Regret, Not Depression
At the beginning of parshas Bechukosai, the Torah
first lists blessings such as, "I will give the rains in
their season and the earth will give its produce," and then
it lists curses, whose purpose is to make people afraid.
However, there is a danger that people will become depressed
when reading this part of the parsha, chas vesholom.
Sadness and depression are the roots of all impurity in the
soul [and are therefore certainly not the response which the
Why should a man be sad? Is any aspect of creation the result
of his work? After all, absolutely everything that people
enjoy throughout their lives is a gift from Hakodosh
boruch Hu. "A person should offer thanks and praises to
Hashem for every breath that he takes" (Bereishis Rabbah
parsha 14:9). If it is an occasion for thanksgiving every
time one breathes, how can one ever become sad over what one
lacks? One should instead think about how much one has!
Why then does the Torah write the curses? Their purpose is to
instill the fear of sin into a person and to break his spirit
into submission -- not chas vesholom to make him
depressed -- so that he should feel bitter regret over
[succumbing to] his yetzer hora.
The Kotzker Rebbe zt'l, commented that, "There is a
very fine difference between depression and regret. The way
to tell them apart is that when a person experiences regret
over his yetzer hora, he will sit down to learn, or
will involve himself with the mitzvos which he has to
fulfill, whereas after experiencing depression R'l, he
will go to sleep. Others, upon feeling depressed, go and buy
themselves a sausage and a bottle of beer or spirit, thinking
that they'll be able to dull the pain of their feelings and
dispel their gloom in this way.
"Both of these approaches are mistaken, for the relief that
they provide is only temporary, whereas the tumoh
which depression has brought upon the person damages his
soul, making him unclean R'l."
All this is by way of introduction to what we shall discuss,
be'ezras Hashem. We want to show how beloved we are to
Hashem, how much He loves us and how He never abandons a
single member of Klal Yisroel, "For Hashem is good and
upright, therefore He points out the way to sinners"
Even on the Lowest Rung
At the end of the previous parsha (Vayikro 26:1) we
read, "Do not make gods for yourselves . . . and do not lay a
stone covering for prostration, in your land." This needs to
be understood. The Torah has already mentioned a number of
times that idol worship is forbidden. Why repeat the
prohibition again here? In the posuk that follows at
the end of that parsha we also find, "Keep My
Shabbosos," which we have again been warned about a number of
times. What is the Torah adding with this additional mention
of keeping Shabbos?
On the first posuk, "Do not make gods for yourselves,"
Rashi quotes the Toras Cohanim: "[The posuk is]
addressing a Jew who has been sold [as a slave] to a gentile,
[so] that he should not say, `Since my master behaves
immorally, I will be like him. Since my master worships
idols, I will be like him [and take his gods for myself].
Since my master profanes Shabbos, I will be like him.' That
is why these pesukim were said.
"And the preceding parshiyos were also said in a
specific order. First, Hashem warned about shevi'is,
and if a man coveted monetary gain and became suspect
regarding shmitta observance, he is ultimately [forced
to] sell his movable property. That is why the posuk
(Vayikro 25:14), `and when you sell merchandise to your
friend,' follows directly after shmitta . . . if he
does not change his ways, he ends up having to sell his land
. . . his house . . . having to borrow on interest [the
subjects of the parshiyos that follow] . . .
ultimately he sells himself and if he doesn't change his
ways, not merely to a Jew but to a gentile . . . "
See how great Hashem's love is towards every member of
Klal Yisroel, even the very lowest who has sunk all
the way down to the point where he sells himself to a
gentile! The Torah warns him against thinking that he can
behave in the same way as his gentile master. "You also have
a neshomo!" the Torah tells him. "You can escape from
the depths to which you have sunk and elevate yourself by
observing the Torah and its laws!"
A ba'al teshuvah, a native of Brazil, told me that
after his parents moved to Eretz Yisroel he went , while
still a young unmarried man, to Brazil where he was educated
and on to other places in the world. He had a friend in Tel
Aviv who was militantly irreligious R'l. The Brazilian
bochur decided to go on a bicycle tour of Europe. One
of his stops was at a village near Holland where he arrived
on a Friday, and it entered his head to call his parents in
Tel Aviv. He made his way to the local post office where he
was informed that they had no direct connection with Tel
Aviv. It took two hours to arrange the call via the central
exchange in Amsterdam.
His parents said to him, "You've toured almost all of Europe.
Where do you want to go now?"
He replied, "I want to go to Malaysia."
His parents asked him to come and spend some time in Tel
Aviv. They also reminded him of his friend, who was at that
moment with them in their house, and they asked if he wanted
to speak to him. "Of course," the boy said, and he spoke to
his avowedly irreligious friend, who asked that when he came
to Tel Aviv to visit his parents, would he pay him a visit as
"Of course," the boy replied, "I had no other thought."
When he came to visit his friend, he saw that he had a
kippa on his head and that he was wearing
tzitzis. He was astounded and asked him, "What's all
The Brazilian boy was so removed from Yiddishkeit that
he had never seen anything like this and did not even know
what those things were. His friend smiled and said, "When we
parted, you went to Brazil and I remained in Tel Aviv. You
remember that I was very far from Yiddishkeit, R'l. I
thought to myself, what meaning is there to my Judaism,
suffering for it as Jews do in the world, while the
Christians live in peace and tranquility? What am I a Jew
for? Why not become a Christian, R'l? Then I thought,
that before abandoning Judaism, I ought to find out something
about it and I began reading religious books like the Rambam
and others. I saw what great value there was in Judaism and
wondered how I could have thought of turning my back on it. I
went to Yeshivas Or Somayach and that's how you come to see
me today like this, with a kippa and tzitzis,
The bochur from Brazil (who today is a great talmid
chochom and Torah disseminator) responded, "You have a
good head and I rely upon you. I'll do what you tell me."
The Tel Aviv bochur said, "Right now we are in the
aseres yemei teshuvah (back then, his friend did not
know what this was) and then it will be Yom Kippur. Come with
me to the prayers."
"But I don't know how to pray," replied his friend.
"Just fast all day and stay in the beis haknesses."
He agreed to this and as a result, his heart was drawn to
serving Hashem yisborach. He also went to Or Somayach
and after that, to Yeshivas Mir. Today he is a talmid
chochom whom I know. He himself told me the entire story.
What brought all this about? Hashem's love for Klal
Yisroel! "For I am Hashem," (Vayikro 26:2), "who
loves His nation, Yisroel" (bircas Ahavas Olom). As we
have explained, though a Jew may have sunk to the lowest
level, he is still commanded, "Don't make gods for
Toil that Shapes a Path
"If you walk in My statutes" -- Rashi explains, "I might
think that this refers to fulfilling the mitzvos [but this
cannot be, for] when it says "and you keep My mitzvos,"
observing the mitzvos is [explicitly] mentioned. What does
"If you walk in My statutes" refer to? That you should toil
in Torah." If this is the condition that the Torah wishes to
make though, why doesn't the posuk say explicitly, "If
you toil in Torah and keep My mitzvos"? What are we supposed
to learn from the expression "If you walk in My statutes"?
This teaches us that the purpose of toiling in Torah is so
that afterwards, we should go through our lives with Torah
guiding us at every step. Chazal say " `And you shall take
care to do them' -- to learn in order to fulfill." This is
why the Torah uses the expression "if you walk."
HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l would often repeat the
following parable, in the name of the Alter of Kelm
zt'l. A man enters a beautiful hall, decorated
exquisitely and hung with the finest drapes. He sees people
seated around tables, dining. When the meal is over he sees
how, when they get up from the table, each one reaches for a
stick or crutches and he realizes that he has come to the
rehabilitation department of a hospital R'l. All the
beauty and splendor of the hall is not fitting for the sick
people who are there.
It is the same with someone who sits and learns. While he is
seated by the gemora, he is surrounded by splendor and
honor. If however, when he gets up after learning and does
not put the Torah he has learned into practice, the Torah's
splendor does not become him. When going to take care of his
own concerns, a person must be aware that he is leaving
Hashem's presence. Chazal comment on the posuk "Let
Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth," that Hashem kisses
him on his lips -- if a person can feel this, he will
certainly fulfill "Know Him in all your ways." It is to
people like this that Hashem promises all the blessings that
are enumerated here: "And I will give your rains in their
right season . . . "
Holiness in the Heart
One of the blessings is, "And I will place My sanctuary among
you and My soul will not become sick of you" (Vayikro
26:11). Chazal comment, `And I will place My sanctuary
among you' -- inside each and every heart" [see Shemos
25:8]. Hashem's holiness will reside inside our hearts,
for the main holiness is that which is in our hearts and
When I was a bochur, I once heard from a maggid
from Novardok that some people argue that the main thing is
what a person feels in his heart. The maggid asked one
such person whether he fulfills the mitzvos with his hands,
meaning, whether he lays tefillin? The man replied,
no, and gave the above reason, namely that "the main thing
was what he felt in his heart." The maggid told him,
"In Heaven, they'll take your hands that didn't put
tefillin on and they'll put them in Gehennom.
They'll take your feet that never took you inside a beis
haknesses, and put them in Gehennom too. And
according to you, that the main thing is your good heart,
they'll put your heart into Gan Eden, but what will it
do there by itself? (In the end it will rot . . . )"
Today, we see that they don't even have good hearts . . . and
let that hint suffice!
On this posuk -- "And I will place My sanctuary among
you and My soul will not become sick of you" -- Chazal also
comment, "I will stroll with you in Gan Eden and you
will not tremble because of Me." The pesukim (12-13)
say, "And I will walk among you . . . I am Hashem your G-d
who took you out of Mitzrayim . . . " The commentaries
explain that the name Mitzrayim denotes being trapped within
bounds that confine and constrict and [the idea of exile in
Mitzrayim] is thus applicable to each and every person, since
all are trapped within the confines of the yetzer hora.
Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, "I will break the ropes of your
yetzer hora -- "and you shall be Mine, as a
All or Nothing
Our master and teacher HaRav Leib Chasman zt'l raised
a difficulty in posuk 11 in the light of Chazal's
explanation, "I will stroll with you in Gan Eden and
you will not tremble because of Me."
The Torah always speaks in a human idiom. A father will say
to his son, for example, "If you listen to me, I'll reward
you with a very valuable gift and if not, you won't get it,"
but he won't say, "if you don't listen, I'll throw you out
and you'll never see me again!" The Torah tells us that
Hashem promises, "If you walk in my statutes . . . I will
place my sanctuary among you . . . I will stroll with you in
Gan Eden" -- I'll raise you up to the heights -- and
an extra benefit is that you'll prevent what would otherwise
happen, "my soul will not become sick of you!" [In other
words, if we don't toil in Torah, not only do we forfeit the
blessings, we incur a fearsome fate.] From one extreme to the
other! Either everything or worse than nothing! It's
The explanation is as follows: If a person is asked whether
he has enough of a livelihood to live on, he may answer that
he has ninety percent of what he needs and that he lacks the
extra ten percent. However, we would never ask someone, "What
percentage of life do you have?" because it's not possible to
speak in terms of percentages of being alive. If someone is
even one percent less than completely alive, he isn't alive
at all, he's dead . . .
Divrei Torah are our lives. "If you walk in my
statutes . . . " meaning "that you should be toiling in Torah
. . . " then we are alive, to the point that, "I will stroll
with you in Gan Eden . . . " But if not, then [life
itself is extinguished and] "My soul will be sick of you"
R'l, for Torah is the foundation of life.
In the same vein, we find that Dovid Hamelech said, "If not
for Your Torah being my pastime, I would perish in my
affliction" (Tehillim 119:92). On the one hand, when I
learn Torah my soul has pleasure and enjoyment, but were it
not for Torah I would not merely lack a means of enjoyment, I
would literally perish in my affliction. I would be a
We can explain Torah as a source of enjoyment very simply,
because Torah study is pleasurable. This is akin to what the
Eglei Tal writes in his preface, against those who
argued that Torah should be studied only "for the sake of the
mitzvo," without any personal enjoyment whatsoever chas
vesholom. The Eglei Tal writes that the opposite
is true. The mitzvo is to feel the pleasantness and the
sweetness of Torah and to experience its enjoyment. This is
the meaning of our daily prayer, "And please make the Torah
pleasant in our mouths . . . "
Learning with Insufficient Toil
HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, repeated the following
observation on the posuk, "And Yehoshua spent the
night in the valley" upon which Chazal comment, "This teaches
us that he spent the night immersed in the depths of
halocho" (Megilla 3).
The mal'ach told Yehoshua, "I have come on account of
the present," which Chazal say meant the neglect of Torah
study. [This is hard to understand.] The war against the
thirty-one kings of Canaan was fought in order to fulfill
Hashem's command to settle in their land, for which bnei
Yisroel had been yearning for forty years and which Moshe
and Aharon did not merit at all. How could it be that they
were found so remiss in Torah study, that a mal'ach
revealed himself to them with a drawn sword, which was
certainly supposed to signal to them that they were worthy of
being punished with the sword for that failing? They were
busy with the war -- what more could they have done?
Rashi however explains the words, "I have come on account of
the present," to mean, "Now that it is night, you should be
busying yourselves with Torah; at night there is no
fighting." We see that even though they were involved during
the day with the hardships of battle, they should still have
spent the night in Torah study.
The Alter of Kelm said that HaRav Yisroel Salanter pointed
out that it cannot be that they didn't learn Torah at all.
Their shortcoming was because they were learning Torah in
insufficient depth. The proof of this is that the
posuk tells us that immediately [when they next laid
siege], " `Yehoshua spent the night in the valley' -- Rabbi
Yochonon said, `This teaches us that he immersed himself
deeply in halocho.' " This means that if in a given
situation, a person could be learning in greater depth, this
is also called bitul Torah. This too, is included in
the Torah's condition, "If you walk in My statutes -- that
you should toil in Torah"!
A person shouldn't say, "I am weak by nature and my mind
isn't powerful. I can't learn Torah in depth."
The holy Sheloh writes a wonderful thing: "Even someone who
doesn't understand at all because he is not fluent in the
explanation and he just involves himself with reading
(according to his ability and the level of his
understanding), will be rewarded for his toil. About such
people and others like them the posuk says, "And he
meditates upon his Torah by day and night (Tehillim
1:2). Chazal point out that the posuk says "upon
his Torah" not merely "upon Torah" meaning each one
according to the level of his knowledge.
However, a person should take care not to fool himself that
he doesn't understand. A person has to toil and then, even if
he has not attained his goal, he has still fulfilled "if you
walk in My statutes" -- that you should toil in Torah!
Toil in Torah: the Key to Success
It is well known that the Chazon Ish zt'l served as an
example of toiling in Torah down to the very last drop of his
strength. I heard from a great talmid chochom and
yirei Shomayim who experienced the following incident
himself and who is with us today, that he once went in to the
Chazon Ish who, as is known, due to his frailty and extreme
lack of strength would lie down in his bed.
This talmid chochom noticed that he was engrossed in a
certain topic and he stood in wonderment over the fact that
the Chazon Ish did not notice him standing in front of him.
He also noticed that the cushion that was always under his
head was under his feet.
Then the Chazon Ish noticed that he was there. The talmid
chochom asked the Chazon Ish if the cushion was supposed
to be at his feet or had it slipped out from under his head?
With his characteristic sweetness of expression the Chazon
Ish replied, in what was apparently an apology for not
noticing his visitor standing by him, "Believe me, if I would
have had the strength to pick up the cushion that slipped to
my feet, I would have learned another Tosafos!"
That was the degree of the Chazon Ish's toil in Torah --
literally to the last drop of strength!
The paramount importance of toil being a part of Torah study
is alluded to by the Torah in the expression chok,
statute, which denotes toil in Torah -- "If you walk in my
statutes." [The "law" of Torah study is that even] if you
learn Torah but do not toil in it, you will not merit
acquiring Torah. This is stated explicitly in the gemora
(Sanhedrin 99) on the posuk (Mishlei 16:26), "A
soul that toils, benefits itself." The gemora
comments, "He toils in this place and his Torah toils for him
Rashi explains there that his Torah "toils for him and goes
begging on his behalf and asks its Owner to pass over the
reasons of Torah to him . . . And why all this? Because he
has bent his mouth downwards over divrei Torah."
In other words, when a soul toils to learn Torah, the Torah
itself makes extra efforts on his behalf. Here we see the
secret of the power of toil of Torah. Torah is not only
acquired because the natural consequence of toil is that one
would know what he has toiled to learn, but also because in
the merit of his toiling the Torah makes efforts on his
behalf and asks its Creator to pass on knowledge beyond what
he could perhaps not achieve directly from his own study.
This is the chok, the law of Torah. This [meaning] is
also included in the posuk, "If you walk in My
statutes . . . "
May Hashem help us to toil in Torah and to merit all the
resulting blessings which He has written!