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The Power of

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel


The Gemora (Yevamos 62b) tells us that 12,000 chavrusos, the talmidim of Rabi Akiva died. They died in the days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. They died because they didn’t afford respect to one another. The gemora teaches us that even if one had students in his youth, he should endeavor to acquire students in his old age. One can never be sure that the students of his youth will be deemed a success.  Rabi Akiva proceeded to pass on the Torah to a new group of luminaries.


What killed them? Was it the punishment for the sin of being disrespectful?


In a related incident:


One of the great leaders of Klal Yisroel was Ivtzan the Shofet. Ivtzan had 60 children from his first wife, 30 sons and 30 daughters. He made a total of 120 feasts in honor of their respective marriages. Tragically, they all died. Why? The gemora (Baba Basra 91a) relates, because he didn’t invite Manoach to a single one of the wedding feasts. Manoach and his wife were unable to bear children. Ivtzan didn’t feel obligated to include them. They could never reciprocate by inviting him to the marriage of their children. So, his children died, while miraculously, Manoach and his wife were blessed with a child. They named him Shimshon, known as Shimshon HaGibor.


The gemora teaches us that even though one was blessed with children in his youth, one should endeavor to continue to have children upon reaching old age. One never knows whether the children of one’s youth will be considered a success. So Ivtzan, at the age of 80 years old, remarried. He changed his name to Boaz. He married the convert Ruth. Their marriage produced one child, Oved, the father of Yishai.


Did Ivtzan/Boaz lose his entire family due to a lack of courtesy?


One of the early commentators makes a unique observation about Ruth. Elimelech and his sons, Machlon and Kilyon died in the land of Moav, due to their sins. Naomi, wished to return to Eretz Yisroel. Her daughters-in-law begged her to take them along with her. They beseeched her, they cried bitter tears. Of the two, Orpah returned to the land of Moav, while Ruth remained with Naomi. Orpah and Ruth were both motivated to leave the cradle of nobility they were raised in. Both were equally willing to sacrifice everything familiar to join the nation of Israel. What was it that tilted the proverbial scales in favor of Ruth over Orpah?


Rav Moshe Dovid Valy (a contemporary of the Ramchal) expands on the word used to describe Ruth’s attachment to her mother-in-law. The passage reads, “Vatidbak” – “and she clung.”  The Book of Ruth  describes a process of creation. The creation of the monarchy of Dovid HaMelech. The famine that brought Elimelech and his family to leave Eretz Yisroel for the fields of Moav was orchestrated by divine providence. The woman who was to be the great grandmother of Dovid HaMelech was in “captivity” in Moav. She is destined to be united with one descended from the tribe of Yehuda. Elimelech’s task was to find her, liberate her, and bring her into the kedushah of his royal  family. Had he done so, he would not have died in Moav.


Why Ruth? Moshiach must emerge from someone who has the qualities of our mothers, Rochel and Leah. Rochel, who made the supreme sacrifice, giving up her husband so her sister wouldn’t suffer embarrassment. Leah, praying for a daughter in place of a seventh son, so her sister should not have a status beneath that of the other wives. Rochel and Leah functioned as a unit. They raised a family of twelve tzadikim. Each one of them unique in his own way, yet functioning together, one complementing another.


This is the definition of what we call “malchus”. An all encompassing kingdom, where every single subject of the king performs his role in the grand scheme of things to perfection. Each and every one of the subjects is aware of the importance of the other’s role in bringing about a perfect harmony.


Ruth and Orpah were both involved in a struggle between their own world and the one they were drawn to. Of the two, only Ruth possessed this trait, the ability to unite, to pass on to her children the capability of uniting all of creation in proclaiming the sovereignty of Hashem. Hashem granted her a special measure of divine assistance, and she was able to resist the urges that were attempting to drag her down. Orpah did not deserve this special siyata dishmaya, and she fell miserably. The root of the word “Vatidbak” is “devek” – meaning to cling. It is specifically this word that it used to describe Ruth’s attachment to Naomi, for it is this trait imbued within her that forever bonded her with Klal Yisroel.


Two themes are prominent throughout the yom tov of Shavuos. We relive the giving of the Torah. We commemorate the birth of Dovid HaMelech, who entered the world on that day. We connect to Dovid HaMelech by reading the book of Ruth. The task placed upon Dovid HaMelech is to reveal Hashem’s Torah in a world of loyal subjects whose hearts beat as one. Thus the themes of Torah and malchus are joined together.


The spark of Moshiach was to be found in the heart of Ivtzan. Yet someone who is unable of unearthing the majesty and depth of soul within the childless Manoach, is unworthy of carrying this torch. Someone who is capable of excluding Manoach from the family of humanity cannot be a melech. To be a melech is to realize that the is absolutely nothing outside of Hashem’s reign. There is nothing extraneous or insignificant in all of creation. And every part or component has equal value, for shleimus – completeness, is unobtainable without all the parts coming together as one whole. This flaw was passed down to his sixty children, and they paid the ultimate price.


The gemora states, “mann malkei rabbanan” – Who are the true kings? The rabbanim! Torah must be learned by members of a group, each one sharpening his “sword” against the other, catching each other’s errors, forcing one to delve deeper and deeper to arrive at the truth. Although the initial approach, at the outset, is adversarial by nature, the goal is to arrive at one truth formed by the strivings of beloved ones, whose individual unique contributions converge together in one voice. One whose vision of Torah study is to exist within the confines of his own personal Torah is referred to as, “an enemy of talmidei chachamim”.


The malchus of Torah was to be found by Rabi Akiva. A lack of respect among his talmidim, however miniscule, is not just an individual crime. It stands in the way of the perfection of all creation. Twelve thousand chavrusos died, not 24,000 students, but chavrusos. There was a flaw in the “chavrusashaft” (camaraderie).


They died during the period of Sefiras HaOmer. We count, beginning from the day the Korban Omer is brought. The word “omer” means “a bundle of grain”. We are counting, with anticipation, towards the day when we stand together at Har Sinai, “k’ish echad bilev echad” – “like one individual, with one heart”, multiple stalks of grain bundled together. We are counting towards the day when we actually become the Omer.


The name “Elimelech” means, “Kings will emanate from me”. Someone who deserted his people in their time of need does not possess the spark of greatness necessary for such a destiny. He died, his children died.


After losing everything, Ivtzan changed his name. He is now Boaz. The name Boaz means – “the power is within him”. He replaced Elimelech as the prime sustainer of the people during the years of famine. The last act of his life was uniting with a member of the nobility of Moav. The very same Moav who cruelly refused to offer sustenance to their kindred, the children of Avrohom, during their travails through the desert.


Ruth, by rejecting Moav,  is the only one worthy of bringing the power of Boaz to fruition.


There is a fundamental misconception that there are two distinct areas of avodas Hashem. bein adam lichaveiro and bein adam liMakom. One cannot relate to a father as if there are no other children in the family. One cannot relate to a king as if he is the king’s only subject.


Boaz started again. Rabi Akiva made a new beginning. Now, it’s our turn.


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