Parshas Vayelech 5777
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November 4, 2016
Volume 13 Issue 1
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Dvar Torah

  By Rabbi Yosef Prupas

It is brought down in Halacha that one who meets a Jew who is wise in the teachings of the Torah should recite the blessing "Blessed... Who gave from His wisdom to those who fear Him." One who meets with a scholarly non-Jew recites the blessing "Blessed... Who gave wisdom to a being of flesh and blood." But when one meets a Jew (e.g. like Albert Einstein) who is well versed in secular knowledge but not in Torah, he does not make any brachah at all. The question is why?

The answer can be found in this week's Parsha. After the flood, Noach was afraid to procreate lest there be another flood and the world once again be destroyed together with his children. Therefore, G-d made the famous covenant of the rainbow with Noach, promising never again to destroy the world. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner points out that there is a basic difference between the symbol used for the covenant between Avraham and Hashem and the one used between Noach and Hashem. The rainbow existed prior to its being used as the symbol of the covenant, whereas the Bris Milah, which is the symbol of our covenant, was created anew with Avraham our forefather. This dissimilarity hints to a much deeper fundamental difference between a Jew and a Noachite.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt"l explains that the primary goals of a Jew and non-Jew are very different. A Jew, beginning with his acceptance of Torah, has the ability to shed new light on the Torah and bring out new thoughts. Every Mitzvah performed rectifies and creates something new in the world. A Noachite, on the other hand, does not have the option to accept or not accept the seven Noachite laws. They exist and are mandatory regardless. And keeping those laws doesn't alter anything, for they were only given to maintain law and order in this world. This is reflected in secular knowledge. Scientists note that one can only "discover," but one cannot create new knowledge. It is these concepts that will help us understand the lack of a blessing upon greeting a Jew well versed in secular knowledge together with a law regarding the blessing on besamim (spice).

The Gemara in tractate Berachos tells us that one may only recite a blessing when smelling a spice whose primary usage is for smell. If it is mainly used for something else, making its scent only secondary (e.g. coffee), one will not pronounce a blessing on its smell. The same guidelines can be applied with regard to the blessings recited on exceptionally wise and knowledgeable Jews and non-Jews. As explained above there is a difference in the levels of knowledge attainable by Jews and non-Jews. The reason why when one meets a wise non-Jew one pronounces a blessing, but when meeting a Jew who possesses the same knowledge one doesn't pronounce a blessing at all, is because for a Jew secular knowledge is only secondary in importance to the greater knowledge that Jew is able to acquire. Knowledge of Torah with its ability to create is far greater than the sciences which one can only discover. Reciting the blessing designated for a scholarly non-Jew on a Jew could be compared to one who every day instead of saying that he has a firm belief in the resurrection of the dead which represents the ability to create (one of the basic tenets of Judaism), announces his firm belief that there will never again be a flood (which is of lesser importance, but yet significant to a Noachite).

May the viewing of a rainbow remind us of the above, and keep us focused on what is primary and what is secondary in our lives.
Dvar Halacha
Laws of Shenayim Mikra
By Rabbi Yochanan Eskenazi

With the beginning of a new cycle of reading the weekly parshah upon us, it is appropriate to revisit the laws of completing the parshah each week. There is a well-known allusion in the beginning of Parshas Shemos to the mitzvah me'derabbanan (Rabbinical commandment) of Shenayim mikra v'echad targum (reading the Torah twice and commentary once). The Torah [Shemos 1:1] states, "V'eileh shemos B'nei Yisroel," which has the roshei teivos (acronym- vav, alef, lamed, hey, shin, mem, vav, taf) of V'chaiyuv adom likros ha'parshah shenaiyim mikra v'eched targum, v'zeh chai'yavin kol Bnei Yisroel (a person is obligated to read the weekly Torah portion: two times mikra, one time targum, and all of the Jewish people are obligated) (Levush O.C. 285 & Aruch Hashulchan 285:1. Also see Baal Haturim [Shemos 1:1] that has a slightly different allusion).

The source of this halachah is a Gemara [Brachos 8a- b], Rav Huna bar Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav Ami, a person should always complete the Torah portion with the congregation, reading the mikra (text of the Torah) two times and the targum (translation) one time. The Gemara continues that anyone who completes shenaiyim mikra v'eched targum, his days and years will be extended. Some explain this to mean that since a person "takes off time" in order to learn shenaiyim mikra and, as result, does not have as much time to learn other subjects [e.g. Gemara], Hashem gives him additional life to learn other parts of Torah (Sefer Bekurei Chaim pg. 224 quoting Bnei Yissuschar).

The reason for this mitzvah is in order that each person become experts in the Torah (Levush O.C. 285). In addition to the communal reading of the parshah, Chazal instituted that each individual learns the parshah to become more familiar with its basic meaning. By reading the translation, one becomes more familiar with what is written.

Even people who are learning Torah all day are still obligated in this mitzvah (Igros Moshe OC 5:19). Women are not obligated because they are exempt from krias hatorah (Shemiras Shabbos Ke'hilchasa 42:ftnt. 231). Boys who have reached the age of chinuch, should be taught to perform this mitzvah (Kovietz Halachos Shabbos 1:19: 3 based on Magen Avraham 343:2). As an aside, Harav Ovadia Yosef, zt"l, writes, that from a halachic standpoint it is more important for fathers to educate their sons in this mitzvah than teaching them how to lein in shul at their bar mitzvah (Shu"T Yechaveh Daas 2:37). Someone who does not know how to read is not obligated in this mitzvah (Sefer Bekurei Chaim 8:1).

The Poskim unanimously hold that "targum" is referring to Targum Onkelos, since his translation captures the correct translation the way the Torah was given at Har Sinai (Mishneh Berurah 285:5 & Aruch Hashulchan 285:12). Even if one does not fully understand the meaning of the targum, he is nevertheless required to read it (Shu"T Yechaveh Daas 2:37).

There is an opinion that holds that one should learn Rashi's explanation in place of Targum Onkelos, since Rashi generally explains more than Onkelos (Shulchan Aruch 285:2). If one is learning Rashi as his "targum," then by a Posuk that does not have Rashi's explanation, one should read that Posuk an additional time [i.e. for a total of 3 times] (Mishneh Berurah 285:5).

As mentioned above, the point of this mitzvah is for one to become fluent in Torah. Therefore, there seems to be room to learn in the language that one is familiar with [e.g. English which is a reputable translation] as targum. Additionally, if one is has difficulty learning the entire parshah [e.g. someone who is learning how to read Hebrew], there also may be room to strive to "master the Torah" over the course of a few years [and learn part of each parshah each year]. If applicable, one should discuss their personal situation with a competent halachic authority.

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