Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5760 - February 2, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
What is a Ben Torah?

By HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt"l

Part I

"Rovo said: `Why did Hashem write yetzias Mitzrayim in the parsha of taking interest and of tzitzis? HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: "I, Who discerned in Egypt between the drop [of sperm] of a first born and that of a child not a first born, will punish him who ties kolo ilan (imitation techeiles for tzitzis) on his garment and claims that it is techeiles"' (Bovo Metzia 61b)."

Rashi explains that the Torah commands us (in the third parsha of Shema) "to place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of techeiles" and the color of kolo ilan is similar to techeiles. Since techeiles is dyed with the blood of the chilozon, a creature which emerges from the ocean only once in seventy years, it is expensive. Tosafos adds that not only does the person putting kolo ilan on his tzitzis not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis, he is also committing an aveira from the time he ties the pseudo- techeiles on his garment because he fails to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis.

As we see from the Midrash, the Torah censures the failure to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis more than that of other mitzvos. What is the reason for this? Moreover, we see that Hashem punishes a person even before he actually annuls the mitzvah of tzitzis. He sins from the time he first ties the phony kolo ilan on the garment.

Some explain that it seems this singular attention is not drawn to him because of his wanting to annul the positive mitzvah of tzitzis but because he makes others assume he is fulfilling the mitzvah. This person does not want others to regard him as a rosho -- although he is actually not fulfilling the mitzvah.

But this explanation is difficult to accept. On the contrary, his punishment should be less than usual since he conceals his sin; he is embarrassed to be a chotei. The Torah is more stringent with a secretive thief who is more concerned with honor in other people's eyes than honor in the eyes of Heaven ("he does not even make the master's honor equal to that of the servant" -- Bovo Kama 79b) because he steals secretly. The ganov is embarrassed because people look unfavorably on a thief because he is doing something immoral.

On the other hand, the Torah is more lenient with a gazlan who steals publicly ("he makes the master's honor equal to that of the servant"). The one who uses the counterfeit techeiles is, however, not like a ganov, since he is embarrassed for people to know he is not observing the Torah.

"It shall be to you as tzitzis, that you may look upon it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem" (Bamidbar 15:39). Chazal (Sotah 17a) write that techeiles is different from all other colors because it is similar to the ocean, and the ocean is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to Hashem's throne of glory.

How Do You Get There from Here?

A talmid once asked HaRav E. E. Dessler, How does this far-fetched association work? How, through such a long chain of similarities, will a person remember Hashem?

HaRav Dessler answered: "How then do you manage to understand the gemora's statement (Avoda Zorah 20b) about it being forbidden to look at women's garments? (Rashi, s.v. bevigdei, `because he will remember how the woman looks when she is dressed in it and will think about her'.) Anything that a person encounters will connect him to something he longs for. The love for Hashem must be so implanted in a person's heart that immediately when he sees techeiles, which is similar to the ocean, it will induce him to think about Hashem."

A simpler explanation can be offered. Although normally a person, when he sees techeiles, will not remember Hashem and His mitzvos however, since HaKodosh Boruch Hu writes "that you may look upon it and remember all the mitzvos of Hashem," that itself causes the remembering to happen. A person is motivated to act according to what the Torah writes.

But if this is true, why associate techeiles with the ocean, the sky and the kisei hakovod? Why was the suggestion itself of the Torah that we remember the mitzvos of Hashem insufficient to cause us directly to remember Hashem and His mitzvos?

The Torah does not write that by looking at the tzitzis you will "know"; it writes that you will "remember." Looking reminds a person but is not itself knowledge of Hashem. Chazal simply reveal the chain of associations that the Torah promises will cause one to naturally awaken to think about Hashem.

Someone who ties kolo ilan instead of techeiles on his garment, does so not because he is stingy and does not want to pay more for real techeiles. This person maintains that the entire aim of the mitzvah of tzitzis is to see and remember Hashem's mitzvos. He figures he can accomplish the same objective by using kolo ilan instead of techeiles, since it is the same color and is also similar to the ocean, the sky, and the kisei hakovod.

Actually this person denies that the Torah has the power to change a person's nature and force him to make the chain of associations when he sees techeiles. He mistakenly reasons that any similar color is adequate.

The Torah is therefore exacting in its punishment of him. This is not a typical failure to fulfill a positive mitzvah: it is a blatant denial of the Torah's power and accordingly, HaKodosh Boruch Hu punishes him severely.

To Make Sure it is Really Makkas Bechoros

Now we can understand the gemora mentioned above, that Hashem's punishment for putting kolo ilan on a garment is because, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: `I Who discerned in Egypt between a drop [of sperm] of a first born and one that is not of a first born, will punish someone who ties kolo ilan on his garment and says it is techeiles.' "

How did this discernment, which only Hashem can do, bring the Redemption in Egypt nearer? Neither Pharaoh nor bnei Yisroel were even aware of it.

Moreover, Hashem's discernment is similar to the other unique ways Chazal (Tanchuma Beshalach 23) mention, through which He acts when He punishes and later forgives.

It might seem that Pharaoh sent bnei Yisroel out of Egypt after the plague of the first born because this was the harshest makkah. The previous nine plagues did not convince Pharaoh, and only this forceful makkah succeeded.

This explanation is, however, unacceptable. The Rambam, in his Yad HaChazokoh (Hilchos Teshuvah 6:5), explains that at the fifth makkah Hashem took away Pharaoh's free will. Although the following makkos would have naturally moved him to free bnei Yisroel, the hardening of his heart (the removal of his free will), did not allow him to send them away.

If so, what difference did it make that makkas bechoros was more forceful, since the other makkos were anyway enough to force Pharaoh to let them out of Egypt - - only he could not since the yetzer hora had complete control of him?

It is true that really the makkas bechoros could not cause Pharaoh to carry out yetzias Mitzrayim any more than the rest of the last five plagues. However since HaKodosh Boruch Hu said in the Torah that because of this makkah Pharaoh will send out bnei Yisroel, that makkah received the power to force Pharaoh to do so.

Since Hashem forms man's nature, as we explained in the mitzvah of tzitzis, He knew that only the makkas bechoros could free the Jewish people. Any other makkah, even if more powerful, would not since Pharaoh's free will was taken away. HaKodosh Boruch Hu therefore had to discern all the firstborns, since if another Egyptian were killed it would not be a makkas bechoros but would be called another makkah.

It was irrelevant whether Pharaoh or Yisroel knew about this or not. What was important was whether this was a real makkas bechoros or not. It was only because of Hashem's discernment that the Redemption of bnei Yisroel came about. Without it, Pharaoh would not have sent them from Egypt.

This is what Chazal mean: "I Who discerned in Egypt . . . will punish him who ties kolo ilan on his garment and says it is techeiles." Since what Hashem writes in the Torah changes man's nature, Hashem will punish anyone who ties kolo ilan on his garment. That person does not acknowledge Hashem's having such power. That man thinks there is nothing special about Hashem's saying that through techeiles he will remember the mitzvos, and thinks it is only because of the resemblance to the ocean, and so on, and figures that kolo ilan is also enough for that objective.

The Influences on a Ben Soreir Umoreh

About a ben soreir umoreh Chazal write, "He should die innocent and not guilty, since eventually he will stand at the crossroads and rob people and kill them. He becomes a ben soreir only after he eats a tartimar of meat . . . until he steals from his father, and if he eats that meat at a seudas mitzvah he is potur." The gemora explains that a seudas mitzvah referred to is a meal made at ibur hashonoh (when another month is added to the year).

But that potential soreir umoreh was surely not among the talmidei chachomim invited to the ibur shonoh. He did not take part in the meal they gave but instead ate the meat he had stolen from his father. Although his eating at the ibur shonoh meal was no more than something that overhangs a mitzvah, this zechus protected him from a death punishment.

If his being put to death was a punishment, we could understand that any small zechus could save him from such a grave misfortune. However, since the Torah says it is preferable for him to die while innocent and not guilty, his being put to death is because of what he would do in the future.

If it is not a punishment, how does a zechus help at all? On the contrary, we are interfering with his chance to die innocent. We are causing him to die guilty! That zechus is actually causing a wrongdoing to that man.

We must conclude from this halocho that when he stands at the crossroads and considers whether to kill his victim or let him live, his decision is directly dependent on what he did when still a minor. If he then ate the tartimar of meat at a regular meal, not a seudas mitzvah, he will kill the victim. If, on the other hand, there was some mitzvah done when he ate that meal, his yetzer tov will vanquish his yetzer hora and he will let him go. We see to what degree even a minor mitzvah can change a person's nature so that because of it he will not kill another person.

From the mitzvah of ben soreir umoreh we can learn the Torah's influence on a person. Chazal enumerate the stages of a ben soreir umoreh's decline until he kills another person. They write that eventually he will even forget all the Torah he had once studied. He is therefore killed now and not later so that he will die innocent.

Surely what Chazal write is astonishing. After all the terrible aveiros he has done he is not yet called a guilty person. Only after he forgets what he has studied is he considered guilty, and Chazal rule that it is preferable for him to die when "still innocent."

The simple explanation is that the ben soreir is only killed because of what he eventually will become. It must be certain that at the end he will be a guilty person, and therefore as long as he does not forget his studies there is still hope that the Torah's light will return him to the right way. It is not yet definite whether he will be guilty. If, however, he forgets his studies there is no hope left for him and he will surely become a guilty person. It is therefore better that he die now, while innocent.

A ben Torah is someone whom the Torah formed, someone in whose way of behavior it is evident that he is a ben Torah. When someone follows Hashem's ways, the Torah, its mitzvos, and its teachings determine his character. Whatever he does is what the Torah demands from man. Being a ben Torah is not reserved only for yeshiva talmidim. Anyone for whom the Torah is his only guide in all he does is a ben Torah.

One obtains this title and deserves to be called a ben Torah through two ways: 1) studying Torah and 2) living according to the pure Torah and halocho. Anyone who wants to reach this distinction in some other way will be "an unlearned person, [who] cannot be scrupulously pious" (Ovos 2:5). Eventually he will, chas vesholom, deviate from the way of the Torah.

End of Part I

HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt'l was a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.