meritorious then she will return to her dirt [that which she was formed from]. Our masters have said: as a reward for that which Avraham said “I am dust and ashes”, his children received the merit of two mitzvos, the ashes of the Parah Aduma and the dust of the Sotah.”
The Sefas Emes explains the connection between the mitzvah of Sotah and Avraham Avinu – or to be more precise, that between the humble dust of Avraham Avinu and the soil mixed into the Sotah’s water – as follows:
What did Avraham mean to say with the expression “and I am but dirt and ashes”? There is a very intimate connection between Avraham Avinu and the soil. Dirt is the foundation of all that exists, as the pasuk says “Everything comes from the earth and everything will return to there.” In quite a similar fashion, Avraham Avinu occupied the position as the support upon which the entire world stands, as can be seen from the way in which the pasuk describing the finished product of creation (See footnote) utilizes that very same letter which was added to Avraham’s name! The relationship between the two is exemplified by this power which resides in the soil to break everything down, then, once it is duly broken it can receive vitality and bear fruit. This was the strength of Avraham who was keenly aware of the fact that he was simultaneously the bedrock of the world, the foundational pillar upon which all else stands – as well as the fact that he was no more than reconstituted dirt and ashes. This strength of Avraham is the duty of every man. Each and every person must know that he was created in order to rectify everything for man is the tool through which all else comes to its rectification.
What emerges from all of this is that Klal Yisroel of whom it is said “You are Adam” are referred to as dust because they have the strength of this foundation to which all else reverts. This is what the Torah hints to by requiring the dust of the Sotah to be taken from the dirt of the Mishkan. It is as the pasuk says in Parshas Bereishis “And Hashem created man, dust from the dirt” which Chazal explain to mean that the dirt from which Adam was created was taken from the place of the Beis Hamikdash. It is for that reason that the Sotah is tested with this dirt, to see whether she has anything in common with its properties. If not – then she is cursed from the dirt.”
What this Sefas Emes is telling us is that dust represents one of the most important dichotomies in life. When a seed is planted in the earth it undergoes a two-step transformation. First it disintegrates. What was once a seed now becomes nothing more than a few strands of protein and it would seem that all is lost. But then something astonishing takes place. Those proteins begin to come together and slowly but surely, a plant begins to arise from the meager remnants of the once proud seed. First come roots, then come leaves. Slowly but surely it rises up until it becomes a mighty tree. That very same nature of the soil which once broke the seed down, nearly depriving it of existence now becomes its nurturing source of life!
This nature of the soil was one of the tremendous forces which drove Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu fully and completely nullified himself to the Ribono Shel Olam. In doing so, he simultaneously brought the entire universe to a state of nullification before its creator. Where once the world stood with a seemingly independent existence that stood between itself and its creator, now that self-existence was shorn away, thus enabling it to reconnect to its Creator and source. In this manner it was given the ability to bear fruit – that is by fulfilling the purpose for which its Creator created it [namely to give honor to Hashem who created it for precisely that purpose.]
Correspondent to this, Klal Yisroel merited to the dust of the Sotah. Through her procedure, we test her mettle against that of the dirt of the Beis HaMikdash. Can she successfully assimilate this dirt which exists to show Hashem’s glory into herself? If so then she is clearly holding true to the purpose for which she was created. But if she instead acted animalistically, with no thought for the task for which she was created, then the dirt of the Beis HaMikdash will not be able to find any rest inside of her. Its nature is so incompatible with hers that it will cause her system to go haywire and she will experience the gruesome death with which the guilty Sotah is punished.
The Dust of Royalty:
With these words in mind, let us go to a fascinating pasuk in Divrei HaYamim (I 8:8) which will hopefully enable us to apply these concepts to the Yom Tov of Shavuos and bring this shiur around full circle:
וְשַׁחֲרַ֗יִם הוֹלִיד֙ בִּשְׂדֵ֣ה מוֹאָ֔ב מִן־שִׁלְח֖וֹ אֹתָ֑ם חוּשִׁ֥ים וְאֶֽת־בַּעֲרָ֖א נָשָֽׁיו:
ושחרים הוליד בשדי מואב מן שלחו אותם חושים ואת בערא נשיו. שחרים זה בועז שהיה משוחרר מן העונות. הוליד בשדה מואב שנשא את רות המואביה. מן שלחו אותם שהיה משבטו של יהודה דכתיב ביה [בראשית מו כח] ואת יהודה שלח לפניו וגו’. חושים ואת בערא נשיו. וכי יש לך אדם שהוא מוליד את נשיו. אלא שחש כנמר וביאר את ההלכה. ויולד מן חודש אשתו לא צורכה דלא ויולד מן בערה נשיו אלא על ידיה נתחדשה הלכה עמוני ולא עמונית מואבי ולא מואבית.
And Shacharayim bore in the field of Moav, from Shilcho Otam, Chushim and Ba’ara his wives. (DHY I 8:3)
And Shacharayim bore in the field of Moav – Shacharayim refers to Boaz, who was freed from sins. Bore in the field of Moav – that he married Rus the Moabite woman. From Shilcho Otam – that he was from Yehuda of whom it is written “and Yehuda he sent before him”. Chushim and Ba’ara his wives – is there any person who bears his wives? Rather this means that he was careful like a leopard and clarified the halacha. And he gave birth from Chodesh his wife – not only did he not give birth through his wife Ba’ara but rather through her was derived the halacha Amonite and not Amonis, Moabite and not Moavis… (Yerushalmi Yevamos 8:3).
It is a funny thing that we should find this term “the field of Moav” used so often in the Megillah of Rus, and almost nowhere else. Even when the pasuk does not specifically reference the fields of Moav, still the storyline feels disproportionately focused on all different aspects of the field. Some examples are (Rus 1:1) to dwell the fields of Moav… (Rus 1:2) and they came to the field of Moav… (Rus 1:6) and they returned from the fields of Moav… (Rus 2:2) I shall go now and collect in the field… (Rus 2:3) and she collected in the field… and the list just goes on and on and on. Over and over again we stumble across the theme of the field in the Megillah of Rus. What is going on over here? What is the Torah trying to teach us?
I believe that there is a lesson here for us to take away, and that it is one which is expressed by Shlomo HaMelech very clearly in a pasuk in Koheles. There Shlomo HaMelech tells us as follows (Koheles 5:8):
וְיִתְר֥וֹן אֶ֖רֶץ בַּכֹּ֣ל ה֑וּא מֶ֥לֶךְ לְשָׂדֶ֖ה נֶעֱבָֽד:
The advantage of land is supreme; even a king is indebted to the field.
The plain meaning of this pasuk is not very difficult to spot. Of course, without the field even a king will starve. He is as human as the next person, and without food he will starve. Even the king then must recognize his dependence upon the field. That is of course true. But if we dig a little bit deeper, perhaps we can find a definition in Shlomo HaMelech’s words based upon the ideas that we have set forth. Let us ask ourselves again, what is the defining attribute of the king? As we have seen time and again in this essay, it is his ability to put his own self aside for the better good of the people. Although he enjoys the greatest privileges of everyone in the nation, that is only because he is the most subjugated of the people in the nation! Like the Sefas Emes has told us about the soil, it is vital for the king to retain this ability to completely subjugate himself to the people! Only through this ability to completely prostrate his own sense of self to the ground, to completely pulverize his selfish needs, can the king properly serve his people and wield true royalty! The king is indebted not only to the field itself but to the nature of the field with which he must conduct his own self!
The Birth of a Matriarch:
If we understand that the Megillah of Rus is the story of the birth of Malchus Beis Dovid then it will not surprise us at all to see the field given such disproportionate mention! Over and over and over again we find it because it and its nature define the righteous kings of the Davidic dynasty! From where did they receive this ability to be so field-like? From their matriarch Rus. And lest we think that this only found expression in her descendants, let us see one final passage of Navi (Melachim I 2:12-25)
וּשְׁלֹמֹ֕ה יָשַׁ֕ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֖א דָּוִ֣ד אָבִ֑יו וַתִּכֹּ֥ן מַלְכֻת֖וֹ מְאֹֽד: וַיָּבֹ֞א אֲדֹנִיָּ֣הוּ בֶן־חַגִּ֗ית אֶל־בַּת־שֶׁ֙בַע֙ אֵם־שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה וַתֹּ֖אמֶר הֲשָׁל֣וֹם בֹּאֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שָׁלֽוֹם: וַיֹּ֕אמֶר דָּבָ֥ר לִ֖י אֵלָ֑יִךְ וַתֹּ֖אמֶר דַּבֵּֽר: וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אַ֤תְּ יָדַ֙עַתְּ֙ כִּי־לִי֙ הָיְתָ֣ה הַמְּלוּכָ֔ה וְעָלַ֞י שָׂ֧מוּ כָֽל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל פְּנֵיהֶ֖ם לִמְלֹ֑ךְ וַתִּסֹּ֤ב הַמְּלוּכָה֙ וַתְּהִ֣י לְאָחִ֔י כִּ֥י מֵיְקֹוָ֖ק הָ֥יְתָה לּֽוֹ: וְעַתָּ֗ה שְׁאֵלָ֤ה אַחַת֙ אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁאֵ֣ל מֵֽאִתָּ֔ךְ אַל־תָּשִׁ֖בִי אֶת־פָּנָ֑י וַתֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו דַּבֵּֽר: וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אִמְרִי־נָא֙ לִשְׁלֹמֹ֣ה הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ כִּ֥י לֹֽא־יָשִׁ֖יב אֶת־פָּנָ֑יִךְ וְיִתֶּן־לִ֛י אֶת־אֲבִישַׁ֥ג הַשּׁוּנַמִּ֖ית לְאִשָּֽׁה: וַתֹּ֥אמֶר בַּת־שֶׁ֖בַע ט֑וֹב אָנֹכִ֕י אֲדַבֵּ֥ר עָלֶ֖יךָ אֶל־הַמֶּֽלֶךְ: וַתָּבֹ֤א בַת־שֶׁ֙בַע֙ אֶל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה לְדַבֶּר־ל֖וֹ עַל־אֲדֹנִיָּ֑הוּ וַיָּקָם֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ לִקְרָאתָ֜הּ וַיִּשְׁתַּ֣חוּ לָ֗הּ וַיֵּ֙שֶׁב֙ עַל־כִּסְא֔וֹ וַיָּ֤שֶׂם כִּסֵּא֙ לְאֵ֣ם הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ וַתֵּ֖שֶׁב לִֽימִינֽוֹ: וַתֹּ֗אמֶר שְׁאֵלָ֨ה אַחַ֤ת קְטַנָּה֙ אָֽנֹכִי֙ שֹׁאֶ֣לֶת מֵֽאִתָּ֔ךְ אַל־תָּ֖שֶׁב אֶת־פָּנָ֑י וַיֹּֽאמֶר־לָ֤הּ הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ שַׁאֲלִ֣י אִמִּ֔י כִּ֥י לֹֽא־אָשִׁ֖יב אֶת־פָּנָֽיִךְ: וַתֹּ֕אמֶר יֻתַּ֖ן אֶת־אֲבִישַׁ֣ג הַשֻּׁנַמִּ֑ית לַאֲדֹנִיָּ֥הוּ אָחִ֖יךָ לְאִשָּֽׁה: וַיַּעַן֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֜ה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאִמּ֗וֹ וְלָמָה֩ אַ֨תְּ שֹׁאֶ֜לֶת אֶת־אֲבִישַׁ֤ג הַשֻּׁנַמִּית֙ לַאֲדֹ֣נִיָּ֔הוּ וְשַֽׁאֲלִי־לוֹ֙ אֶת־הַמְּלוּכָ֔ה כִּ֛י ה֥וּא אָחִ֖י הַגָּד֣וֹל מִמֶּ֑נִּי וְלוֹ֙ וּלְאֶבְיָתָ֣ר הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וּלְיוֹאָ֖ב בֶּן־צְרוּיָֽה: וַיִּשָּׁבַע֙ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה בַּֽיקֹוָ֖ק לֵאמֹ֑ר כֹּ֣ה יַֽעֲשֶׂה־לִּ֤י אֱלֹהִים֙ וְכֹ֣ה יוֹסִ֔יף כִּ֣י בְנַפְשׁ֔וֹ דִּבֶּר֙ אֲדֹ֣נִיָּ֔הוּ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֖ר הַזֶּֽה: וְעַתָּ֗ה חַי־יְקֹוָק֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֱכִינַ֗נִי ויושיביני וַיּֽוֹשִׁיבַ֙נִי֙ עַל־כִּסֵּא֙ דָּוִ֣ד אָבִ֔י וַאֲשֶׁ֧ר עָֽשָׂה־לִ֛י בַּ֖יִת כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֵּ֑ר כִּ֣י הַיּ֔וֹם יוּמַ֖ת אֲדֹנִיָּֽהוּ: וַיִּשְׁלַח֙ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה בְּיַ֖ד בְּנָיָ֣הוּ בֶן־יְהוֹיָדָ֑ע וַיִּפְגַּע־בּ֖וֹ וַיָּמֹֽת:
And Shlomo sat upon the throne of Dovid his father, and his kingship was firmly established. And Adoniyahu the son of Chagis came to Bas Sheva the mother of Shlomo and she asked him “Do you come in peace?” and he said “Peace”. And he said “I have something that I wish to speak to you about.” and she said “Speak”. And he said “You know that the kingship was supposed to be mine, and that it was upon me that all of Yisroel set their faces to rule. Yet the monarchy turned and went to my brother because it was from Hashem that it should be his. And now, I have one request to make of you, do not turn me away”; and she said “Speak”. And he said please speak on my behalf to Shlomo the King for he shall not refuse you, and let Avishag from Shunam be given to me as a wife. And Bas Sheva said “It is a good request. I shall speak on your behalf to the king.” And Bas Sheva came to the King Shlomo to speak to him on the behalf of Adoniyahu, and the king arose towards her and he bowed to her and he sat on his throne and a chair was brought for the mother of the king and she sat to his right. And she said, “I have a small request to make of you, do not turn me away” and the king said to her “Ask of me, my mother, for I shall not refuse your request”. And she said “Let Avishag from Shunam be given, to Adoniyahu your brother as a wife. And the King Shlomo responded and he said to his mother “and why do you only ask for Avishag of Shunam to be given to Adoniyah? Request for him the monarchy itself for he is my older brother, and for him and Evyasar the Kohein and for Yoav son of Tzeruyah. And the King Shlomo swore by Hashem saying, “So shall Hashem do to me and so shall he increase for it is with his life that Adoniyahu spoke of this matter. And now by the life of Hashem who has set me up and sat me upon the throne of Dovid my father and that he has created for me a dynasty as He promised, it is this very day that Adoniyahu shall die. And the King Shlomo sent in the hand of Benayahu son of Yehoyada, and he struck him [Adoniyahu] and he [Adoniyahu].
Early in this story the pasuk tells of a chair that was brought before the king and placed at his right for the mother of the king. Although the simplest meaning of this pasuk is that a throne was set up for Bas Sheva who was the actual mother of the King Shlomo, Chazal identify this “Mother of the king” somewhat differently. They tell us that really this is not a reference to the mother of the monarchy and it refers to Rus. Rus outlived the four generations that sprung from her and she was still alive at the beginning of Shlomo’s reign. Thus, here we have a special chair being brought for her and she is being sat at the right hand side of the king, in the place of the king’s advisor. What was the purpose of the pasuk mentioning this?
I believe that in this pasuk we see the qualities of monarchy that we have been describing displayed in Rus. If Rus was to the right of the king when this incredibly harsh judgement was passed upon Adoniyahu, then that means that the judgment was passed based upon her advice, [otherwise we would not need to be told of her presence]. Thus, the very same Rus who bent so low down and went to collect barley together with the poorest of the poor when that’s what Hashem’s Hashgacha demanded of her, now acted with the comfortable assurance of a king and advised Adoniyahu’s death! Rus herself contained all of the strength of the monarchy within herself, a monarchy which was born from the ability to subject herself utterly when that’s what Hashem demanded from her. Thus we can translate our pasuk in Divrei HaYamim as referring not only to the birth of the royal line, but to the birth of royalty in Rus herself!
וְשַׁחֲרַ֗יִם הוֹלִיד֙ בִּשְׂדֵ֣ה מוֹאָ֔ב…
And Shacharayim gave birth in the field of Moav…
In light of what we are saying we can take this to mean that that which he gave birth to, namely to royalty, that was born in the person who exemplified the field of Moav herself; namely Rus! Through the action that Shacharayim took in expounding the permissibility of Moabit women and in marrying Rus, that bore fruit in Rus herself enabling her to take the stands which epitomize the strength and might of royalty! How was his action able to come to fruition in Rus? In light of what we are saying we can suggest that Rus was already prepared for this rule through her own ability to abnegate her entire self for the sake of what was greater than her, for her mother-in-law and for Klal Yisroel as a whole.
- As the Gemara in Kiddushin (31a) says:אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: אסור לאדם שיהלך ארבע אמות בקומה זקופה, שנא’: מלא כל הארץ כבודו.R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: It is forbidden for a person to walk four amos with an upright stature as the pasuk says: “His Glory fills the entire world”. ↑
- We translated this along the lines of לבו גס בה. In such a context the Rambam would be saying that the king is not allowed to “mach zich heimish” with Klal Yisroel. The pasuk that the Rambam quotes and the context in which he quotes however seems to indicate more of an inyan of haughtiness. ↑
- Literally this should be rendered “in the plural” but that leaves us with a problem. What can the Rambam mean that he speaks to the public in the plural? How else should he speak to them? What difference does it make whether he uses a singular language or a plural one?Both the Migdal Oz as well as the Ohr Sameach point to the Gemara in Sotah (40a) as the source for this halacha. The Gemara there reads as follows:אמר ר’ יצחק: לעולם תהא אימת צבור עליך, שהרי כהנים פניהם כלפי העם ואחוריהם כלפי שכינה. רב נחמן אמר, מהכא: ויקם המלך דוד על רגליו ויאמר שמעוני אחי ועמי, אם אחי למה עמי, ואם עמי למה אחי? אמר רבי אלעזר, אמר להם דוד לישראל: אם אתם שומעין לי – אחי אתם, ואם לאו – עמי אתם, ואני רודה אתכם במקל.ופירש”י אם אתם שומעין לי – להיות שלימים למקום אחיי וחבריי אתם. אלמא המלך אימת צבור עליו אם כשרים הם. עמי אתם – כבושים תחת ידי.R. Yitzchak said: the awe of the Tzibur should forever be upon you for the Kohanim faced towards the nation with their backs towards the Shechina [presumably this would be disrespectful if it were not done out of the awe of Tzibur]. R. Nachman derived this from the following pasuk: And the king Dovid stood upon his feet and he said “listen to me, my brothers and my nation.” Now if they are his brothers why did he call them his nation, and if they are his nation then why did he refer to them as brothers? R. Elazar said, what Dovid said here to Yisroel was as follows: if you listen to me [to be wholesome with Hashem] then you are my brothers; if not then you are my nation and I will rule over you harshly. Rashi – if you shall listen to me to be wholesome with Hashem then you are my brothers and my colleagues. Clearly the awe of the Tzibur must be upon [even] him, if the Tzibur is acting appropriately.
What we see here is that there are two tones with which the king can address his populace and they relate to the way in which the Tzibur is comporting themselves. When they are doing the right thing then the king must maintain for himself a reverent feeling for the Tzibur. He must always look around himself in amazement and be astonished at the fact that the Ribono Shel Olam chose him to lead such an imposing assembly of people! He must feel extremely small in relation to those whom he has the privilege of leading, as the Rambam in this Halacha lays out in so much detail. But should Klal Yisroel stray from this derech, then the king must stand up and become the iron backbone and the heart of steel which leads the people back in the right direction.
Perhaps we can suggest the following based upon this Gemara. The institution of the monarchy is a tool which is Hashem uses to unify Klal Yisroel in His service. When Klal Yisroel is doing the right thing then they do not need unification! We can speak to each Yid as his individual self, and when we speak to a group of them together then we use the plural. Such a Tzibur of individuals who are all strong Ovdei Hashem in their own right deserves to be related to with a sense of awe and then even the king must reverently address them as Achai. But when they are not following the Ribono Shel Olam and they have all splintered into their various individual follies they must be pulled together into one unit of Ami. Then, not only does the king have the ability to speak harshly due to the pressing national need to attain cohesion, but the Tzibur themselves have lost the distinguished status of Ovdei Hashem which had previously demanded such reverent treatment. Thus it is only when the king speaks in the plural that this Halacha applies. ↑
- This proper understanding of avdus or servitude allows us to understand an astonishing part of the halachos of the Eved Ivri. We are familiar with the fact that mi shekana eved l’atzmo kana adon l’atzmo. The Eved Ivri must be treated with supreme esteem. His master must make sure that the Eved eats, drinks and sleeps in a manner that is at least equal, if not far better than he himself. If the master only has one down quilt then that is what his servant will sleep underneath. If there is only one piece of deli roll left after Shabbos then that is what the servant will eat for supper; the master will have to suffice with gefilte fish. If there is only one can of coke left than that is what the servant will quench his thirst with. One may not work his Eved Ivri needlessly, nor may he make him do something which is overly demeaning, such as to carry the master’s towel behind him to the mikveh. In short, one must do his all in order to grant the Eved an honorable standing. But then we come across the following halacha (Vayikra 15:18):כִּ֗י מִשְׁנֶה֙ שְׂכַ֣ר שָׂכִ֔יר עֲבָֽדְךָ֖ שֵׁ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֑ים…ופירש”י -מכאן אמרו עבד עברי עובד בין ביום ובין בלילה. וזהו כפלים שבעבודת שכירי יום. ומהו עבודתו בלילה, רבו מוסר לו שפחה כנענית והולדות לאדון:For twice the work of a hired hand has he served you for six years…Rashi explains – from here they derived that the Eved Ivri serves both by day and by night, which is double the service of a the daily hired hand. And what is his service at night? The master designates for him a Canaanite maidservant and her children belong to the master.What!?!?!?!?! After all the care that the Torah has taken to preserve this man’s dignity, we now force him to engage in relations with a gentile maidservant? Could there possibly be a more degrading servitude than this? How does this fit in with the rest of the parsha?
Based on what we have been explaining the answer is clear. As honorable as this person is, and as much care as we must take to ensure his dignity, he is still an Eved! What is an Eved? An Eved is someone who is completely subservient to his master! Not a moment of his life belongs to his own self. His daytime belongs to the master for work. Granted that the Torah limits the demands which his master can make upon him; he cannot degrade him. But he can and does make him work, and work hard! And what is true by daytime holds true by nighttime as well. Granted that nighttime is not a time for work. It is a time for rest, for recouping strength for the next day. But despite the lack of work availability, those hours still belong to the master and not to the Eved! In what way do they belong to the master? In that one of the other functions of that time belong to the master. Nighttime is a time for procreation as well as rest, and it is in that area that the Torah obligates the Eved Ivri to show his servitude to his master. Not, chas v’shalom to demean him, but because it is only by serving his master in this way that his avdus is complete. ↑
- אומרים חז”ל (מדרש רבה במדבר פרשה ט’ פסקה ט”ו):”מפני מה אמרה תורה הבא עפר לסוטה? זכתה – יוצא ממנה בן כאברהם אבינו, דכתיב ביה (בראשית י”ח) ‘ואנכי עפר ואפר’. לא זכתה – תחזור לעפרה. רבותינו אמרו: בשכר שאמר אברהם אבינו ‘ואנכי עפר ואפר’, זכו בניו לשתי מצוות – אפר פרה ועפר סוטה”.מדרש זה טעון הסבר – מה הקשר בין דברי אברהם אבינו שאמר “ואנכי עפר ואפר”, ומצות סוטה? ובמיוחד צריכים אנו להבין את הקשר בין עפר הסוטה וה”עפר” שהזכיר אברהם אבינו עליו השלום – כהבעת הכנעה ודרך ארץ כלפי ה’, לפני שביקש והתפלל על אנשי סדום.ביאור דברי המדרש נמצא בספר שפת אמת, וז”ל (ספר במדבבר – פרשת נשא – שנת תרנ”ג):’כבר בתבנו בזה כי עפר הוא יסוד הכל כמ”ש ‘הכל היה מן העפר והכל שב….’. ואברהם אבינו ע”ה עליו העולם עומד, כמ”ש ‘בהבראם בה’ בראם’ (באות ה’ נברא העולם), באברהם. ושני הפירושים אמת. כי אברהם זכה לאות ה’ שנברא בו העולם על ידי הביטול – שזה כוח העפר שמבלה הכל, וכשנרקב דבר הנזרע ונעשה כעפר מקבל חיות ומוציא פירות. [וזה רמז האות ה’ – היו”ד שנכנס בתוך הד’ לומר שע”י ההכנעה נעשה כלי להוליד תולדות]. ואברהם אבינו ע”ה אמר ‘ואנכי עפר ואפר’, ידע היטב כי הוא יסוד הכל וידע שהוא מצד זה שהוא ‘עפר ואפר’. וכן צריך כל אדם לידע שהוא נברא בעולם לתקן הכל כי האדם הוא כלי שניתקן הכל על ידו…”הכלל העולה, שבני ישראל שנאמר עליהם ‘אדם אתם ‘ הם נקראו עפר, שעש בהם כוח היסוד שהכל שב אליו. וזהו הרמז העפר מקרקע המשכן כמ”ש וייצר כו’ האדם עפר מן האדמה פי’ ז”ל ממקום בית המקדש ולכן הסוטה נבדקת בו – אם יש בה חלק באותו עפר, ואם לאו – ארורה היא מן האדמה”.
העולה מדבריו הנפלאים של ה”שפת אמת” כי משמעות המלים “ואנכי עפר ואפר” היא התבטלות להקב”ה והתעצמות בבחינת ה”עפר” של הבריאה. ועומק הדברים, כשם שהעפר מבלה את הכל, ודוקא אז מצמיח פירות, כך על ידי שאברהם אבינו ע”ה ביטל את עצמו להקב”ה, הרי הוא זכה שעל ידו כל העולם יחזור לבחינת עפר, ויתבטל ממציאותו הנבדלת והעצמית, ויתקשר לשורשו. ועל ידי זה התהוו “פירות” – אותו תוכן שכיוון הבורא יתברך בבריאתו.
במקביל למעלה זו, זכו לישראל לעפר סוטה, השומר על בחינת ה”עפר” של כלל ישראל. במלים אחרות, “עפר סוטה” ענינו לבדוק ולבחון אם האשה נאמנה לתכלית ויסוד הבריאה, או שהיא עשתה כמעשה בהמה ופרשה משורש המגמה של הבריאה. כוח זה הנקרא “עפר סוטה” שורשו התבטלות ודבקות בתכלית – וממדה זו יונק “עפר” סוטה את כוחו – לבדוק את השתייכותה של האשה לאותה בחינה. ומוסיף ה”שפת אמת” (שם) כי זה יסוד תפקיד כל אדם בעולם – להחזיר את כל הדברים לעפר, ולעשות מהם פירות. במלים אחרות, יש לכל אדם לבטל את עצמו לתכלית הבריאה, ולעלות בזה את כל חלקי העולם לתכליתו, ועוד יתבאר לקמן בע”ה. ↑