Latest update: March 12th, 2015
The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the children of Israel, saying to them (amor lahem)” (Bamidbar 6:23). Rashi says 1) Amor is similar in form to words zachor and shamor (in the Ten Commandments); 2) Amor is written in the full form (with the letter vav), [to teach us] that they should not be in a hasty or bewildered state when they bless the people, but rather they should bless them with the proper intent and with a full heart. The Rav examined both of these ideas.
Why did Rashi compare the form of the word amor to that of zachor? Zachor is the infinitive form (the root form of the word). The imperative form (tzivuy) would be z’chor. If Hashem was commanding us to keep the Shabbos or to remember the Shabbos, why not use the imperative form of the word, z’chor, sh’mor? Rashi (Shemos 20:8) says that the infinitive form teaches that one must always be thinking of Shabbos. Rashi quotes the opinion of Shamai to set aside the choicest objects encountered during the week for Shabbos. The Gemara (Beitza 16a) says that Hillel had a different approach, that he would dedicate all his actions to the glory of Hashem and use the best that he had available before Shabbos. Rashi and the Rambam agree with the opinion of Shamai in this case, even though we have a principle that we always accept the opinion of Beis Hillel, because in this case Shamai’s opinion matches the commandment as written in the Torah. Zachor teaches that no matter what day of the week it might be, one must always think of, and look forward to, Shabbos.
In the parshah of Bircas Kohanim, the Torah says “amor lahem” and not emor lahem. From the use of the infinitive form instead of the imperative form, we learn that once a kohen goes up to bless the people, he retains a perpetual obligation to bless the people whenever he is asked to. (This is Rashi’s opinion, Tosfos disagrees, see Sotah 38a). This perpetual obligation to bless the people is similar to the perpetual obligation to constantly remember the Shabbos. That is why the form amor is used, similar to the use of the form zachor.
The Rav also explained the second statement of Rashi about the full form of the word amor. Prior to blessing the people, the priests recite a blessing that Hashem sanctified them and commanded them to bless the people with love, b’ahavah. It would appear from the text of this blessing that the true fulfillment of the biblical obligation to bless the people requires that they do it with (or through) love. I would suggest that this echoes a similar idea of the Rav in which he interprets the letter beis in the word ba’yom in the verse “Ki ba’yom ha’zeh yechaper Aleichem” (Vayikra 16:30). Ba’yom does not mean on the day of Yom Kippur. Rather it indicates that by complying with and experiencing the itzumo shel Yom Hakippurim through an attitude of contrition, regret and repentance, the day of Yom Kippur will be the vehicle through which you will attain atonement. Similarly, if the priest can be moved though a feeling of love for his fellow Jews, to bless them with a clear and joyful mindset and without reservation, Hashem will ultimately concur with and confer those blessings on His chosen people. (See Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified, complied by Arnold Lustiger.)
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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