Vayishlach 5778

RABBI BINYOMIN ABRAMSON

כי נבלה עשה בישראל לשכב את בת יעקב וכן לא יעשה (בראשית לד:ז)

For he (Shechem) has committed a disgraceful deed in Yisrael, to lie with a daughter of Yaakov,
and such shall not be done. (Bereishis 34:7)

The Beis HaLevi questions the seemingly redundant words וכן לא יעשה. Hasn’t the Pasuk already stated that Shechem’s actions were inexcusable? He prefaces his answer with another question. Why did Shechem deserve punishment altogether? After all, he was unaware of Yaakov Avinu’s prominence, and perhaps he wouldn’t have acted the way he did, had he known just who Yaakov was.
He answers these questions with a penetrating insight. Indeed, had Shechem’s actions been appropriate for even regular folk, he would not have been liable, for one is not accountable for actions performed unintentionally, provided that they are acceptable behaviors. However, what Shechem did was improper even for normal people. Therefore, he was punished according to the actual, more stringent sin that he did commit, which involved Dina, Yaakov’s daughter. The Pasuk therefore appends the words וכן לא יעשה to impart this message: that such an action is unacceptable even among common folk.
The Beis HaLevi extrapolates this concept to a practical application. The Gemara (Bechoros 6b) derives from Pesukim that milk which comes from a non-kosher animal is Biblically forbidden. This milk is known as “Chalav Tamei,” or milk secreted by an impure animal. Elsewhere (Avoda Zara 35b), the Gemara rules that (even cow’s) milk lacking a Jew’s supervision during the milking process is Rabbinically prohibited, since perhaps non-kosher milk was mixed in by a Gentile. This unsupervised milk is called “Chalav Akum,” or milk of a Gentile. If a person knowingly violates the lesser sin of Chalav Akum and purposely drinks unsupervised milk, and subsequently discovers that the milk he drank was indeed Chalav Tamei, the Beis HaLevi says he would be liable on a Biblical level. Although he drank the impure milk unintentionally, and generally one is not liable for Aveiros transgressed inadvertently, the drinking of Chalav Akum was performed with express forbidden intent. Therefore, he is liable in full even for the Biblical prohibition.
Rav Tzvi Kaplan related a story about the Beis HaLevi himself which conveys this idea. The Bais HaLevi was once traveling late at night in the freezing cold, and he stopped over at an inn to spend the night. The innkeeper, not recognizing the Beis HaLevi’s true identity, disparagingly told him that due to lack of space, he can sleep on the floor.
Sometime later that night, a great Chassidic Rebbe came to the inn accompanied by an entourage of his Chassidim, and was warmly welcomed by the innkeeper and shown to a comfortable room. On the way to his room, the Rebbe instantly recognized the Beis HaLevi sitting on the floor. The Rebbe exclaimed, “Slutzker Rav! Slutzker Rav! What are you doing on the floor?!”
Upon revelation of the Beis HaLevi’s identity, the innkeeper was greatly embarrassed, as he realized that he had deeply mistreated one of the Gedolei Hador. He begged the Beis HaLevi for forgiveness, but the Beis HaLevi refused, saying, “Had you at least treated me like a regular guest, you would not be responsible for your actions, since you had no idea who I was. But now that you had me sleep on the floor, which is a demeaning way to treat even a commoner, I cannot forgive you until you come to my house to learn firsthand the correct method of performing Hachnosas Orchim.”
Rav Shimshon Pincus (Tiferes Shimshon) extends this concept one step further. It is well known that every Jew will be tested on the entire Torah when he ascends to the Yeshiva Shel Ma’alah, Heavenly Court, (Midrash Mishlei, Parsha 10, see Biur Halacha 155:1 s.v. “Eis”). When the exam begins, one will think to himself, “How can they possibly expect me to know the entire Torah? I’m not Rav Akiva Eiger!”
Hashem’s response to this claim will be, “If you were indeed incapable of attaining such great heights, you would not be held accountable, as one is not expected to accomplish more than his capabilities. But did you at least fulfill your potential? If you did, you have passed the test. But if you didn’t, then you are responsible for knowing the entire Torah!” 


RABBI MOSHE REZNIK

The Gemara (Chullin 91a) says that Yaakov Avinu crossed over the river in order to get Pachim Ketanim, small cheap containers, which he had forgotten while he was moving all of his belongings. The Gemara infers,מכאן לחכמים שחביב עליהם ממונם יותר מגופם, “this demonstrates that Tzadikim consider their belongings more precious than (temporary discomfort to) their bodies,” so that they should not G-d forbid be tempted to steal.
A certain Rosh Yeshiva used to keep an accounting of any money the yeshiva owed him, even if it was only a few cents. When asked why he didn’t just let the yeshiva keep the change, he replied, so that when it’s the other way around and I owe them a few cents, I will be sure to pay it back.
The Chinuch (Mitzvah 529) writes that it is forbidden to waste anything of even minute value. This prohibition is called Bal Tashchis. Even though the Torah (Devarim 20:19-20) only forbids cutting down a fruit tree, the Chachomim forbade any wasteful destruction, and “this is the way of all righteous people. They love peace, they are happy when others have good, and they won’t waste even a mustard seed, contrary to the wicked … and are happy when there is destruction.”
The Chinuch quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 105b) that המשבר כלים בחמתו יהא בעיניך כעובד ע”ז, “someone who destroys an object out of anger should be considered in your eyes like one who worships idols,” because if he will let the Yetzer Hara convince him to do the smaller sin of Bal Tashchis, he will eventually be able to be convinced to worship idols.
The Gemara does mention a few incidents where Amoraim threw things to show their household members that they were angry at them in order to teach them. The Chinuch adds that they did not throw anything in a way that would destroy it, because to do so would be an act of Bal Tashchis.
However, Tosafos (Kiddushin 32a) disagrees and says that if one is destroying something for a valid reason, then it is not included in the prohibition of Bal Tashchis.
Similarly, the Gemara (Avoda Zara 11a) says that when Rabban Gamliel Hazaken died, Onkelos burned items worth 70 “maneh” in order to show honor to Rabban Gamliel. (By way of comparison, that would equal at least 35 times the value of a standard Kesuba that a man promises to give his wife if he were to divorce her.) So not every action that would look like Bal Tashchis is necessarily considered so.
There are other cases when it might be permitted to destroy a fruit tree. An example would be when the real estate would be worth more if a person built a house on that spot than the fruit the tree would yield. (In such a situation, one must be sure to consult with a competent rabbinical authority.) The Chavas Yair, however, says that if someone just wants to extend his backyard (לטייל), it would be forbidden.
In addition to the issue that it is Assur to do Bal Tashchis, there is also an aspect of danger involved. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 91b) says in the name of Rav Chanina, “My son only died because he cut down a fig tree,” which the Yaavetz explains to mean that if not for this sin he would not have died. Obviously, his son was a Talmud Chacham, who would never intentionally violate a Torah prohibition. Therefore, it must be talking about a case where this was permitted, yet he still died because of it. This teaches that even in those cases where Bal Tashchis is permitted, there is still a possibility of danger.
In any case, the Yaavetz does say that one can definitely uproot the tree with enough dirt so that it can still live, because he is not doing any destruction at all.