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Forethoughts And AfterThoughts Archives
- Devarim

Tisha B'Av (9th of Av) 5773

"How could it be that [Jerusalem] sits alone …" (Eicha 1.1)

Rabbi Chiya Bar Avin said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Korcha:

An elder from Jerusalem told me that Nevuzraden the master butcher slaughtered 2.11 million people in this valley. And in Jerusalem he slaughtered 940 thousand people on one stone until their blood reached the blood of Zechariah (the prophet).

(In his role as a Babylonian officer) he found (during their destruction of the First Temple) the blood of Zechariah boiling and bubbling on the Temple floor. [Zechariah was assassinated by aristocrats on that spot two-hundred-fifty-two years earlier.]

"What is this?" he asked.

They responded that it was blood from sacrifices that were spilled there.

He brought (animal) blood but it did not match.

He told them, "If you tell me (the truth) then fine. Otherwise I will tear your flesh (apart) with iron combs."

They said, "What can we tell you. We had a prophet who rebuked us about Divine matters; we rose up against him and we murdered him. It is many years now and his blood has not rested."

"I will appease him," he said.

He brought over the members of the supreme and secondary courts and killed them over the blood but it did not rest.

He brought youths and maidens and slaughtered them over the blood but it did not rest.

He brought schoolchildren and slaughtered them over the blood but it did not rest.

He called out, "Zechariah, Zechariah, I killed the best among them. Do you want me to kill them all?

The blood rested.

At that moment, thoughts of repentance entered his mind. He reasoned: If this is the consequence of killing one person, then what will happen to me, who killed so many?

He fled, sent a document of instruction for distributing his belongings, and he converted to Judaism. (Talmud Gitin 57b)

Our first 9th of Av occurred some thirty-three centuries ago, when we believed the spies and cried all night about our relocating to Israel. On the morrow we rebelled and plotted against Moshe.

G-D appeared and said, "… all the men who saw My glory and wonders that I did in Egypt and in the desert and they tested me ten times and didn't hear My voice, (I swear that they will not) see the land … " (Numbers 14:22-23)

Ten strikes and we were out.

Had we not gone over the limit then we may very well have entered the land together with Moshe, who would have built a Temple with such holiness that would have been indestructible. And had the Temple not been destroyed then there would never have been a Tisha B'Av as we painfully know it today.

And we may have very well never endured all the suffering that we did in our history.

The Talmud (Arachin 15a-b) lists the ten infractions. One of them was our testing G-D by retaining some manna overnight (Exodus 16:20).

But the Medrash says that only two people did this, Dasan and Avirom.

These are the same people who the Torah cites as being wicked (Exodus 2:13 - Rash), who blamed Moshe for the plight of the Jewish people (Exodus 5:20-21 - Rashi), and who went onto make so much trouble by Korach's rebellion that the mouth of the earth and swallowed them up alive.

Why did the entire Jewish people suffer and why do we continue to suffer today because of the misbehavior of two deviant people?

Also, this notion does not appear to match with the tradition that the Second Temple, which predicated all of suffering we endured over the past nineteen centuries, was destroyed because of a lack of harmony and mutual respect.

And this appears to be unreasonable. How perfect does G-D expect us to be?

Then again, it's easier to blame G-D then to blame ourselves.

The following came to mind this Tisha B'Av morning as I sat alone in the darkness, waiting for sunrise.

A sign at the Huntington Botanical Gardens read that there are 3,000 different species of palm trees.

This astonished me. Why on earth did G-D need to create so many different types of palm trees?

It must be that each one fulfills a unique purpose. Maybe there's a bug that needs one type of tree, a bird that needs another. Who knows?

And how many different types of these did G-D make:

Ants, algae, birds, bears, bats, butterflies, cats, crabs, ducks, deer, elephants, fish, flowers, frogs, giraffes, grass, gorillas, hawks, horses, insects, ivy, jellyfish, koala, lions, leeches, lobsters, monkeys, mosquitos, mice, nuts, owls, octopus, orchids, oaks, penguins, piranhas, quail, roses, rabbits, reptiles, rodents, sharks, spiders, sponges, starfish, tigers, ticks, unicorn, vultures, vines, wolves, whales, worms, xenia, yeast, zebras, zooplankton, you name it.

Each one has a unique function and only One with limitless resources and intelligence can dream up a world that functions in perfect harmony with their interrelationships. And we can be sure that there are just enough species, not too many and not too little.

Picture standing in the Garden of Eden, pointing to a palm tree, and asking why G-D made it. And imagine a heavenly voice that gives answers. Maybe it will say that it's because a certain bug needs the tree to make its house. Then ask why G-D needed to make the bug and imagine getting an answer that some type of bird eats it for breakfast. Then ask about the bird, and so on. I suspect that Time will run out before you get all your answers. And I mean Time, not time.

What about the many types of people that G-D made. Why did G-D make so many?

We can be certain that each one has a unique mission. And don't ask why G-D needed to make so many people and missions because maybe you would have winded up on the excess list.

Some people are my type and others are frankly not. Some are your type and others are frankly not. Do you agree?

And how should we treat those that happen to not be our type? How do we treat them?

Is every person important in our eyes? Do we treat every person as being important? How much do we care? How much do we try to fulfill the commandment to love our fellow like ourselves?

Nevuzraden learned the importance of the life of a single person.

Dasan and Avirom were people. As such, they were of such significance that they stopped the whole show because of their misbehavior. Maybe this is a message we can derive from their being counted in the ten tests.

The Second Temple was destroyed because we did not respect each other enough.

Why today are there so many people who feel lonely, shunned, bullied, and insignificant?

"How could it be that [Jerusalem] sits alone …" (Eicha 1.1)


The Nine Days, 5767

Reverse Mourning

We are currently within a three-week mourning period for the destruction of the temples and the many other tragedies of Jewish history.

The laws of personal mourning for the loss of a close relative are in reverse order of the laws of national mourning.

Personal mourning practices are applied in decreasing levels of intensity whereas those of the three weeks increase as we approach the Ninth of Av.

I assume that this is because of the process to re-build awareness, which takes time.

From Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus of blessed memory I note that our focus is not on possessions or real-estate that we no longer have. Rather, it is on loss of ability to easily connect with what we are.

We are G-D's children.

It would seem that celebration would be a better vehicle for restoration but in fact it is the reverse. He notes that is not always easy to identify the central figures in a wedding dance because everybody gets involved with happiness. However, in a funeral it is clear who is most affected by personal loss.

The temples were vehicles that enabled us to connect with G-D. The more we demonstrate that their loss is meaningful by recognizing and observing these laws, the more we are able to get in touch with building our relationship with Him.

This is how he understands the teaching that the Moshiach (Messiah) was born during the noon of the Ninth of Av, when these laws reach their climax.

The more this becomes real to us, the more it becomes personal, the closer we come to restoration, both personal and national.

With this we can appreciate how the three week period is a preparation for the month of Elul and the High Holidays that follow, which conclude with the Festival of Succos, a climax of celebration.

May we together all experience much success.


Tisha B'Av 5769

"The scriptures considers every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt as if it was destroyed by it." (Talmud Yerushalmi Yoma 5a)

The Bais Halevy commentary explains that from the time the Temple was destroyed, for each and every generation that followed, if the Temple is not rebuilt during that generation then we can assume that had the Temple been standing then it would have been destroyed.

For the past nineteen-hundred plus years now, this awesome and depressing teaching confronts us as we approach Tisha B'Av, the national day of mourning over the loss of the Temple and other tragedies.

What have we done? What can we do?

To add to the frustration, the Yalkut Shimoni provides the following teaching at the end of his compilation on the prophet Malachi.

Rabbi Yehudah says, "The Jewish people will not be redeemed unless they repent. And they will not repent unless they are subjected to distress, displacement, and a lack of sustenance. And they will not repent until Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet comes."

It now appears that Eliyahu is holding up the redemption and associated restoration of the Third Temple. Why doesn't he come already? Why are we sitting on the floor and fasting because of him? It's his fault!

But is Eliyahu really to blame? For sure it's not his fault because he can't do anything unless his Boss gives him the OK.

Could it then be that we are being blamed for something that G-D Himself is holding up?

Such an injustice is unthinkable. We must therefore look a little harder at the instructions that G-D gave us some thirty-three centuries ago and try to find the answer to this puzzle.

As we approach the Tisha B'Av of this year I'm amazed at all the negative press that is piling up against different segments of the Jewish people.

There is venom and outrage in the Israeli secular press over demonstrations that Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem have been staging because of a perceived disregard that the municipality demonstrated for Shabbos observance. And there is outrage in the religious press over alleged excessive force and abuse against the police who responded to the demonstrations.

There is venom and outrage in the Israeli secular press over the treatment of an Orthodox Jewish mother who may or may not have an illness that causes her child to suffer because of her behavior. And there is outrage in the religious press over her mistreatment by health and police officials. And there is venom and outrage in the Israeli secular press over demonstrations that religious people staged on her behalf. And there is outrage in the religious press over alleged excessive force and abuse against the police who responded to the demonstrations.

The press is making sport over the arrests of a number of Orthodox Jews who are accused of white collar crimes.

Israel's prime minister is defying the US administration's demand over an apartment building in East Jerusalem. All of Israel's supporters should be bracing themselves for the counter-attack in the news media.

We are made to cringe over the behavior of others. Orthodox Jews and Judaism are being demonized again. Get ready Oh Israel.

This all came to mind as I reviewed this past week's Torah reading:

"And you slandered in your tents and said, 'It's because of G-D's hatred of us that He took us out of the land of Egypt to give us over into the hands of the Emorites to destroy us.'" (Deuteronomy 1:27)

Neither did Moshe and Aharon fare very well during this confrontation with the spies.

"And all of the Children of Israel complained against Moshe and Aharon. And the congregation said, 'If we would have only died in the land of Egypt or we would have only died in this desert.'" (Numbers 14:2)

It sounds like we had a news industry back then. Everything was fair game, even G-D.

The confrontation ended when Moshe announced that G-D's response was to sentence the entire generation to wander in the desert until they all perished, save for two people.

In a free society, we may not be able to do much to control those who slander. However, I believe that we can do more to manage whether we listen to it and how we respond when we do.

There are good and bad in every group. But are we going to fall into the trap of profiling? Are we going to use the information to reinforce our own biases, especially when it may be reported by a slanted and gladiatorial media?

At worst, some Orthodox Jews committed crimes. Are you going to throw out Orthodox Judaism because of this?

Are there any Orthodox Jews who are law-abiding and peaceful? Could it be that the behavior of many black-garbed Orthodox Jews is so exemplar that it puts many of us to shame?

If G-D and Moshe were fair game, could it be that G-D is waiting for it to be safe for Eliyahu before He sends him to get us out of the mess that we are in?

Think about this as you sit on the floor and fast this Tisha B'Av.


Tisha B'Av 5763

While observed as a day of mourning for the loss of the Temple, other national treasures, and our status, Tisha B'Av is also termed a Jewish holiday (Eicha / Lamentations 1:15). How is this understood?

Also, this day is arguably the most stressful period on the entire Jewish calendar. How can 'us ordinary people' observe it in a positive manner so it doesn't become just a day to get over with?

The following came to mind.

The commemoration of a loss has little relevance to a person unless that person either experienced the loss himself or the person can do something to restore it.

The Temple was destroyed over nineteen-hundred year ago and we are very far removed from that trauma. So, it is difficult for us to feel the relevance in Tisha B'Av from our experiencing the actual loss.

Since the destruction, we have adjusted to our losses through the passage of time and through experiencing many events in our painful history.

Experiencing discomfort through our period of mourning can and must be used to relate ourselves to our ability to restore that which we lost. And we can (and will) achieve restoration when we correct that which caused the loss in the first place, which was petty and baseless hatred of our fellow.

Experiencing discomfort through our period of mourning relates us with the restoration of greatness that a we will achieve when each and every one of us takes the Torah to heart and applies it to action in the manner that G-D intended. It give us hope that we are still growing and that we will someday achieve this goal because G-D promised us and our ancestors that He will help us make this happen.

Experiencing discomfort through our period of mourning relates us with the restoration of a greatness that was promised to our great ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Thus our mourning of Tisha B'Av has great relevance and power because it brings home the fact that we can make the restoration happen. (Let's all push a little harder, folks).

The explorer of a murky and unknown cave brings many tools and lines for exploration and survival. The most important line is a string that he attaches to the walls so that he will know how to get back to civilization. It is his lifeline.

Of all the days on our calendar, Tisha B'Av serves as our lifeline to get us back. It is also our insurance that we don't become over-adjusted to our losses.

Thus, Tisha B'Av contains great strength and opportunity. One can't afford to let it become just a day to get over with.

It's now no wonder that our Torah suggests that it is a holiday.


Tisha B'Av (9th of Av) 5776

"G-D is good to those who put their hope in Him, to those who seek Him" (Eicha/Lamentations 3.25).

"G-D is good to all and His mercy is (focused) toward all His works" (Tehilim/Psalms 145:9).

These verses appear to contradict each other. The verse in Eicha, seems to restrict G-D's goodness to only those who "hope in Him" and "those who seek Him." The verse in Tehilim seems to say that there are no restrictions or conditions.

But there is no contradiction.

G-D is good to everyone, only the good in what happens to us is not always readily apparent unless we have the faith, patience, and drive to look for it.

This is reflected in the following verses of Tehilim, which we begin to say next month in preparation for the high holidays.

27:12 Do not give me into (the hands of) those who torment me because witnesses of falsehood arose against me, (people) that breathe violence.

27:13 Had I not been steadfast in faith to see the good of G-D in the land of life.

27:14 Hope to G-D, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage; and hope to G-D.


15 Av 5771

The Mishnah teaches that the greatest of holidays for the Jewish people were Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av. (Ta'anis 26b).

The Talmud provides the following discussion (Ta'anis 30b).

We understand the greatness of Yom Kippur because it is a day of forgiveness and atonement. Also, Moshe (Moses) came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets on that day.

But what occurred on the 15th of Av?

Among the answers is the following from Rabbah Bar-Bar Chana in the name of Rav Yochanan.

It was on that day that there were no more deaths from the decree against those who left Egypt but were not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Rashi provides the following insight, according to my understanding.

The decree was in response to our reaction to the evil report of the spies (Numbers 14).

This misfortune occurred on the 9th of Av. From then until their 40th year in the desert, on the eve of the 9th of Av every person involved would say goodbye to family, would leave the encampment, trekked into the wilderness, and then spent the night inside a grave.

A voice called out on the morrow, "Let those who are alive separate from those who are dead." Those whose time had come to die were buried and the survivors returned home.

The final and 40th year was most ominous, for everyone expected that there would be no survivors.

But to everyone's amazement, they all woke up the next day.

Then again, perhaps they made an error and they went out on the wrong night.

So they did the same each night until the 15th of the month, when the full moon demonstrated that it could not be the 9th of Av and that G-D released them from the decree.

From then on, says the Talmud, the 15th of Av became a great celebration.

However, this is very puzzling.

The first day of every month is established by the Supreme Court. Nine days later is the ninth, simple as that. Where was there room for error? And should the Supreme Court make a mistake and declare the new month on the wrong day, the Mishnah teaches that their decision is overriding and binding (Rosh Hashanah 25a).

I believe that we must say that everyone realized that G-D released the decree when the survivors woke up on the morning of the ninth of Av. This changed their lives from dread, an appearance of rejection, and terror to thanksgiving, celebration, and consolation. They longed so much for such signals from Heaven and could not simply let this pass by. So they went back into their graves every night and woke up the next day in joy until it made no more sense for them to do this, which was when they saw the full moon of 15 Av.

The celebration and consolation lasted for seven days, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th.

For us all today, the Shabbos following the 9th of Av is the first of seven weeks of consolation. In synagogue each week we hear readings from the prophets that foretell the end of our long and bitter exile, when our lives will transform from dread, an appearance of rejection, confusion, and terror to that of thanksgiving, celebration, enlightenment, meaning, and consolation.

May this occur speedily and during our lifetimes.


Shabbas Nachamu

Eicha 5:21 Oh G-D, bring us back to You and we will return to You. Renew our days like old times.

Eicha 5:22 For even if You completely abhorred us, You have been very furious with us.

The Medrash gives the following remarks for 5:22:

"If You completely abhorred us" then there is no hope. If "You have been very furious with us" then there is hope.

Help!

Rabbi Yonasan Eibuschutz provides the following explanation.

The Talmud states (Shabbos 88b) that the experience of receiving the Torah by Mount Sinai was so intense that the Jewish people expired from it. Thereupon G-D brought down the "dew of revival" and the Jewish people came back to life.

Rabbi Eibuschutz wonders why G-D allowed the Jewish people to die to afterwards revive them. Why didn't He give them enough energy to endure the experience in the first place?

We can also ask the same question about ourselves. Why do we have to die and afterwards be revived to be able to live for eternity?

Rabbi Eibuschutz answers that death provides purification from the natural flaws that we inherit from the time of Adam's mistake.

Similarly, the Jewish people took on additional flaws during their exile in Egypt. The redemption and subsequent preparation did not afford sufficient opportunity for them to be cleansed for receiving the Torah. They were abhorred for receiving the Torah and this is why they needed to die and be revived afterwards.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) states that the Messianic Era will be preceded by the Jewish people doing repentance. Either they will repent on their own or G-D will bring upon them a king whose decrees are as harsh as those of the wicked Haman.

Using this teaching, Rabbi Eibuschutz says that the fury of verse 22 refers to the Messianic Era. If we don't repent on our own then G-D will evoke fury through this evil king. The fury is frightening but it provides hope, for it will be our opportunity to bring on the redemption.

But we don't know how well the Jewish people will fare. Perhaps they will not put enough energy into their repentance. The Medrash exclaims, "If You completely abhorred us" then there is no hope." That is, without sufficient repentance we will be in a state that is abhorred for the Messianic Era.

What's going to happen to them? (To us?) Will we be forever stuck in exile?

Verse 21 has the answer:

Oh G-D, bring us back to You and we will return to You. Renew our days like old times.

Bring us back to You and we will return to You. Either we will return on our own G-D will stimulated us to do repentance.

But if this fails then G-D will "Renew our days like old times." That is, just as G-D renewed the Jewish people and made them worthy of receiving the Torah, so G-D will do this again to make us worthy of entering the Messianic Era.

Why?

Because G-D wants it to happen.

A question remains whether we have yet to meet the evil king whose decrees are as harsh as Haman or whether the Jewish people already met him.

At any rate, count me in for Moshiach. I'm dying to meet him.


Much of the world stood in awe some sixty-three years ago when a world body conferred recognition on the State of Israel.

To many, it occurred during a time and in a way that strongly suggested that this was an act of G-D.

We stand today, heavenly moments before the days of judgment and awe, and behold a petitioner who comes to the very same world body to contest a land that was abandoned by many of those he claims to represent, that was seized from an entirely different nation in a battle for self-defense, and whose retention is vital as a buffer zone for the security of the entire region.

And would we only be confident that his word, fairness, and ability could be relied upon then many in the contested lands would happily trade governments for a secure and lasting peace. And wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be certain that he would stop once he won control over the land that is currently under contest.

But with humanity witnessing almost two decades of terrorism, it is obvious to all but the very naďve that the underlying forces will not stop imposing their agenda through force, deceit, and violence until every woman in the free world covers herself with a black sheet and every man dons a turban. And the turban must be theirs, not that of a competing faction.

Over two millennia ago we had great people that we could turn to and ask, "What is G-D trying to tell us?"

Today we can only guess.

The political leadership of Israel can try diplomacy, eloquence, brilliance, connections, and persuasion. But when push comes to shove, it appears that they will be outgunned.

We've been outgunned before and in some surprising way Israel has always survived.

I've come to realize that both history and life in modern State of Israel is a patchwork of miracles.

G-D alone makes miracles. What is He trying to tell us?

If our right to live in that region of the world is based upon a piece of paper that is signed by some people in a building that overlooks Manhattan's East River then we are in trouble.

And many people believe that this is the source of all our woes.

However, if our right to live in that region is based on a covenant that was made thirty-seven centuries ago and is recorded in a document that most of civilized world believes to be authentic and given by G-D to the Jewish people then we are not in trouble because nobody could have a better claim on that land than us.

I'm not certain that Israel's political leadership is ready right now to base their claim on the Torah. After all, this sounds rather novel in a world that is buried by modernity. But more, this can be very costly, for they would be expected to become fully consistent with and committed to the Torah.

We must remember that there are only a handful of decision-makers in the State of Israel.

But we are all decision-makers of our lives and destiny.

As we all stand before the Heavenly Court during these Days of Judgment, I suspect that G-D is most interested in how each and every one of us views our basis to live in these contested regions.

The time has come to stop running away.

May we all merit to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

May we all merit to soon witness a full and uncontested redemption.


Slichos (Prayers for Forgiveness) 2013

The High-Holiday Slichos prayers always begin on the first day of the week.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary offers the following thought for this custom.

The Medrash says the following (Beraishis Rabah: 22:28)

After Cain exited from his heavenly trial (Genesis 4:9-15), Adam asked his son about the judgment.

Cain replied that upon hearing the severity of the punishment he said to G-D, "My sin is too great to bear" (Genesis 4:13). G-D recognized this as an expression of repentance and reduced the punishment.

Adam was surprised to hear that repentance could accomplish a reduction.

The Medrash says that he slapped himself on the forehead. I assume this to mean that had he known this, he would have done the same when G-D judged him.

Thereupon Adam said: "A Psalm of Song to the Day of Shabbos …" (Psalms 92:1)

Why did Adam sing about Shabbos after hearing that Cain's repentance had an effect?

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary continues to explain as follows.

Our literature speaks about two sources of stimuli, that from above or Heaven, and that from below, or from mankind.

As applied to repentance, a person can either motivate himself to repent or a person can be motivated by external reasons, such as the fear of Heavenly punishment.

A repentance that occurs when a person realizes that he let G-D down by misbehavior is best categorized as being stimulated from below, from the person and his own value system.

A repentance that occurs when a person is jolted from hearing the severity of his punishment is best categorized as being stimulated from above.

Obviously, the first type of repentance is far superior to the second.

We can be certain that Adam regretted his actions when G-D announced his punishment. But he did not know at that time that expressing regret would have any value, since it can be taken to be insincere. Perhaps, he expected so much perfection from himself that he didn't realize that G-D would expect anything less than repentance out of love.

Cain's experience taught his father that G-D in His Great Mercy recognizes and values everything we do, no matter how trivial or inferior it may appear to us.

Now, the sanctification of our holidays is categorized as being stimulated from below. This is because G-D empowered our Supreme Court with the ability to establish the Jewish months. After hearing the testimony of two witnesses that they saw the new moon of the month of Tishrei, it is the court that sanctifies the day as the first day of the month, thereby sanctifying that day as being Rosh Hashanah, the tenth of that month as Yom Kippur, and the fifteenth as Succos.

However, the sanctification of Shabbos is categorized as being stimulated from above. Shabbos always occurs every seven days, with or without the Supreme Court.

So upon learning the significance of spiritual accomplishments that come with G-D's stimulation or prodding, Adam saw Shabbos in a new light and saw fit to proclaim its praise.


Rosh Hashana 5710

Someone found a large chunk of lead and sold it for twenty-five cents a pound. The buyer discovered that it was silver, worth twenty-five dollars an ounce.

The seller found out and felt cheated. The court deciison is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). The Haghoas Ashr ruled that since the seller was never aware of the value of what he had, he did not own the difference and therefore was not entitled to compensation.

The Isbitzer Rebbe applies this to a teaching that the First Temple was destroyed because the people of that time did not recite a blessing for studying Torah. This suggests that they did not sufficiently appreciate the value of the Torah. Using the above ruling, this impacted their ownership of and connection with the Torah.

Webster's first definition of 'Value' is 'A fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged' I've seen this expressed as the difference between benefit and cost.

So what is the cost of living a life in accordance with Torah guidelines as they have been taught and practiced for the past thirty-three centuries?

Let's look at both quantity and quality.

Regarding quantity, can we even discuss the difference between the amounts of resources and energy spent for fulfilling any commandment versus the reward for this fulfillment that is eternal? It's the same as the difference between that which is finite and that which is infinite. There's no contest.

Regarding quality, how likely is a lifestyle that was designed by the One who designed and created people be of less quality that another lifestyle that was adopted on the basis of personal preference, perceived gain, weakness, and conjecture of human beings?

So many of us feel empty and cheated.

So many feel a lack of meaning in life. And I'm not referring to the superficial type that always needs to be fed by others. So many people feel weakly connected to the eternity of the Jewish people. How many have the energy and knowledge to respond to someone who wants them to adopt another religion? What about their children? How many of us feel that they are growing as a Jew and as a person? How many are proud that they are Jewish? How many are running away from their identity and from people who they know are acting more Jewish than they are. How many have been turned off by others who slander either the Torah or those who subscribe to it?

How many of us will be going to shul this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? How many will be inspired by a Rabbi who is focused on raising the Jewish consciousness and practice of their congregants in a meaningful way? And I'm not speaking of just motivating them to give more money.

You can make this a different Rosh Hashana. Listen to your calling. It "is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. (Deuteronomy 30: 14).

Have a wonderful year.


Rosh Hashana 5767

The Talmud (Yoma 56a) cites several levels of transgression in successive degrees of seriousness and lists the requirements for achieving full atonement for them. The least serious is overlooking a commandment to do something. Atonement is achieved by doing repentance. The next level is transgressing a negative commandment. It needs both repentance and Yom Kippur. Atonement for the most serious category is not achieved until the person passes away.

Thus repentance, itself a positive commandment, can be fulfilled without the person having achieved full atonement.

Repentance consists of having deep regret, resolving to change behavior, and confessing.

The Minchas Chinuch (commandment 364) states that confession is a separate commandment. That is, one can do repentance and achieve some atonement without confessing. He then cites the Rambam (Teshuva 1:1) who states that those who bring sacrifices or who receive corporal punishment for their misbehavior do not achieve atonement without also doing confession. He treats this as a contrasting opinion.

It is recorded that Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky SHLITA (Derech Sicha 615) stated that the lack of confession does not hold up atonement.

The Talmud (Kedushin 49b) considers the case of a completely wicked person who married a woman on condition that he was a Tzadik, a righteous person. Now even if this person had just robbed a bank and shot someone to death in cold blood, the Talmud states that we must treat this as a valid marriage because he may have had thoughts of repentance. Therefore, the woman must obtain a divorce from him if she wants to afterwards marry another person.

The Rambam himself cites this case and ruling (Ishus 8:4). This appears to be a contradiction to what he wrote in Teshuva 1:1, that confession is required in order to achieve atonement.

I don't yet understand why the Minchas Chinuch treats the Rambam as a contrasting opinion to his, which is that confession is not required to achieve some atonement. The Rambam in Teshuva 1:1 states that one must confess his sins, which everybody agrees is a commandment. His statement that one does not receive atonement for performing sacrifices or receiving corporal punishment without confessing may mean that the person does not receive a complete atonement without also confessing. Bringing sacrifices and receiving corporal punishment are corrective acts that are done in public. Perhaps a corrective act that is done in private would also achieve full atonement without confession. Perhaps this is why the gangster's thoughts of repentance help. He just has a separate commandment to confess his sins and this can be performed later.

Alternately, perhaps the Rambam would rule that the thug has not achieved atonement, as the Minchas Chinuch appears to view his position. This is still not a contraction to the ruling, that the condition upon which the marriage was based was fulfilled and that he was righteous.

The Talmud states the ruling that one may not read anything during Shabbos (the Sabbath) by the light of an oil lamp because he may adjust it without thinking, which is a transgression. It then cites the story of Rabbi Yishmael son of Elisha who felt that he could trust himself and not accidentally adjust the lamp. Truth be told, he read something during Shabbos by the light of an oil lamp and caught himself too late, after he had already adjusted the lamp. Rabbi Nosson states that Rabbi Yishmael made the following record in his notebook: "I, Yishmael son of Elisha, read something and adjusted a lamp during Shabbos. When the temple is rebuilt I will bring a choice sin offering."

Now, Rabbi Yishmael was a saintly and righteous person. He repented the best way he could and certainly achieved a very significant degree of atonement. Had Rabbi Yishmael married a woman on the condition that he was a righteous then I am certain that no one would question the validity of the marriage, despite the fact that the temple was not rebuilt during his lifetime and he never brought the required sacrifice.

Actually, the term 'Tzadik' has a wide application.

The Tanya states that in the truest meaning of the word, a Tzadik is some who is so great that it is unthinkable of him doing a sin. He also states that the term is used to refer to someone who has more merits than demerits (Chapter 1).

Perhaps then, the Rambam would understand the marriage to be valid enough to require a divorce because the gangster did not specify which meaning of the word Tzadik he intended to apply.

This is how the Rambam defines repentance in 2:1: The sinner abandons his sin, removes it from his heart, and resolves to never repeat it. He also regrets having done it to the degree that the One who knows that which is hidden can testify that he will not do it again. And he must confess and say that which was in his heart.

As stated earlier, we can view the confession as a separate requirement.

Thus, smoking gun and all, we have no evidence that the lowly thug remained a thug throughout the transaction of the marriage and this is why the woman needs a divorce if she wants out. Perhaps he was indeed a Tzadik at that moment, even if he afterwards shot someone else, for at that moment he could have fully resolved to mend his ways to the degree that G-D would have testified on his behalf.

Repentance, atonement, and being classified a Tzadik are three different things. May we achieve them all during the special Ten Days of Repentance, which begin on Rosh Hashana and end on Yom Kippur. May we all be considered righteous throughout our lives.


Rosh Hashana 5768

We are taught that the high holidays are known as days of awe because in part they are a time when heavenly decisions and judgments that affect our future are made.

The Vilna Goan notes that the personal prayers of the high holidays hardly reflect this. Rather, we pray for the visibility of G-D's kingdom on this earth, an era foretold by our prophets when all of mankind recognize G-D and respect His will.

I understand his explanation in the following manner.

For this discussion I pose that heavenly judgment of Rosh Hashana takes the following three aspects into account.

One is the unique mission that G-D assigned every person from birth. Prayer can not undo our mission, neither can it have any affect. So, for example, if a person's mission is to endure the tests of wealth or of poverty then the decisions made on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will tend to support it.

The second is spiritual opportunity. G-D may want something to occur that will cause a person to grow to a higher level or achieve great reward as a result of it. Prayer on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur is typically of no avail for this either. Prayer to alter the circumstances that create the opportunity is based on incomplete information, as we are rarely in position to appreciate the benefit. Also, we are not privileged to know the complex and interrelated set of circumstances that are needed to create the opportunity. The circumstances may cause temporal stress and discomfort. However, the benefits are eternal. We were put on this earth to accomplish and the time will come when we will no longer have this opportunity.

The third aspect deals with wrong choices that we made and that require correction. If we don't take sufficient self-corrective action on our own then G-D may decree correction in this world so that we don't have to deal with it in the next, where it is much more painful. Here is where prayer can help for it can focus on the root cause for the need for correction.

Here's what I mean.

The heart problem with a bad choice is that it demonstrates that what we want is more important to us than what G-D wants. It's an old agenda that Mankind needs to deal with. G-D asked Adam to not eat from a tree and ate from it anyway. Each year we get a bit closer to perfection but most of us are not there yet. The problem may show because we did something we weren't supposed to or we didn't do something that was expected.

In this light, having or not having something is not a direct cause of a particular distress for which we want to pray. Rather it is a symptom.

During the awesome high holidays our great sages focused our personal prayers on the root cause, a lack of our recognition of the supremacy of G-D and His will.

The more intensely we mean it when we say "Our Father our King ..." the closer we are towards perfection and the less we are of need for correction.


Days of Awe 5773

Sound the shofar on the month, the covered (concealed) for our holiday. (Tehilim / Psalms 81:4)

Rosh Hashanah is called the covered holiday because it occurs at the beginning of the month, when we cannot see the moon.

Rosh Hashanah's dominant theme is G-D's role as judge and king of the universe.

Just as the moon is concealed from human vision, we are taught that G-D does not make it obvious to mankind that He acts in these roles.

This enables us to have choice and thereby earn the great rewards that G-D wants to give.

5,773 (plus) years of chaotic human history appear to portray G-D as a King who is victorious, for mankind seems to never run out of people who challenge G-D's agenda, plans, and goals and yet the Torah and its people are still around.

Concurrent with its history, mankind has been enveloped in a natural world that suggests unyielding structure and law, one that can at most be harnessed but never challenged.

This appears to portray G-D as leading a great kingdom that is at peace, not one that is in a constant state of war.

Given the teachings we have, this is how history will all end up.


Days of Awe 5769

Numbers 29:1 And on the seventh month in the first day of the month there shall be a holy convocation for you. You shall not do any laborious work. It shall be a day of shofar sounding for you.

We are taught that Rosh Hashana and the period that follows are days of Heavenly judgment, during which G-D reviews our progress, measures the degree we are succeeding and failing, allocates resources, and decides our fate.

This theme seems to be obscured in the above verse. Why is the Torah trying to tell us by focusing on sounding the shofar but not providing detail about the very serious nature of these days?

"Fortunate is the nation that knows the shofar sounding. They shall walk in the light of Your countenance, Oh G-D" (Psalms 89:16).

Why does knowledge of the shofar bring good fortune? What is this knowledge?

In His role as Creator, G-D is the Owner of everything. He is the Master and has full authority to decide what happens to us all.

The prayer service provides significant emphasis on G-D's role as a King.

Why is there so much emphasis on His role as a King and not as a Master?

The following came to mind.

I own a fish tank. The fish that swim inside do not recognize me as anything but a source of their food and something that bothers them every so often. We have no relationship, no mutual commitment. I'm interested in having fish. If too many die then I buy a bunch more. If a fish dies then I pull it out and flush it away. It doesn't matter much which fish dies and which fish lives. Frankly, we don't care much about each other.

I am a master of the fish but I am not their king.

A king has a relationship with his subjects. Each person commits to the king and the king is committed to each person.

For the individual and the community, the climate of judgment is drastically different when G-D makes His decisions as a Master versus as a King, for as King, the needs and desires of the individual are provided greater meaning and are given much better attention.

While our needs are much better served when G-D sits in His judgment as King, we can not expect Him to take this role if we are not ready to pledge our allegiance and commitment to Him.

Rav Saadia Goan provides ten meanings for sounding the shofar. He mentions that it was the custom to sound a trumpet when a king is coronated.

G-D does not need to impose His role as King upon us, as this for our benefit. Rather, it is incumbent for us to recognize G-D as our King.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Torah obscures the theme of Rosh Hashana within the sounding of the shofar.

Fortunate are those who make the connection between the shofar and G-D's Kingship and who renew their commitments to Him during these days of judgment.


Days of Awe

The time period from prior to Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur are called Days of Awe.

We are taught that on Rosh Hashana G-D reviews the affairs of mankind. Depending on how we fare, G-D allocates resources and decides the fate of us all, both on an individual basis and on a collective basis.

The period prior to Rosh Hashana should therefore be used for repentance to better our position when these significant decisions are made. The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur should also be used for repentance, for G-D's decisions are not sealed until Yom Kippur, thereby providing us with an opportunity to improve the outcome.

It is during these days that we remind ourselves where the control of our destiny lies. They also put us back into touch with G-D's great power and mercy.

The reference system within which we are all judged is the Torah, which provides us with instructions for living.

This framework is such that a commandment can apply to everyone but in certain instances, it would only be applied to people who are advanced in piety.

For example, we are charged to always pay our workers, and do so on time. This is an explicit commandment. However, if a worker is careless and causes his employer damage, then one would expect a judgment to be rendered against the worker and if the damage equals or exceeds his salary then the employer should not be obligated to provide compensation for labor and services.

The following excerpt from the Talmud shows that this is not always the case.

Rabba Son of Chanan hired people to move his barrel of wine and they broke it during the move. He demanded compensation and (apparently needed to) take their garment to insure that he would be paid. They took the dispute to court. Rav, who presided instructed Rabba to return their garment. Rabba questioned the decision because it did was not consistent with the letter of the law. Rav responded with a verse in the Torah, "So that you should go in the way of the good (people) (Proverbs 2)." So he gave them back their garments. Thereupon, the workers pleaded before the court that they should receive their salary, for they were hungry and penniless. Rav then instructed Rabba to pay them. Again Rabba questioned the decision because it was not consistent with the letter of the law. Rav responded with another verse, "... and guard the ways of the righteous" (Proverbs 2)". (Bava Metzia 83b).

Several things need to be mentioned before continuing. First is that either Rabba himself was himself impoverished or the workers were excessively obnoxious in their behavior to Rabba prior the court appearance. Second, is that a court is charged to separate law from charity. So, while Rabba may have been a very compassionate person, he was entitled to a legal decision that was consistent with the letter of the law. Perhaps he would have paid them afterwards, but he was the one who should have made that decision to be charitable, not the presiding judge.

I was taught that Rav's decision indicates that circumstances can make a legal decision apply to only certain types of people. Since Rabba was of an exceptional high caliber of morality and charity, Rav ruled that the letter of the law applied to him in a way that is different than to other people.

Thus, the Torah provides us with both a framework for how we are to behave right now and with expectations as we advance upwards. This provides us with both guidelines and direction.

The following provides additional direction.

The Torah provides a person with a right to buy back a home that he sold if the home is located within a qualifying walled city. The right has a time limit of one year.

Now, the Torah forbids one from lending money with interest. The lender may not receive any type of gain. For example, if a borrower gives his home as collateral to guarantee the loan and if the lender is allowed to live in the home then he must pay full rent to the borrower.

In the case of the sale of a home in a walled city, when the seller buys back the home for the purchase price, if the purchaser does not compensate the seller for the period that he lived in the house then this is a potential problem of deriving gain from his money being in the temporary possession of another person. This may very well be prohibited under the laws of interest.

However, the sale and redemption of a home that is within a walled city appears to be a special case and an exception to these rules.

The Talmud (Arachin 31a) deals with this issue.

The Mishna says that it is "interest but it is not interest." A Tannaic Beraisa says that this is "actual interest but the Torah permits it."

The Talmud seeks to determine whether the difference in wording reflects a difference in Torah law.

One of the proposals in the Talmud is that there is indeed a difference and it revolves around a concept that it describes as "single-case" interest. That is, when the transaction was made, it was not known whether the seller would ever repurchase the home. We view this as two cases. Case one is that the seller repurchases the home and case two is that the seller does not repurchase the home. In the case that the seller repurchases the home within the prescribed time limit then he would indeed have been holding onto the purchaser's money for a limited period of time and the purchaser would have deriving gain from this, which is interest. However, in the case that the seller does not repurchase the home, then the transaction was a sale and had absolutely nothing to do with a loan. The purchaser's usage of the home was out of his full ownership, not a benefit that was gained by a temporary transfer of money to another person.

Another proposal is that "single-case" interest is indeed forbidden. Rather, there is a difference on whether it is permitted to derive gain from a loan if the lender has intentions of paying for this gain.

Tosfos (Arachin 31b) gives several explanations on how the Talmud uses this principle to determine whether the Mishna and Beraisa have opposing views. In one approach, Tosfos proposes that there is no conflict. Rather, the Mishna is speaking about a person who pays the rent and the Beraisa is speaking about a person who does not pay rent.

In this approach, the compensation of rent is apparently not mandatory but is done at the discretion of the purchaser.

Therefore, the Mishna is speaking about a person who purchases a home in a walled city, lives in the home for an extended time period, is asked sell it back, and who elects to pay rent for his temporary usage of the home. This transaction is described by the Mishna as being "interest but it is not interest."

However, the Beraisa is speaking about a person who purchases a home in a walled city, lives in the home for an extended time period, is asked to sell it back, and who elects to not pay rent. This transaction is described by the Beraisa is being "actual interest but the Torah permits it."

Typically, rental costs take a significant portion of a person's annual income and the average person would not normally elect to pay rent if he/she could get out of doing so. In the above case, the difference between a person electing to pay rent or not paying rent only affect whether he/she was engaged in a transaction that was "interest but not interest" or whether the person was engaged in a transaction that was "interest but the Torah permitted it."

We see from the Mishna that there are people who will elect to pay a huge sum of money to merely avoid using a loophole that permits taking interest.

This reflects a person who has a significant degree of respect towards the Torah. It reflects his/her awareness of realities that the average person has not yet been able to either perceive or deal with.

This awesome demonstration of a very high level of "fear of heaven" is fitting for us to reflect upon during the coming "Days of Awe."


Shabbos Shuva 5776

The Medrash (Vayikra Rabah 29a) opens by stating the view of Rabbi Eliezer, who said that the first day of Creation was the 25th of the month of Elul.

It goes on to associate his view with teachings of Rav. We say many of Rav's statements in our Rosh Hashanah prayers:

"This is the day of the beginning of Your (G-D's) actions, commemorating the first day. For this is a statute of Israel, a judgment of the G-D of Yaakov."

"And it will be decreed (on this day) about countries: which of them will fall by the sword and which of them will be in peace, which of them will go hungry and which of them will be satisfied. And creatures will be remembered (on this day) for life and for death."

The Medrash continues on to list the events that occurred in Adam's first day of life.

He was brought to life in the seventh hour, he entered the Garden of Eden in the eight hour, he was commanded in the ninth, he sinned in the tenth, he was judged in the eleventh, and he left with G-D's amnesty in the twelfth.

G-D said to him, "This shall be a sign for your descendants. Just as you stood before Me in judgment and you left with amnesty, so shall your descendants stand before me on this day and they will leave with amnesty."

The Medrash concludes by associating Adam's first day with the first day of the seventh month, which is our Rosh Hashanah.

Note that Rabbi Eliezer discusses the first day of creation and Rav provides detail about the sixth day of creation. The association between Rabbi Eliezer's teaching and Rav's is therefore puzzling. And which day is Rav referring to when he says that Rosh Hashanah commemorates the first day?

The following is my understanding of the explanation that was provided by the Chasam Sofer (Nitzavim / Drush).

We must assume that G-D would never create a system that is designed so poorly that its self-destruction is inevitable.

But indeed, it appears at first glance that this describes the world that He created for us and that we live in.

Given all the stresses that we must cope with to avoid sin, the Chasam Sofer takes it for granted that we will eventually fail. And mankind did indeed fail. Everyone except for one family perished in a great flood.

Individuals as well as civilizations are at great risk. The Talmud lists only four people who died without ever having sinned (Shabbos 55b).

This therefore confirms the need for humanity to be able to repair any damage that we cause. And we need a way to restore ourselves to the state we were in before sin. We call this method Teshuva, or repentance.

Many of us like to feel that we are near perfect. We do not feel comfortable realizing that we made mistakes, that we succumbed to the stresses of passion instead of managing them, that we were not sufficiently careful.

Yet, imperfection seems to be the norm for human beings instead of the exception.

"There is no righteous person who does good without (also) doing sin." (Koheles / Ecclesiastics 7:20)

The Chasam Sofer uses this to explain another puzzle.

The Torah records that at the conclusion of Adam's sin he named his wife Chava. This is because Chava suggests life and she was the mother of all life. But given that she caused sin and Adam's death, why was she given a name that suggested life?

The Chasam Sofer answers that Chava demonstrated a deep remorse for what she did and G-D accepted this as her repentance.

In his great wisdom, Adam viewed this as the model for future generations. He saw that from then on, the bulk of Mankind will not live in glass houses. Instead, most (probably all) of us will spend a good part of our lives in the repair shop.

Chava was indeed the mother of life as we know it.

We are taught that the righteous fall seven times.

Being righteous means is to know what a fall is and to try and not fall. But being righteous is to also keep on getting up in case we do fall and to not throw in the towel because we are not as perfect as we want to be.

We can thus see that there was more than one day of creation.

Rabbi Eliezer's first day of creation was when G-D began to make the infrastructure that we live in.

Rav's first day was when civilization as we know it began.


Day of Judgment; Day of Atonement

Why?

You can't have judgment if there are no laws, or if you can change law to match your behavior, or if there is no judge in the first place.

Forgiveness has little if any relevance if you didn't offend anybody, or if the offended party is not and will never be aware of the offense, or if the offense does not bother them, or if they have no feelings in the first place.

So, going to synagogue and celebrating Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment is of great significance. The same can be said for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

If nothing else, a person who respects these great days demonstrates that there are laws, they are absolute, and there is a Judge that is aware of behavior. It demonstrates that there is Something great out there (actually right over here) who cares and who we can offend, despite the gap between our greatness and the greatness of that Being.

So, a little thing as going to Synagogue three times a year is not such a little thing.

Enjoy this taste of greatness. Come back for more.

Don't be satisfied. You can't afford it. We can't afford it.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed for good life and for peace.


Yom Kippur

The commandment of the day is to repent, to make spiritual restoration.

This year, rather than discuss the 'why' or 'how', we will provide a list for some of the 'whats'.

Sanhedrin Mishna 10:1 begins by stating that all of Israel has a share in the next world. It then lists some types of misconduct that can cause one to lose his share if he does not repent.

  • One who asserts that the Torah provides no basis for the belief that dead will come back to life.
  • One who asserts that the Torah, in its entirety or any part of it, came not from G-D but from some other source, such as from Moshe's imagination.
  • One who vilifies the Torah or those who study it.

Rabbi Akiva adds those who read books of apostasy or who chant a verse over a wound.

Aba Shaul adds those who manipulate nature for personal pleasure or gain by using the Name of G-D.

The Tiferes Yisroel's commentary adds the following from sources in the Talmud.

  • One who denies or distorts the existence of G-D. Included are those who deify nature, who assert that G-D is a plurality, or those who claim that G-D is a physical being.
  • One who continually and publicly disregards a single commandment.
  • One who causes the public to sin.
  • One who dissociates himself from the community and does not feel their joy or loss.
  • One who denounces a fellow Jew to cause him to suffer pain or financial loss.
  • An influential communal benefactor who imposes fear on the community for no other reason than personal gratification.
  • One who causes people to lose their lives.
  • One who habitually slanderers other people.
  • A male who changes his body to look like he is uncircumcised.
  • One who denies in the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah), son of David.
  • One who calls his fellow by a nick-name in order to denigrate him.
  • One who shames another in public.
  • One who does not afford the proper respect to intermediate holiday periods, which are the days between the first and last day of Passover and Succos. Instead, the person dresses and eats in a week-day manner and does forbidden work.
  • Finally, one who causes a certain type of defilement to sacrificial animals.

May we all have a very meaningful Yom Kippur.


Yom Kippur 5771

Our sages teach that the judgment of Rosh Hashana classifies everyone into one of three groups.

Those whose merits outweigh their demerits are deemed righteous and are written for the book of life.

Those whose demerits outweigh their merits are deemed wicked and are written for the book of death.

The judgments of those in the middle are held in suspense until Yom Kippur. If they repent then they are written for the book of life. If they do not repent then they are written for the book of death.

Commentaries write that the judgments refer to life and death in the after-life.

They note that most of us fall into the middle group.

They also note that adding more merits to overweigh the demerits has no effect on the judgment of Yom Kippur.

Rather, assessment is done once, on Rosh Hashana.

The only thing that helps a person on Yom Kippur is change and restoration.


Yom Kippur 5775

And G-D saw and became furious from the anger of His sons and daughters. (Deuteronomy 32:19)

The preceding verses describe shameful behavior of the people.

This verse can be viewed to mean that this behavior made G-D angry.

The verses that follow describe dire consequences of their behavior.

We believe that G-D has no limits and this includes His patience.

It is therefore difficult to understand how our behavior can make G-D angry.

I suspect that a better reading of this verse is that it was the anger of G-D's sons and daughters itself that enabled the Divine wrath.

That is, we become angry at each other, including our spouses, when we focus on their limitations and fail to take into account their virtues and our own limitations.

If we would only do a better job at overlooking the flaws of others, then G-D would have a basis for overlooking our flaws and Divine justice would dictate that we would not suffer dire consequences.

So G-D had no choice but to exhibit fury against His sons and daughters because they remained rigid and angry at each other.


Succos 5776

I consider the notion that the holiday of Pesach (Passover) is focused on celebrating what we are and Succos is focused on what we have.

On Pesach we celebrate that we emerged from Egypt as a people that is free and connected to G-D and His Torah.

We celebrate on Pesach that we are G-D's nation.

Succos is known as the holiday of gathering in the crops. During Succos we celebrate in gratitude the abundance that G-D showered upon us.

It is interesting that Succos follows Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During the High Holidays we experience an intense closeness with G-D, which is more akin to actualizing who we are versus what we have.

We are taught that climax of Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance is Yom Kippur. We are also taught that the climax of Yom Kippur is its closing Ne'ilah prayer.

Many come to tears during Ne'ilah. Rabbi Shimshon Pincus of blessed memory explains what moves our soul to bring this out of us.

A princess married a peasant and began life as a common farmer's wife. She loved her husband but as time wore on, the glow of being a new bride wore off. She began to see and feel how drastically different her new life will be. Her anxiety moved her to write a tearful letter to her father to come and save her.

The king notified the town that he was coming and the people gave him a royal welcome, fit for a king. They spared no expense to honor him with lavish and festive meals that matched the palace experience.

He couldn't understand why his daughter called for him to come and save her.

When he was about to leave his daughter clung to him and pleaded that he stay.

"My dear daughter," he said, "I see nothing but royal treatment in this village. What more can you expect? What more can I do for you?"

"My dear father," she responded, "as long as you are here with us it's indeed just like I'm living in the palace. But once you depart I'll be living in a farm village again."

Similarly, says Rav Pincus, spiritual intensity of the High Holiday period is more akin to our existence before we were sent down into this world.

But as Yom Kippur draws to a close and we approach Ne'ilah, our souls cry out to G-D that He stay, for we are about to re-enter the realm of ordinary life, with all its tests, with all our ups and our downs.

Our sages say that the day after Yom Kippur was one of our greatest holidays. And about the Succos which follows they teach: "Whoever has never seen the libation celebration that we had in the temple has really never seen a celebration in his lifetime."

Perhaps we can see a fresh message from the adjacency of Yom Kippur to Succos.

Together with the tearful departure of Ne'ilah we have the consolation that our sins are forgiven and we will soon be derive more strength and connection by celebrating the wonderful holiday of Succos.

Have a great Succos.


Succos 5776

You shall live in succos (temporary shelters) for seven days. Every citizen in Israel shall live in succos (Leviticus 23:42).

[You shall do this] so that your [future] generations will know that I hosted the Children of Israel in succos when I took them out from the Land of Egypt (Leviticus 23:43).

What were the succos that the Torah wants us to remember?

Rabbi Eliezer says that the succos were the clouds of glory that accompanied the Jewish people when they travelled in the wilderness. Rabbi Akiva says that they were temporary shelters that the Jewish people constructed for themselves (Talmud Succa 11b).

The clouds of glory provided a demonstration of miracles. The Medrash describes them as follows.

There were seven clouds, one above, one below, four that surrounded the Jewish people, and one that made a path before them. That cloud levelled the terrain by filling valleys and flattening mountains, it killed harmful insects, and it torched thorn bushes that were in the way (Medrash Tanchuma Numbers 2).

We can assume that both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer agree that clouds of glory accompanied the Jewish people when they left Egypt.

There were periods when the clouds were not available. The clouds disappeared after the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf. They were restored after they were forgiven on Yom Kippur and began constructing the tabernacle. They also disappeared when Aharon (Aaron) passed away (Rosh Hashanah 3a).

We can therefore assume that both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer agree that the Jewish people made shelters when the clouds were not available.

The Ramban commentary says that Rabbi Akiva refers to the makeshift shelters that the Jewish people made throughout their forty-year period in the wilderness.

Rokeach commentary says that Rabbi Akiva refers to the shelters that the Jewish soldiers made during the last year in the wilderness when they conquered the lands of the Emorites, Sichon, and Og (Rokeach Succos 219).

At first glance, the clouds of glory appear to be of more significance.

It is interesting that Rabbi Akiva says that the Torah emphasizes that we remember the makeshift shelters over the spectacular clouds of glory.

The following came to mind.

The Jewish people numbered in the millions and they survived and even thrived during the forty-year trek.

The homely shelters that G-D provided and wants us to always remember tells us that the Jewish people will also survive and thrive through their thirty-three century trek through Jewish history, despite the odds and without any clouds of glory.


Succos 5769

Leviticus 23:42 Live in succos for seven days. All citizens of Israel shall live in succos.

Leviticus 23:43 (Do this) so that your generations shall know that I made the Children of Israel live in succos when I took them out from Egypt. I am G-D.

What were these succos? The Talmud (Succa 11b) cites two views. Rabbi Eliezer states that they were the clouds of glory that miraculously sheltered the Jewish people throughout most of their forty-year journey through the desert. Rabbi Akiva states that they were makeshift shelters that the Jewish people constructed for themselves when were no clouds of glory to protect them from the elements.

It is my understanding that both Rabbis acknowledge that there was a period when the Jewish people were sheltered by clouds of glory and that there was a period when the clouds disappeared and the Jewish people needed to fashion makeshift shelters for themselves.

They merely disagree on what we should be focusing on when we live in succos during the holiday.

The clouds of glory were an open and continuous miracle.

The makeshift shelters were also a miracle, for it is hard to imagine how hundreds of thousands of families were able to suddenly find sufficient building materials in a barren desert. This was a hidden miracle.

G-D works miracles.

Open miracles overrule nature. They provide an appearance that there is an existence of nature that stands in the way of what G-D wants to happen but G-D's will prevails.

Hidden miracles are worked within nature. Nature is reduced to be a tool of G-D and is transparent.

In this light, hidden miracles are a greater demonstration of G-D's uniqueness.

With respect to the Jewish people who benefited from the above, the open miracles provided a greater demonstration of their uniqueness.

From our perspective, the opinions of the great sages Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva suggest that the focus of the holiday is a blend of the uniqueness of G-D and his people.


Succos Holidays

Our literature ascribes sanctity to the succa and views the experience as a personal and private min-encounter with G-D.

Many ascribe meanings to the fact that the holiday immediately follows Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

It came to mind that for some of the things for which we need atonement, the root-cause is spiritual immaturity.

A person's awareness that G-D exists and that He controls the affairs of Mankind is not obvious without observation and study. Even as one comes to acknowledge this, the degree of awareness grows over time, as well and the degree that this is actualized as a reality to the person.

Thus, despite a person's decisions and beliefs, it is common for one to act as if G-D's existence is peripheral and incidental to the reality that he lives in. Our goal is to merge our operative reality with the acknowledged reality.

Perhaps this is another message of the succa, a temporary and peripheral residence.

The forty days leading to the climax of Yom Kipper serve to bring the sincere person to a new level of actualization. The joy of conquering yet another peripheral level becomes a personal celebration together with G-D, who the person is more deeply aware of.

On Succos we hold four species together and recite a blessing over them. They are the Esrog (citron), Lulav (palm leaf), three Hadassim (myrtle branches), and four Aravos (willow-like twig).

Of the many meanings and messages in the literature, the differing characteristics of these four species represent four types of people.

The Esrog has both taste and fragrance. The fruit of the palm tree has taste but no fragrance. The myrtle has fragrance but no taste. The Arava is a simple weed and has neither.

These characteristics represent four types of people. Some have book knowledge and put their knowledge into practice, such as those who have studied the Torah and put what they have studied into practice. Some have only book knowledge but are non-observant. The omission may be with commandments that deal with how one relates with G-D, it may be with commandments that deal with how one relates to other people, or both. Others practice what they believe to be proper Torah behavior but are ignorant and base their behavior on personal feelings. Others are ignorant and non-observant.

We bring together all four species to signify the importance of bringing together all four types of Jews.

It is noteworthy that the Lulav, Hadassim, and Aravos are tied together. The Esrog is isolated and brought together with the other three for the blessing and to fulfill the commandment.

We note that the Lulav, Hadassim, and Aravos symbolize the imperfect practitioner. This brings to mind the vilification that we sometimes find in the press of those who seem to represent the isolated Esrog, making the greatness of Torah observance more out of reach for those who need it.

The analogy for the Lulav needs clarification, for it is the date that has taste, not palm branch. Why do we take the branch and not the fruit? Perhaps the disconnection is itself a message, for people tend to view the inconsistent scholar as a representative of his studies, when in fact he is not.

It is also noteworthy that the blessing mentions only the Lulav and this dominance is of interest. Perhaps the Lulav holds the key to long-sought unity for it is closest to the other groups, who respect knowledge. Also, it is the closest to perfection, for at least it knows what needs to be done. The noble but ignorant Hadassim bring to mind the adage: "If you don't know where you are going then you will never get there."


Three holiday sacrifices are offered by every adult male: An olah for his presentation before G-D in the temple, a holiday shelamim, and an offering for joy (simcha). The olah's meat was completely consumed on the altar. The shelamim's meat was apportioned between the altar, the priest, and the owner.

The Oral Torah derives from the scriptures that the simcha offering is also a shelamim. Deuteronomy 12 discusses the prohibition of making an offering outside of the temple area. Verse seven states, "And you shall eat there (in the temple area) before Hashem your G-D and you shall be happy with all that you do, you and your household, that which Hashem your G-D blessed you." The Oral Torah takes it that this is describing a holiday's simcha offering. This verse is phrased similarly to Deuteronomy 27:7 which states, "And you shall slaughter shelamim sacrifices and eat there. And you shall be happy before Hashem your G-D." The Oral Torah uses the similarity to derive the law that the simcha offering is a shelamim.

It is curious that the holiday's simcha offering is discussed by the verses that prohibit external sacrifice.

The connection to 27:7 is even more curious, as its context is about the solemn covenant that the Jewish people made shortly upon their entry to the Promised Land.

These scriptures describe how the Jewish are to divide themselves into two groups, one ascending the lush and fertile Mt. Grizim and the other ascending the barren and desolate Mt. Eval.

The Levites stood at the foot of these mountains and pronounced blessings and curses. Their blessings were for those who will uphold the Torah and the curses were for those who will not. They faced Mt. Grizim for the blessings and Mt. Eval for the curses.

The event of 27:7, that we shall "be happy before Hashem" occurred by the mountain of the curses. What is about this mountain that evokes happiness? It is further puzzling that this verse contains a teaching for the simcha sacrifices of the three pilgrimage holidays.

The following came to mind.

I suggest three reasons for our being joyous during the holidays, although I'm sure that there are more.

1.

Our special relationship with G-D. 2. What we have. 3. What we are.

I suggest a correlation between the three holiday sacrifices and these three reasons.

As stated above, the presentation sacrifice was an olah and was completely consumed by the altar. This corresponds to our relationship of devotion to G-D, which is nothing less than total.

I suggest assigning a theme of abundance and blessings with the holiday shelamim and a focus of our role and identity with the simcha sacrifice.

Some people shirk responsibilities. Most people come to realize that responsibility is a great source of satisfaction, inner peace, and happiness. Typically, those who come home to dinner after a day of hard and honest work enjoy their meal and family time much more than a person who comes home from gambling at the race track.

As solemn was our experience at the foot of Mt. Eval was, it served as the basis for the awesome roles and responsibilities that we accepted upon ourselves, thereby becoming a basis of the great happiness that we experience from the achievements that followed.

In this light we can better understand the happiness at Mt. Eval and the connection to the holiday's simcha sacrifices.

We can then better understand the reference to the simcha sacrifices in the section that deals with external sacrifices, for our role and identity is not dependent upon geographic boundaries.


A Mishnah in Succa (51a) states the following: "One who never saw the celebration of the Joy of (Water) Drawing has never seen a celebration in his lifetime. On the night after the first holiday they descended (the steps) into the women's section (of the Temple) and made a great adjustment …"

The Talmud (Succa 51b) describes the "great adjustment" as the installation of a balcony from which the women can stand and view the celebration.

The Talmud then cites a teaching that women initially stood in their section and the men stood elsewhere in the Temple. Despite the separation, they came to socialize in a manner led to frivolity. Thereupon, the men and women were asked to switch places but they still came to frivolity. This was resolved by having everybody in one place and providing the women with a balcony.

The Talmud questions the justification for this renovation, as it was not called for in the Temple's architectural plans, which dated back to the time of King David.

The Talmud answers that they based the decision to add the balcony on verses from Zecharia (Zachariah) 12:12-14.

This prophecy is about a eulogy that will occur in the Messianic era. It emphasizes several times that the men and women were sitting separately during the funeral.

Noting that the evil inclination will lose its power in the Messianic era, the Talmud says that if people will need to be separated to maintain decorum during a funeral and in a time when there will be no stimulation, how much more is a separation needed during a celebration and in the Pre-Messianic era.

Now, the Torah charges us to stand in awe while we are in the Temple area (Leviticus 19:30 and 26:2). It is for this reason that only the sages were permitted to participate in the Joy of Drawing and everyone else was there as observers and to become inspired.

The verse in Zechariah is dated to the period of the Second Temple. This means that there was no women's balcony throughout the entire four-hundred-ten year period of the First Temple.

As stated above, the Talmud questioned the justification for modifying the Temple and answers that they found a verse upon which to base it. Rashi provides the following commentary: "They found a verse" that it is required to provide a separation between the men and women (in the Temple) thereby making a safeguard so that they will not fail.

It appears from Rashi's words that this requirement dates back to the beginning of the Second Temple.

From the context it appears that the need for a physical separation did not exist throughout the first thousand years of Jewish history.

In Jewish law, synagogues are treated as a "Temple in miniature" (Yechezkel 11:16). In part, this is why you will see a women's section in compliant synagogues.

One can only wonder which generation came into the prophet's view. It had to be either our generation or one in the future.

Given today's culture of permissiveness and the frequent suggestions of promiscuity through media and fashion, especially in a society that has traded standards for freedom, the need to institutionalize structure within religious congregations is greater than ever.

We note that the sages of the Second Temple erected the separation prior to the holiday celebration. They didn't provide opportunity for the people to first have a 'good time.'

Meaningful structure and restriction brings to 'good times' in the highest sense.

We get a laugh out of seeing an ape that wears pants. However, we only feel complete when we wear them ourselves, despite the restrictions that they impose.

This provides one of the many reasons for celebration during the holiday of Simchas Torah, for we celebrate the structure that the Torah provides and the resulting greatness that we experience by complying with it.

HR

The Days of Awe precede the holiday of Succos.

These days are spiritually intense.

They are days of judgement.

They begin with Rosh Hashana when G-D decrees our fate for the coming year. They climax with Yom Kippur, when this fate is sealed. Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are given opportunity to change our fate through prayer, repentance, and charity.

It is noteworthy that the period of judgement extends into the Holiday of Succos. We are taught that G-D does not deliver the decrees to His messengers for execution until the last day of Succos, Hoshana Rabba. Also, the day after Hoshana Rabba is Shemini Atzeres, when we are judged for rain.

Why is the period of judgement extended? What message does it carry?

The following came to mind.

When forces cause a human being to rapidly extends himself towards one extreme, if these forces suddenly disappear then there is a danger that he may swing back to the other extreme to compensate for the imbalance.

So, by stretching ourselves towards spirituality during the Ten Days of Repentance, we are in danger of swinging back to excessive physicality when the pressure is removed, which is right after Yom Kippur.

So, in His kindness, G-D leaves a trace of judgement immediately after Yom Kippur to keep our pendulum from swinging back to far in the opposite direction.


Exodus 24:7 And Moshe (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and he read it to the people. And they said, "All that G-D said we will do and we will listen (i.e. understand)."

Rabbi Eliezer said, "When the Jewish people pledged first to observe and then to understand, a voice came forth from heaven and said, 'Who revealed to My children a secret that the ministering angels use?'" (Talmud Shabbos 88a).

Rashi provides the following comment on the Talmud: The ministering angels stand ready to execute any order that they receive, regardless of whether they understand it at the time or not. This is contrast to other servants who first analyze the orders they receive from their master to determine whether they are able to carry them out.

In his work entitled Yaaros Devash, Rabbi Yonoson Eibeshutz provides the following explanation. (Yaari Im Divshi volume 1, page 75).

The scholars and philosophers of the ancient world believed that prophecy and other great spiritual achievements could only be obtained through personal seclusion and meditation. According to them, a person who was a social and/or spiritual deviant could achieve spirituality as long as he/she took the proper approach to study.

In contrast, the Torah scholars taught that spiritual achievements were gifts of G-D and they were only bestowed when one behaved in accordance with G-D's will and one performed His commandments with the proper intent. Therefore, for example, a simple person who performs the commandment of Succa in the proper manner and with joy can achieve spiritual insights that are greater than those achieved by Aristotle and all of his philosophers put together.

The Talmud says that one can not say that he has seen a celebration until he has seen the celebration of the drawing place, when they drew water for the libations of the Succos holiday ceremony (Succa 51a).

More than merely drawing water, we are taught that those who danced out of joy for performing the commandments also drew profound spiritual energies, inspirations, and insights.

We can now better appreciate the secret of the ministering angels, themselves beings of a level of a spiritual purity that is beyond the reach of any philosopher, no matter how many lifetimes he/she spends in seclusion and/or meditation.

No matter how great they are, these angels do not receive the Voice of G-D, their source of perfection and great happiness, unless they have previously earned this privilege by performing His charges. This is their secret road to success.

So the secret is out. Let's then get real busy and may we all have a very enjoyable Succos holiday.


Succos 5770

"And you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a citron tree [esrog], branches of date palms [lulav], a twigs of a plaited tree [hadassim], and willows of a brook [aravos] and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-D for seven days." (Leviticus 23:40)

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Lipchitz notes that the citron appears to be the most important of the four holiday species because it is listed first.

Yet, Halacha seems to imply that the lulav is the most important because it is held in the right hand, whereas the esrog is held in the left. Also, the lulav is taken first if a person wants to fulfill the commandment by picking them up separately.

Rabbi Lipchitz offers the following explanation.

The esrog fruit has taste and scent. The lulav comes from a date palm and dates have taste but no scent. The hadassim have scent but no taste and the willows have neither scent nor taste.

They symbolize four types of people. Some people have both Torah knowledge and good deeds. Some have Torah knowledge but no good deeds. Some have good deeds but are unlearned. And some have neither good deeds nor Torah knowledge.

The esrog represents a person who is complete and the other species represent people that are not complete, who either have or had defects.

The Medrash of Genesis remarks that G-D looked into the future and saw the deeds of both the righteous and the wicked. The Medrash asks which one of the two does G-D prefer. It uses the following verse to answer this question: "And G-D saw that the light is good. (1:4)."

How could the Medrash entertain the possibility that G-D would prefer the deeds of the wicked over those of the righteous?

Rabbi Lipchitz he answers that the Medrash is speaking about people who acted wickedly but who corrected their misdeeds and repented.

Those who repent are so great that Rabbi Avahu says, "The righteous are not permitted to stand where those who repented stand." (Talmud Bavli Brachos 34b)

So I therefore would not know which type of person G-D prefers. This is why we need the verse in Generis to teach us that G-D prefers that we not sin in the first place.

We can now understand why the three species are given the distinction of being held in the right hand, for they represent a person who had defects, the Baal Teshuvah. They are given a more prestigious location in the world to come. And yet the esrog is listed first because G-D prefers that we not sin in the first place.


"And you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a citron tree [esrog], branches of date palms [lulav], a twigs of a plaited tree [hadassim], and willows of a brook [aravos] and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-D for seven days." (Leviticus 23:40)

As the lulav shaped like a spear or sword, the masses carrying their four species through the streets on their way to synagogue is likened in the Midrashic literature to a military victory parade.

With Succos following the Days of Judgment, we indeed experienced a defensive life-and-death conflict that occurred in the Heavenly court.

The fact that the Torah institutionalized this holiday after the Days of Judgment tells us that the Jewish people as a whole can be confident that they will never be judged for destruction, that they will prevail and survive.


Succos 5772

"You shall live in Succa buildings for seven days (of the holiday). Every citizen of Israel must live in Succa buildings." (Leviticus 23:42).

"(Do this) so that your generations will know that I settled the Children of Israel in Succos when I took them out of Egypt, I am G-D." (Leviticus 23:42).

What was the Succa that G-D made for the Children of Israel when they left Egypt?

Rabbi Eliezer says this refers to the glorious clouds that G-D provided to shelter the Children of Israel in the desert. We're taught that it was air conditioned inside and that they served as washing machines for our clothing, among other miracles.

Rabbi Akiva says that this refers to temporary huts, something comparable to the Succa buildings that we live in today. G-D ensured that everyone was able to find building materials and make shelters for themselves despite the lack of Home Depots in the Sinai desert. (Talmud Succa 11b - minus the reference to Home Depot).

The Piskei Teshuvos notes that it is especially important to know the reason for this commandment because many authorities require having this in mind when we dwell in Succa buildings during the holiday.

Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law and practice) cites the clouds of glory as the reason.

But this is very puzzling because this is Rabbi Eliezer's ruling and there is a general rule that we always follow the opinion of Rabbi Akiva whenever he and Rabbi Eliezer disagree.

Why didn't the Shulchan Aruch cite Rabbi Akiva's opinion?

The Piskei Teshuvos proposes the following explanation.

As it is with every disagreement between the great sages of Israel, every opinion has value and validity, "Both these and those are the words of the Living G-D" (Eruvin 13b).

We know from several Midrashic sources that clouds of glory enveloped the Children of Israel throughout their journey in the hot desert.

And we know from several Midrashic sources that not everyone always merited the privilege of living within the Divine clouds of glory, such as those who had some types of ritual contamination. In fact, the entire Tribe of Dan resided outside the cloud, together with the mixed multitude that travelled together with the Children of Israel.

Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer agree that many people were enwrapped within clouds of glory and that many people lived in simple Succa buildings that merely provided protection from the elements.

They only disagree over what the holiday commemorates.

The Succos holiday comes right after the Rosh Hashana - Yom Kippur period, a time of awe, mercy, atonement, introspection, growth, and reconciliation.

Not everyone always takes advantage of these opportunities and experiences a transformation. Some of us opt for an upgrade and others are not ready for it at this time.

Some of us reach for "Clouds of Glory" status and some of us stay with "Succa Building" status.

Like the days of old, we are all G-D's children and merit His protection, each in their own way.

The Shulchan Aruch was written for Torah scholars who well know the story and miracles of the Exodus from Egypt.

Perhaps its author, Rabbi Yosef Caro, did not cite the clouds of glory to exclude the Succa huts from our holiday discussions with our families. Rather, he did so to express his hope that all of us made the "Clouds of Glory" status.

It's never too late.

Have a wonderful holiday.


A Yalkut anthology gives a reason for leaving our homes after Yom Kippur and dwelling in the succa for seven days.

It says that exile may have been decreed upon us on Yom Kippur. If so, then Heaven will credit our relocation as if we satisfied the need for this decree and we will not have to go into exile.

This explanation is difficult to understand, given that the holiday is characterized by the Torah as being a time of happiness.

How can we be happy with living in a succa if being there is associated with punishment?

The following came to mind.

The succa is not for punishment.

A root cause of a decree for exile may very well that we have become a bit too attached and dependent on physical comfort as the sole source of our happiness.

Not that there is anything wrong with being happy from being comfortable. The problem comes when that's the only thing that makes a person happy.

Those who don't stop growing come to happiness from being Jewish and from realizing a connection to One who is focused on giving us every opportunity to become great in ways we can't imagine.

The succa provides the opportunity to experience joy while fulfilling G-D's will in an environment that is physically toned down.

The energy we get from living in a succa address the root cause while also helping to get us a notch up in our lifetime pursuit of growth.

Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy your succa.


Succos 5775

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a splendid tree, branches of date palms, a branch of a plaited tree, and brook willows. And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-D for seven days (Leviticus 34:40).

The Medrash Tanchuma says that the reference to this day being first is a hint to something special about the first day of Succos. The Medrash says that it is a first in how sins are calculated.

The Chamudei Tzvi offers the following explanation for this very puzzling Medrash.

We are taught that there are many forms of Teshuva, or repentance. For example, repentance can be motivated out of fear of punishment, fear of G-D, or love of G-D.

The commentaries teach that sincere repentance can reduce the severity of a sin and it can even transform a sin into a merit. Specifically, repentance that is motivated by fear can make a sin that was done on purpose be viewed as if it was done accidently. And repentance that is motivated by love can transform a willful sin into a merit.

A person's fate is decreed on Rosh Hashanah for the coming year. Whether we live and how we live depend on whether our merits outweigh our sins.

The prayers and milieu of the Days of Awe make us inclined to repent out of fear. This reduces the heaviness of our sins before judgment is rendered.

Succos follows shortly after Yom Kippur. Its theme is joy, gratitude towards G-D from realizing the abundance that he showers upon us. It makes us inclined to repent out of love. This transforms our sins into merits, a recalculation of our sins. This requires our judgments to be reconsidered.

This is what the Medrash means when it associates Succos with how sins are calculated.


Shemini Atzeres 5970

Shemini Atzeres is the culmination of the high-holiday - Succos holiday period.

Torah scholars note that the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeres share a common set of sacrifices which is: One bull, one ram, and seven sheep (Numbers 29: 1-7-36). This suggests that they have something in common.

The following came to mind.

We feel a calling for correction and self-improvement during the days of judgment and atonement. And yet it is easy to pass through this part of the Jewish calendar without feeling a sense of self growth. And if we fail to recognize growth this year, then why should next year be any different? Could it be that many of us are heaven forbid doomed to spiritual fixation?

And how does the high-holiday period make one better a better person and practicing Jew? Does the experience of sitting in shul for long periods three days a year make us any better? If yes then how?

Is Succos and Shemini Atzeres merely an extended celebration after a long fast or are they part of the refinement process?

Now, Exodus 34:7 cites three categories of sins: pesha, avone, and chet.

Pesha is an act that was done out of spite and rebellion. Avone is an act that was done out of passion and chet is a wrongdoing that was done unintentionally.

While Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment, the prayers of the day reflect more of focus on the Judge than on the judgment. The central blessing in the silent prayer begins with, "King over all the Earth." The hymns of Rosh Hashana continually proclaim that G-D is a King, that He is both able and willing to make decisions about the lives of each and every person, and that His decisions are carried out.

Spending the bulk of two days each year thinking about judgment and chanting about G-D's kingship is bound to have some effect on us, sooner or later. Thus, Rosh Hashana increases our actualization that G-D is in control and that He is taking care of our affairs. The more this notion becomes part of our consciousness, the more we distance ourselves from pesha, rebellion against G-D. We can therefore view Rosh Hashana as a day that focuses on correcting pesha, those sins and the aspects of sin that are an expression of rebellion against G-D.

Next we have Yom Kippur.

Its central blessing in the silent prayer begins with, "King who forgives and pardons our acts of avone." An avone is a misdeed that is done out of passion which indicates a lack of self-control. We therefore note the appropriateness of practicing a solemn fast and abstinence on this day. Thus, the annual observance of Yom Kippur serves to correct another class and aspect of sin.

The third aspect is chet, misdeeds done by mistake and unintentionally. We can assume that the more one is careful about his/her observance the less likely the person is liable to do a chet.

The correction for chet is to recognize the significance of Torah observance for this brings us to be more careful about it.

We bring ourselves to feel more the value of the great spiritual wealth of our Torah by performing its commandments out of joy.

Joy is precisely the theme of the Succos holiday period and Shemini Atzeres is the climax. Together they can serve to bring us to a higher orbit of happiness, if we simply let ourselves flow with the simcha. Together they are the stepping stone to distance ourselves from chet, and what a wonderful way to do it.

Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya recalls that the celebrations in the temple were so intense that the participants barely slept for seven days (Succa 53a).

We focus on what we have and who we are. We remind ourselves of the great mission that G-D entrusted us with and of the great reward that is in store, in addition to the great sense of fulfillment and peace of mind that we have when we follow the Torah. It comes to mind that we have a past and a future. And this is so important for happiness for if one has no past and no future then one can have no real present. Our ancestors were not convinced into Judaism by a smooth-talking person or by someone waiving a sword. Rather, millions experienced a transformation from slavery into freedom, personally witnessing many open and world-class miracles, culminating with millions having a public and yet personal encounter with G-D Himself. And we witness today the fulfillment of our continual attachment with the Land of Israel, our ancestral inheritance and heritage.

Have a wonderful holiday.


Devarim (Deut. 1-3)

1:1 These words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel …

The Medrash Sifrei asks: (Why does the Torah say that these are Moshe's words?) Are these the only words that Moshe prophesized? (What about the four books of the Torah that preceded this book?) Rather, this comes to teach us that these are words of rebuke.

Earlier in the Torah it says, And Moshe (Moses) spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying, "This is the matter that G-D commanded" (Numbers 30:2).

There, the Medrash Sifrei comments: Moshe was the only prophet to use the phrase, "This is what G-D said."

The Vilna Gaon explains that only Moshe was able to use this phrase because he was the only prophet with a Divine communication that gave him the precise words that he was to transmit.

That is, all other prophets had a prophetic encounter and then used their own understanding and style to express the message of their experience. The other prophets said their prophecies in their own words. But Moshe's experience dictated the words that he was to say. It was as if G-D was speaking directly to us through Moshe's voice.

As the Chamudei Tzvi commentary explains it, the Torah that G-D gave through Moshe was given in a way that left no room for interpretation, even Moshe's.

This was necessary to ensure that distorters should not later come and claim that they have as much of a right to interpret the G-D's message as Moshe did, as expressed through the words of the Torah.

The capability of distorters to do this would have brought about the breakup of Judaism into as many versions and factions as there are distorters.

So, says the Chamudei Tzvi, the need for Moshe to use G-D's words applies only to his conveying the Torah's commandments. It did preclude Moshe from ever saying things on his own and in his own words.

This is the message of the Medrash Sifrei. These are Moshe's words and not G-D's because he was saying words of rebuke and he was not conveying commandments.

While these words may have very well have been inspired by a prophetic experience that Moshe had, the words themselves came from Moshe, just like the prophecies of others, and they were not dictated by G-D word for word.


1:1 These words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel.. v'di zahav(1:1)

1:3 And it was on the fortieth year Moshe began to explain

1:22 And all of you came near to me and requested that we send men ahead of us so that they can spy out the land

1:26 And you refused to go up (and enter the Land of Israel)

1:27 And you complained in your tents and you said, 'It is because G-d hates us that He took us out of Egypt..'

The Sifrei provides many insights into these verses.

Moshe was admonishing the Jewish people during his final days of life, at the conclusion of their fortieth year in the desert.

The Sifrei cites reasons for deferring admonition to the final moments. First, this insures that the rebuke will not be repeated. Second, the one being admonished will soon no longer see this person, preventing shame which may result from a subsequent encounter. Third, the admonition will not be a cause for resentment. Finally, the one who is being corrected will be less likely to walk out in protest.

Not everyone can stand up to rebuke. Yet these verses were said to all of the Jewish people, a praise for them that they were all able to accept the constructive criticism.

Some of the admonition is recorded by reference. For example, 'di zahav' (1,1) refers to the Sin of the Golden Calf. 'Die' is Hebrew for enough and 'Zahav' is means gold. Moshe implied that their inability to deal with excessive wealth brought them to this sin.

In analyzing the Sin of the Spies, Moshe points out that the Jewish people were projecting their own lack of love towards G-d by saying that G-d did not love them.

We need to understand the Sifrei's advice about admonition and how it is to be applied.

First, Moshe rebuked the Jewish people many years ago, when they committed these sins in the first place. By rebuking both then and now, Moshe's behavior is a counter-example to the Sifrei's advice.

Second, the Torah (Lev. 19:17) commands us to correct our fellow man. Halacha does not relegate this commandment to a person's final moments on earth.

The following came to mind.

The underlying reasons for sin may not be obvious to the sinner. The deeper levels are sometimes painful for the sinner to face and deal with.

During his lifetime, it was most advisable for Moshe to deal with the shortcomings of the Jewish people on the superficial level. Thus, he was able to clearly tell the Jewish people that they were wrong when they sined with the Golden Calf and the spies. It was only now, near the end of his life, that he was able to help them face the underlying causes of these errors, to provide them with a better focus for self-improvement.

Thus, the Sifrei wisely advises us to apply discression when dealing with the more sensitive levels of rebuke.


1:2 It is an eleven-day journey from Chorev until Kadesh Barnea by way of Mount Seir.

Rashi in 1:1 says that Moshe took the opportunity before his death to furnish the Jewish people with constructive criticism.

This verse seems to talk only about geography. However, Rashi explains Moshe's point.

The Jewish people received their commission and instructions at Chorev, which is another name for Mount Sinai. Once they arrived at Kadesh Barnea, the Jewish people requested that they send out spies before undertaking their entry into the Land of Israel.

Rashi calculates that G-D miraculously enabled the Jewish people to travel the eleven-day distance in only three days.

The speed at which they travelled from Mount Sinai to Kadesh Barnea was a clear indication that G-D wanted to quickly bring them into the Land of Israel for them to put into practice what they had absorbed at Mount Sinai.

Here, Rashi concludes, Moshe's point of rebuke that it was we who inflicted damage upon ourselves. Because of our request to delay entry into the land and send spies, and because of our reaction to the slander of the spies that G-D agreed to send, we were subsequently re-routed around Mount Seir and were delayed in the desert for forty years.

Rashi does explain how Mount Seir is associated with Moshe's rebuke.

The following came to mind.

Upon their hearing the analysis of the spies, the Jewish people stated, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt (Numbers 14:4).

This is astonishing.

Many of the Torah's commandments are only in effect when we are living in the Land of Israel. How could they conceive that G-D would make such a set of intense upheavals which included the Exodus and the receiving of the Torah to only have them return back to Egypt and continue with life outside of Israel?

I believe that notion becomes entirely reasonable if consider that the Jewish people simply wanted some more time to internalize the Torah before entering the land.

This becomes more plausible when we note the tragedies that occurred immediately after they left Mount Sinai. A number of people died because of their ill murmurings (Numbers 11:1) Afterwards, many died because they demanded to eat meat (Numbers 11:33).

It would seem that giving the Jewish people some additional time to transition to a life of Torah would reduce the risk of additional tragedies.

So perhaps their plan was to return to Egypt, to live there for a while as Orthodox Jews, and to then undertake making Aliah to the Promised Land.

But given the indication from the condensed travel time that G-D gave them, they should have known that the delay was not a need but just a want. Especially when their imposing the delay would involve making a rebellion against Moshe, they should have known that this was a bad idea.

Given the support that G-D had demonstrated to date, they should have trusted that G-D would give them the needed energy and insight to make a sufficient transition.

And so, they were given their wish and they were given forty more years. Unfortunately, the transition time was not used to make them more able to live in Israel but was instead used for their children to replace them.

We are taught that the very long exile we are experiencing will be the last stage in G-D's bringing the world to completion.

Our sages associate this exile is associated with Edom, who lived on Mount Seir.

Perhaps we can now connect the delay that we imposed upon ourselves in the desert with the delay we experience in the coming of the Messianic time.

We wanted transition time in the desert.

By the Messianic era we will have had all the time that we need to make a secure transition upwards, although with the great cost of enduring a painful history for thousands of years. The pain and delay would have been avoided had we demonstrated a bit more confidence in G-D.

In the end things will come out OK and we'll be a bit wiser. We will have learned that it's best to appreciate how G-D is trying to make things happen instead of trying to do things our own way.


1:2 It is an eleven-day journey from Chorev until Kadesh Barnea by way of Mount Seir.

2:1 And we turned away and traveled towards the wilderness by way of the Sea of Suf, just as G-D spoke to me, and we encircled Mount Seir for many days.

2:2 And G-D spoke to me saying.

2:3 "You have encircled this mountain enough. Turn for yourselves northward."

2:5 …"for I have given Aisav (Esau) the mountain of Seir for an inheritance.

There are many references to Mount Seir in this Torah reading. This reading always occurs during the annual period of mourning and introspection, when we focus on the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people so that we can re-focus to take corrective action.

Of the four exiles that the Jewish people were destined to experience, the final exile, which is represented by Aisav, is by far the longest and most painful.

The Kli Yakar notes that many scholars read a prophetic vision into verse 2:3. That is, just like Mount Seir became a focus of our wanderings through the desert, so has it been throughout the bulk of Jewish history.

To the degree that we see and feel this association, we can take consolation by noting the limit in 2:3 that G-D proclaimed to this wandering. Indeed, it is a matter of our faith that this exile will end and this will occur when G-D wills it to happen.


1:3 And it was on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year (that) Moshe (Moses) spoke to the Children of Israel that which G-D commanded him (to say) to them.

Moshe's introductory remarks were of rebuke, as explained by the Oral Torah.

The Sifri also teaches that Moshe made a point of not saying words of rebuke until it was near his death, He learned this from Yaakov (Jacob) who did not rebuke his children until right before his death.

The Sifri cites other people who did the same, such as Yehoshua (Joshua) and Shmuel (Samuel).

The Sifri cites four reasons for doing this. One is to insure that there will be no other opportunity to repeat the rebuke. Another reason is to keep the one who is rebuked from being embarrassed in case he/she meets the one who made the rebuke. A third reason is to prevent the possibility of hard feelings. A fourth reason is to prevent the rebuked person from bolting away.

It is somewhat puzzling that the Sifri cites Shmuel whose rebuke of the Jewish people was done a full two years before his passing away. Not all of the Sifri's reasons seem to apply in his case.

The following came to mind.

Perhaps we can derive an insight from a teaching of the Medrash Tanchuma (Metzorah). The Medrash says that slander kills three people: The one who slanders, the one who accepts the slander, and the one who is slandered.

It is not difficult to understand how the Medrash can say that slander kills those who say or accept slander because both acts are transgressions of Torah commandments, which are spiritually destructive. However, given the big difference between a person whose reputation was tarnished and a person who was killed, why does the Medrash view the victim of slander in such an extreme manner?

Perhaps we can say that victim is only considered dead in the eyes of those who accept the slander, for in doing so, the loss the esteem precludes them from deriving full benefit from their relationship with the victim of slander.

For example, consider a person who accepts slander that was said against a brother-in-law. From that point and on, to some degree he no longer has a brother-in-law, for the slander makes him less inclined to assign significance to his brother-in-law's words and acts.

Perhaps, then, in the language of our sages, a loss of opportunity to derive benefit from a relationship of another person is likened to a death.

If this is so, then we can understand why Shmuel's rebuke occurred before his 'death', for it occurred when he transitioned the leadership of the Jewish people from himself to King Shaul (Saul). From that time and on, we no longer enjoyed the benefits of his leadership.

With this approach, it is now easier to see how the Sifri's four reasons apply to Shmuel.


1:5 While (still) on the far side of the Yarden (Jordan) Moshe (Moses) began to explain this Torah, saying.

1:6 Hashem our G-D spoke to us in Chorev (Sinai) saying, "Your stay at this mountain is sufficient."

1:7 Turn and travel for yourselves and come the Emorite mountain and to all of its surroundings, the plain, mountain, valley, the south and the coast. (Come) to the land of the Canaanites and the Levanon, up to the great river, the Europhrates river.

Verse six appears to be an introduction to Moshe's explanation of the Torah. How can one understand this to be an introduction?

The Targum Yonoson Ben Uziel provides the following reading of 1:6 "Hashem our G-D and not myself, spoke to us in Chorev saying, Your stay at this mountain is sufficient."

Moshe seems to be adding a disclaimer. Why is this necessary?

The following came to mind.

In some way, our tenure at Mount Sinai was likened to an academic environment and our departure was likened to a student's entry into the real world, a place of stress and test.

The Otzar Midrashim teaches that "A person should always not bring himself (moral) tests because this was what King David did and he failed."

Besides being responsible for passing our tests of life, I have been taught that a person is expected to reduce the risk of failure by avoiding tests, to the best of his ability.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 57b) therefore considers a person wicked when he chooses to take a morally hazardous route, even though he rises to the occasion and does compromise during the test.

It is perhaps for this reason that Moshe provided this disclaimer. Just as G-D Himself has exclusive authority over our lives, so does He have exclusive authority over selecting our test cases.

In this light, the account of our journey away from Sinai was indeed a fitting introduction to the entire Torah for it serves as a reminder of this basic responsibility.


1:10 Hashem your G-d increased you and today you are as numerous as the stars of the heavens.

This verse compares the Jewish people with that which is in the heavens. The Talmud (Chagiga 12) teaches that the heavens are comprised of seven layers.

With this in mind, we can perhaps find a meaning in the Medrash (Sifrei) that provides the following commentary for this verse:

From here we see that there are seven groups of righteous people in the Garden of Eden, each group higher than the next.

It is written about the first group, "However, the righteous will profess Your Name, the right ones will sit (by) your presence [face] (Psalms 140)."

For the second group, "Fortunate is one who You choose and bring near. He will dwell in your courtyard. (Psalms 65).

For the third, "Fortunate are those who sit in your house." (Psalms 84).

For the fourth, "Who shall occupy your tent?" (Psalms 15).

For the fifth, "Who will dwell on the mountain of your holiness?" (Psalms 15).

For the sixth, "Who shall ascend the mountain of G-d?" (Psalms 24).

For the seventh group, "Who shall stand in the place of His holiness? (Psalms 24).

We are taught that the quality of a person's afterlife will correspond to the way the person lived during this life, a period of test, opportunity, and growth. Each person's test course is can be seen by the way his/her behavior relates to the requirements of Torah observance, given his/her personal context of resources, environment, and circumstances. Besides the degree of quantity and quality of Torah observance, success can be viewed in terms of the extent a person is responsible for his/her level of internalization of an awareness of G-d's existence and His role in the events of a person's life, assuming that this can translate into behavior.

Perhaps we can relate these seven verses with the various levels of achievement.

At the lowest level are people who have succeeded in bringing G-d's existence into their lives to the degree that they professed their faith to others. However, their behavior did not correspond with their faith very well.

The next level is about a courtyard and the one that follows is about a house. They are degrees quality of living space. The behavior of some people indicates that some have succeed in bringing the reality and implications of G-d's existence and role into their figurative courtyard, while others have succeeded further and brought this into their figurative home.

The next level is about a tent, which seems to be a step below that of a home. Perhaps this reflects those who have been able to detach themselves from physicality, reflected by those who leave some of the physical comforts of a home for spiritual opportunity that was only available within the confines of a tent, perhaps referring to the study halls of Torah.

The remaining levels talk to the Mountain of G-d, perhaps a reference to the sanctuary itself. Those on the higher levels have altered their behavior to the degree that have been able to relax much of their natural commitment to physicality. They have reached holiness.

Perhaps those on the fifth level are described as those who dwell at the mountain's lower levels. Those on the sixth level have succeeded to temporarily ascend to higher levels. Those on the seventh level have succeeded in both ascending and in establishing themselves at these higher levels.


1:13 (Moshe [Moses/Moshe] said to the people, ) 'Give (over) for your needs (people who are) men, wise, have understanding, and well known within your tribes and I will appoint them as heads for your (tribes).'

1:15 And I took the heads of your tribes, (people who were) men, wise, and well known ..

Rashi in 1:13 explains some of qualifications for the leaders:

'Men:' .. people who are righteous.

'Wise:' People who are (also) in demand (because of their communication skills.)

'Have understanding:' People who can derive knowledge from previous knowledge.

Moshe listed four qualifications in 1:13. In 1:15, we see that he settled for three.

Rashi provides the following commentary:

'men, wise, and well known:' However, he did not find people with understanding. This quality was one of the seven that were specified by Yisro (Jethro). Moshe could only find people with three of the qualifications.

Yisro initially proposed that Moshe establish a hierarchical network of aids. In Exodus 18:21, he proposed the following qualifications: .. men of power, G-d fearing people, men of truth, people who detest making financial gain..

Moshe lists four qualifications, Yisro lists four, and Rashi here says that there were seven altogether.

The commentaries explain that Moshe's qualification of 'men,' which Rashi explains as meaning righteous people, and Yisro's qualification of 'G-d fearing people' are one and the same.

So, here are the seven qualifications:

  1. (Righteous) men [Moshe] / G-d fearing people
  2. Wise people
  3. Well-known people
  4. Men of power
  5. People who detest making financial gain.
  6. Men of truth
  7. People of understanding

We see that Moshe could only find people that had each of the following qualifications:

  1. (Righteous) men [Moshe] / G-d fearing people [Yisro]
  2. Wise people
  3. Well-known people

We see that the people Moshe selected did not have the following qualifications:

  1. Men of power
  2. People who detest making financial gain.
  3. Men of truth
  4. People of understanding

How do we understand the lack of these four significant qualifications? Could it be that Moshe appointed people with significant and serious deficiencies?

The following came to mind.

There is nothing wrong with a person who lacks physical power. That's how G-d made him. The only time it's a problem is when the person is appointed to a position that requires power. Apparently, the positions did not require a person to have physical strength. Although having physical strength would have been an asset for these leaders, their wisdom, combined with spiritual and emotional strength sufficed for this great and law-respecting nation.

There is nothing wrong with making a profit, as long as it is done properly and honestly. The people who Moshe appointed were normal and honest. A person who detests making financial gain is a rare individual. The appointees just didn't have this rare and special trait.

It is difficult to say that Moshe was providing a disclaimer by omitting the qualification that the people were men of truth. Most probably, this qualification does not simply mean that leaders must speak and act truthfully. Truth in speech and action is so central a trait for leadership, that if they lacked this vital qualification, they would have never been considered. Rather, this most probably refers to a rare extension to the principle of living truthfully, as described by the Talmud in Makkos 24a.

While Rav Safra was quietly reciting his prayers, he was approached by a businessman who did not know this. The businessman abruptly proposed that Rav Safra sell him some merchandise for a certain amount of money. Rav Safra did not respond. The businessman took the silence to mean that his offer was too low, so he made a better offer. When Rav Safra completed his prayers, he apologized for not responding and he explained the reason. He then agreed to sell the merchandise, but at the lower price. This was because the offer was initially acceptable to him and thought to make the sale crossed his mind, somewhat involuntarily because he was praying. About such a person, the Talmud says that he 'Spoke truth in his heart.' Not only did he speak truthfully and act truthfully, but even his actions and speech were fully consistent with the thoughts in his heart.

As far as not finding people of understanding, one must realize that Moshe is the source of our knowledge of G-d's Torah. G-d expressed His Torah to Moshe and Moshe taught us what he learned and understood. For the past thirty-three centuries, we have been studying Moshe's Torah. We have been deriving that which we have no record of Moshe having said. The principles and laws that we derive must be consistent with that which we know Moshe said or those which were derived by scholars who were in a better position or who were more able to know / derive them. So, throughout Moshe's life, it is therefore quite understandable for our leaders to not have exposed their talents for deriving Torah knowledge, for they had a much better source, Moshe himself.

The people who Moshe finally selected had only three of the seven qualifications. If the above explanations are correct, then these people were highly qualified to be judges and leaders by any standard that has been used by humanity for leadership since then.


1:27 And you complained in your tents and said, "It was out of G-D's hatred of us that He took us out of Egypt to give us over in the hands of the Amorites to destroy us."

The Sefurno commentary says that they thought G-D hated them because some people worshiped Egyptian deities prior to the Exodus from Egypt.

Despite their remorse and repentance, despite their transformation at Mount Sinai, despite G-D resting His Divine presence in a beautiful sanctuary that He authorized them to build despite the Golden Calf, they still thought that G-D hated them because of their former lifestyle in Egypt.

So they opted to return to Egypt, to run away from G-D.

The final redemption will occur after some nineteen-hundred or so years of Jewish history.

To date, our history can support the notion that we are hated and rejected by G-D. We've been beaten, exiled, starved, robbed, and killed. And there is no shortage of people in this world who tell us that we are hated and rejected by G-D.

And yet, despite overwhelmingly impossible odds we are still around, thank G-D.

The final redemption will herald the perfection of the Jewish people.

Maybe the world needs to come to a state that makes us realize that our existence is even more impossible than what it is right now. Who knows?

But by then we will have come to the realization that G-D must actually love us because how on earth could we still be around if He didn't.

And by then we will all stop running away from G-D and from all the people who still cling to Him and his Torah.


1:27 And you complained in your tents and said, "It was out of G-D's hatred of us that He took us out of Egypt to give us over in the hands of the Amorites to destroy us."

Rashi explains that G-D loved the Jewish people but it was they who harbored hatred towards Him. Rashi relates this to a saying that was common in his days: "You feel towards your friend that which your friend feels towards you."

The saying doesn't seem to match what Rashi started out saying, that G-D loved the Jewish people. According to the saying, the Jewish people should have therefore felt love towards G-D because he loved them.

Unless, we say that the people had a basis to feel that G-D indeed hated them. But given all that he did for them, what made them entertain this notion?

The following came to mind.

We frequently fail to realize the impact of the following verse from Yeshiah (Isaiah): "For My thoughts are not (like) yours and My ways are not (like) yours," (so) says G-D (55:8).

Prior to Moshe's (Moses') emergence in Egypt to redeem them, many Jewish people fell into idol worship.

After the Exodus they were deeply ashamed of their behavior. They repented as best as they could. I recall seeing that many people didn't understand how they could have a full reconciliation with G-D. Those people felt that G-D could only harbor some hatred against them for the defection.

We are taught that this is wrong. While a human may never be able to reconcile with his fellow's disloyalty, G-D's ways and thoughts are different and He can. G-D accepted their repentance and it was to him as though they never defected.

Perhaps a shortcoming in their actualizing this teaching caused some people to think that G-D harbored some hatred against them.

Perhaps we can better understand how the saying applies.

"You feel towards your friend that which your friend feels towards you."

There were indeed people who had hatred towards G-D because they thought that G-D hated them because of a disloyalty that appeared to them to be unforgivable.


1:32 And it is in this thing you don't have faith in Hashem your G-D.

1:33 (He) who goes before you on the way to seek out for you a place for encampment, with fire at night to show you the way that you shall go and with a cloud in the daytime.

What is it that the Jewish people failed to believe in? Rashi on 1:32 says that it was G-D's promise to them to bring them into the land.

Why were the Jewish people having difficulties believing that G-D was going to bring them into the Promised Land?

And what was the message that G-D was trying to tell them by going before them?

The following came to mind.

When Moshe came to Egypt to redeem the Jewish people he told them the following words in the name of G-D:

"I am Hashem. And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt and I will save you from their servitude and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. "And I will take you to Me for a nation and I will be to you for a G-D and you will know that I am Hashem your G-D who took you out from under the burdens of Egypt. "And I will bring you to the land that I raised my hand to give to Avraham, to Yitzchok, and to Yaakov for an inheritance, I am Hashem." (Exodus 6:6-8).

Everyone who heard these words was taken "out from under the burdens of Egypt and was saved from their servitude." But not everyone succeeded in leaving Egypt for many perished during the plague of darkness (Exodus 13:18 Rashi). We are taught that those people really did not want to leave Egypt.

Perhaps not every such case was obvious to those who made it out.

Since the promises were contingent on behavior and since many had already been filtered out, it was natural for those who remained to question whether they had sufficient merits to survive additional filtering.

Perhaps by going before the Jewish people in a miraculous manner, G-D was trying to tell them that He was eager for them to enter the land and that they should not focus on their own shortcomings.


1:34 And G-D heard the sound (in) your words [that you said after hearing the evil report of the spies] and He became angry and swore, saying.

1:35 "If (even) a man of these people … shall see the good land that I swore to give to their ancestors."

1:36 "Only Calev son of Yefuneh will see it. And I will give him and his children the land that he treaded upon because he filled after G-D."

1:37 G-D also became angry with me on your behalf saying, "You will also not go there."

The Baal Haturim commentary notes that the last letters of the first three words in 1:34 are Mem, Heh, and Shin, which can be arranged to spell out Moshe's (Moses') name in Hebrew. This is consistent with verse 1:37, which appears to be saying that the failure of the spies evoked a decree that Moshe will not enter the Promised Land.

But this is very puzzling.

The episode of the spies occurred two years from the Exodus from Egypt. The decree that Moshe will not enter the Promised Land is recorded in Numbers 20. It occurred during the fortieth year. Furthermore, it states that the reason for the decree was that Moshe did not sanctify G-D's name when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it.

Why is the decree against Moshe connected to the sin of the spies?

The Ohr Hachayim provides the following explanation, according to my understanding.

The people who left Egypt were on a sublime spiritual level. Despite prior shortcomings, had that generation not reacted negatively to the words of the spies then their collective spiritual energy would have provided a firm foundation for their descendents. Their descendents would have never behaved in a manner that would cause the temple to be destroyed.

G-D foresaw that the failure by the spies would result in a decline and that a difficult choice would need to be made some nine-hundred years later. To compensate and correct for the decline and ensure that the Jewish people would endure their mission until the End of Days, either Jewish people would need to be decimated or the temple would be destroyed.

In His great mercy, G-D chose to pour wrath on His building, not on His people.

But there was one thing that would have made it inappropriate for G-D to allow the temple to be destroyed.

Had Moshe entered the land and built the temple himself then it could not be destroyed.

Thus, Moshe's fate was linked with the Jewish people. By not entering the Land of Israel he could not build the temple. And because he didn't build it, the temple could be later destroyed, sparing precious lives.

But why should their failure cause Moshe to lose out?

The Ohr Hachayim proposes that Moshe lost an opportunity to correct the spiritual flaw of the Jewish people and this is what sealed his fate.

G-D told him to speak to the rock but did not tell him what to say. Besides hitting the rock, Moshe also spoke to the rock and commanded it to bring forth water. But had he asked for clarification, G-D would have told him to recite a chapter from the Torah, not to demand water.

Hearing Torah from Moshe's mouth would have caused water to gush out of a mere rock.

This would have made such an impression on the Jewish people that the flaw from the spies would have been corrected, the decline would have been reversed, and Moshe could have built a temple that would have been indestructible with no negative impact on the Jewish people.

Such is the power of Torah.

But this did not happen.

To accomplish the same effect, the Jewish people would need to spend the next thirty-three plus centuries in various states of painful existences that will culminate in exile and persecution with no temple, no king, no prophecy, and no Sanhedrin (Supreme Court).

This will also demonstrate the power of the Torah, for it is only the Torah that has kept us going and together for all these years, to the End of Days.


1:45 And you returned and cried before G-D. And G-D did not accept your prayers and He did not listen to your words.

The sin of the spies was such that the decree of punishment against them was not reversed and almost the entire generation did not enter the Promised Land.

The Sefurno commentary explains why their repentance did not work to reverse the decree.

Firstly, repentance by itself is not sufficient when the misdeed was one that could be taken to show an open disregard for G-D, termed "Chilul Hashem" (Talmud Yuma 86a).

Furthermore, this was a decree that was made with a Divine oath.

He also notes that they did not repent even though Moshe, Yehoshua, and Kalev pleaded with them to do so. Rather, they repented once then heard the punishment. Their repentance was based on that.

Therefore, he concludes, their repentance was not able to retract that which was decreed against them to occur in this world.

The Shiras Dovid commentary deduces that had their repentance been based upon their love of G-D and not out of reaction to the punishment then it would have worked, despite the fact that the misdeed was Chilul Hashem.

I understand this as follows.

A divine decree of punishment is made against a person.

One who regrets out of consequence is OK with being the same person, only he/she is seeking comfort, to have or experience that which he wants or to avoid having or experiencing what he doesn't want.

As the person is OK with being the same person, the repentance has no effect against the decree for this world.

However, one who regrets out of love is ashamed and wishes that they were another and better person. To them, the fact that they let G-D down and that they impaired their relationship with G-D is of primary significance. The punishment may even be of secondary significance.

G-D in His mercy accepts the fact that the sinner sincerely wants to be another person. As the punishment was against what the person was, which is what the person wishes he/she was not, G-D considers the person to be someone else.

The decree was against the person that the sinner was, not against the person that the former sinner currently is.


1:46 And you settled in Kadesh for many days, similar to the days that you settled (there).

2:1 And we turned and travelled through the wilderness by way of the Sea of Suf, just as G-D spoke to me. And we circled the Mountain of Seir for many days.

Rashi in 1:46 and in Numbers 33:1 provides the following historical background.

Our setback from sin of the Spies and ensuing decree of wandering occurred in Kadesh. Out of G-D's mercy and love of the Jewish people, he postponed the implementation of the wandering for nineteen years, allowing them to remain in Kadesh to recover from the blow and prepare for their future.

The wandering itself lasted for another nineteen years, making a total of thirty-eight years.

We note that both verses contain the same phrase, "many days." This provides a hint to Rashi's teaching. The Jewish people settled in Kadesh for "many days" (1:46) and they circled the Mountain of Seir for "many days" (2:1).

It is significant to note that both verses are written adjacent to each other in the text, with no break in-between.

While verses were assigned different chapter numbers, the layout of the text in the Torah scroll does not support this split.

The layout of the text in Torah scroll survived thirty-three centuries of our history. Anyone who has seen this layout knows that it consists of just text and occasional breaks in the text. Other than the four large breaks between the Five Books of Moshe (Moses), the Torah scroll itself provides no indication of where the verses begin and end. The separation of words into sentences, or verses, comes from our Oral Tradition. That tradition has no system for numbering chapters or verses.

The numbering system was a relatively recent invention by non-Jewish theologians. It was devised by people who were not friendly to the Jewish people.

There are forty-seven verses from the beginning of Book of Deuteronomy before we find a break in the text.

Those who devised the numbering system inserted the chapter break between verse forty-six and forty-seven. This is indeed awkward, as it makes the first verse of the second chapter stand by itself before the natural break in the text, which occurs immediately afterwards.

However, it does make G-D's consideration and compassion for the Jewish people appear less obvious.

This Torah reading always occurs before the Ninth of Av, when we remember the many times we experienced pain in our history, inflicted by many enemies.

May we soon see the great light at the end of the tunnel that we have all been waiting for.


2:8 And we crossed over before our brothers, the sons of Eisav (Esau) who live in Seir and we crossed over on the road of the Wilderness of Moav (Moab).

2:9: And G-d said to me (Moshe - Moses), 'Do not assault Moav, neither shall you provoke them into battle, because I will not give you their land for an inheritance, for I gave the territory of Ohr to the Children of Lot for an inheritance.

2-10: The Aimim lived there previously, they were a great, numerous, and tall nation, like giants.

2-11: (Like) Rephaim, they were as giants, and the Moavites called them Aimim.

2-12: And the Chorim lived at one time in Seir, and the Children of Eisav drove them out, destroyed them, and they (Eisav) lived in their place, just like Israel did to the land of its inheritance that G-d gave them.'

Why does the Torah include the background detail of 2:10-11? The encounter with the Nation of Eisav is discussed in 2:4-8. Why does the Torah provide detail on Eisav in 2:12 in its discussion of Moav? What is the significance of mentioning the Rephaim?

2:17: And G-d spoke to me saying:

2-18: Today you a crossing the Moavite border, Ohr.

2-19: You will be near the Amonite border. Do not assault them and do not provoke them, because I will not give you an inheritance from the land of the Children of Amon, because I gave it for an inheritance to the Children of Lot.

2-20: This is also considered the Land of the Rephaim. The Rephaim previously lived there, and the Amonites called them Zamzumim.

2-21 (They were) a great, numerous, and tall nation, like giants, and G-d destroyed them (the Zamzumim) from before them (the Amonites). And they (Amon) drove them out and they lived (there) instead.

2-22: Just like the Children of Eisav did, who live in Seir, that He (G-d) destroyed the Chorites from before them, and they drove them out and they lived (there) instead, up until this day.

Again, why does the Torah include the additional background detail? Why are we mentioning the Rephaim again? Why are we again mentioning Eisav, this time with the Amonites?

Rashi in 2-20 provides detail on the Rephaim.

.. This is not the (Land of the Rephaim) that I gave to Avraham (Abraham)

Genesis 15:19-2, in the verses that deal with the great Covenant Between The Pieces, lists the lands of the ten nations that G-d promised to give Avraham. We find Rephaim in 15:20.

So, in the conquest for the lands that were promised to their ancestors, the Jewish people were anticipating a battle with the Rephaim. The Moavite and Amonite territories were associated in some way with Rephaim and G-d was telling them here that these were not the lands that were promised.

3-1: .. And Og came out against us to do battle in Edrei, he and his entire nation.

3-3: And Hashem our G-d also gave into our hands Og King of Bashan and his entire nation ..

3-11: For only Og King of Bashan remained from the rest of the Rephaim ..

3-13 And the rest of the Gilad, and all of the Bashan (territory), the Kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Ephraim .. this is called the Land of the Raphaim.

So, the Rephaim territory that was promised to Avraham was Og's Kingdom, not the lands of Moav or Amon.

It is almost as though the Jewish people were expecting a battle with Moav and Amon, as their territories could have been understood to be within the Promised Land. The Torah was thus telling them that the Promised Land was not there and it was yet to be conquered.

We still need to understand the multiple references to the Children of Eisav. It would seem that the Torah is trying to tell us something by making the extra associations between Eisav and the nations of Moav and Amon.

The following came to mind.

As Moshe sees the end of his life draw near, he focuses the task of refining the Jewish people by rebuking them.

In the first verses of Deuteronomy, Rashi shows us how Moshe's seemingly innocuous words were in reality words of rebuke.

1-1: These are the words..

Rashi:

(The section begins in this manner) because they are words of rebuke. Moshe enumerated all of the places where the Jewish people caused G-d to become angry. He therefore spoke in a vague manner and merely eluded to them, out of respect for the honor of the Jewish people.

This spurs us to look for hidden rebukes within this section of the Torah.

Again, we have the unexplained associations of Eisav (Edom) with Moav, and Amon.

Let's take a look at some later verses in Deuteronomy, where the cities of refuge are discussed.

19:8 And if Hashem your G-d expands your border, as he promised your ancestors, and He gives you all of the land that He spoke to give your ancestors.

19:9 When you guard all of this commandment to do it, that which I command you today, to love Hashem your G-d and to walk in His ways all of the days, then I will add for you another three cities (of refuge) ..

Rashi for 19-8:

'Expand:' - Just as He swore to give you, the lands of the Kayni, Knizi, and Kadmoni.

Rashi for 19-9:

'I will add for you another three:' - So we will have nine altogether. Three (cities) in the West Bank of the Jordan, three in the East Bank, and three in the future (the Messianic Era).

As of the period of Moshe, the Jewish people had not yet exerted themselves sufficiently to merit the Messianic Era. The Jewish people will someday inherit the lands of the Kayni, Knizi, and Kadmoni, when the world comes to its spiritual completion.

Who are these three nations?

Rashi in Genesis 15-19, in his commentary on the Covenant Between The Pieces provides the answer.

'And the (land) of the Kenizi:' - Ten nations are listed here. He (G-d) only gave them (- the Jewish people, lands of) seven nations. The three (remaining are) EDOM, MOAV, and AMON, who are called here the Kayni, Knizi, and Kadmoni..

Perhaps we now have an answer to our puzzle.

In Deuteronomy, Moshe disassociates Moav and Amon with the land that is being conquered. He also associates Edom with Moav and Amon.

Perhaps this is another hidden rebuke, that the Jewish people did not sufficiently exert themselves when the opportunities presented themselves. Had they done so, then they would have caused the Messianic era to occur at that time and they would have conquered the lands of Edom, Moav, and Ammon.


2:17 And G-D spoke to me (Moshe / Moses), saying.

2:24 "Arise, move, and cross the Brook of Arnon. See that I have given into your hand the Emorite Sichon, King of Cheshbon, (together) with his land. Begin to drive (him) out and provoke war with him."

2:26 And I sent messengers with words of peace to Sichon King of Cheshbon from the wilderness of Kedemos, saying.

2:27 'Let me pass through your land. I will (only) travel on the road. I will not stray left or right.'

2:28 'Sell me food for silver (money) and I will eat. And give me water for silver and I will drink. Only let me pass on foot.'

G-D commanded Moshe to provoke a war with Sichon. Moshe extended words of peace to Sichon together with an offer to gain monetarily. Had Sichon accepted the offer and allowed them to pass through then there would never have been a war and G-D's commandment would have not been fulfilled.

How could Moshe assume this risk?

Rashi writes that Moshe learned from the fact that G-D extended an offer to the nations of that time to accept the Torah even though He knew that they would refuse. Also, G-D asked Pharaoh to send out the Jewish people even though He knew that Pharaoh would not do so.

Is Rashi trying to answer this question? If yes then how do we understand the answer?

The following came to mind.

Rashi in Numbers 21:23 writes that Sichon refused Moshe's offer because he taxed the Canaanites to protect them from invaders. He responded, "How can you speak like this if my whole purpose in being here is to protect them from you?"

Sichon had a distorted view of his purpose in life. But it matched his wickedness and denial of the Hand of G-D that was obvious to anybody who was objective.

With the destruction of Egypt and so many open miracles throughout the past forty years, only a hard-core wicked denier could entertain the notion that the G-D of the Jewish people was stoppable.

And everybody knew that the wicked Canaanites were doomed (Yehoshua / Joshua 2). In just a few months there would be nobody for Sichon to protect.

Moshe correctly assessed that Sichon's attitude and lifestyle would not give him the opportunity to change sides and respect G-D's will. Therefore, Moshe's offer was itself a provocation and it fulfilled G-D's commandment.

Perhaps Rashi is addressing a fine point regarding how Moshe provoked the war.

The Talmud and Medrash have many references that extol the greatness of making peace.

Given this, would it be inappropriate and an abuse of this great principle to use words of peace to cause calamity, within the framework of Torah?

Perhaps this is what Moshe learned from Sinai and Pharaoh.

G-D knew ahead of time that the nations would refuse the Torah and that Pharaoh would never let the Jewish people go.

G-D could have ignored the nations and He could have eliminated the entire Egyptian government with a few lightning bolts.

But this would have given the wicked people of the generation a pretext to complain that G-D did not give these 'upright' people a chance to comply. So G-D extended the olive branch, even though this would work against them, for their refusal got them into deeper trouble with G-D and doomed them even more.

Similarly, Moshe could have attacked Sichon outright. But the unprovoked attack would have given Sichon and the rest of the wicked people of that generation a pretext to complain about the Jewish people and the Torah that they were following. He too extended an olive branch.


Va'eschanan (Deut. 3-7)

3:25 Please let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Yarden (Jordan river), this good mountain and the Levanon (Lebanon).

3:26 And G-D was angry at me for your sake and He didn't listen to me. And G-D said to me, "Do not continue to speak to Me about this matter."

4:40 And you shall guard His statutes and commandments that I charge you today so that it will be good for you and your children after you and so that your days will be long on the land that Hashem your G-D is giving you for all days.

4:41 Moshe then set apart three cities on the far side of the Yarden, to the east (bank).

4:42 So that one who unintentionally murdered his fellow can escape there, who did so without foreknowledge and to whom he bore no hatred from before. And he will escape to one of the cities and live there (until the high priest dies).

4:44 And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel.

4:45 These are the testimonies, statutes, and laws that Moshe told the Children when they left Egypt.

The Torah interrupts the record of Moshe's final discourses with a mention that he set apart cities of refuge and then it continues on with Moshe's charges and review. What is the significance of making mention of the cities of refuge at this point?

Furthermore, one could read verse 4:44 to suggest that Moshe's establishing cities of refuge represented the Torah that he placed before the Children of Israel.

4:40 says that Moshe hopes that our days on the land will be long and that also states that they will be for all days. If G-D is giving us the land for all days then why does Moshe hope that our days will be long on the land? Is this a contradiction?

Finally, 3:26 states that G-D expressed anger towards Moshe for the sake of the Jewish people. How do we understand this?

The Sefurno provides the following commentary for 3:26:

I (Moshe) desired to cross the Yarden and establish your residence there so that you would never be able to be exiled. However, He had already raised His Hand (in oath) to disperse you among the nations.

From the Sefurno we see that it was revealed to Moshe that G-D's intention was that the residence of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel would to be temporary at that time in their history. This was due to the path of history that G-D let the Jewish people define and chart at that time. It was caused by some bad choices on our part, some referenced openly and others subtly in Moshe's final speeches.

So perhaps Moshe's hope in 4:30 was to extend the time we would be on the land before we were exiled from it. While the land was ours for all days, our permanent residence on the land would not commence from our crossing the Jordan for we were exiled about a thousand years afterwards. The permanent entry and residence would have to wait until another period in our history.

Moshe realized that the Torah he was giving us was one that would enable us to survive Jewish history. Perhaps this was included in his message for verse 4:44.

Perhaps the significance of recording the cities of refuge in this section was that they were also temporary residences for people.

More than an external coincidence, we note that the unintentional murderer had deficient behavior, but had no evil intent.

Together with the constructive criticism that Moshe was providing, perhaps Moshe wanted to also mention and record that while it may not always come out consistently in our actions, he recognizes that our intentions are good.

Our secure and permanent residence will surely be established once we get our act together and match action with our good intent, for deep down we all want to connect with G-D. And we all know that the only way this will happen is when we do it on His terms. If we do it on our terms then we are only repeating the mistakes of disregarding G-D, not recognizing and appreciating our relationship with Him, and not realizing that there is no other way out.

And we are taught that Jewish history as we know it will not drag on forever. Either we exert ourselves a bit more and come to closure on our own or G-D will manage history before time-out by turning up unpleasant pressures to make it happen anyway.

This Torah reading always follows the Ninth of Av, when the Jewish people commemorate the destruction that was sadly revealed to Moshe in verse 3:26. This is a "Shabbos of Consolation." May the Consolation occur speedily and during our lifetimes.


3:23 And I appealed to G-D at that time, saying.

3:24 "G-D (and) Master, You began to show Your servant Your Greatness and Mighty Hand, for what power is there in the heavens and earth that can do acts and supremacies such as Yours.

3:25 Please let me cross over the Yarden (Jordan) River so that I can see the good land, this good mountain and the Lebanon.

The commentaries say that Moshe's hopes were raised and this is why he made the plea at this time.

What caused his optimism?

Rashi says that it came from his successful conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og. It suggested that G-D annulled the vow which prevented Moshe from crossing the Yarden and leading the conquest.

The Baal Haturim offers a different approach.

The preceding verse records the encouragement that Moshe gave the Jewish people for their conquest.

3:22 Do not fear them [i.e. the enemy] for Hashem your G-D will do battle for you.

Moshe reasoned that his encouraging the Jewish people was an adequate basis for G-D to justify a display mercy and annul the vow.

It is noteworthy that the Baal Haturim takes this different approach.

Moshe's success and accomplishments for the Jewish people did not provide him with a sufficient basis to assume that G-D would be able to justify annulling the vow. Rather, it was his giving the Jewish people the encouragement for them to be successful that made the difference.

"Give me a fish and I'll eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I'll eat for a lifetime."


4:1 And now Israel, listen to the statutes and laws that I am teaching you to do. So that you will live and you will come and inherit the land that Hashem the G-D of your ancestors is giving you.

The painful events of the day where we see thousands of families being amputated from their homes brings to mind the above verse which implies to me that it is indeed possible for a person to come to our ancestral land and live there, but yet not be able to inherit it.

Our Torah reading follows a mournful period in our calendar which culminated in the fast of the Ninth of Av.

This day's customary manners of observance and its special prayer service link us to the many national tragedies that we experienced throughout our history.

However, they serve to be more than a commemoration.. Their design suggests that we need to feel a sense of responsibility for them.

This brings to mind that by assigning ourselves with responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the entire Jewish people, each one of us is afforded the opportunity to connect ourselves with their destiny, during which time the history of mankind as we know it will have a glorious end.

It appears that only a privileged few are born with the physical and spiritual resources to make a significant impact on the Jewish people as a whole.

This should not disable us from sensing responsibility. G-D is just. He will compensate us for any inability we may have that keeps us from making a difference to the Jewish people on a national scale.


4:5 See (that) I have taught you statutes and laws as Hashem my G-d commanded me to

4:6 You shall be careful and do them because this is your wisdom and insight in the eyes of the (other) nations; For they shall hear (about) all of these statutes and they will say, 'This people is surely wise and insightful, this great nation.'

4:7 For what nation is there which has for itself gods that are close to it, as Hashem our G-d (who is close to us) whenever we call (out) to Him (in prayer).

A statue is a Torah law that we do not see any reason or benefit in this world by observing it. An example is the prohibition of wearing a garment that contains both linen and wool. (Deuteronomy 22:11)

What is so special about observing the Torah's statutes that doing so generates the respect of other nations, earning their recognition that we are "wise and insightful," a "great nation?"

Rabbeinu Nissim (the Ran) provides the following answer (Droshos Haran 1).

If a person has a toothache then it is understandable for a dentist to advise him to have it removed (That's as far as dentistry went in his days. They didn't know about root canals.)

However, it would amaze the patient if his dentist advised him to jump ten times and that healed the toothache.

That dentist is clearly great, wise, and insightful.

Similarly, if every Torah laws exhibited some degree of tangible benefit or reason for life in this world, then it would not surprise the other nations that we kept them. And it would therefore not surprise them if G-D always listened whenever we called out to Him in prayer.

However, we also observe that which we are not intuitively compelled to do so. And G-D listens to our prayers whenever we call out to Him.

So we now understand that "… they shall hear (about) all of these statutes and they will say, 'This people is surely wise and insightful, this great nation.'"


4:1 And now, Israel, listen to the statutes and laws that I teach you to do. So that you will live and come and inherit the land that Hashem the G-d of your fathers is giving to you.

4:2 Do not add onto the matter that I command you and do not take away from it to guard the commandments of Hashem your G-d, that which I command you.

4:3 Your eyes see that which G-d did to the Baal Peor (idol). For G-d destroyed from your midst every man that went after Baal Peor.

4:4 And you who cling onto Hashem your G-d are all alive today.

The Sefurno provides the following commentary for these verses.

4:1 "And now, Israel:" Now that you see the decree of G-d, that He will put you into exile if you sin, guard yourselves from sinning. And guard His commandments without adding to them or taking anything away. For, even the slightest addition or detraction will bring you to the extreme of ruin.

4:2 "And do not take away from it:" A thinker should not contemplate that when the reason (for a commandment) is no longer relevant that there will be no sin in detracting. (This is what) Shlomo (King Solomon) did (when he took additional wives and increased his stock of horses, saying) "I will increase (my home) and will not be led astray. I will increase (my stock) and will not bring people (back) to Egypt (to purchase them", for) he stumbled (and sinned).

4:3 "Your eyes see:" Behold, what you saw by Baal Peor can testify to this. For, those who sinned by worshiping Baal Peor had initially no intentions of doing so. Rather, their initial intentions were only for lust, as it says, "And the people began to have incest." Still, the Torah forbids this because this brings to idolatry, as it says, "And (the non-Jew's) daughter will go astray (to idolatry) and they will lead your sons astray (to idolatry). (Even though) all of those (who fell into the worship of Baal Peor) believed that they would never become (caught up into idol worship), the reverse happened. For, no one remains from the men that went after Baal Peor to join with its daughters. For, each one used his wisdom to guard from worshiping idols until Hashem your G-d destroyed him.

I see from this Sefurno that a person who tries to use irrelevance as a rationale to negate a commandment, that Heaven can bring this person to transgress that very commandment, making him an object lesson to demonstrate that the commandment is still relevant.

We must apply our G-d given wisdom to uphold the commandments, not to disregard them.


4:1 And now Israel, listen to the statutes and laws that I am teaching you to do. So that you will live and you will come and inherit the land that Hashem the G-D of your ancestors is giving you.

4:2 Do not add upon that which I am commanding you and do not take away from it. To guard the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I am commanding you.

Verse 4:2 commands us not to distort the teachings of Moshe (Moses) and relates this to guarding the commandments.

On a simple level, distortion of the commandments relates to guarding them because commandments that are subject to the personal preferences of those who are commanded are non-commandments.

On another level, the charge to listen to the commandments in verse 4:1 gives us focus to study and come to appreciate their value and meaning. In this light, distortion of the Torah is a loss of its great value and meaning.


4:1 And now Israel, listen to the decrees and laws that I teach you to do. So that you will live, come (to), and inherit the land that Hashem the G-d of your ancestors gives to you.

4:2 Do not add onto the matter that I command you and do not take away from it, to guard the commandments of Hashem your G-d that I command you.

The phrase in 4:1, 'So that you will live' seems to imply an imminent threat. Is this Moshe's (Moses) intent? If yes, why do the people need to be threatened at this time? If not, what is the Torah trying to tell us?

How do the admonitions in 4:2 relate to the commandment in 4:1? Again, what is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

Listening to the commandments of the Torah and observing them are two entirely different matters.

Exodus 24:8 And he (Moshe) took the Book of the Covenant and he read it to the ears of the people and they said, 'All that G-d spoke we will observe and we will listen.'

Merely observing the Torah is noble and vital. However, there are higher levels and goals to achieve.

Listening to the commandments implies their study until their underlying principles are understood and accepted. It is mastery and acceptance of both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

A person can observe a commandment on the first level. The additional depth brings with it a quality of life.

So, perhaps Moshe is alluding to this extra quality of life when he urges the people to observe and to listen.

One can understand this phenomenon of adding quality to life in this manner with the following background.

We are taught that G-d used the Torah as His design guide in creating the world and in creating man. Thus, a person's entire being is in some way a reflection of the Torah. Therefore, the more one understands the Torah and the more the person observes it, the more his/her life can come to reflect the inner self, providing a person with consistency, confidence, happiness, and inner peace.

There is one important condition to having this added quality of life. The Torah must be studied and observed in the manner that it was taught by Moshe. If G-d forbid it is distorted in any manner then the new set of behaviors will not be a match.

Now, a person's depth of observance and understanding may very well motivate him/her to enhance his/her observance by taking on extra behaviors. Also, a persons' understanding of the consequences of breaking commandments may very well motivate him/her to take on additional safeguards.

Perhaps 4:2 is telling us that this can only be of benefit if the person views his/her enhancements as layer or a fence around the Torah, not as changes or adjustments to the core of the Torah. The Torah must remain unchanged.

Man and the Torah have and must remain unchanged for posterity.

With this background and with the help of the Oral Torah, we can understand another verse that follows.

4:6 And you shall guard and you shall observe (the Torah), for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, that they will hear all of these decrees and they will say, 'This great nation is only wise and understanding.'

Rashi tells us that the phrase, 'you shall guard' is a reference to Torah study.

Again, the Torah is urging us to both observe and study.

As the Torah is a reflection of a person's inner being, responses from a master of Torah knowledge will reflect the master's enhanced awareness of his inner self. Perhaps it is the mastery of the latter knowledge that the nations of the world will be able to initially relate to and appreciate, as they inquire from us about the Torah that we observe. The greater our understanding of the Torah, the greater will be the quality of our responses.

Note that the Torah mentions this all as a side benefit, not as a direct goal of Torah study.

Optimally, Torah study should be done for the sake of Heaven, not for personal gain.


4:5 See that I taught you statutes and laws just as Hashem my G-D commanded me to do. (They are for you) to do thus in the midst of the land that you are going there to inherit.

4:6 And you shall guard and practice them, for this is your wisdom and insight before the eyes of the nations. That they shall hear these statutes and say, "This great people is a wise and insightful nation."

Rashi explains that "And you shall guard" refers to study.

Why should our study and observance of the Torah provide us with wisdom and insight in the eyes of the other nations?

The verse implies that they will praise our wisdom because they will be impressed with the Torah. But the Torah is not a product of our wisdom. The previous verse openly states that Torah is G-D's product, not ours. Why should they give is this credit?

The following came to mind.

Moshe (Moses) is talking to a nation that is about to enter a land that is riddled with idolatry, paganism, and falsehood.

As we have stated elsewhere the overwhelming majority of religions are mutually exclusive. If they can't all be true then at most one is true and the rest must be falsehoods.

It is by far much easier to create and support a fabricated religion than to accept the imposition of G-D's will.

It is by far much easier to present a distortion of G-D's will than to preserve and support the tradition in a true and faithful manner.

Remaining loyal to the Torah can appear to take a toll in a person's popularity, social acceptance, or career. It takes strength.

Perhaps verse 4:6 is pointing out that this also takes wisdom.

And we can infer that those who plan to distort and cheat the Jewish people from the Torah as it has been taught for 3,300 years are fools, even in the eyes of the Gentiles.


4:5 See (that) I have taught you statutes and laws as Hashem my G-d commanded me to

4:6 You shall be careful and do them because this is your wisdom and insight in the eyes of the (other) nations; For they shall hear (about) all of these statutes and they will say, 'This people is surely wise and insightful, this great nation.'

4:7 For what nation is there which has for itself gods that are close to it, as Hashem our G-d (who is close to us) whenever we call (out) to Him (in prayer).

4:8 And which great nation has for itself (such) upright statutes and laws as this Torah that I place before you today?

Moshe our teacher is motivating us to keep the Torah in verses six and eight. Verse seven talks about Hashem listening to our prayers. How does verse seven fit within the context of the other two verses?

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following commentary for verse 4:7:

The pagan nations carry their gods around on their backs. While their gods appear to be physically close to their worshipers, they are actually very distant because they are unable to hear and respond to prayer. However, Hashem our G-d is sitting on most high, on the Throne of Glory, and He listens to our prayers at all times. He does what we request. Thus, while Hashem our G-d appears to be distant, He is actually very close to us.

Can this commentary help us answer our question?

In general, this parsha has many diverse topics. Is there a common theme?

The following came to mind.

As Moshe nears his final days he strives to encourage us to keep the Torah. He gives many reasons throughout this parsha.

4:23-24 Take care not to forget the Covenant For G-d is a consuming fire, a zealous G-d. [Fear]

4:25-26.. (if) you do that which is evil in the eyes of G-d to make Him angry. you will be destroyed from the land.. [Threat]

4:32-34 Please (go) investigate ancient history .. from the day that G-d created Man, and (look) from one edge of the heaven to the other. Did such a great thing ever happen, or was it even claimed? Did a nation ever hear the voice of G-d speaking from fire as you have heard and (were able to )live (through the experience)? Or, has G-d ever made miracles, coming to take for Himself a nation from another nation .. as Hashem our G-d has done for you in Egypt, (and ) before your eyes? [Pride, Distinction]

4:40 And you shall be careful to keep His statutes and commandments that I command you today so that it will be good for you and your children after you and so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem your G-d gives you (for) all the days. [Happiness, Security, Posterity]

4:41-49 Moshe set aside three cities for refuge on the east bank of the Jordan. Even though they would not be validated until the Jewish people would later set aside three more cities on the west bank, Moshe wanted to contribute to this Mitzva in whatever way possible - Rashi 4:41 [Personal Example]

5:1-3 .. listen, Israel, to the statutes and laws that I speak today in your ears, study them and be careful to do them. Hashem our G-d established a Covenant with us at Chorev (Mt. Sinai). G-d did not establish this Covenant with our ancestors. Rather (He established it) with us, we, these (people), here today, all of us, we (who) are living. [Personal commitment]

5:4-28 Review of the trauma and the dramatic revelation of G-d by Mount Sinai. [Association]

5:29-30 And you shall be careful to do that which Hashem your G-d commanded you, turn not aside to the right or to the left. In the way (of life) that Hashem your G-d commanded shall you walk so that you will live and it will be good for you and (so that ) you will have lengthening of days on the land that you are inheriting. [Happiness, Security, Permanence]

6:1-3 This is the commandment, statutes, and laws which Hashem your G-d commanded to teach you to do in the land that you are crossing over there to inherit. So that you shall fear Hashem your G-d to keep all of his statutes and commandments .. so that your days may be lengthened. And you shall listen, Israel, and be careful to do them so that it will be good for you and you will greatly increase (on a) land flowing with milk and honey, just as Hashem the G-d of your fathers spoke to you. [Happiness, Prosperity]

6:4-9 The Shema. This was said by our forefathers. [Heritage]

6:13-15 Fear Hashem your G-d, serve Him and swear by His name. Do not go after the foreign gods from the nations that surround you. For Hashem your G-d is a zealous G-d within your midst, lest the anger of Hashem your G-d be kindled against you and you will be destroyed from the face of the earth [Threat]

6:17-19 Guard carefully the commandments , testimonies, and statutes of Hashem your G-d as He has commanded you. And you shall do that which is proper and good in the eyes of Hashem your G-d so that it will be good for you and (so that) you will come and inherit the good land which Hashem swore to your ancestors (to give you). To push away all of your enemies from before you, as Hashem has spoken (to do). [Happiness, Success, Security]

6:20-24 And when your child shall ask, 'What are these testimonies, statutes, and laws that Hashem our G-d commanded you?' And you shall say to your child, ' and Hashem commanded us to do all of these statutes to fear Hashem our G-d so that it will be good for us all (for) of the days (and) so that we may be alive today. [Happiness, Survival]

7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Give not your daughter to his son and take not their daughter for your son. For he (the Gentile) will take your son away from me and (together) they will worship other gods and Hashem will become angry with you and he will destroy you quickly. [Threat]

7:6-8 For you are a holy nation to Hashem your G-d. From all the nations of the Earth, Hashem your G-d chose you to be His treasured nation. It wasn't that G-d desired you because you were the biggest from all of the nations, for you are the smallest of all of the nations. Rather, it was because Hashem loves you and because of His (commitment to) keep the promise which he made to your ancestors [Pride]

7:9-10 And you shall know that Hashem your G-d is the Authority , the reliable Power, who keeps the Covenant and kindness for those who love Him and for those who guard his commandments, (and He will do this) for a thousand generations. And He will repay those who hate Him [Compensation]

We can now address our question about verse 4:5-8. Go back and read it. You will see that Moshe is giving another reason for us to keep the Torah. He is appealing to our ego by saying (4:6) that we be honored by the other nations if we keep the Torah.

However, there is a flaw and this particular reason can be nullified. It appeals only to those who are motivated by honor. Not only do we have a Torah ethic to shun away from honor, but Moshe himself is distinguished by G-d as being the most 'humble of all people on the face of the Earth.' (Numbers 12:3).

So, a person may be tempted to respond to Moshe and say that he has no interest in getting honor from others by his keeping the Torah.

Perhaps the purpose of verse 4:7 is to supplement Moshe's appeal. Per the Targum, it pokes fun at idol worship.

The Jewish people have already gone on public record as being promoters of Monotheism. Since we openly deride pagan idol worship, the pagans are ready to seize every opportunity to defend their wounded pride by ridiculing us.

We are fortunate to have upright statutes and laws. Even pagans can see this. (4:8) It is therefore absurd for us not to keep them, and if we don't the pagans will mock us.

So, while not everyone may be eager to jump at an opportunity to gain honor from pagans (verse 4:6), no one will want to give them the opportunity to call us fools (verse 4:7).


As a punishment, Moshe was not permitted to cross over the Jordan and enter the promised land. Moshe's misfortune is repeated twice in this portion of the Torah. Why?

Also, this portion has several verses about Moshe setting up the cities of refuge. These verses do not appear to be associated with the flow of the discussion where they are inserted.

4:41-42 Moshe then set apart three cities (of refuge) in East Jordan .. So that an (accidental) murderer can flee to that place ... he will flee to one of these cities and will live.

Why does the Torah seem to digress and insert these verses, again relating to Moshe?

The following came to mind.

The Torah provides us with great incentives to keep its commandments. It also warns of dire consequences to those who choose to abandon them.

The Oral Torah discusses reward and punishment in the next world.

Curiously, the written record (the Written Torah) focuses exclusively on reward and punishment in this world.

By not deferring behavioral consequence to an unseen and future world, the Torah (actually G-d) thus reflects confidence in its truth and reality for all future generations.

With this, the student of ancient pagan religions can thus better understand why those faiths place great emphasis on reward and punishment in the next world, alone.

We are taught the following in the Oral Torah (Avos 4:22):

(Rabbi Yaakov said ... the pleasure which one experiences during) one moment in the World To Come is finer than the pleasures of this world (that were experienced by everyone from the time of creation and on.)

Elsewhere in the Oral Torah:

The suffering that is required in the next world to purge out even the slightest transgression is more intense than Iyov (Job) endured in this world.

We see that the current configuration of this world is not capable of providing the true reward for fulfilling the Torah's commandments. Neither can the full consequences of sin be withstood by the average person in this life. Reward and punishment in the next world are on a scale that is different from that which is used in this world.

However, this does not preclude us from receiving some benefit in this world for compliance with the Torah, that which G-d gave as our instructions for living in this world. Neither does this mean that a person can not suffer in this world for a lack of compliance.

Now, this portion of the Torah contains a proportionately high number of statements about the physical benefits that a person can experience by upholding the commandments of the Torah. Conversely, this portion contains many statements about physical misfortune when one does not keep the Torah.

Again, we view them as being side benefits and consequences. The main place of reward and punishment is in the next world, as explicitly stated in the Oral Torah.

Now, Moshe received punishment in this world for his transgression.

Perhaps the Written Torah makes reference to them several times in this portion as an object lesson for us. Using Moshe as an example, the Torah helps us to associate compliance to the Torah with the types of incentives that the Written Torah focuses on, those that occur in this world.

Here are the verses in this portion that deal with benefits and consequences in this world, Moshe's and our own.

3:26 And Hashem became angry with me (Moshe - Moses) .. (and I was not able to enter the Promised Land.

4:1 And now, Israel, listen to the laws and judgements that I teach you today so that you will live, enter, and inherit the land.

4:3 Your eyes have seen ... Hashem your G-d destroyed from within you every man that went after the (worship of) Baal Peor.

4:4 And (you who remained) attached [loyal] to (the service of) G-d are all alive today.

4:6 And you shall guard and do (the commandments) because it (provides) your (reputation for) wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the (other) nations, when they hear all of these laws they will proclaim, 'This great people can only be a wise and understanding nation.'

4:21 And Hashem became angry with me because of your words and He swore not to let me cross over the Jordan and not to let me come to the good land that Hashem your G-d is giving you for an inheritance.

4:22 For I (Moshe) will die in this land, I will not cross the Jordan.

4:26 (If you go after idolatry then) I make the Heaven and Earth testify before you that you will be quickly and thoroughly destroyed from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to inherit there, you will not have prolonged days on it, for you will be entirely destroyed.

4:27 And G-d will scatter you among the nations

4:37 And because He loved your ancestors (who were loyal to Him) ... [G-d chose their descendants, took you out from Egypt with His great strength, let you drive out powerful nations, and is bringing you to the Promised Land]

4:40 And you shall guard His laws and commandments, that which I command you today, so that it will be good for you and for your children that survive you, and so that your days will be lengthened on the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you for all of the days.

5:9 Do not bow down before them and do not worship them, becaue I, Hashem your G-d am a zealous G-d, who visits the transgressions of parents on their children (who continue to live in a corrupted manner) ...

5:10 (I shall also) do kindness to those who love Me and who preserve my commandments, to thousands of (their) generations.

5:16 .. so that it will be good for you on the land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you.

5:26 .. to respect me and to preserve my commandments all of the days, so that it will be good for them and their children forever.

5:29-30 Take care to do that which Hashem your G-d commanded you .. so that you will live, it will be good for you, and your days will be lengthened in the land that you are inheriting.

6:1-2 And this is the commandment, the laws and judgments that Hashem your G-d commanded to teach you .. so that your days will be lengthened.

6:3 You must listen Israel, take care to fulfill (the commandments) so that it will be good for you and so that you will tremendously increase, just as Hashem the G-d of your ancestors told you, (in) a land flowing with milk and honey.

6:14-15 Do not go after the other Gods ... for Hashem your G-d is zealous within your midst, lest the anger of Hashem your G-d be directed against you, destroying you from the face of the land.

6:18-19 And you shall do that which is proper and good in the eyes of Hashem, so that it will be good for you, and you will (be able to come) and inherit the good land about which Hashem swore to your ancestors. To push away all of your enemies from before you, just as G-d spoke.

6:24 And Hashem commanded us to do all of these laws .. to have it good for ourselves all of the days, to keep us alive as we are this day.

7:3-4 Don't intermarry with them ... the anger of Hashem will become directed against you and you will be quickly destroyed.

7:9 And you must know that Hashem your G-d is G-d, the Power who is trustworthy, who preserves to the thousandth generation the Covenant and kindness of those who love Him and who are the guardians of his commandments.

7:10 He pays back His enemies while they are (still alive) before Him, to destroy (the enemy), He will not delay (reaction against His enemy, before his face He will pay him back.

We still need to understand how the verses about Moshe's cities of refuge fit in.

As stated above, both this world and the next have a role in our reward and punishment. Typically one can receive side benefits in this world and one receives full reward in the next.

(As an aside, our tradition teaches that G-d may decide for a person to substitute suffering in this world for purge in the next. G-d may also decide for a person to substitute pleasure in this world for pleasure in the next. The former is good for a person and the latter is a great misfortune, reserved for the very wicked. When this happens, it is done with a formula that makes a correspondence between the intensities of existences within the two worlds. A little bit of suffering in this world counterbalances a lot of suffering in the next. A little bit of pleasure in this world counterbalances a lot of pleasure in the next.)Again, the Oral Torah provides a focus on reward and punishment in the next world and the Written Torah openly discusses reward and punishment in this world, alone.

(Another aside: The Written and Oral Torahs do not conflict. The Oral Torah derives reward and punishment in the next world from the Written Torah. The written Torah acknowledges the significance of the next world. It just doesn't openly discuss it.)

Regardless of where the consequences are experienced, the only place one can fulfill the commandments and get rewarded for doing so is in this world. Once our brief encounter with this world comes to an end, our opportunity to meaningfully enhance our greatness also ceases. (This is the true sadness of death for the righteous.)

This is clearly pointed out in the last Rashi of this portion.

7:11 And you shall guard the commandment, the laws, the judgments, that I command you today to do.

Rashi:

'Today to do' .. and tomorrow in the next world to receive their reward.

Now, from the standpoint of Jewish law, Moshe's three cities of refuge did not have the status of being cities of refuge until the Jewish people crossed the Jordan and established three corresponding cities on the other side. From the standpoint of law, Moshe's act was basically meaningless. Yet, the Oral Torah gives Moshe great credit for doing this. It notes that this reflected Moshe's great desire to fulfill as much of the Torah as he could, while he was able to in this world, and to the degree that he could.

So, the verses that deal with the cities of refuge now share a common and broad theme with the rest of this portion of the Torah: the role and the significance of our experiences in this world. Moshe is our greatest role model and he serves to link these concepts with his own life.

We can now better understand why the Torah selected the cities of refuge as a context our example, as they deal with life in this world. Murder is a loss of life and the cities of refuge are designated to protect the life of the accidental murderer.

It is significant that we read this portion after the Ninth of Av, a day is set aside to remember and learn from our misfortunes. We are now better prepared to take advantage of the coming High Holiday period, reserved for growth, atonement, fulfillment of commandments, and celebration for the Torah.

Let's all get busy and enjoy this world - within the framework of the Torah, of course.


5:12 Guard the Shabbos to sanctify it just as Hashem your G-D commanded you.

5:15 And you shall remember that you were a slave in the Land of Egypt and Hashem your G-D took you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Hashem your G-D commanded you to make the day of Shabbos.

The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20 and are repeated here in our Torah reading. There are deliberate differences between the two texts. They provide opportunity to consider the messages that the Torah is trying to tell us by the variation.

Exodus 20:11 gives another reason for Shabbos:

For (in) six days G-D made heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. G-D therefore blessed and sanctified the day of Shabbos.

Here the Torah says that Shabbos is to remember the Exodus and in Book of Exodus connects it to the Creation.

These two themes are reflected in the blessing of the Friday night Kiddush, probably because both themes are in the Ten Commandments. Why?

Now, G-D is known to us as both a Creator and a Manager. His role as a Creator is reflected the story of Genesis. The most striking example in the Torah of his role as a Manager is the story of the Exodus.

Let us discuss both of these roles.

Genesis 1:1 states that G-D created ("Bara") the heaven and the earth. It is interesting that the version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus says that G-D made ("Asah" - made) the heaven and the earth.

The term, "Barah" connotes a creation from ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is rarely used in the Genesis story. Instead the account of creation favors terms like "He made" and "He formed," which connote making something from something that already exists.

Most cosmologists say that physical existence began with a great explosion. We can assume that this was followed by chaos and destructive events. And yet we look around today and find ourselves surrounded by a world that reflects design, a world that is full of order and stunning beauty.

If we assume that they are correct, we could say that the events that occurred between this "Big Bang" and about six-thousand years ago evolved and unfolded under the management and control of Something that has goals and a plan, Something that is awesomely wise, resourceful, powerful, aware, and involved to be able to direct the chaos into what we see today.

Understandably, there are some gaps in this science-based model, like where did the thing that exploded come from in the first place.

[I believe that the tax payers would have some relief if the cosmologists would divert some of the grant money they receive for studying this question to purchase a Chumash.]

{;-)

At any rate, perhaps this could explain why the Torah uses "Barah" together with many terms that do not reflect creation out of nothing, for most of what we see came from G-D's powerful Management of turmoil and chaos, not from creation ex nihilo.

One thing is for certain according to the cosmologists.

Things looked very hopeless during the early beginnings of this world. It was very noisy, very dusty, very hot, very cold, very dark, very bright, a hopeless mish-mosh of so much stuff that you could never imagine.

And my friends, the same is true with Jewish history.

How many times have things looked so very hopeless for the Jewish people?

How on earth could it be remotely possible that you are reading an essay on the weekly Torah reading that was authored by someone who lives over thirty-three centuries after the Torah was given, whose ancestors lived and were pushed around into many hostile environments and had to have been continually guided and protected by Something that is awesomely wise, resourceful, powerful, aware, and involved to be able to the direct politics, the environment, economy, anatomy, psychology, social dynamics etc. of their surroundings to keep the chain going for so long.

And I am not alone in being so gifted with a seemingly miraculous past and even present. You should be able to find about another thirteen-million people like me.

This gives me a lot of energy and peace. It makes me very hopeful about the future.

[And given what has transpired already, it is reasonable to assume that this "juggling" could continue on by this same awesome Power for a jillion more years, except that we are taught that it won't carry on for much longer. Just keep hanging on a bit more.]

So perhaps G-D's roles of being a Creator and a Manager can be viewed as instances of a higher-level concept. Perhaps this is what the Torah is trying to tell us by mentioning them both in the two versions of the Ten Commandments.

And perhaps this is why our version uses the term "Asah" - He made - in favor of "Barah" - He created, for the common theme is G-D's awesome demonstrations of management.

There is nothing like Him.


6:18 And you shall do that which is proper and good in the eyes of G-D so that He will do good to you and you will come and inherit the good land that he swore to your ancestors (to give you).

The Written Torah does not define behavior that is 'proper and good in the eyes of G-D.'

As with every aspect of Torah observance, the Oral Torah provides us with levels of detail so that nothing is left to interpretation , which can be subjective and/or preferential.

One application is cited in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 16b).

If a person can not repay a loan but he has property to cover the debt then the court can assign ownership of that property to the lender to repay the loan. Should the borrower later come onto money and wants his land back then it appears fair for this restoration to be dependent on the lender's discretion. However, we apply this verse to require the lender to take the money and restore the property to it's original owner since the transfer of ownership was involuntary and the lender got back that which he initially extended.

Another application is cited in the same volume of the Talmud, 108b.

While is free to sell his property to anyone he wishes, if his neighbor wants to purchase it then he must be given the first right of refusal, given that the neighbor is willing to pay as much as anyone else. This is because maintenance of adjoining properties is far less than disjoint properties. The neighbor therefore has a greater need to purchase this particular property than any other buyer.


6:25 And it will be charity to us when we take care to do before Hashem our G-D all of this commandment, just as He commanded.

How does fulfilling a commandment become a charity?

The Ramban commentary explains that this refers to the reward we will receive. Just like a servant is not entitled to reward from his master, we should not expect any reward for fulfilling G-D's commandments. But G-D will definitely reward us and this deserves our gratitude.

The Shiras Dovid commentary takes this a step further.

One does not always have the resources or opportunity to fulfill all of the commandments. We must therefore not lose sight of the need to be grateful to G-D whenever we have these opportunities and capability.


7:7 It is not because you are the most numerous from among all the nations that G-D desired you and chose you, for you are the least numerous from among all the nations.

Being the most numerous and the least numerous among all the nations are comparative extremes. The people of that time had some idea of population counts and that the Jewish people were a minority. How could the Jewish people think that they had the largest population in the world?

But earlier in the Torah, Moshe (Moses) himself stated that they had a huge population:

1:10 Hashem your G-D made you numerous and behold you are today as numerous as the stars of the heaven.

One could say that Moshe had exaggerated and didn't want them to think that he meant this literally so he was now telling them that they were not really so numerous.

But Moshe and Eliezer had just finished counting them and there were about six-hundred-thousand adult men (Numbers 26). So they already knew that Moshe couldn't have meant it literally.

Now, the Oral Torah notes that the following verse is not to be taken literally:

1:28 "Where are we going? Our brothers softened our hearts saying, 'They [the Canaanites] are a nation that is greater and exalted than us. [They have] cities that are great and fortified to the heavens. And we also saw the children of giants.'"

The Canaanite fortifications were indeed huge but did not literally reach heaven. (Chulin 90b).

Was Moshe's observation in 1:10 merely an exaggeration?

Actually, Moshe was not the first to compare the count of the Jewish people to that of the stars.

G-D said the following to Yitzchok (Isaac): "I will make your seed as numerous as the stars of the heaven … " (Genesis 26:4).

Could that have also been an exaggeration? Could it be that G-D exaggerates when He makes a promise?

The Medrash Sifri on 1:28 says in the name of Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel that this is not so. While indeed fortifications reaching the heavens was an exaggeration, G-D's promise is to be taken literally!

But how on earth can there be a nation that is as numerous as the stars in the sky? Where will they all fit?

G-D said the following to Avraham (Abraham): "... Please look towards the heavens and count the stars, if you can count them. … Your seed will be like that."

No person can ever count all of the stars. Why did G-D word His promise in a way that can never be verified by any human being?

Rabbi Dovid Kronglass of blessed memory shared the following understanding of G-D's promise to Avraham.

With the help of a computer one can come up with a count of all the dots that are up there. Just feed it a scan of the entire universe and ask Mr. Computer to count all the pixels.

But the problem is misinterpretation, for what seems as a dot to the naked eye or computer camera can be an entire galaxy that comprises of billions of stars. The reason that it appears as a dot is because it is so remote.

We are prone to misinterpret the greatness of other people, for externality can be misleading. (Samuel I 16:7)

If we look only at quantity, every person counts as one. However, once we take greatness into account, all bets are off. One person can count as a single star and another as an entire galaxy. While they both look the same, the galaxy person appears as another star because we are so removed from his/her greatness.

And this greatness comes from their own free-will choices on their behavior.

G-D's promise is then to be taken literally. Only G-D's promise refers to a count that takes quality into account, not merely quantity.

Our verse 7:7 is referring to count in quantity. Verse 1:10 and the verses in Genesis refer to a different counting method and are not exaggerations.

But this all begs another question.

Once you take quality into account, you can't come up with a count for any single nation. This is because every nation produces great and righteous people. Take ten French people, Jewish or not. Nine may each count as one and the tenth may count as a billion because of his/her greatness.

The tenth is great because he/she chose to do behaviors that made him/her great.

Why did Moshe single out the Jewish from the other nations of the world for every nation has great people within it?

The following came to mind.

I assume that it comes as no surprise to hear that the world we live in is an ideological jungle.

What to one group is considered virtuous behavior is viewed as criminal to another group.

For example, is it a virtue to provide a woman with full choice over what is inside her body, including an unborn fetus?

Some groups consider it a virtue to provide the right to have an abortion out of pure convenience to the mother. Other groups view this as homicide.

Some groups feel that they can come up with measures for quality of life. And these same groups feel that it is a virtue to allow people whose lives don't meet up to this standard to die. Sorry Grandma but it's time to turn off the feeding and hydration tubes. Other groups view that as homicide.

So who's right?

First comes the question of what people do and why? Should a government support pro-choice? Should a government allow old and sick people to starve to death?

I'm sure that you realize that in most places of the world this all depends on politics.

Some regions have thugs who dictate what is right and wrong. They will do whatever the dictator / king / emperor wants. Period.

Some regions have an electorate that has extremely limited power over the day-to-day decisions that their decision makers make. What goes is whatever the decision makers decide. In turn, decisions are based on numerous and complex factors. They are based on such things the preferences and personalities of people on key places, on what is perceived as public opinion, what is perceived as thresholds for public outcries, what people of influence can do without being noticed too much, a little bit of greed and opportunism in some places and a whole lot of greed in other places, etc.

But who is right? Is there such as thing as being "right"? Must mankind resign to the notion that it depends on who you ask and the eloquence of the responder? Does any choice that we make really matter? Can we just chose on the basis of what we want as long as we can defend the choice to anybody that challenges it?

We had arrived at the conclusion that the Torah is speaking about qualitative measures that are based on behavior.

You can't have a measure of behaviors without a standard for behaviors. Without standards there are no measures.

The Torah defines standards for behavior. It declares "Absolute Truths" that come from G-D, Creator, King, and Manager of the universe.

Only within a system of absolute truths can one talk about being "right" within that system. Without such a system one can only talk about who has the most "might."

The qualitative measures that the Torah talks about are based on behavior that conforms to the Torah's standards.

Moshe noted that the Jewish people he observed were as numerous as the stars. He meant to say that the Jewish of his time consisted of people with behaviors that made them great within the system of measurement that is based on Torah's standards, which is what he had been teaching them over the past forty years.

Moshe singled out the Jewish people because they accepted the Torah's standards upon themselves and they dedicated themselves to preserving and sharing the knowledge of these standards throughout history for all mankind.

G-D's promise to Avraham was that he will bear children who will someday accept the Torah upon themselves. It is only about such a people that G-D through His Torah was able to predict that they will become as numerous as the stars of the heavens.


7:11 And you shall guard/protect the commandment, statutes, and laws that I command you today.

This verse can be understood to mean that on a certain day, Moshe (Moss) charged the Jewish people with some commandments and he was telling them to guard and protect those commandments. That is, the word ‘today’ refers to when we were charged.

Rashi provides another reading.

The word ‘today’ refers to the time period during which we are expected to guard and protect all the Torah’s commandment, statutes, and laws.

Today refers to life in this world. Tomorrow refers to life in the next world.

Keeping the Torah is for us to do today. Tomorrow is for receiving the reward for keeping the Torah.

We are taught that the purpose of creation is for G-D to bestow the highest form of pleasure and this is only possible after we leave this world.

We were put here in this world to keep the Torah so that we can earn that greatness. The more effort we expend, the greater the reward.

The literature uses the term ‘bread of shame’ for how it would have been had we received reward without earning it.

This implies that we are designed to respond best to a system of strict fairness and justice.

We recently experienced the Ninth of Av, when we spent many hours remembering many tragedies that befell the Jewish people.

It is striking that a number of tragedies were a response from Heaven to the misdeeds of a small percentage of our people.

This is difficult to understand and accept

The following came to mind this year.

The Jewish people as a whole are indeed susceptible to suffer from the misbehavior of a minority. This is because we are all one people, a union of individuals into a single entity. Just like the entire human body is in discomfort when one of its parts is in pain, we all can suffer when individuals misbehave.

One thing is clear from the literature. Suffering for misdeeds is typically temporal. However, reward for virtuous behavior lasts forever.

It is clear to me that that we consist of two small extremes and a large middle. That is, we have a relatively small number of people who are extremely virtuous and a relatively small number of people who are extremely wicked. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, some closer to one extreme than others.

This means that a small percentage of the Jewish people will feel very comfortable in receiving the great reward that we were created for, as they belong to the extremely righteous. This also means that most of us may have to settle for an afterlife of lower quality.

However, if we suffer from the misdeeds of a minority due to our being one people, then we should be able to use strict justice to expect and even demand a share in the greatness of the extremely righteous, for we are just as connected to them as we are to the extremely wicked who caused suffering.

Understandably, it would be better if we received reward for what we did, not for what others did, but this does provide us all with a great position in something great that will just keep on going.


Ekev (Deut. 7-11)

7:7 G-d has a passion for you and he chose you not because of your abundance in numbers (in comparison) to all of the (other) nations, for you are the smallest of all the nations.

7:8 Rather, it is because of G-d's love for you and because of His guarding the oath that me swore to your ancestors that He took you out with a mighty hand and He redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.

G-d did great things for the Jewish people and He made them what they are as the Chosen People. From the above verses in last week's Torah reading we see that the Jewish people did not need to do anything in order to receive these distinctions. G-d provides no justification for doing this other than the Jewish People are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

The next verses are from this week's Torah reading.

9:4 As G-d pushes them (the seven nations) out (of the Land of Israel), do not say in your heart, "G-d is bringing me to inherit this land because of my righteousness," as G-d is driving them out from before you because of the wickedness of these nations.

9:5 It is not because of your righteousness and straightness of heart that you are coming to inherit their land. Rather, it is because of the wickedness of these nations that G-d is driving them out from before you and in order to keep the matter that G-d swore to your ancestors, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.

9:6 You should know that G-d is giving you this good land to inherit it not because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

As compared to the previous verses, in 9:4-6 we see that G-d had to provide a justification for driving the nations away and for giving us their land.

It appears that no justification is needed for G-d making the Jewish People into what they are. However, it appears that G-d needs a justification for giving the Jewish People what they have.

It also appears that our having the Land of Israel is not dependent on how we behave. Now, there is a great difference between having the land and living on it. From elsewhere in the Torah, we know that our living on this land is dependent on how be behave. So, we can have the land without living on it and the majority of the Jewish people has not been living in the Land of Israel for thousands of years. From these verses we see that merely the corruptive behavior of the existing residents is sufficient justification for us to have the land, together with the oath that G-d made with our ancestors.


7:11 And you shall guard the commandment and statutes and laws that I command you to do them today.

Rashi's commentary reminds us that fulfilling our obligations are for today, meaning in this world, and that the time to be rewarded is for the next world, in the afterlife.

7:12 And it will be in exchange for your listening to these laws, and your guarding and doing them, that G-D will guard for you the covenant and kindness that He swore to your ancestors.

7:13 And He will love you and bless you and make you numerous. And He will bless the fruit of your abdomen and the fruit of your land, your grain, vineyard, and olive grove, the offspring of your cattle and flocks of your sheep, on the land that He swore to your ancestors to give you.

7:14 You will be blessed of all of the nations. There will not be among you any barren man, woman, or domesticated animal.

7:15 And G-D will remove from you all sickness. And He will not afflict you with any of the severe maladies of Egypt that you know about. And He will afflict your enemies with them.

Verses 7:12-15 appear to contradict the notion that we receive no reward in this world for observing G-D's commandments.

My teachers explain that the goodness that verses describe is not intended to be taken as compensation for the good that we do. Rather, it is intended to be used a resource to enable us to do more good.

Conversely, should Heaven remove resources from a person because he/she evades responsibilities, the resulting inabilities serve to reduce blame for continued evasion.


7:12 And it will be that in turn for your listening to these law, you will guard them and you will do them, that Hashem your G-D will guard the covenant and kindness that He swore to your ancestors.

The Rashi commentary on this verse provides us with the following reading: "And it will be that in turn ('ekev') for your listening:" If you will listen to the light ['minor'] commandments, those that people trample with their heel ('ekev')."

The Sefurno commentary provides us with the following:

The King commanded this all so that you will become worthy of His guarding the covenant and kindness. And this will happen when you begin insuring that you keep His laws out of your love of G-D and not out of an expectation of reward from Him.

It came to mind that Rashi and the Sefurno are not diverse.

The Misha (Avos 2:1) says the following in name of Rebbi: Be careful with the minor commandments in the same manner that you are careful with the serious commandments, for you do not know the compensation of the commandments.

This lack of knowledge can be understood in several ways.

One is that the degree of reward for even the slightest act of merit is beyond our comprehension. This is for several reasons. One is that every moment of reward in the next world is greater than the entire human experience of enjoyment, from creation and on (Avos 4:17). Another reason is that the reward is eternal.

Another way of understanding this lack of knowledge is that besides being a statement of fact, it is also a cause for the reward to be even greater and more significant.

If we were to fully know the great reward for observing the commandments then this may cause us to focus on having it. Rather, by concealing the reward, we have more opportunity to begin focusing on motives for observance other than our own self-benefit, the most dominant of which is our relationship with the One who gave us the commandments in the first place. This brings a person closer to viewing observance as a privilege and as an expression of love and regard towards G-D. This gives every commandment an equal footing, for while they may have varying schedules of compensation, they all are expressions of the person's love towards G-D. This much higher level of observance exponentially magnifies the significance and meaning of the act.

Saying this in a different light and viewing this in terms that we can relate with, perhaps some people will be more thrilled in Paradise by having 'more toys' and other people may be even more thrilled by G-D periodically spending some time with them.

Placing all of the commandments on a equal footing demonstrates that the person's focus is on the Commander, not on him/herself. Perhaps this is what Rashi is reflecting. This being the case, the observance becomes focused on the relationship between the person and G-D. The more a person guards himself to focus on the relationship he has with G-D, the more one can expect G-D to insure that the relationship he has with the person is also maintained, reflecting what the Sefurno is saying.


7:15 G-D shall remove from you all illness. And all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew He will not put them on you. And He will put them on those who hate you.

The Chasam Sofer commentary is puzzled by this verse. As it says that G-D will remove all illnesses from us then it should be obvious that we will not be affected by Egyptian maladies. And why are they singled out? Also, what is the significance of putting them on our enemies?

His answer can be understood within the context of the tradition that the Egyptian redemption was not an isolated occurrence. Rather, it set the stage and became the model for the final redemption, may it occur speedily in our days.

Our sages teach that the afflictions the Egyptians suffered corresponded to the suffering that the Egyptians put the Jewish people through.

They call the correspondence "Midah K'Neged Midah," measure for measure.

We are taught that during the pre-Messianic era our enemies will suffer, just like the Egyptians suffered. The final redemption will occur afterwards, just like in the story of the Exodus.

But if the model is applied too strictly then just like the Egyptians made us suffer before that redemption, we would also suffer before our redemption. What else would justify imposing punishment on our enemies?

Now the verse states that G-D will put the maladies on those who hate us, not on those who hurt us.

From the above, the Chasam Sofer understands this verse to be telling us that G-D will punish our final enemies because they hated us and plotted to hurt us, not because they actually hurt us. This is how he reads the phrase, "He will not put them on you."

The Passover Hagadah lists a triad of 'Dam,' 'Aish,' and 'Timros Ashan' adjacent to its list of the ten plagues.

We are taught the ten plagues corresponded to ten types of suffering that the Egyptians made us endure.

The Chasam Sofer says that the triad corresponds to three types of suffering that our enemies will endure.

'Dam' is Hebrew for blood. The appetite of our enemies who continue to plot for Jewish blood will be put to rest long before it could ever be satisfied.

'Aish' is Hebrew for fire. They lose no opportunity to humiliate us.

'Timros Ashan' is frequently translated as pillars of smoke. This is mysterious. Where there is smoke there is fire and we already listed 'Aish'

'Ashan' is smoke. A more accurate translation of 'Timros' can be taken from knowing that the root of the Hebrew word 'Timros' is T M R, which spells Tamar, or a date palm.

By the way, the Chasam Sofer lived in the eighteenth century.


7:17 You may say, 'These (seven) nations are more numerous than us (so) how will we be able to drive them out?'

7:18 Do not fear them. Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.

7:21 Do not (feel) broken before them, for Hashem your G-d is in your midst, a Great and Mighty Power.

7:23 And Hashem your G-d will give them over before you. And He will stun them greatly to their destruction.

7:24 And He will give over their kings into your hand and you shall destroy their name from under the heaven. No man shall stand before you until you destroy them.

7:25 Burn the images of their gods in fire. Do not desire the silver and gold that is on them and take it, for this is a detestable thing of Hashem your G-d.

7:26 Bring no abomination into your home, turning you into an abomination like it is. Detest it thoroughly and abhor it thoroughly, for it is banned.

Why does the Torah write a warning to destroy pagan idols immediately after the promise of Divine assistance in battle? What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

On a simple level, G-d foresees that some of the spoils from this particular conquest relate to idol worship and they must be destroyed.

Another thought came to mind.

Physical strength and victory have little to do with spiritual strength and victory.

It is said that a victorious and powerful warrior once returned home from the battlefield and met a Torah scholar. The sage reminded him that despite the recent military success, the soldier needed to prepare for an even greater upcoming battle, that with our natural inclination to do evil.

Rebbi Shimon Ben Lakish said, 'A person's inclination refreshes each day and seeks to (spiritually) destroy him. We know this from the verse, 'The wicked looks out for the righteous and seeks to kill him (Psalms 37).' Without G-d's assistance, the person would be unable to prevail, as it says, 'G-d will not forsake him..' (ibid.).' (Succos 52b).

Material success is completely up to G-d. Spiritual accomplishment is up to us, with G-d's help.

We must deal with spiritual peril in a responsible manner.

Perhaps the victorious Biblical warrior may let the military success suggest that there is no risk in decorating his home with an ornate idol. Just as he found strength on the battlefield, he may assume that he will certainly be able to keep himself and his family from being charmed by idol worship.

So, the Torah charges us here to avoid spiritual peril, not to merely confront it.

Elsewhere, the scriptures charge us to guard the Torah. The Oral Torah teaches that this as a commandment for our sages to make safeguards for Torah observance, of which we have many.


7:19 The great tests that your eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the strong hand, and the outstretched arm (with) which Hashem your G-D took you out (from Egypt). So will Hashem your G-D do to all the nations that you are afraid of.

The above verse in our Torah reading is similar to the following verse in last week's Torah reading.

4:34 Did G-D every try and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation with tests, with signs, and with wonders, and with battles and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great awesome deeds like all that Hashem your G-D did for you in Egypt before your eyes?

The Baal Haturim commentary observes that 4:34 contains every letter of the Hebrew aleph-bais (alphabet). He also observes that 7:19 contains every letter except for the second, the bais.

The Baal Haturim in 4:34 also notes that the verse contains the word "hanisah," which is repeated only once elsewhere in the entire Bible: "Shall being tested ["hanisah"] of something make you weary?" (Iyov - Job 4:2)

As the Torah consists of words that come from the aleph-bais, the Baal Haturim in 4:34 says that G-D considered giving the Torah to the Jewish people while they were yet still in Egypt. However, it was judged that they should be tested beforehand. Whatever the test was, they must have succeeded because we later received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

The Baal Haturim in 7:19 notes that the missing letter bais has the numerical value of two. This hints to the tradition that G-D will demonstrate His presence and providence with world-rocking miracles a second time, when he redeems the Jewish people from the exile that we are in and have been in for the past nineteen-hundred plus years.

We note that the context of both verses is to encourage a people that is about to embark on a stressful journey into Jewish history, one that has taken us so far for about thirty-three centuries. It is quite understandable for our ancestors to question the ability of their future generations to survive and succeed.

The context of 4:34 is encouragement for spiritual success.

4:31 For Hashem your G-D is merciful. He will not let you get weak and He will not destroy you. And He will not forget the covenant of your ancestors that He swore to them.

The Baal Haturim reinforces the encouragement to try and succeed in spiritual accomplishments by making reference to their great accomplishment of becoming worthy of receiving the Torah

The context of 7:19 is encouragement to go into battle and become victorious over the enemies of the Jewish people.

7:17 Perhaps you say in your heart, "These (seven) nations are more numerous than we (are so) how will we drive them out?"

7:18 Do not fear them. Remember what Hashem your G-D did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt.

The Baal Haturim reinforces this encouragement by making reference to their success in Egypt and to their success in the future Messianic Era.


8:1 You shall take heed to do all of the commandment that I command you today so that you will live, increase, come and inherit the land that G-D swore (about) to your ancestors.

On the take of the verse's wording to, "do all of the commandment," the commentaries reference teachings that urge us to carry out to completion each commandment that we start.

Rashi says the following: If you start doing a commandment then complete it because the one who completes a commandment is referenced in the scriptures as the one who did it. We see this from Yehoshua (Joshua) 24:32 where it states: "And the Jewish people who brought Yosef's (Joseph's) bones from Egypt buried him in (the city of) Shechem." Although Moshe (Moses) exclusively cared for Yosef's remains to bring them to the Promised Land, since the Jewish people completed this commandment and not Moshe, they are given the recognition.

The Daas Zekainim commentary cites the above teaching and adds Rav Yanai's words that tragedy can befall one who begins to perform a commandment but does not complete it. We derive this from Yehuda (Judah) who began to save his brother Yosef from destruction by suggesting that they sell him to the Yishmaelites instead of abandoning him in a pit to die of starvation and exposure. Yehudah stopped there and let Yosef be sold. He did not complete the rescue. Later in the scriptures we find that Yehuda lost his wife and two sons.

Rav Yanai's teaching is difficult to understand. Both Yehudah and Moshe did not bring a commandment to completion. If tragedy befalls a person who begins a commandment but does complete it then why did tragedy befall just Yehudah and not Moshe? While Moshe did experience the tragedy of being barred from entry into the Promised Land, the scriptures clearly state in several places that this was a punishment for his hitting the rock, not for abandoning a commandment.

We could perhaps understand this with a teaching (Medrash Tehilim 30) which states that if a person wants to perform a commandment but is unable to do so that the scripture consider it as though he/she actually did it. So, since Moshe dearly wanted to enter the Promised Land but G-D's decree prevented him from doing so, then he should have been protected from tragedy.

However, this teaching itself presents another difficulty because it derives this principle from King David who dearly wanted to build the Temple but was prevented from doing so by G-D (Shmuel / Samuel II, 7:5). The Medrash Tehilim states that David was credited in the scriptures with the construction of the Temple (Tehilim / Psalms 30).

Because he dearly wanted to construct the Temple but was unable to do so, the scriptures give David credit for fulfilling this commandment. Yet, although Moshe dearly wanted to enter the Promised Land and he certainly would have buried Yosef, since he did not complete this commandment he was not give credit by the scriptures even though was precluded from doing it.

How do we understand these teachings?

The following came to mind.

We know that G-D actively manages the affairs of each and every person. We also know that everyone is unique. We know that G-D put us on this Earth to be tested and that G-D wants to help us succeed. Finally, we know that spiritual endeavors have momentum. That is, commencement of commandment generates a momentum that helps the person carry his/her action to completion.

It follows that every opportunity to do good or otherwise is personalized by G-D. It also follows that we have the resources to take each opportunity and we have even more resources once we begin.

So, Yehudah was punished because G-D expected him to carry his commandment to completion.

Moshe could not have been punished because G-D precluded him from completing it.

However, Moshe did begin to carry out the commandment. David, on the other hand, was prevented from even starting his involvement in the construction of the Temple. The scriptures and the supporting Oral Torah clearly state that G-D sent Nosson (Nathan) the Prophet to David immediately after David conceived of the idea.

So, Yehudah could have completed the commandment but he didn't. He was therefore punished.

Moshe began a commandment but G-D prevented him from completing it. Credit was therefore given to those who completed it.

David was prevented by G-D from even starting on a commandment so the scriptures were able to give him credit for doing it.

My teacher (Horav Naftali Kaplan SHLITA) noted that G-D had great reason for crediting David with the construction of the Temple because this insured that David's many critics would be eventually silenced.


8:3 And He stressed you and He gave you hunger. And He gave you Manna to eat, that which you and your ancestors never knew about, in order to make you aware that it is not by bread alone that man lives but rather by what comes from the Mouth of G-D that man lives.

We know that the Manna came down in daily portions, one portion each day from Sunday through Thursday and a double portion on Friday.

The Talmud (Yoma 76a) provides the following teaching about the Manna.

The students of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochi ask him the following question.

"Why didn't the Manna come down one time annually?"

He responded with the following

"I will give you an allegory."

"Consider a king who supports his son. If he provides his allowance one time a year then the son may come to visit his father only one time each year. However, if he provides the allowance on a daily basis then his son will seek him each day."

"Similarly, if a man had four or five children then he worried about the Manna not falling on the next day and his children starving to death."

"This way, everybody kept their focus on their Father in Heaven."

"Another reason that the Manna was not provided annually was so that they could have warmed food each day."

"Another reason is so that they would not have to bother with carrying around a year's supply of food."

This teaching provides us with an insight into human nature.

The second reason was to make the Manna more appealing to eat. The third reason was for convenience. Yet they did not suffice and Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochi felt the need to provide the first reason, too.

The Manna was guaranteed by G-D.

And yet, a person would prefer to lug around a year's supply of Manna through the desert and eat it cold each day in order to have control over his food supply, rather than have it provided on a daily basis.


8:3 And He stressed you and He gave you hunger. And He gave you Manna to eat, that which you and your ancestors never knew about, in order to make you aware that it is not by bread alone that man lives but rather by what comes from the Mouth of G-D that man lives.

The Manna was not supplied in batches to last several days at a time. Rather, a single day's supply came each day, except for Shabbos and holiday eves.

One of the reasons that the Talmud provides is to give us warmed food every day. (Yoma 76a)

This is an example of the depth we should consider taking to appreciate the gifts G-D gives us every day.

It tells us that it is worth foregoing the security of having an ample supply of Manna on-hand in order to have something else to thank G-D for.


8:10 And you shall eat, be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-D on the good land that He gave you.

8:11 Watch yourself lest you forget Hashem your G-D to no longer guard His commandments, judgments, and statutes that I command you today.

8:12 Lest you eat and become satisfied. And you will build nice homes and settle

8:13 And your cattle and sheep increase. And gold and silver will increase for you. And all that you have will increase.

8:14 And your heart will rise high and you will forget Hashem your G-D, who took you out from Egypt, from the house of slavery.

8:17 And you will say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand made all of this wealth."

8:19 And it will be that if you totally forget Hashem your G-D and you go after other gods and worship and bow down to them then I testify among you that you will become totally obliterated.

8:20 Just like the nations that G-D obliterated before you, so will you also be obliterated, (all) because you did not listen to the voice of Hashem your G-D.

The Sefurno provides the following commentary:

"And it will be that if you totally forget… "(8:19). This will occur if you link your success to your power and you will not bless Him for it. "You will be obliterated …" From two worlds, just like the nations ("… that G-D obliterated before you").

"All because …" (8:20). All of this will occur if you will not bless (G-D) as He commanded you (in the) above (verse).

The Sefurno seems to view the worship of idolatry as a natural consequence of not blessing G-D for our food. Why?

Also, how can we understand the concept of blessing G-D, Himself the source of all blessing?

The following came to mind.

The Hebrew word for blessing is "Bracha." Rabbi Chaim Velozhen of blessed memory teaches that this word is related the Hebrew word, "Braicha," which means a wellspring, itself a symbol of overflow, of "more". (Nefesh Hachayim).

Our blessing to a fellow man is in actuality a prayer that what he has becomes more. A blessing towards G-D is a prayer that He should give more.

We believe that G-D actively manages the affairs of each and every person, insuring that we all have the resources to fulfill our diverse missions and insuring that we maintain a balance wherein we can make free-will choices.

Verse 8:14 describes a situation wherein the resources that G-D allocates to an individual can work against him, causing the person to become haughty, assigning credit of his success to only himself Such situations may move G-D to cut back on allocating resources because the way the person uses them causes himself more harm than good.

In this case, if he prays for more, then G-D may very well only respond to his prayers if he demonstrates that he can manage himself with them. If the person resists change then his only recourse is find other ways to obtain the additional resource. Perhaps 8:19 is a dire warning that some people may opt to take the easy way out and resort to idolatry to try and get what they want, for G-D will not respond to his prayer.


8:11 Be careful not to forget Hashem your G-d, (lest you) not guard His commandments, laws, and statutes which I charge you (with) today.

8:12 Perhaps you will eat and become satisfied, and you will build beautiful homes and settle (down in them).

8:13 [And] your herds and flocks will increase, and you will have a lot of silver and gold, and whatever you own will increase.

8:14 [And] your heart will grow proud and you will forget Hashem your G-d who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the slave quarters.

8:15 (Lest you forget) He who guided you in the vast and terrifying desert (which was filled with) venomous snakes and scorpions, (which gave to) thirst (for) there was no water (in it). (Lest you forget) He who brought out water for you from hard rock.

8:16 (Lest you forget) He who fed you manna in the desert, (a food) that your ancestors never knew

8:17 [And] You will say to yourself, '(It was) my strength and the power of my hand that made all of this wealth.'

8:18 (So what must you do if this does happen?) You must remember Hashem your G-d, for it is He who gives you strength [koach] to make wealth, so that He can fulfill the Covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as (it is) this day.


8:11 Watch yourself so that you don't forget Hashem your G-D, to not guard His commandments, laws, and statutes which I command you today.

If a person forgets G-D then not only will the person not guard them but he/she won't do them.

The Torah voices a concern about not guarding the commandments, not about keeping them. Why?

Rashi in 4:6 explains that guarding the commandments is synonymous with studying the commandments. So if the Torah is associating forgetting G-D with not studying the commandments then the question becomes why are we not concerned about observing the commandments..

The following came to mind.

Life experience teaches that a person can observe commandments out of habit or from social pressure, not out of a realization of his/her relationship with G-D.

A person who actualizes his/her awareness of G-D will want to insure that their observance is consistent with G-D's will. Therefore he/she will study the commandments to know how to do them properly. A person who observes the commandments for superficial reasons will be satisfied with superficial compliance. Perhaps this is why the Torah links forgetting G-D with studying the commandments.

We are charged to maximize the quality of our observance.

Another thought came to mind.

The verses that follow provide another warning about forgetting G-D.

8:12 Lest you eat and become satisfied. And you will build good homes and settle in them.

8:13 And your herd and flock increases and your silver and gold increases for you and all that you have increases.

8:14 And your heart rises up and you forget Hashem your G-D who took you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

This second forgetting is associated with a feeling of independence from G-D.

The forgetting of 8:11 follows a verse that expresses a realization of our dependence upon G-D, "And you shall eat and become satisfied and bless Hashem your G-D on the good land the He gives you."

A realization of dependence upon G-D is very good first step. Yet we must be strive to serve G-D through an appreciation of what He is, not just on the basis of what He gives us.

As parents and grandparents, we begin our relationship with our offspring by giving. We hope that this later brings them to appreciate parents and grandparents on a personal level, to appreciate who we are.


9:1-3 Listen Israel, you are crossing the Jordan today to come and drive out nations that are greater and more powerful than you, (living) in cities that are great and fortified (so to speak, up to) the Heaven.

(They are a) great and high nation, Children of Giants, about which you know and have heard (about), 'Who can stand before the Children of Giants?'

You shall know today that Hashem your G-d is crossing (the Jordan) before you, He is a consuming fire, He will destroy them, and He will lower them before you. And you will drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as Hashem told you.

These verses provide the Jewish people with encouragement and moral support.

The next verses don't seem to follow this theme.

9:4 As Hashem your G-D pushes them away from before you, do not say that (it was for) my righteousness (that) G-D brought me (here) to inherit this land and (it was for) the wickedness of these nations that G-D is driving them from before you.

9:5 It was not for you righteousness and straightness of heart that you are coming to inherit their land. For it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Hashem your G-D is driving them from before you, and (also) in order to establish that which Hashem swore to your ancestors: to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.

It's not because of your righteousness and rightness of heart that you are coming to inherit their land. Rather, G-d is driving them out from before you because of the wickedness of these nations. (Also, G-d is doing this) to fulfill the word that Hashem swore to your ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

The next verse seems a bit discouraging.

9:6 And you should know that it's not because of your righteousness that Hashem is giving you this good land to inherit, because (in fact) you are a stiff-necked people.

Further.

9:7 Remember, do not forget, how you made Hashem your G-d furious in the wilderness. You have been rebelling with G-d from the day that you left the Land of Egypt until you came to this place.

Ouch.

The next twenty-two verses bring up the Golden Calf, the smashing of the tablets, the near destruction of the Jewish people, and other major blunders.

9:22 You made Hashem angry in Tav-era, Massa, and Kivros HaTaavah.

9:23 And when Hashem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, 'Go up and inherit the land that I gave you.' [And] you rebelled (against) the word of Hashem your G-d, (and) you didn't believe in Him, (and) you didn't listen to his voice.

9:24 You have been rebelling with G-d from the day I knew you.

How are we to understand Moshe (Moses') flow of thoughts? What was he trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

The disasters that caused the previous generation to wander in the desert for forty years hung over the heads of the Jewish people, like a dark cloud. If their parents did not merit the Promised Land, how could they? Their worst fear was that the desert would become a black hole, trapping them and their children for the rest of history.

This section begins with words of encouragement With G-d's help, the Jewish people will enter the Promised Land.

Perhaps we can view the rest of this section in this positive light.

In 9:4-5, perhaps Moshe is assuring them that they do not need to come up with merits in order to reach the Promised Land. The entrance fee was already paid up by their ancestors. Also, G-d must fulfill his promise to them. Besides, the current occupants are due for eviction because of their wickedness.

Moshe then goes on to remind them about their worst blunders. By doing so, he is telling them that G-d is still ready to take them into the land, despite the past.

Learn from the past but don't let it get you down! You've paid for your mistakes. Right now, just try your best and you'll be OK.

And that's exactly what happened


9:4 As Hashem your G-D pushes them away from before you, do not say that (it was for) my righteousness (that) G-D brought me (here) to inherit this land and (it was for) the wickedness of these nations that G-D is driving them from before you.

9:5 It was not for you righteousness and straightness of heart that you are coming to inherit their land. For it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Hashem your G-D is driving them from before you, and (also) in order to establish that which Hashem swore to your ancestors: to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.

The Sefurno commentary says that the speed by which the conquest occurred may have suggested to the Jewish people that it was in their merit.

Rather, he says, their participation in the conquest was a means to give them merit. That is, by fulfilling G-D's will He could therefore fulfill through them the promise He made to the forefathers.

This appears to be another example of how G-D works with us even though we are not always perfect.


10:8 At that time, G-D set apart the tribe of Levi until this day to carry the Ark of the Covenant of G-D, to stand before G-D, to serve Him, and to bless in His Name.

10:9 Therefore, Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. G-D is his inheritance as Hashem his G-D told him.

Verse 10:8 refers back to the time of the golden calf. The Levites did not worship the golden calf. In recognition of their loyalty, the tribe of Levy received special assignments for the care and service of the sanctuary.

Verse 10:9 reminds us that when the Land of Israel was divided up among the tribes, the tribe of Levy did not receive a share.

Why did they have to lose their share in the land? Why couldn't they have both a share in the land as well as service in the sanctuary?

The following came to mind.

Our forefathers succeeded in establishing the greatest possible connection with G-D.

The sin of the golden calf revealed a qualitative difference within the Jewish people in their connection with G-D. Levy remained connected where the other tribes failed.

Every Jew has a share in the connection of our forefathers. But it is a relatively weak because we didn't develop it ourselves.

We are here to discover and grow a connection of our own.

We can also connect in a more tangible way to our forefathers through the land that they left us and from there to G-D.

Having a share in the Land of Israel is not necessarily an end into itself. Rather, it is a means to help us connect.

The Levites didn't have a share in the land because they didn't need it for their connection.

The responsibility to grow food can sometimes distract from spiritual growth. The Levites were spared from this responsibility. This allowed them to focus their energy on growth so that they can mentor the rest of us.

The Levites had less so that they could become more.

We supported them with tithes to enable them to support us. We helped them get through a temporary existence to enable them to get us to an eternal existence.

We gain today in a similar way by supporting Torah scholars and institutions.


10:17 For Hashem your G-D is the G-D of the powers and the M-aster of all masters, the great, powerful, and awesome G-D, who plays no favorites nor takes any bribes.

10:18 Who executes the judgment of the orphan and widow and who loves the convert to give him bread and clothing.

The Talmud cites this verse as an example of the following principle: "Rabbi Yochanan said, 'Wherever you find the greatness of G-D you will also find there His humility (Megila 31a).'"

This teaching is puzzling.

G-D is the creator and master of all. He is aware of the entire span of reality and He is fully in control of every aspect of reality.

It should therefore be His responsibility to ensure that justice is done in His world and that all of His creations receive their needs.

How do we see G-D's humility in that He "executes the judgment of the orphan and widow and who loves the convert to give him bread and clothing"?

The following is how I understand the Eitz Yosef's approach, as recorded in the Ain Yaakov.

These words were said by Moshe (Moses) to describe G-D's greatness. They were his words, albeit divinely inspired.

The fact that G-D's is so great and yet cares for those who are least honored and least recognized by humanity is not part of a description of His humility. Rather, these words contribute to describe His greatness.

The aspect of humility comes from the fact that G-D recorded these words in His Torah.

Given the huge expanse between that greatness of G-D and that of man, the fact that G-D recognizes that our praise of Him has great significance is itself a reflection of humility.


10:19 And you shall love the migrant (i.e. convert) for you were immigrants in the Land of Egypt.

Rashi provides the following commentary: (Since you were immigrants in Egypt,) do not label your fellow with a defect that you yourself have.

The commandment of this verse is to love a convert.

A commandment in Exodus 22:20 reads as follows: Do not verbally abuse or oppress a migrant (convert) because you were immigrants in the Land of Egypt.

The tie-with a prohibition against verbal abuse appears to be more appropriate for that verse. In fact, Rashi in Exodus associates the same prohibition with that verse.

What is Rash trying to tell us by making this association here, with a verse that charges us to love the convert?

The following came to mind.\

First, we have the following teaching of Rabbi Akiva from the Medrash (Beraishis 24:7)

Leviticus 19 states, "And you shall love your fellow as yourself." Rabbi Akiva says that this is a great principle of the Torah. One who was cheapened should not feel that it is acceptable for his fellow to be also cheapened together with him. One who was cursed should not feel that it is acceptable for his fellow to be also cursed with him.

Part of loving one's fellow is to keep from doing to him that which you don't want others to do to you. This is reflected by another teaching of Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud (Shabbos 31a): "All of the Torah's teachings can be reflected in the following principle: Refrain from doing to others that which you don't others to do to you."

So, perhaps Rashi is trying to associate these teachings with our verse in Deuteronomy.

Another thought came to mind.

The Book of Chinuch provides the following insight for commandment number 431.

The commandment to love the convert is overlaid onto the commandment to love a fellow Jew. Also, the prohibition against abusing the convert is overlaid onto the commandment against abusing a fellow Jew. That is, loving or abusing the convert gives us multiple merits.

This reflects another teaching. G-D wanted to maximize the opportunity for us to achieve perfection by obeying His commandments. He therefore overlaid multiple commandments onto a single action so that we would earn more credits by what we do throughout our lives. (Mishna Makos 3).

Perhaps Rashi is trying to associate our verse with this teaching.

When we refrain from abusing the convert we are credited with upholding the commandment against abusing him. This also counts for the commandment to love him, per Rabbi Akiva. Per the Chinuch we are also credited with upholding the commandment against abusing any Jew and per Rabbi Akiva we are also credited with keeping the commandment to love each and every Jew.

Thus, one act can credit a person with keeping four commandments, exposing a person to multiple opportunities for spiritual enhancement and character development without him having to expend the extra effort.

Another and much simpler approach was suggested by my son-in-law, R' Shraga Binik. It's easier to love someone who is more like you. So by remembering that we were also strangers, we make it easier for ourselves to love the convert.


11:12 (It is) a land that Hashem your G-D seeks out, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b) relates this verse to the High Holidays and period of judgment.

The Talmud writes that if the Jewish people were judged on Rosh Hashana as if they were fully wicked and were therefore allocated a meager rainfall, if they repent then G-D will ensure that the rain will be distributed to maximize its benefit.

Conversely, if the Jewish people were judged as if they were fully righteous and received an abundant allocation, should they later act inappropriately then the rainfall will be distributed in a wasteful manner to minimize its benefit.

The Talmud asks on the first scenario why G-D does not simply increase the allocation. It answers that G-D does not do this because it's not necessary, as a small amount of rainfall that carefully managed provides the same benefit as a large amount of rainfall that is not as carefully managed.

The commentators note that Talmud does not ask on the second scenario why G-D does not simply decrease the allocation.

They derive from this that while G-D would overturn a decree of doom against the Jewish people should this be needed, He would never overturn a decree of goodness.

Why?

The following came to mind.

Our literature emphasizes the concept of the "Pintele Yid." We have a spark of goodness and greatness that is a part of G-D Himself.

I understand this to mean that we are not merely neutral with the capability to become either good or bad. Rather, we are essentially good but this is managed so that we either can remain good/restore goodness, or we can become coated by evil.

A change to the better is a restoration. A change to the worse is a distortion.

Furthermore, while it is possible for the individual to become permanently corrupted, we are taught that this will never occur on the collective level to the Jewish people, as a whole. Despite our ups and downs, G-D will manage history so that we will someday succeed.

A decree of doom against the Jewish people is based on behavior that reflects an intermediate and temporary state. This is perhaps why it can be annulled. However, a decree of abundance reflects the goal state. It is therefore inappropriate to annul it.


Verses 11-17 warn against forgetting Hashem who did so many things for you. Verse 18 appears to be saying that if this does happen then you should remember Hashem who did some other thing for you. Why is the reason for remembering Hashem in verse 18 any better than the reasons in the previous verses?

Furthermore, why are the experiences of survival in the desert listed in verses 15 and 16?

Finally, both targums translate verse 18 in a seemingly non-typical manner. Throughout the Torah, the word koach means strength. Here, targum Unkelus and Yonasan Ben Uziel provide the following translation, 'You must remember Hashem your G-d, for it is he who gave you insight [koach] to acquire wealth ' Why do they translate the word koach in a most unusual manner?

The following came to mind.

A person is greatly influenced by what he sees, even when it is inconsistent with what he knows.

Hashem promises material success. This provides the resources we need to be happy and productive in the fulfillment of His Torah.

Except for our miraculous existence in the desert, Hashem typically provides our resources through natural means.

This gives us a test.

A person can start out knowing that everything comes from Hashem. However, since he sees that everything comes from nature, he becomes tested in maintaining the association between material success, which visually appears to have a physical source, and Hashem who is their true source.

An awareness of our dependency upon Hashem can help us pull through such tests. However pride, referenced in verse 14 is a natural consequence of wealth. It can serve to block out even the most dramatic reminders of our dependency upon Hashem for survival, verses 15 and 16. These events are past history and are no longer in our lines of sight.

Verse 17 presents a person who has already forgotten his dependency. He says, 'It was my strength and the power of my hand that made all of this wealth.'

Now, success comes many times from a thought, an idea, or an insight. They have no visual source.

Furthermore, our ability to keep that which we have earned is very much dependent upon our mental ability.

So, perhaps verse 18, according to the way the targums tell us to understand it, provides another perspective on reality so that the person may be able to pull through the test.

When a person feels that he is being influenced by seeing the material sources of his success, he should give focus to those sources of success that he can not see. From them, it will come easier for him to link with the true source of success, Hashem.


Re'eh (Deut. 11-16)

11:26 See that today I place before you a blessing and a curse.

11:27 The blessing (is) that you will listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I command you today.

11:28 And the curse (will be ) if you don't listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D...

Verse 26 appears to be saying that G-D gives us today both a blessing and a curse. But verses 27 and 28 appear to be saying that G-D will give only one, either a blessing or a curse.

To explain the apparent contradiction the Chasam Sofer cites this teaching:

Rav Chisda says, "How do we understand the verse: 'Give acknowledgement to G-D, for He is good …' (Tehilim / Psalms 131:1)? Acknowledge that G-D collects what is due in the way that is best for each person. He takes payment from the rich man's ox, the widow's chicken, and the orphan's egg." (Pesachim118a).

It's known that we must sometimes suffer a loss to purge ourselves from the effects of our own irresponsible behavior.

And it's also known that it's best for us to suffer a loss in this temporary world than to suffer a loss in the next world, which is eternal.

In His infinite kindness, when we must undergo a loss, G-D will bless us in this world so that there will be something for us to lose.

So He gives the rich man an ox that he would not have normally had, He gives the widow a chicken, and the orphan an egg that he was not destined to have.

We all hope to be with those who are described in verse 27, those who listen to G-D's commandments. When we succeed, there will be only blessings in the next world.

But if we succeed partially then verse 26 is telling us that we may experience a loss in this world of something extra that we were blessed with, experiencing both a blessing and a curse.


11:26 See that today I place before you a blessing and a curse.

11:27 The blessing (is) that you will listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I command you today.

11:28 And the curse (will be) if you don't listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D and you divert from the path that I command you today to go after other gods that you do not know.

Rav Bick of blessed memory cites a Medrash which says that the blessing and curse are not intended to be bad for us. How we should understand that the curse is not bad, he asks? Also, why does the Medrash feel the need to tell us that the blessing is not bad?

He answers as follows.

For doing meritorious acts, Rashi says that while G-D gives reward to all, those who harbor animosity against G-D are rewarded in this world, not in the eternal world to come (7:10).

For misconduct, the Talmud teaches that suffering cleanses a person from the resulting defects (Berachos 5a).

The Talmud also teaches that we can understand the reward that Heaven provides in terms of there being a principle with dividends.

The first Mishnah in Peah list a number of meritorious acts for which one reaps reward from their dividends in this world while retaining the principle for the next world, such as doing acts of kindness.

Finally, the Talmud says that only good deeds have both principle and dividends. In His great kindness and mercy, G-D decreed that infractions have principle alone, no dividends (Kedushin 40a).

With this background, we can now understand the Medrash.

The suffering or curse we may feel in this world when we experience tragedy, loss, or discomforts are intended to purge us from defects that we acquire from misconduct.

The alternative is to have them purged in the next world.

Were we to have a complete picture of reality, we would see that discomfort in this world is the best alternative because life in the next world is by far more intensive, both the bliss and the suffering.

So the curse is not intended to be bad and we can even avoid it if we self-correct / repent. And the defects are finite, interest-free 'loans.'

Neither should the average G-D fearing person worry about getting paid up in this world and losing eternal happiness in the next because the happiness we experience in this world as a result of meritorious behavior comes only from the dividends, not the principle.


11:26 See that today I place before you a blessing and a curse.

11:27 The blessing (is) that you will listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I command you today.

11:28 And the curse (will be) if you don't listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D and you divert from the path that I command you today to go after other gods that you do not know.

The Torah promises a blessing for listening to the commandments and a curse for not listening to the commandments.

The verse that speaks about the curse goes into more detail than the verse that speaks about the blessing. It speaks about diverting from the path and going after other gods. Why the extra detail?

Also, commandments are things that we must do or not do. Here, the blessing and the curse are for not listening to them.

What is the Torah trying to tell us?

Rabbi Bick, of blessed memory deals with these questions and the following is how I understand his approach.

Many people claim to be observant, may their numbers increase.

Once in the community, it’s relatively easy to follow the crowd and simply copy what they do.

But unless one takes the Torah to heart and listen to the message behind the commandments, it’s possible to be satisfied with externalities, following the law by letter but not in spirit

Without intellectual honesty, effort, and courage to delve beneath superficial observance it is possible to distort and justify misbehavior, even idolatry.

The next challenge after observance is growth.


11:26 See that today I place before you a blessing and a curse.

11:27 The blessing (is) that you will listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I command you today.

11:28 And the curse (will be) if you don't listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D and you divert from the path that I command you today to go after other gods that you do not know.

The Talmud (Kedushin 40a) provides the following teaching in the name of Rabbi Yossi.

If a person planned to do something to fulfill a commandment but was prevented from doing so against his will, the Torah considers it as if he did it.

However, the same is not true for transgressions. Other than idolatry, they are not counted against a person until he brings them into action.

The Otzar Hameforshim commentary sees this principle reflected in the above verses.

11:27 promises blessing by simply listening to the commandments. That is, planning to do them.

11:28 speaks about diverting from the path, which implies an action. It also speaks about idolatry. Transgressions count only when the person does them. However, merely planning to serve idolatry is treated as a transgression.


11:26 See that today I place before you a blessing and a curse.

11:27 The blessing (is) that you will listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D that I command you today.

11:28 And the curse (will be) if you don't listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-D and you divert from the path that I command you today to go after other gods that you do not know.

11:29 And it will come to pass when Hashem your G-D brings you to the land that you are going there to inherit that you shall place the blessing on Mount Grizim and the curse on Mount Eval.

The Targum Unkolos translates 11:29 to read that we are to place people on the two mountains, some will stand for blessings and others will stand for curses, as prescribed in Deuteronomy 27.

Still, the literal wording suggest that it's the blessing and curse of the preceding verses that will be placed on these two mountains. We are taught that there are seventy aspects to the Torah. Perhaps we can derive a lesson from the literal reading.

The blessing of 11:27 and 11:28 are contingent upon our listening to the commandments. Why doesn't the Torah write that they are contingent upon our fulfilling the commandments?

Following these verses, we have a seemingly diverse set of guidelines. They are: Destroying idolatrous temples but not G-D's temple; Bring sacrifices but only in G-D's temple; Eating restricted foods but only in restricted areas; Eating redeemed sacrifices but not blood; Eating non-consecrated meat outside the temple but not blood and also bringing consecrated animals to the temple.

These guidelines end with the following verse:

12:28 Guard and listen to all these matters, that which I command you, so that it will be good for you and your children after you forever that you will do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-D.

Again we see a reference to listening to the commandments.

The scripture follows with more seemingly diverse guidelines: You may want to enhance your service of G-D but don't imitate the religions that you are about to destroy.

13:1 All the matter that I command you , it's that which you shall guard to observe. Do not add to it and do not detract from it.

We continue with the portion that deals with the false prophet and the Torah focuses on the prophet that adjures the people to worship idolatry. We are elsewhere charged to listen to the prophets but here the Torah says to ignore his innovation.

The Torah then discusses the wayward city, where most of its inhabitants worship idols. The Torah elsewhere expects us to seek internal peace and harmony but here we are to put the inhabitants to death.

We are told that we are G-D's children but when someone dies we are forbidden to express grief over the death in certain excessive ways.

Finally, we are given dietary guidelines. This type of animal you may eat but not that type of animal.

You should detect from the above presentation that these commandments can be viewed as having a common theme of relative exclusion. That is, you may do this but do not do that.

How does these commandments tie in with the beginning of the portion?

The following came to mind.

The Sefurna provides the following commentary for the portion of the false prophet.

13:6 And that prophet or dreamer shall die for he spoke of defection away from Hashem your G-D, who brought you forth from Egypt and who redeemed you from the house of slaves, to push you from the path that Hashem your G-D commanded you to walk on. And you shall clear evil from your midst.

The Sefurna notes that we are to kill the prophet despite the fact that he speaks in G-D's name to promote idolatry.

In other words, the prophet doesn't claim that the 'kemoshi' god appeared to him and commanded that we worship 'kemosh.' Rather, he claims that Hashem appeared to him and is charging the Jewish people to worship kemosh. We can picture him to go so far as to charge us to make a (ludicrous) blessing before we bow down to this kemosh: Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech Haolom Asher Kideshanu B'Mitzvosav V'Tzivanu Laavod Kemosh.

In this light, the commandment against the false prophet is a commandment against the misapplication of a virtue. In other words, we are charged against making distortions.

Misapplication of virtues is a tool of the manipulators and falsifiers.

Perhaps we can view the other commandments in a similar light, a series of commandments against distortions.

For example, we should destroy the idolatrous temples but we shouldn't misapply this zeal against G-D's temple. Sacrifices are virtuous but we shouldn't misapply this expression of devotion to another context.

I leave the other commandments as an exercise for the reader to fit into this model.

Perhaps this is why the Torah emphasizes the value in listening to the commandments, for by delving into their intent, meaning, and interrelation we will be better equipped to deal with attempts to misapply virtues.

In this light, perhaps we can better understand the suggested placement of the blessings and curses on two mountains, for they are sections of land that are clearly physically apart. You can blur two specks of dust into one, but not two mountains.

It is only with clarity that we can be protected from attempts by falsifiers to blur the boundaries of virtue, and this can only be achieved through the study of Torah.

The manipulators and falsifiers thrive in a climate of ignorance. They foster ignorance. They prey on those who are docile and dumb.

We close by recalling 12:28 and then Rashi on Deuteronomy 4:6

12:28 Guard and listen to all these matters, that which I command you, so that it will be good for you and your children after you forever that you will do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-D.

4:6 "And you shall guard them.."

Rashi: This refers to study.


12:2 You shall completely destroy all of the places where those nations that you are driving out worshiped their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every leafy tree.

12:3 And you shall smash their altars and break their worship pillars. And you shall burn their worship trees in fire and uproot the images of their gods. And you shall obliterate their names from that place.

12:4 Do not do this to Hashem your G-D.

12:5 (Worship) only in the place that Hashem your G-D chooses to assign His name there, from all of your tribes. Seek His dwelling place and come there.

One of Rashi's readings of verse 12:4 is a prohibition against making offerings to G-D in any other place than His temple.

The above relationship between idolatry and multiple places of worship brings to mind an underpinning of that which is theologically offensive.

Those who break away from G-D's supremacy are in effect seeking to establish and impose their own supremacy over both G-D and their fellow man.

They feel entitled to define where a god can be worshiped, be it in a public place of their choice or at a personal shrine on their lawn.

The personal shrine of each person is in effect an attempt to dominate over his neighbor, who may very well also have a shrine with a competing god behind it.

Judaism states that the selection of the temple's site is G-D's choice, the sole place where sacrifices may be brought.

Worship is to unite us. It is not a vehicle for projecting superiority over our fellow.


12:12 And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d, you, and your sons, and your daughters, and your servants, and your maids, and the Levite who (lives) in your gates, for he has no portion and inheritance with you.

12:13 You must take care for yourself lest you bring up your offerings in any place that you see.

12:14 Rather, (offer your sacrifices) in the place from one of your tribes that Hashem will choose. There you may bring up your offerings and there you should do all that I command you.

12:15 Slaughter and eat within your gates only whatever meat your soul desires, according to the blessing that Hashem your G-d gives you. The ritually unclean and clean may eat of it, just like the meat of the deer and hart.

12:16 Only you should not eat the blood. Pour it on the ground like water.

12:17 You may not eat within your gates the tithes from your grain, grapes, (olive) oil, the first-born of your cattle and sheep, the offerings that you vow (to bring), the gifts, and the fist fruits.

12:18 You may only eat them before Hashem your G-d, in the place that Hashem your G-d will choose, you your son, your daughter, your slave, the maid, and the Levite who is in your gates. And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d with that which your hands produced.

12:19 For all the years on your land you must take care for yourself lest you abandon the Levite

Both 12:12 and 12:18 talk about rejoicing before G-d.

12:12 extends the joy to a person's family. The words, "and you shall rejoice" are in the plural tense of the Hebrew language. 12:18 seems to talk about the joy of just the land owner. "And you shall rejoice" is in the singular tense. What is the Torah trying to tell us with this difference?

Are these commandments to rejoice? If yes, then 12:12 is a commandment for someone else to be happy, besidesthe land owner. How is the land owner commanded to make his servants and the Levite happy?

The Torah warns against external sacrifices after 12:12. Following 12:18, the Torah warns against abandoning the Levite. What message can we take from this?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the joy in 12:12 is a prediction. That is, our entire household will rejoice as we live on the land and become blessed with its abundance. Perhaps only 12:18 is a commandment.

When blessed with abundance, a person tends to feel and act independent. So, the Torah admonishes us in 12:13-14 to not take the liberty of dictating where the sacrificial altar should be.

The Oral Torah provides a special context for to 12:15, a verse that comes between the verses of rejoicing. It teaches that 12:15 is talking about a sacrificial animal that became ruined because of a blemish, which typically occurs by accident.

A person is liable to interpret the blemish as an omen that G-d has rejected him, causing feelings of despondence. In this state of mind, the person is prone to abandoning the Levite, just as he perceives that G-d has abandoned him. The Torah therefore commands him to rejoice and to insure that the Levite is cared for.

Many people are naturally inclined to measure their favor with G-d in terms of what they are blessed with. During this stage of human history, this assumption is false. That is, until the commencement of era of reward and punishment, it is quite possible for bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people.

If we perceive any discouraging or encouraging omens, we must use them in a proper manner. Bad omens should be used to drive a person towards self-improvement, not towards depression. Good omens should be used to cause encouragement, not arrogance.


12:20 When Hashem your G-d widens your border, as He said (He will do), and you will say, 'I want to eat meat (even though I can't get to the Temple to make a sacrifice).' You may eat as much meat as your soul desires.

23: Just exert yourself to not eat blood, because blood is the life (source), and you shall not eat meat with the life (source).

24: Do not eat it, pour it out onto the Earth like water.

25: Do not eat it, so that it will be good for you and your children after you, when you will do that which is proper in the eyes of Hashem (G-d).

26: You must carry and bring up only your consecrated (animals for tithes) and your (sacrificial) vows to the site that G-d will choose (for his Temple).

27: And you will make your Olah sacrifices, the meat and the blood, on the altar of Hashem your G-d. And you shall pour the blood of your sacrificial slaughtering on the altar of Hashem your G-d, and (then) you may eat the meat.

28: Take care and listen to all of these words that I command you, so that it will be good for you and your children after you forever, when you do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-d.

Verses 25 and 28 have phrases that are very similar, but with minor differences. Verse 25 follows the prohibition of eating blood. Verse 28 follows the prohibition of sacrificing outside the Temple.

25: 'so that it will be good for you and your children after you'
28: 'so that it will be good for you and your children after you forever'

25: 'when you do that which is proper in the eyes of Hashem'
28: 'when you do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-d'

What is the significance of these similarities and differences? What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

Let's look at some of Rashi's commentary for verse 28:

('Listen to) all of these words that I command you' - That you should come to cherish a minor commandment just like (you cherish) a major one.'

'Good' - In the eyes of Heaven.

'Proper' - In the eyes of Humanity.

Verse 28 is then speaking about a person who cherishes commandments, a rare individual.

We know that there are degrees in righteousness and self-perfection.

We are all in different stages of development and we all had different starting points. Each of us has unique assets, constraints, backgrounds, and test points. The latter changes over time.

Some people are struggling to overcome their physicality. Perhaps they are represented by verses 20-25, which discuss the desire to eat non-sacrificial meat and the prohibition against blood.

Others are on a higher plane and have already overcome their physicality. Instead, they struggle to keep within the guidelines of the Torah while they achieve spiritual success. They are more likely to cherish commandments. They are represented by verses 26-28, which prohibit external sacrifices. Such people serve G-d a zeal that can bring them to sacrifice inappropriately.

Both types of people are observant, with or without consistency.

For the person who is still struggling with the physical commandments, we see that the Torah deems his/her behavior as being proper, but not necessarily good. Given their stage of development, they may have some rough spots. We also note that their behavior may not always be viewed as proper in the eyes of Humanity. The more significance a person places on physicality, the more it can affect a person's judgment, which can lead to some socially unacceptable behavior.

The spiritual person lives with a greater realization of G-d's existence. He/she is less likely to stumble over his/her self. He/she is above physicality behavior is more likely to match that which G-d knows is good, for the person and for the world.


Lev. 17:11 (Do not eat the blood of animal) because the life of all flesh is within (its) blood and I specified for you (that it is to be placed) on the Altar to atone for your lives, for (it is fitting that) blood (which is) life should (be that which) atones (for your lives).

Deut (Re'eh) 12:8 (When you become settled in Israel, you may not) do that which we are doing here today, (prior to the Tabernacle being erected, where) each person does that which is proper ('yashar') in his eyes (and he may make a sacrifice to G-d on his own private Altar).

12:23 Only be strong and refrain from eating (the life) blood (of an animal) because the blood is (its) life and you shall not eat the (source of) life (together) with the meat.

12:24 Do not eat it. (Rather, you should) pour it on the ground.

12:25 Do not eat it, so that it will be good for you and your children after you, when you do that which is proper ('yashar') in the eyes of G-d.

12:26 You must take up only your consecrated (animals) and (the animals which you set aside to fulfill) your vows and (you must) bring (them) to the place where Hashem shall designate (-the Temple).

12:27 And you shall process your sacrifice, (using) the meat and the blood (of the animal and this must be done only) on the Altar of Hashem your G-d. And the blood of your sacrifice must be poured on the Altar of Hashem your G-d, and (then) you must eat the meat.

12:28 Be careful and listen to all of these things that I command you, so that it shall be good for you and your children after you forever, provided that you do that which is good and proper ('yashar') in the eyes of Hashem your G-d.

Verses 23-25 discuss the prohibition of eating blood. Verses 26-27 discuss the prohibition of processing a sacrifice outside of the designated Temple area.

The verse in Leviticus links the prohibition of eating blood to processing sacrifices and this may be a reason why these two commandments are next to each other in this parsha.

It says for both that their observance is related to that which is proper ('yashar') in the eyes of G-d. It is rare for this to be said in the Torah about a commandment.

The Talmud uses this word to describe behavior that is based on moral sensitivity. For example, there is a requirement to give preference to a neighbor when selling property. While anyone can benefit from the purchase, the neighbor will have the added convenience of managing adjacent properties.

We can partially understand why this word is used for the commandment of making sacrifices in designated areas. In verse 8, prior to the Tabernacle being erected it was permitted for one to do that which was 'proper in his eyes' and bring a sacrifice on a private altar. Verse 28 talks about the post-temple period (including today) when this is forbidden. A person must yield that which is proper in his eyes and do only that which is proper in the eyes of G-d.

Still, it is unusual to see this word by a commandment.

Also, we have no explanation for its usage by the commandment against eating blood. It seems to be saying that by using human metrics it would be proper for one to eat an animal's life blood, but using G-d's metrics it is not proper.

The following came to mind.

The Yalkut Shimoni (Tehilim 25) records a figurative survey. The survey deals with what should happen to a person who sins. Four illustrative perspectives and responses are presented.

'Wisdom' hypothetically responded that the person should be pursued by that evil that he caused.

'Prophecy' responded that the person needs to die.

'Torah' responded that the person should bring a sacrifice and thus obtain atonement.

G-d (so to speak) responded that the person should repent and thus obtain atonement.

As the Torah reflects the will of G-d, one may assume that the Torah's response related to periods in history when we had the Temple and could bring sacrifices. G-d, so to speak, addressed the periods when we have no Temple.

G-d himself allows repentance to replace sacrifices even though the Temple was destroyed by our own failings.

Rav Dovid Kronglass ZT'L in his book Sichos Chochma Umussar II explains the responses.

A sin is more than disregard for the will of G-d. The creation was designed so that a sin causes damage and evil. Just as a person who takes poison gets sick, wisdom says that a person who sins should live with the consequences of his act. There is no natural mechanism for repairing the damage.

Prophecy sees a supernatural way to repair the damage. However, the creation is so designed that this repair requires death.

G-d's will, the Torah, provides the mechanism of sacrifice to repair the damage. In his great mercy, G-d allows us to exchange our lives with that of the animal being sacrificed. We are able to repair the damage of our sins by pouring the blood of an animal on the Altar of G-d.

Perhaps this exchange is that which the verses refer to as G-d's metric. That is, the entire system of sacrifices is provided to Mankind because it is proper, and only within G-d's mercy.

Let us look at 12:25 again: Do not eat it, so that it will be good for you and your children after you, when you do that which is proper ('yashar') in the eyes of G-d.

The words, 'when you do that which is proper ('yashar') in the eyes of G-d' can perhaps be understood to mean, 'when you do sacrifices.'

Now, there are several aspects to sin. So far we discussed damage. Another major aspect is rebellion.

A person may wish to repair only the damage but he may still want to retain his independence.

The rebellious person may be inclined offer his sacrifice on a private altar. He still wants to do 'that which is proper in his eyes.' He has no regard for that which is proper in G-d's eyes.

However, since the entire system of sacrifices is only relevant when taking into account that which is proper in G-d's eyes, his sacrifice would be a conceptual contradiction.

Perhaps this is why the Torah also uses the special wording by the prohibition against making sacrifices outside the designated areas.


12:28 Guard and listen to all of these things that I command you, so that it shall be good for you and your children after you forever, provided that you do that which is good and proper in the Eyes of Hashem your G-d.

Rashi provides the following commentary:

"Guard (and listen):" This is Torah study. … If you study then it is possible for you to listen. For anybody who is not within the realm of study is not in the realm of fulfilling (the commandments.)

"That which is good:" (Referring to that which is good) in G-D's eyes.

"And proper:" (Referring to that which is proper) in the eyes of mankind.

The last words of the verse itself seem to imply that both doing that which is good and that which is proper should both be evaluated with respect to "the Eyes of Hashem your G-D."

How do we understand Rashi's commentary which makes the reference for that which is proper to be with respect to the eyes of mankind?

I suspect that Rashi is providing the following reading for this verse:

Do both that which seems good to you in G-D's eyes and that which seems proper to you in the eyes of others, provided that they are indeed good in G-D eyes.

Our reference point must always be that which is good in G-D's eyes and we can only know this if we study His Torah and not be guided by our own bias/preferences the bias/preferences of others.


12:28 Protect and listen to all the things that I command you so that it should forever be good for you and your children when you do that which is good and proper in the eyes of Hashem your G-D.

Fulfilling all of the Torah's commandments is no small feat. Here, the Torah implies that our reward will not be complete until we also protect the commandments and listen to them. Why would we not receive full reward for just being compliant?

The following came to mind.

It is natural for a person to feel restricted by some of the Torah's laws in the early stages of our life-long journey.

It takes time, being steadfast, and maturity for a person to shift the focus of their values away from their body and materialism.

As one grows in awareness of G-D's relationship, the Torah and its commandments assume more value.

A person protects only that which has value to him. And that which has more value commands more attention.

G-D will certainly give full reward for Torah observance in the next world.

We all want the good life in this world, too.

The more we taste the value of Torah observance, the more we realize that the good life in this world is synonymous with Torah observance.


12:30 Watch yourselves, lest you get ensnared from them [the seven evil nations], after their getting destroyed before you. (Take care,) lest you investigate their gods saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods (so that) I can also it.

12:31 Do not do this for Hashem your G-d. For all of the abominations of G-d, which He hates, they have done for their gods. For they have also burned their sons and daughters for their gods.

13:1 All of the matter that I command you today, you shall take care to do it. Do not add to it and do not detract from it.

Idolatry is mentioned adjacent to the commandments against adding or detracting to the Torah.

We find a similar pattern in a previous section.

4:2 Do not add to the matter that I command you and do not detract to it. To guard the commandments of Hashem your G-d that I command you today.

4:3 Your eyes see that which G-d did by (the idol) Baal Peor. For Hashem your G-d destroyed from your midst every man that went after Baal Peor.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, provides the following commentary for 4:2-3. It appears to have relevance for the verses in our section, too.

The Jewish tradition records how idolatry originated

Enosh, grandson of Adam, together with most of his generation, advocated giving honor to celestial beings as a method of giving honor to G-d. They recognized great power that G-d gave these beings. Just as giving honor to the officer of a king is the same as giving honor to the king, it was fitting to honor the heavenly forces.

While the early worshipers had lofty intentions, they provided the foundation stone for an industry of unscrupulous theological exploiters, people who later brought Mankind to do the worst abominations in the name of a god.

So, idolatry began by a group of people who used their intellect to give extra honor to G-d in a way that was never required by G-d. By adding, they detracted.

We can now see the link between the prohibitions against adding to the Torah and idolatry.


13:1 All the matter that I command you , you shall be careful to do. Do not add to it and do not take away from it.

13:2 If a prophet or dreamer of dreams arises within you and provides you with a sign or wonder.

13:3 And the sign or wonder that he told comes true saying, let us go after other gods that you did not know and let us worship them.

13:4 Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams, for Hashem your G-D is testing you to know whether you love Hashem your G-D with all of your heart and all your soul.

The Torah scroll consists of columns of text with occasional small breaks that signify sections. In its original form it contains no chapter or verse numberings. The chapter and verse numbering system was devised by non-Jewish theologians over thirteen-hundred years after the Revelation to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Typically, their chapters encompass one or more textual section breaks.

It is a curiosity that a section break occurs right after the first verse of chapter thirteen. It begs the question of what motivated the theologians to connect the last verse of the previous section with the first verse of the next.

The following came to mind.

13:1 states that we must always listen to G-D Himself. Verse 13:2 and on warn about the possibility of a human being assuming the role of a prophet to suggest fundamental changes within Judaism. Perhaps the association of 13:1 with the false prophet suggests that while a prophet is not authorized to suggest modifications of the Torah, G-D Himself can assume this privilege at any time.

Indeed, this adjustment supports the theology of those who created the numbering system.

However, the textual section break does not support this theology. If anything, the textual break after verse 13:1 suggests the reverse, for the previous sections rejects the notion of pagan ceremonial atrocities and contrasts this with the humane precepts of the Torah. While the pagans justified the atrocities through so-called revelations of their gods, the Torah maintains that the precepts that were provided us at Mount Sinai will never change.

Indeed, for the past thirty-three centuries mainstream Judaism has always maintained that the Torah was given to us by G-D within the context that it will never be changed, replaced, or altered.


13:2 If a prophet or dreamer of dreams arises within your midst and gives you a sign or a wonder.

13:3 And the sign and wonder that he told you come (true) saying, 'Let us go after other gods that you do not know and let us serve them.

13:4 Do not listen to the words of this prophet or dreamer of dreams. For Hashem your G-d is testing you, to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all of your heart and all of your soul.

There doesn't seem to be any limit to the quality of the sign and wonder of verse 13:2.

So picture this scenario. Someone comes out with a statement that a great truth is about to be revealed to mankind. This person is a *real* prophet, not the dime-a-dozen type of guy that fills the dormitories of our mental hospitals. The person is straight, pious, learned, honest, and has a track record of fulfilled prophecies. So this person says that tomorrow at 10:00 AM EST the sun will stop for five hours and twenty-nine seconds. Plus, at mid-night that follows, a full moon will show and god will speak to mankind from the moon.

The scientists and university professors laugh this off. (What else is new?) The sun never stops. The moon is scheduled to be a sliver on the night that follows.

Well, the sun does stop indeed, and at exactly 10 AM EST and for exactly five hour and twenty-nine seconds. And a full moon shines on the following night.

Hey, not bad.

So everybody stays up for the midnight message.

All eyes are fixed on the moon and at exactly midnight, all of mankind is presented a slideshow from the alligator god.

He claims that he created the world, that he made a covenant with Abraham; he took the Jews out of Egypt; he put up will the false religions of the world; now it's time for mankind to fall in step and worship him. He gives a URL to a web site that he opened and asks everyone to pay tribute of a dollar a day (credit cards accepted.) Plus he wants one human sacrifice a month.

What are we going to do about this?

Look for instructions in the Torah, of course. After all, it's the only fully authenticated teaching from G-D that we have.

So here they are:

13:6 And that prophet or dreamer shall be put to death, for he spoke a fabrication against Hashem your G-D (Who took you out from the land of Egypt and Who redeemed you from the house of slaves), to make you stray from the path that Hashem your G-D commanded you to go on, and you shall purge evil from your midst.

Hey what about the slide show? 'Guess it must have been faked. It was probably the Satan and his buddies trying to con us again.

13:4 says it all, "Hashem your G-d is testing you".

But let's take a second look at this verse. It says that this is a test about whether we "love Hashem your G-d with all of your heart and all of your soul."

What does have to do with a test against love? I would better describe it as a test against logic.

I heard the following explanation.

The test is actually one of love against logic.

No matter how much logic you give a woman, she will not be unfaithful to her husband if she loves him enough.

Logic dictates that we follow the alligator god. Our relationship with G-D and our love of Him tells us not to.


13:2 If a prophet or dreamer of dreams arises within your midst and gives you a sign or a wonder.

13:3 And the sign and wonder that he told you come (true) saying, 'Let us go after other gods that you do not know and let us serve them.

13:4 Do not listen to the words of this prophet or dreamer of dreams. For Hashem your G-d is testing you, to know if you love Hashem your G-d with all of your heart and all of your soul.

13:5 Go after Hashem your G-d, fear Him, guard his commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.

Rashi provides the following commentary:

'Guard His commandments:'(This refers to) the Torah of Moshe (Moses).

'Listen to His voice:' (This refers to) the voice of the prophets.

What is Rashi trying to tell us?

The following came to mind, based on what I have been taught.

In His infinite wisdom, G-d chose to give His Torah through only one person, Moshe. Our awareness of this teaching evolved through Moshe for almost forty years after Sinai. Once Moshe left this world, G-d ceased to transmit any knowledge about the Torah. For the rest of history, the Jewish people were charged to preserve this teaching, to act in a manner that is consistent with it, and to derive knowledge about it through only the mechanisms that it authorized.

This is evident from the Oral Torah (Temurah 16a):

(Shortly before Moshe's departure,) Yehoshua's (Joshua) strength weakened. He forgot three-hundred laws and he wasn't sure about seven-hundred questions. (Joshua prayed to G-d for help.) G-d responded that it was impossible to tell him (the answers.)

In another Tanaic teaching it was said that one-thousand-seven hundred .. (matters of Torah law) were forgotten during the period of mourning for Moshe. Rabbi Avahu said, 'Even so, they were restored through the derivations of Asniel Ben Kenaz (who lived during this period).

Had this policy been otherwise, then any prophet subsequent to Moshe would have the authority to evolve and/or modify the Torah of Moshe according to the Word of G-d that he claimed to be transmitting. Given that he/she had the proper credentials, the prophet could have then authorized from within the Torah system even the worship idolatry.

Even though the Torah was sealed by the passing of Moshe, a prophet can ask us to do something or not to do something in the name of G-d. We must listen to his/her voice even if the request is not be consistent with the Torah, such as Eliyahu (Elijah) on Mt. Carmel, as long as the exception is of a temporal nature and it is not related to idolatry. However, the prophet may not modify a commandment of Moshe, which is everlasting.

Now that the Torah was sealed by passing of Moshe and now that this Torah explicitly tells us not to listen to a prophet who charges us to worship idols, we have another criteria for determining a false prophet.


13:7 If your brother, son of your mother, entices you in secret or your son or your daughter or the wife of your bosom that is like yourself saying, "Let us go and serve other gods, those that you or your ancestors never knew"

Rashi notes that it is shameful for a person to adopt an unknown deity.

Since enticers want to succeed in their victimization, why would they suggest obscure deities?

Perhaps the verse is speaking about an enticer who seeks to manipulate by preying on those who have who has yet to establish or feel secure with their self identity.

For such people, a manipulator can make an obscure religion look appealing because their victims are trying to find their own way in life.


13:7 If your brother, son of your mother, entices you in secret or your son or your daughter or the wife of your bosom that is like yourself saying, "Let us go and serve other gods, those that you or your ancestors never knew"

13:8 From the gods of the nations around you, those who live near you and those who are distant from you, from one edge of the earth to the other edge of the earth.

13:9 Do not take kind to him and don't listen to him. Your eyes shall not have pity on him and you shall not have compassion or provide him with cover.

13:10 You shall surely execute him. Your hand shall be the first against him and then the hands of the nation.

The Torah's judicial system has several responses towards capital offenses.

The typical process seems to be primarily geared towards providing deterrence, as the requirements for arriving at a guilty verdict are very difficult to satisfy.

When a need arises to demonstrate more control or proactive assertion, the court can follow a less restrictive process.

However, the process for condemning the enticer is unique. It is relatively aggressive and provides no benefit of doubt to the offender.

The Torah demonstrates strong discouragement towards this crime. It removes all obstacles for society to provide its strongest response. It appears to be the most heinous action that a person can do.

So consider these two cases.

Case one: A person is about to bow down to an idol of the alligator god and is confronted by two witnesses. They protest and warn him that if he does so then he will be violating the Torah's prohibition against idolatry and he will incur the death penalty. The person responds and says, "I'm going to do it even if it costs my life!" He waits about six seconds and then does his thing. The witnesses drag him to a high court and he is not convicted because he waited too long between his declaration and the plopple. Maybe he forgot what they said and did not know the full implications of his actions.

Case two: A person tells a friend, "Say, let's go and bow down to the alligator god." This makes him an enticer. The victim responds, "I'm in a hurry but let me think about this interesting idea. I'll meet you here in an hour." He rushes to report this to a high court. They appoint two witnesses and instruct them to hide in earshot of the meeting place. The enticer returns and says, "OK, let's go bow down to the alligator god." The victim responds, "How can we abandon the G-D of our ancestors and go after that thing?" The enticer says, "Because it's a cool thing to do!" The witnesses emerge, drag him to court, testify, and he is executed.

Listen to this commandment and how it deals with one who suggests to another, "Let us go and serve other gods, those that you or your ancestors never knew."

How do you think heaven will respond and compensate one who suggests to another, "Let us go and serve the G-D of our ancestors?"


13:13 Should you hear about one of the cities that Hashem your G-D gives you to live in, saying.

13:14 Irresponsible men came out from within it and impressed upon the inhabitants of their city saying, "Let us go and worship other gods, (those) that you do not know (about)."

13:15 And you shall thoroughly investigate this matter and if behold this (rumor) is true and is with basis, (that) this atrocity occurred in your midst.

13:16 You shall attack and strike by the sword at the inhabitants of this city. Destroy it, together with those (who live) in it and (also) its animals by the edge of the sword.

13:17 And you shall gather all of its captured property into its central place. And you shall completely burn with fire the city and its property to G-D. And it shall remain an everlasting mound, never to be rebuilt again.

13:18 And nothing from the destruction shall stick to your hands so that G-D will take back his fury and (instead) give you mercy and have mercy on you and increase you, as He swore to your ancestors.

The Mishna in Sanhedrin (111b) derives from verse 18 that the existence of wicked people in the world evokes Divine fury.

The Talmud (113b) says that the wicked people that the Mishna is referring to are the thieves.

This is puzzling because the people in these verses are at worst guilty of impressing idol worship upon others.

What does this wrongdoing have to do with theft?

The following came to mind.

Impressing idol worship on others detaches them from their heritage and destiny. There is no greater loss to a human being than being detached to the heritage and destiny of the Jewish people.

The Torah uses two words for a thief: 'Ganav' and 'Gazlan'. A ganav refers to someone who steals with stealth, without the knowledge of the victim. A Gazlan refers to a bandit.

Here, the Talmud uses the term 'Ganav' which fits the profile of someone who cons another person out of his religion.

The loss from Judaism of the majority of a city's population is an extreme example of the damage a theological con man can do.

Unfortunately, throughout our history we have examples of people who have succeeded in doing less visible damage.

May G-D protect us all from being detached from authentic Judaism, for this is our source of strength and hope, our link to G-D, our source of life and peace.

If a person has no past and no future then how can he have a present.


14:4 You are children to Hashem your G-D. Do not ‘goded’ yourselves. And do not (tear out hair to) make a bald spot between your eyes over (the loss of) a dead person.

There are several readings of the word, ‘goded.’

One reading is a prohibition mark a wound on one’s body in grief over the loss of a loved one. Another reading is a prohibition to have factions in a city (Yevamos 13a).

The commentaries link the beginning of the verse for the first reading. We are prohibited to display excessive grief over a death because we are children to Hashem. Death is not the end of life. Rather it’s a transition to a higher level of life, back to where we were before we were sent here by our Father in heaven. Excessive grief is appropriate for only those who do not share our belief in a person’s eternal existence.

The Talmud explains the second reading to prohibit a city from having two organizations that make rulings on Jewish law from diverse standpoints, one taking on the view of the House of Hillel and the other taking on the view of the House of Shamai. Rather, those who have a say on how the citizens of a city should practice Judaism must come to a consensus, within the context of how Judaism has been practiced for the past thirty-three centuries.

According to the second reading it is hard to see the link between the beginning of the verse to this prohibition.

What does our being ‘children of Hashem’ have to do with senior religious leaders being inclined to assume diverse viewpoints?

The following came to mind.

A conviction that we are ‘children of Hashem’ should unite us.

But let us bring to mind and try to understand a very puzzling phenomenon: Sibling rivalry.

A bit of research yielded the following from the University of Michigan: “There are many factors that contribute to sibling rivalry: Each child is competing to define who they are as an individual. As they discover who they are, they try to find their own talents, activities, and interests. They want to show that they are separate from their siblings.”

It is fascinating that this relationship we call family, one that brings people together, can serve as an underlying cause to separate the very same people that it unites.

The greater a person is, the greater, more precious, and more real is every word and nuance of the Torah. Could it be that the Torah therefore saw a special need to remind our great leaders to manage more carefully their feelings of unity with each other so that the nature of their own personality does not work against it?


14:23 And you shall eat before Hashem your G-D, in the place that He will select to reside, the tenth of your grain, wine, and oil and the first-born of your herd and flock so that you will learn to fear Hashem your G-D for all the days.

14:24 And if the journey will be too much for you (so) that you will not be able to carry it because the place that Hashem your G-D selected to reside there is too far from you, because Hashem your G-D will bless you (with an abundance).

14:25 Then you shall (redeem it) with money. And you shall wrap the money in your hand and go to the place that Hashem your G-D selected.

14:26 And you shall give the money (in exchange) for all that your soul wants (to eat), in cattle, flocks, fresh and aged wine and for all that your soul seeks (to have). And you shall eat there before Hashem your G-D and you and your household shall rejoice.

The Torah writes that fulfilling this commandment will cause a person to learn to fear G-D and it will also bring a person to rejoice.

It is noteworthy that the Torah associates learning to fear G-D with a person's bringing his produce to the Temple and the Torah associates joy with a person's redeeming the produce and bringing the money to the Temple. What is the Torah trying to tell us by these associations?

The following came to mind.

Carrying the actual produce requires far more exertion to perform the commandment than redeeming the produce and carrying the money.

The Torah provides the mechanism of redemption as a convenience, not as a requirement.

Learning requires exertion and this results in growth.

One who exerts himself to fulfill this commandment and who carries his actual produce will be better prepared for a learning experience and the resulting growth.

Joy is not a learning experience. Rather, it is a reaction.

One who redeems his produce will be rewarded in this world with joy. However, the results of his fulfillment may not be as great as the person who exerted himself to bring the actual produce to the Temple.


16:3 Do not eat unleavened bread upon it [the Passover offering]. (Rather,) eat upon it matzah for seven days, the bread of affliction. For you left the Land of Egypt in haste. (Do this) so that you will remember the day of your going out from Egypt all the days of your life.

Rashi says that the haste was Egypt's.

The Egyptians were so thoroughly beaten up by G-D for holding back the Jewish people that by the time the Exodus occurred, the Egyptians literally drove them out of Egypt (Exodus 12:39).

Our sages teach that G-D engineered this haste because the Jewish people were in spiritual peril.

Our sages talk in terms of fifty gates of impurity.

The debased Egyptian culture and life-style wore down their spiritual level and the Jewish people were about to sink into the fiftieth gate. Had the redemption delayed any longer then they would have been lost.

Rabbi Gedaliah Schor, of blessed memory, notes that this notion is puzzling for nothing can stop G-D. It is unthinkable to view this as a limitation that would have tied G-D's hand and that He would not have been able to redeem the Jewish people, or anybody else for that matter, regardless of their spiritual level.

He explains that G-D could have redeemed them from any level. The fiftieth or fifty-thousandth level makes no difference to Him. But had they gone too far off the deep end, then they would have disconnected from their ancestors.

That is, such redemption would have been a re-build, not a restoration to their ancestors. The connection to the lives of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) would have been only in biology and DNA.

Rather, the intent of G-D's promises to our great ancestors was that He would develop and deliver a nation of descendents that reflected their great lifestyle and that would connect with them spiritually, as well as physically.

Rabbi Schor notes that there is no mention of haste in the descriptions of our future redemption, may it occur speedily in our days.

He says that haste was only needed for the redemption from Egypt because we did not yet have the Torah.

Now that we have the Torah, our connection is strong enough to survive even through the fiftieth level.

So let's all get busy connecting to the Torah.


16:7 Should there be among you one who is impoverished, of one of your brothers of one of your gates (that are) in your land, that which Hashem your G-D gives you, do not toughen your heart and don't close your hand because of your brother, the impoverished.

16:8 Rather open up, open your hand to him and lend, lend him enough for his needs, that which he lacks.

The Vilna Gaon of blessed memory provided the following insight.

The Torah tells us to open up our hand, not just our wallets.

Everyone who comes for assistance is an individual, with his/her own personality, background, and needs.

Now, when a fist is closed, one can't tell which finger is bigger or smaller. One needs to open up the hand to see the difference.

Just like opening up a hand shows the individual fingers so that we can see the difference between them, by telling us to open our hand the Torah is suggesting that we must be sensitive to the differences of each person and not respond to them all in the same way.


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