Shabbos Parashas Terumah — Sefer HaMiddos

Since there are some parashios for which I have already presented all of the Maggid’s commentaries that are available, I will begin presenting selections from the Maggid’s Sefer HaMiddos (Book of Noble Character Traits), starting from the beginning and continuing in order. Sefer HaMiddos is the only work among the Maggid’s published teachings that was put in the form of a written text by the Maggid himself. The Maggid prepared a draft of the book, and the book was then edited and published by Rav Avraham Beirush Flamm, who also redacted the Maggid’s commentaries on the parashios of the Torah (Ohel Yaakov) and the haftaros (Kochav MiYaakov).
The structure of Sefer HaMiddos is patterned after that of Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart), a leading work on Jewish piety written by in Arabic in 1040 by Rav Bachya Ibn Pekudah and translated into Hebrew about a century or so later (other translations have been produced subsequently). The book consists of a Prologue and eight sections, called “gates”:  Intellect, Fear of God, Love of God, Service to God, Trust in God, Haughtiness, Hatred, and Prayer. Each section is divided into several chapters.
We begin with the Prologue, the first part of which has a connection with this week’s parashah, parashas Terumah, which presents Hashem’s instructions for the building of the Mishkan. The Holy Ark, containing the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, representing the Torah (especially the written Torah) was built with a crown on its top. The Prologue beings with a teaching in Yoma 72b relating to this crown. In this connection, a friend of mine who is also interested in the Maggid’s teachings pointed out to me that the Maggid’s family name, Kranz, is Yiddish for crown or wreath.
Prologue to Sefer HaMiddos, Part 1
In Yoma 72b [in connection with the crown on the Holy Ark in the Mishkan], R. Yochanan expounds: “It is written זר and read זֵיר – if a person is worthy, the Torah becomes a crown (זֵיר) for him, and if not it becomes a stranger (זָר) to him.” R. Yochanan is presenting a teaching here which is related to a Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 457. It is written (Yeshayah 43:22): “It is not to Me that you called, Yaakov, for you have toiled for Me, Yisrael.” The Midrash expounds: “All day they engage in business and do not get tired. They do their work and do not get tired. Yet when they recite the prayers they get tired! Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘“It is not to Me that you called, Yaakov.” Would it be that I did not come to recognize you, Yaakov! Why? Because “you toiled for Me, Yisrael.”’”
In the blessing over the Torah, we say: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe, who chose us from among all the nations and gave us His Torah. Blessed are You, Hashem, Giver of the Torah.” Hashem did not decide to give us His precious Torah based on drawing lots. Rather, He gave us the Torah because He saw that we were worthy to receive it. How did He reach this conclusion? It must be that He saw in us a merit predating our observance of the Torah’s laws and statutes – something coming before Torah. What comes before Torah? The answer is given in the traditional saying, derived from Vayikra Rabbah 15:3, that basic human decency comes before Torah. Basic human decency encompasses the spectrum of noble character traits, such as perfect honesty and compassion for others. In Yevamos 79a, the Gemara list three traits that typify the Jewish People: compassion, humility, and readiness to perform acts of kindness. R. Yochanan contrasts a worthy person who learns Torah with an unworthy person who learns Torah. When a person makes himself worthy by developing noble character and afterward learns Torah, he is like a person in fine clothes who bears a crown on his head. But when a contemptible person learns Torah, he is like a person in tattered clothes who bears a crown on his head; the crown looks out of place. This is what R. Yochanan means when he says that if a person is unworthy, the Torah is a stranger to him.
Mishnah Makkos 3:16 and Avos D’Rabbi Noson, chapter 41 (end) present a teaching of R. Chananiah ben Akasha: “The Holy One Blessed Be He wished to bring merit to Yisrael, therefore He gave them an abundance of Torah and mitzvos. As it is written (Yeshayah 42:21): ‘Hashem desired, for the sake of his [Yisrael’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious.’” Hashem included in His Torah many things that we would do of our own accord even if He had not commanded them, such as refraining from eating disgusting things such as insects and mice. Hashem included these things among the mitzvos of the Torah in order that we could receive reward for them as well, for, as the Gemara in Kiddushin 31a states, “one who is commanded to do something and does it is greater than one who is not commanded to do something and does it [of his own accord].” The evil inclination has the power to test us only in areas relating to a commandment of the Torah. In this light, we can understand what the Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni is saying. The fact that we do not get tired when engaging in business or doing our work is a sign that we do not experience great resistance in engaging in pursuits that the Torah does not require. It is only in regard to mitzvos that the evil inclination fights against us, causing us to feel weary. We can say that R. Chananiah ben Akasha’s teaching relates also to matters of basic human decency: Hashem took the code of honorable conduct that we inherited from our holy forefathers and included it as part of the Torah, so that we could receive reward for adhering to it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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