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Parashat BeChukotai 17 Iyar 5774 May 17, 2014 Vol. 23 No. 32
Beneficial Consequences
by Rabbi Scott Friedman (’99)
In Parashat BeChukotai, the Torah presents the great reward
received for following the Torah’s path, as well as the terrible, painful
consequences of straying from it. The Tochachah, the rebuke and
subsequent list of punishments given to Bnei Yisrael, leaves us
feeling dejected and even uninspired to follow in the His ways. What
lesson can we learn from the Tochachah that will help us grow, rather
than leave us devastated and broken?
The main purpose of the Tochachah is to teach Bnei Yisrael that
there are consequences for every decision. These consequences can be
positive or negative. For example, if a person chooses to eat
something, there is a reaction: certain nutritional gain or harm is
caused by eating that food. When someone makes a business
decision, there are ramifications and consequences for those choices
as well. Consequences are not inherently bad; rather, they are a
fundamental part of living. As we mature, we become more aware of
the inevitability of consequence. The longer it takes someone to come
to terms with this idea, the more anguish is suffered and the harder it
becomes to understand and internalize this concept.
A student of mine was recently frustrated by an experience that
left him feeling judged and hurt. This student was not able to join a
certain group due to the decisions he had made earlier in his life. He
complained of this injustice and argued that there was a disconnect
between his earlier decisions and the consequence of those choices
which were only coming to fruition now. After speaking to many
different people, he was finally able to see the correlation. Rabbi
Adler, the Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Academy of Bergen County,
explained to him that if a player who entered the NFL Draft had
three great seasons in college but a poor senior year, inevitably, his
draft stock would drop. This Mashal prompted the student to later
tell me that he felt he needed to accept the consequences in his life for
the choices he made. He added that he felt so good about this
realization that it liberated his frustrations and equipped him with
the ability to take greater responsibility and, in effect, control of his
life. As Dr. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled (p. 15), “Life is
difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great
truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we
truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept
it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact
that life is difficult no longer matters.” Much of life’s difficulty is
merely accepting that life presents challenges. Nonetheless, it is the
realization of life’s difficulty that allows us to grow.
Often we might feel that religious beliefs are a matter of personal
choice or subjective opinion, as if religion presents a smorgasbord of
options that one can pick and choose equally. How often do we
worry if a student is failing a class, not making friends, or not
working hard? All of these are reasons for concern and in no way
should we act casually towards them by not addressing them.
However, when students or people do not believe in Hashem or are
no longer committed in some way to Mitzvot Bein Adam LeMakom,
there is often a feeling of this being a matter of personal space and
choice. While we cannot and should not force people to share our
religious views, the feeling and concern must nevertheless be there.
In addition, we do not have the ability to judge or understand
people’s choices and therefore must be understanding. At the same
time, though, we must realize that the Torah has real consequences,
and the choices we make regarding our commitment to the Torah
stay with us forever. The Tochachah allows us to wake up to the
reality that life can be difficult at times and that there are not only
bad consequences, but beautiful ones as well. The consequences for
Davening are tremendous. The consequences for learning are
enormous. The consequences for giving Tzedakah, for abstaining
from Sha’atneiz, for following a Chok are massive. We cannot forget
that just as there are negative consequences for our choices, we have
incredible ones as well. “Im BeChukotai Teileichu Ve’et Mitzvotai
Tishmoru Va’asitem Otam,” “If you will follow My decrees and
observe My commandments and perform them” (VaYikra 26:3). If we
follow in Hashem’s ways, He will send us Berachah, Hatzlachah, and
Shefah. The Tochachah’s purpose is to teach us that, indeed, every
action has a reaction, and every choice has a consequence. The Torah
is not an extra credit assignment that we may choose to follow. It is
the very curriculum that all of our education and existence is
predicated on, as the Torah states, “VeChai Bahem,” “And you shall
live by them” (18:5). We must all come to appreciate the greatness of
our choices to follow in the ways of the Torah in order to ultimately
receive all of the Berachot that Hashem promises will follow.
Do As the Avot Do
by Alex Kalb (’15)
In the beginning of Parashat BeChukotai, the Torah states,
“VeZacharti Et Briti Ya’akov, VeAf Et Briti Yitzchak, VeAf Et Briti
Avraham Ezkor, VeHaAretz Ezkor,” “I will remember My covenant
with Ya’akov, and also My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My
covenant with Avraham will I remember, and I will remember the
land” (VaYikra 26: 42), which we recite in the Akeidah portion of
Tefilah every morning. The Gemara (Shabbat 55a) notes two opinions
on why we value our Avot—Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov—and if
they still benefit our nation. Shmuel says that the value of the Avot
has already died out and no longer gives us protection. However,
Rav Yochanan says that the merit of the Avot continues to benefit us
with grace from Heaven. Tosafot comment that the aformentioned
Pasuk proves that the Jews will have freedom due to Hashem
remembering the promise He made with their forefathers. How can
Shmuel say that the value of the Avot died out? Furthermore, if the
merit of the Avot did in fact die out, then why do we still mention
them every day during Tefilah?
Tosafot answer this by differentiating between the value of the
Avot and the Brit with the Avot. The Brit, sworn by Hashem to the
Avot, is never to be broken, and it is this Brit that we say in our
Alternatively, it can be that there really is no disagreement
between Shmuel and Rav Yochanan. Rather, Shmuel is referring to
the Brit’s power to protect Am Yisrael from evil, while Rav Yochanan
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is referring to its power to protect the righteous. The Devar
Avraham explains this opinion by saying that people are
allowed to take pride in the greatness of their ancestors only if
their behavior matches their pride. Those who do Aveirot and
don’t follow in the ways of their ancestors may not take pride
in their greatness, for their actions degrade the source of their
Rav Moshe Feinstein presents an additional answer as to
how we can rely on the merit of the Avot, even according to
Shmuel. In the eyes of Hashem, the Avot were very special
people who passed on this covenant for many generations
after them. The Torah states (Shemot 34:7), “Notzeir Chesed
LaAlafim Nosei Avon VaFesha VeChata’ah VeNakeih Lo Yenakeh
Pokeid Avon Avot Al Banim VeAl Bnei Banim Al Shileishim VeAl
Ribei’im,” “Keeper of kindness even for the thousands of
generation, forgiver of crime and sin, but will not necessarily
clear the guilty peoples’ names from the current children to
their children and their children, all the way until their third
and fourth generations.” The Torah here promises to reward
every righteous person for two thousand generations. We can
benefit from this promise since we are still within that number
of generations from our righteous forefathers. While in order
to have this merit one must also be righteous, even though not
every individual is, the nation as a whole is still considered to
be righteous. Therefore, we are still able to benefit from the
merit of the Avot even according to Shmuel, because we can
evoke the merit of our righteous forefathers as a nation.
However, we may then ask ourselves why we are
fortunate enough to benefit from our righteous Avot? Also,
why are we benefiting from Mitzvot that the Avot did many
generations ago when we are so far removed from them by
Rav Dessler, in the beginning of his Michtav MeiEliyahu,
explains this concept and the obligation that it places on us.
Imagine that two thieves are brought before a judge to be
tried for their crimes. The judge, trying not to be cruel, would
like to find a way to change them into good people without
having them face harsh punishments. He therefore decides to
find out whatever he can about each of the criminals. The
judge finds out that the first thief comes from a respectable
family and is usually surrounded by law abiding citizens.
However, this one time, he was negatively influenced by a bad
friend. The judge decides that instead of sending the man to
jail, he will release him to his family, hoping that under their
influence and guidance, he will not violate the law again. For
this man, returning him to his family will have a better effect
on him than having him sit in jail for an extended period. The
judge then finds out that the second thief, on the other hand,
has no good influences in his life. Upon return to his own
society, he will most likely violate another law and appear
once again before the judge, having not learned his lesson. In
this case, the judge must send him to jail, so that he will not
commit any further crimes, and he will at least learn from his
actions in the way that best suits his needs.
In both of these cases, justice was served and the goal of
changing the criminals’ behavior was achieved. In terms of the
first thief, this goal was able to be accomplished through Midat
HaRachamim, the attribute of mercy, while the second thief
had to feel the attribute of Midat HaDin, strict justice.
Our forefathers left us this rich spiritual legacy of just
people. Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes that millions of simple
Jews throughout the generations have given their lives to
Torah to model after the great accomplishments of Avraham in
giving his life to Hashem in Ur Kasdim. His greatness in
spirituality has been a great influence for the entire nation in their
nature and actions. This is true regarding the accomplishments of the
other Avot as well. We have a naturally elevated spiritual character
due to the efforts of our forefathers.
When we identify with this strong legacy, we allow the noble
character traits that our forefathers established in our nation to flow
through us. When we work on strengthening ourselves by sacrificing
our worldly desires for Hashem, we connect with the Avot and show
that we are able to repent from any sins that were the resulted from
our human nature. Hashem can then decide whether it is worth
giving us another chance or not. Benefiting from the merit of our
Avot means connecting to them by acting with the same religious
zeal as they did.
I Am My Brother’s Keeper
by Yosef Silfen (’15)
During the Tochachah, the rebuke given to Bnei Yisrael, in
Parashat BeChukotai, the Torah states, “VeChashlu Ish BeAchiv,” “And
they shall stumble over one another” (VaYikra 26:37). Rashi (ad loc.
s.v. VeChashlu Ish BeAchiv) explains that the simple understanding of
this phrase is that when the Jewish people are being chased by their
enemies, they will stumble over each other as they are running for
their lives. Rashi also points out based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin
27b) that this phrase refers to Jews “falling” over another Jew’s sins,
because every Jew is responsible for each other. The Gemara explains
that this means that a Jew can be held responsible and even punished
for the sin of another Jew. Therefore, if someone sees their fellow Jew
speak Lashon HaRa or violate Shabbat, then the witness can be
punished for that sin, even though he himself did not commit the sin.
The Torah Temimah poses a question on this Gemara, as it
expresses an extremely difficult concept. Why would Hashem punish
someone for another’s sin even when the person committed no sin of
his own? The Torah Temimah explains that this concept of Areivut,
of responsibility for every Jew, means that all Jews must try to
prevent other Jews from doing sins. All Jews must make a sincere
effort to do this, and if we do so, we will not be punished. Only if we
had the opportunity to correct our sinning brothers and we neglected
to do so will we be held responsible.
We must ask what prompted the Gemara to give a Midrashic,
not-literal, explanation to the phrase “VeChaslu Ish BeAchiv;” was
the simple explanation not satisfying? The Gur Aryeh explains that if
the Torah simply wanted to teach about a Jew stumbling over
another Jew while he is running away from his enemies, it would
have used the singular form of “VeChasheil Ish BeAchiv,” “and one
man will stumble over his fellow man.” However, the text contains
the plural form of “VeChashlu,” meaning that many Jews will fall
over another Jew. The Gur Aryeh explains that this plural form of
“stumbling” does not refer to many Jews physically falling over one
Jew. Rather, it must mean that many Jews can be held responsible for
even a single Jew’s sin. The Siftei Chachamim explains that the
Gemara focuses on the particular word “Achiv,” “his brother,” to
refer to a fellow Jew. This means that all Jews have a family-like
responsibility to prevent others from sinning.
We are currently in the middle of Sefirat HaOmer, when we
mourn the loss of Rabi Akiva’s 24,000 students who died. It is an
especially suitable time to read the Tochachah this Shabbat in order
to realize that Rabi Akiva’s students were killed because these great
men disrespected each other and could have corrected each other’s
misdeeds. Each one had that power, yet none of them prevented their
fellow Jew from being disrespectful. We are told about these students
that, “Lo Nahagu Kavod Zeh BaZeh,” “They did not act respectfully
one to another” (Yevamot 62b). Perhaps this is another way of saying




Peace or Nothing
by Gavriel Epstein ('15)
Along with the many curses and blessings presented in
Parashat BeChukotai, Hashem promises that, “VeNatati
Shalom BaAretz,” “I will grant peace in the land” (VaYikra
26:6). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VeNatati Shalom) explains that the
importance of peace is greater than any other need, because,
“Im Ein Shalom Ein Klum,” “If there is no peace, there is
nothing,” regardless of the prosperity the nation may
experience. Why is peace so crucial that the lack of any other
blessing—including abundant produce, prosperity and
health—is dwarfed by a lack of peace? This difficulty can be
explained by applying our reciprocal relationship with
Hashem. Unlike other blessings, peace requires our initiation
and demonstration of willingness to cooperate with both
others and Hashem. The very existence of peace creates a
reciprocal relationship, “Ki Am Kadosh Atah LaHashem
Elokecha UVecha Bachar Hashem LiHeyot Lo,” “Because you are
a holy people to Hashem your God, and Hashem chose you
to be His” (Devarim 14:2). Only by fostering peace can we
qualify for any of Hashem’s other blessings, making it the
most fundamental blessing.

that they did not live up to the phrase, “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh
BaZeh,” “All Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavu’ot 39a). In
other words, we are our brother’s keeper and must ensure that they
do not sin. We should all take this lesson to heart and make sure to
take responsibility for our fellow Jews and make sure that they do not
sin. If we properly fulfill this very serious obligation, then we will
leave the state of mourning and celebrate the upcoming Shavu’ot as a
Rabi Akiva and His Talmidim—A Fresh
Perspective: Part Two
by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Last week we began our analysis of Chazal’s well-known
recounting of the story of the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s twenty-four
thousand Talmidim. We noted that a careful examination of the story
yields many questions. The answers to these questions, however,
present a compelling new perspective on this decisive event in Jewish
history that has many implications
for our contemporary challenges as
both individuals and as a
A Classic Talmudic Story
The Gemara (Yevamot 62b)
It was said that Rabi Akiva
had 12,000 pairs of disciples from
Gevet to Antipatris, and all of them
died at the same time because they
did not treat each other with
respect. The world remained
desolate until Rabi Akiva came to
our Masters in the South and
taught the Torah to them. These
were Rabi Meir, Rabi Yehudah,
Rabi Yosei, Rabi Shimon [Bar
Yochai] and Rabi Elazar ben
Shamua; and it was they who
revived the Torah at that time. A
Tanna taught: "All of them died
between Pesach and Shavu’ot ."
Rav Hama ben Abba or, it might be
said, Rav Chiya ben Avin said: "All
of them died a cruel death." Specifically what was it? Rav Nachman
replied: "Croup."
Four glaring questions spring forth from the text. First, why
describe the number of Rabi Akiva’s Talmidim with the cumbersome
phrase, “12,000 pairs,” instead of the more straightforward 24,000
students? Next, why is it significant that the Talmidim died in the
period between Pesach and Shavu’ot
? Third, Rabi Akiva is well-
known for emphasizing VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha, love your
neighbor as yourself (VaYikra 19:18), which he classifies as a Kelal
Gadol BaTorah, a central pillar of Torah values. With such a Rebbe,

The Gemara presents stories in an exceedingly terse manner. A
story that could easily fill a full length novel is often described by
Chazal in but a few sentences. Thus, the inclusion of any detail in the
exceedingly concise prose of the Gemara is significant and does not
simply serve as literary embellishment. If we seek to read between
the lines of the story and discover the deeper lessons of these stories,
an explanation must be given for the importance of the seemingly
unnecessary details presented by the Gemara.
how is it possible that Rabi Akiva’s Talmidim failed to show
respect for each other?
The final question stems from the fundamental Torah
principle that Hashem is fair. Thrice daily we recite, “Tzaddik
Hashem BeChol Derachav,” “Hashem is righteous in all His
ways” (Tehillim 145:17), teaching that, simply put, Hashem is
fair. When Hashem punishes, He does so in a reasonable and
proportionate manner. Chazal often phrase Hashem’s method
of punishment as Middah KeNegged Middah, that the
punishment matches the sin (see Mishnah Sotah 1:7, for
example). In our story, does the lack of respect merit the
horrific deaths suffered by the 24,000 Talmidim of Rabi Akiva?
Rabi Akiva’s Educational Methodology before the Tragedy
In order to resolve these questions, we can posit that the
tragic loss of 24,000 Talmidim prompted Rabi Akiva to make a
radical change in his educational methodology. We noted last
week that Rabi Akiva’s unparalleled greatness attracted
students in droves. The students were exceptionally eager to
draw close to Rabi Akiva
and his learning. I suggest
that Rabi Akiva sought to
harness this drive among
the Talmidim for the
attention they craved in
order to motivate them to
achieve great heights in
Torah scholarship. Rabi
Akiva sought to create
competition for precious
access to him as he traveled
constantly from the
scattered branches of his
Yeshivah. Chazal (Bava
Batra 22a) do indeed teach
that Kinat Soferim Tarbeh
Chochmah, competition
among Talmidim motivates
greater achievement in
Torah learning.
It is for this reason, I
suggest, that the Gemara
describes the Talmidim as
12,000 pairs and not 24,000
Talmidim. Rabi Akiva’s
system was to pair off his
Talmidim in a competitive environment in which they would
seek to surpass each other, in order to achieve the elusive
attention from their remote Rebbe, Rabi Akiva. Rabi Akiva
sought to create a Torah center of unparalleled quality and
with this system and methodology. It is possible that
Rabi Akiva even dreamed that he could mass produce Torah
scholars of his own caliber with this system.
However, this system failed. Rabi Akiva was not able to
properly monitor his Talmidim since he was spread so thin
amongst his many Yeshivot and multitudes of students. The
intense competition for the attention of Rabi Akiva led to the
breakdown of respect to the extent that Hashem felt that the

Note that in Rabi Akiva’s years as a Talmid. the debate
raged as to whether to allow unlimited access to the Beit
Midrash or limit entree to only the most exceptional students
(see Berachot 27b-28a). Rabi Akiva enthusiastically embraced
the inclusionary view of Rabi Elazar ben Azariah.




situation was intolerable. Rabi Akiva’s numerous Talmidim
represented the new wave and next generation of Torah study. These
Talmidim, though, no matter how accomplished in Torah study,
represented a severe deviation from true Torah values.
Advance in Torah study without a concurrent advance in
Middot, character development, may be acceptable in a secular
academic environment, but certainly not in a Yeshiva. Hashem could
not tolerate this new style of a rough-edged Talmid Chacham.
Hashem could not allow the ancient Mesorah, tradition, of Torah
scholars who excel in Torah study and possess sterling character
traits to become eviscerated in the cauldron of intense competition
among masses of students. Hashem had no choice other than to
forcefully reject these Talmidim and make it very apparent that He
was profoundly displeased with their conduct. Nothing less than the
integrity and survival of proper Torah study and observance was at
Rabi Akiva’s Methodology after the Tragedy
Rabi Akiva deeply understood and internalized this message. He
knew that he could not continue as he did before. After the tragedy,
he changed his educational paradigm and created a small Yeshiva
that had only one location. In such an environment, the Talmidim
could thrive and prosper not only intellectually, but as kind and
thoughtful people as well. The fact that the new Talmidim survived
proves that this new methodology succeeded. The fact that Rabi
Akiva’s Talmidim surrounded him and engaged in thoughtful
conversation at the time of his martyrdom (Berachot 61b) is a
testament to the close relationship that Rabi Akiva forged with his
newer Talmidim.
Moreover, it was only after the tragedy that Rabi Akiva began
emphasizing the importance of high quality interpersonal
interactions. Rabi Akiva began stressing that VeAhavta LeRei’acha
Kamocha is a most fundamental Torah principle only after the loss of
his 24,000 students. Prior to the tragedy, Rabi Akiva was focused on
intellectual achievement and a simple Pasuk of VeAhavta LeRei’acha
Kamocha was deemed too elementary for Rabi Akiva to emphasize to
his students. After the tragedy, though, he realized the necessity to
repeatedly emphasize (as noted by the Ramchal in his introduction to
his Messilat Yesharim) central Torah themes no matter how obvious
and basic they seem.
It is no coincidence that Rashi, who does not write an extraneous
word in his commentaries, mentions that Rabi Akiva is the one who
emphasized that VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha is a major Torah
principle (VaYikra 19:18 s.v. VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha). I
suggest that Rashi specifically mentions Rabi Akiva to allude to the
fact that he was the sage who learned the lesson of the paramount
importance of this Pasuk in a most painful manner.
Rabi Akiva Stresses Middot Tovot to His New Talmidim
We find that Rabi Akiva stresses the importance of interpersonal
relationships. In Pirkei Avot (3:18), he is cited as frequently
how beloved all of the Jewish People as well as all of humanity are to
Hashem (and consequently how precious humanity must be to us,
who are required to follow in Hashem’s ways, as well). I suggest that
Rabi Akiva adopted this as a mantra only after the tragedy.
The Gemara (Ta’anit 25b) relates:
Rabi Eliezer led the congregation in the lengthy Amidah prayer
for fast days, but his prayers [for rain during a severe drought] were
not answered. At that point, his student, Rabi Akiva, prayed for rain,
and rain began to fall. When the rabbis present began to discuss why
the student, Rabi Akiva, was successful, while Rabi Eliezer was not, a

This is how the phrase of, “Hu Hayah Omeir,” so characteristic
of Pirkei Avot, is commonly explained.
heavenly voice called out that it was not an issue of greatness; rather,
Rabi Akiva was more relaxed and forgiving, while Rabi Eliezer was
more exact and demanding. God responded to each of them
according to his personality.
Again, I suggest that this personality trait became most evident
only after the tragedy when Rabi Akiva adjusted his educational
approach and priorities.
Finally, the Mishnah (Sotah 9:15) records that when Rabi Akiva
died, Kavod HaTorah, honor and respect for Torah, ended; meaning
that no later figure matched the extreme importance that Rabi Akiva
attached in both word and deed to Kavod HaTorah. Rabi Akiva’s zeal
for Kavod HaTorah is readily understood in light of his horrific
experience with his first set of Talmidim.
Conclusion—The Talmidim Died between Pesach and Shavu’ot
While we have answered all of the questions that we posed
regarding the Gemara’s recounting of the death of Rabi Akiva’s
Talmidim, we have yet to explain the significance of their dying
between Pesach and Shavu’ot. An answer emerges from the fact that
during this time, we emulate our ancestors’ post- Yetzi’at Mitzrayim
spiritual preparation for Matan Torah at Sinai (see Sefer HaChinuch
Mitzvah 273). During this time, the 24,000 Talmidim died since their
behavior deemed them most unworthy to serve as the bearers and
transmitters of the grand Mesorah from Sinai to subsequent
Every year during this time period, we remember and mourn the
students’ tragic deaths and, more importantly, we remember the
reason for their terrible loss. As we renew and reinvigorate our
commitment to Torah and its transmission during the period
between Pesach and Shavu’ot , we are to internalize the lesson of the
loss of the 24,000 students. We solemnly recall their deaths and
remember that Hashem deems us worthy students and teachers of
Torah only if we are as committed to character development as well
as cerebral progress in Torah.
Editors-in-Chief: Moshe Pahmer, Matthew Wexler
Executive Editor: Gavriel Epstein
Publication Editors: Binyamin Jachter, Yosef Kagedan,
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Staff: Moshe Davis, Ari Fineberg, Ariel Fromowitz, Yosef
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Kalb, Shlomo Kroopnick, Jonathan Meiner, Binyamin
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Schmeltz, Yehoshua Segal
Rabbinic Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter
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