The Sins in Our Hands

U’kshartem l’os al yadecha v’hayu l’totafos bein einecha (Devarim 6:8)

In listing the people who are permitted to return home from the battlefront, the Torah includes (20:8) one who is afraid and weak-hearted. Rashi explains that this refers to a person who is fearful that the sins which are in his hand will cause him to die in the battle. It is difficult to understand the use of this peculiar expression. In what way is it possible for sins to be in a person’s hand more than they are in his heart or soul? Further, one of the examples given (Menachos 36a) of such a sin is a person who speaks between putting the tefillin on his arm and placing the tefillin on his head, mitzvos which are presented in Parashas Va’eschanan. Since this isn’t from the more severe sins which require Yom Kippur to effect forgiveness, why doesn’t he merely confess and repent his sin, which will effect immediate forgiveness and allow him to remain and fight?

Harav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, suggests that Chazal specifically referred to the sin as being “in his hand” to hint to the fact that he has yet to relinquish his improper actions and is still figuratively holding on to them. The reason that he is unable to simply repent his actions is that he doesn’t want to. Nevertheless, although he is unwilling to admit the error of his ways and correct them, he is still intellectually cognizant of their impropriety and therefore fears the consequences of placing himself in the danger of war. Although he recognizes that his actions are inappropriate and could lead to his death, he is still unable to release them from his hand and properly correct his ways due to the tremendous force of habit.

Harav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, is quoted as saying that the greatest distance between two places in the world is the gap between a person’s mind and his heart, which we see illustrated here. The soldier believes in something in his mind, but unless he can find a way to internalize it in his heart and know it with every fiber of his being, it won’t affect his actions.

For this reason, Hashem told Moshe in Parashas Tetzaveh that the unique garments that were worn by the Kohanim during the time that they served in the Beis Hamikdash were so special and holy they couldn’t simply be made by anybody who possessed the necessary skills and craftsmanship. Rather, Hashem instructed Moshe (Shemos 28:3) to command the wise of heart to make these special garments for Aharon and his sons.

The Torah recognizes that the primary criterion for evaluating wisdom lies in the ability to connect one’s mind, and the information stored therein, with his heart, which guides and determines his decisions and actions. It is for this reason that Hashem stressed the importance of selecting the truly wise — the wise of heart — to make the special garments worn by the Kohanim.

Although the society in which we live holds wisdom and its pursuers in high esteem, we must recognize that our study of Torah cannot become just another source of intellectual stimulation and knowledge. The Torah is described as a “Toras Chaim,” for it is intended to provide us not just with intellectual stimulation, but to shape our actions and to guide us in every decision that we make in life.

Therefore, as we pursue our studies, it is important to be cognizant of the Torah’s message about the true definition of wisdom. As we begin the difficult work of honestly evaluating ourselves and attempting to improve and grow throughout the month of Elul, the first step is to understand that whatever we study must penetrate our hearts and become part of us so that it influences and guides our future actions and makes us truly wise, a recognition which will allow us to loosen our grip on our sins and completely release them from our hands.

Parashah Q & A

Q:  The Gemara in Nedarim (37a) derives from 4:5 that just as Moshe taught Torah without being paid, so too all Jews are required to teach Torah without compensation. Is this rule specific to the mitzvah of Torah study, or is it a general prohibition against taking money for the performance of any mitzvah?

Q:  The Torah commands (4:39) a person to know — v’yadata hayom — that Hashem is G-d in the Heavens and the earth, and there is no other power besides Him; the Rambam similarly refers (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) to a mitzvah to know this reality. Why is this mitzvah known as emunah — belief — a concept also used by the Rambam in reference to this mitzvah (Sefer HaMitzvos 1), instead of yediah — knowledge?
A:  Rashi writes that it is forbidden to take money as payment for doing any mitzvah. This also seems to be the opinion of the Ramban, who maintains that it is forbidden for a doctor to charge for treating or healing a Jewish patient, since doing so is included in the mitzvah of returning a lost object — in this case, the person’s health — to its owner. However, Harav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt”l, writes that the Rambam’s opinion is that this prohibition is unique to the mitzvah of Torah study and it is permissible to accept payment for the performance of other mitzvos.

A:  Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com. Harav Shach, zt”l, once asked this question of the Brisker Rav, zt”l, who responded that it had also bothered him, and he asked his father, Harav Chaim Soloveitchik, zt”l, who explained that there are two categories of recognizing Hashem. The first type is called “knowledge” and is defined by the level to which each person is able to intellectually recognize Hashem’s existence. The second category is “emunah” — belief; it begins at the level at which one’s knowledge stops, at which point a person cannot know, but must believe. He added that if a person only recognizes and acknowledges Hashem to the point that his rational mind understands, he is in fact completely deficient in his emunah, as he is limiting and confining Hashem based on the limited understanding and insight of his human mind.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.