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Forethoughts And AfterThoughts Archives
- Devarim

Shoftim (Deut. 16-21)

16:19 Do not bend justice, do not give recognition ( - honor - to the ) faces ( of litigants), do not take bribery, for bribes will blind the eyes of the wise and it will ruin correct expressions.

Rabbi Shabsei Katz lived some 350 years ago. He was an outstanding Torah scholar and a prolific author. His commentary on the Shulchan Aruch is a must-read for every serious student of Jewish law.

He shared the following story to help us take to heart the wisdom that is in this verse of the Torah.

Someone once approached him and claimed that the rabbi owed him money.

Rabbi Katz considered the claim and responded that he owed the man nothing.

But he realized that it was unfair to impose his opinion because he was personally involved. So he proposed that they present the case to another Torah scholar and the claimant readily agreed.

The Rabbi came to court in disguise as a businessman so as not to prejudice the judge.

It was not clear-cut and the presiding Torah scholar was unable to render a decision on the spot. He requested that they give him a day for research.

When they returned, he stunned Rabbi Katz by ruling that he owes his claimant the money.

Rabbi Katz declared that he fully accepted the decision of the court and then politely asked the judge if he could ask some questions so that he could better understand the decision.

From the nature of his questions it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary businessman.

After some discussion the presiding Torah scholar confided that he was on the verge of ruling in his favor but he changed his mind during research when he discovered that this very case was discussed and a decision was clearly rendered in a very scholarly work by an outstanding Torah scholar: Rabbi Shabsei Katz.


16:19 Do not bend justice, do not give recognition ( - honor - to the ) faces ( of litigants), do not take bribery, for bribes will blind the eyes of the wise and it will ruin correct expressions.

16:21 Do not plant an (idolatrous) ashera tree, any tree adjacent to the altar that you will make for Hashem your G-d.

16:22 And do not set up a (single) pillar (for offering sacrifices), that which Hashem your G-d hates.

17:1 Do not slaughter to Hashem your G-d an ox or sheep that has a (physical) defect, anything that is faulty, for this is an abomination to Hashem your G-d.

The commentary Klei Yakar references a Medrash (Deut. 5:6) which teaches that King Shlomo's (Solomon's) throne had the following phrases on its six steps: Do not bend (16:19), do not give recognition (16:19), do not take bribery (16:19), do not plant (16:21), do not set up (16:22), and do not slaughter (17:1).

King Shlomo judged the people while sitting on this throne. How do the latter three verses relate to making judgements?

The following came to mind.

When properly done, the Torah's system of justice is clear, straight, and easy to maintain. A person who bends justice must compensate in future rulings in order to maintain consistency and credibility. His system of justice is likened to a tree, a complicated network of logical branches. Bending justice is costly. They force a person to expend energy to keep his reputation, which is at risk.

We are taught that our forefathers made their sacrifices on offering pillars. The stones became abominable in a later historical context. We are charged to give honor to people of distinction. Yet this is totally inappropriate when a judge gives honor to one litigant during a case that he is hearing, for it shakes the confidence of the opposing party. Giving honor has its limits. The litigation process is a wrong context for giving honor, even an abomination, just like the offering stones.

Verse 16:19 states that bribery will blind the eyes. The Talmud (Kesuvos 105a) takes this almost literally. "One who takes a bribe will not leave this world before losing his mental vision of clarity." According to Rashi, he will degenerate in public, "It will blind his eye when he will become a fool and sits in judgement." Bribery is costly. It will cause a defect that will be stand out for all to see.

A potential financial gain may incline a person to corrupt justice. Perhaps King Shlomo engraved these lessons to remind both himself and his descendents of the advantages in maintaining justice according to the Torah.


16:20 Chase after righteousness, righteousness so that you will live and inherit the land that Hashem your G-D is giving you.

We have no record of a gifting transaction from G-D to the Jewish people. Rather, the Jewish people obtained the land through conquest.

We must therefore say that G-D's management of the world to enable the Jewish people to succeed in the conquest is how G-D's gave us the land.

And we therefore know that each and every success we have in business and in life is also a gift from G-D.

Now, the verse says that we shall inherit the land. But if G-D is giving us the land then why is it important that we also inherit it?

The following came to mind.

Possession through inheritance is much better than possession through conquest because our rights to the land can only be questioned by another legitimate heir.

Biology links the Jewish people with their ancestors.

The Torah appears to make our inheritance of the Land of Israel dependent upon our behavior. Apparently biology is not enough of a link to justify our inheriting the land from our ancestors.

Until we focus on living like our great ancestors, I suspect that our claim to the land will always be questioned.


16:21 You shall not plant an [idolatrous] Ashera (tree) adjacent to the altar of Hashem your G-d that you will make for yourselves.

16:22 And you shall not set up a pillar (to make sacrifices on it), that which Hashem your G-D hates.

Some ancient people used to worship the Ashera tree, whatever that was.

It would be very outrageous for someone to set one up in the temple, and especially next to the altar of G-D.

But then again, corrupt people sometimes come to power and they may want to set one up by G-D's altar as an attempt to legitimize whatever corruptions they want to foster upon their subjects.

The Author of the Torah knows human nature best.

In 16:22, the Torah is telling us that our altar may not be made out of a single stone.

The temple's sacrificial altar was made from large concrete slabs that contained smooth stones.

Rashi says that the prohibition against a single stone is even if the purpose of altar is for sacrificing to G-D. Rashi also says that our Patriarchs offered their sacrifices on single stones. While this practice was cherished by G-D during the time of the Patriarchs, it became hated by G-D because this was also how the Canaanite nations made their altars.

It is remarkable that the Torah describes the practice of making a single-stone altar as being hated by G-D but not that practice of planting an idolatrous tree next to G-D's altar.

The following came to mind.

The Patriarchs were held in very high esteem by the Canaanite people that hosted them. Abraham was hailed as a "Prince Of G-D" (Genesis 23:6).

Perhaps to achieve their self-interests, the religion industries of the ancient world mimicked the worship of our forefathers to help sell their falsehoods to their victims.

Perhaps the Torah writes that practice of using single stones was hated by G-D because it was used to cheat well-meaning but gullible people from their authentic connection with G-D.

As outrageous as it sounds, planting an Ashera tree next to G-D's altar is not described as being hated by G-D because the falsehood was obvious.


17:1 Do not sacrifice to Hashem your G-D a bull or sheep that has a blemish, anything bad, because this is an abomination to Hashem your G-D.

The scriptures record a prophet criticizing people for doing this:

"Says G-D of hosts: And when a blind one is brought for a sacrifice is this not bad? And when you bring one that is lame or sick is this not bad? Please bring (such a gift) to your governor. Will he accept you or will he lift up your face?" (Malachi 2:8)

It is understandable that it's highly improper and downright disrespectful to use such an animal as a sacrifice.

But why is this abomination?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps that blind animal was a huge and fat prize bull, worth tens of thousands of dollars. It had all of its eyes, only it just couldn't see. The animal was significantly more valuable in the marketplace than a lean bull with eyesight.

In a system that values the quantity and quality of meat, the blind bull was superior. But the Temple and its services is all about demonstrating the significance we place on G-D's will.

We can therefore see that sacrificing the blind bull is an abomination, for it demonstrates a substitution of our will and value system over that which is expressed in the Torah as G-D's will.


Verses 17:8-11 present the process of determining and defining halacha, which includes the civil, social, and ritual behaviors, in manner and content that is consistent with the teachings of Moshe (Moses).

The Oral Torah augments these guidelines, which were in effect during the era of the Great Sanhedrin Court.

Rambam Shoftim:Mamrim 1:4

During the era of the Great (Sanhedrin) Court there was never any (lasting) controversy within the Jewish people (about defining authentic Jewish practice). Anyone who required a clarification regarding Jewish laws and customs would pose the question to the (local) court of his city. They would tell him the answer if they knew it. If they didn't, then the person who had the question would travel to Jerusalem, together with the local court or with their messengers, and they would pose the question to the court that sat in the (outer area of the) Temple Mount. They would tell them the answer if they knew it. If not, then all would go and ask the court that sat by the entrance to the Temple Courtyard. They would tell them the answer if they knew it. Otherwise, they would all go and pose the question to the Great (Sanhedrin) Court that sat in the Chamber of Gazis. If the matter which puzzled everyone was known to the members of this court, whether by tradition or by derivation (in accordance with the manner that Moshe prescribed), then they would issue the ruling at that time. If the matter was not clear to the Great Court then they would discuss it until they either reached a consensus or they voted, where they would follow the majority opinion. They would (then) state the halacha and matter would be closed.

Verse 17:12 presents the law of the Renegade Sage:

And the man who acts willfully, who refuses to listen to the Kohen who stands there to serve G-d or to the (Supreme Court) justice, that man must die and you must clear out evil from your midst.

Again, the Oral Torah provides additional detail.

Rambam Shoftim:Mamrim 3

Whoever (issues rulings that are not consistent with the Torah but he/she) does not profess (in the truth of) the Oral Torah can not be classified as a Renegade Sage (and this person does not incur the death penalty in the manner that the Torah prescribes). Rather, such an individual is an Apostate (and is dealt with accordingly.)

The (case of the) Renegade Sage (that is in) the Torah is (about) a person who is one of the Sages of Israel, who has (Mosaic) ordination and who judges and teaches Torah in the manner that all Sages of Israel have judged and taught. If a controversy in law comes before a (Sage) that was (already decided by) the Great Court, and he did not retract his contrary ruling but instead he maintains an opposing position and issues a ruling to behave in a manner that is not consistent with their teaching (then he is a Renegade Sage). The Torah classifies this as a capital offense. He confesses and (after his death) he will have a share in the World To Come. Even though he (has authority) to judge and (the Great Court) has authority to judge, (even though) he received the tradition and they received the tradition, he is still (considered a renegade Sage), as the Torah gave the (Great Court) this distinction. The Torah does not give the Great Court any authority to pardon him and let him live, because (of the need) to insure that (unjustified) conflict does not break out within the Jewish people.

The manner of his execution is most unusual:

Rambam Shoftim Mamrim 3

(For other crimes, a person who is condemned is executed without delay. However, the Renegade Sage) is kept under watch until (the next) festival (and the sentence is carried out at that time, thereby providing maximum publicity of the crime and its punishment).

We can assume that this is also because of the need to insure that unjustified conflict does not break out within the Jewish people.

The Rambam concludes Mamrim 3 with the following statement:

The deaths of four crimes must be publicized: The Renegade Sage (zaken mamre), witnesses who issue false testimony (in order to condemn an innocent person to death - adim zomemim), a person who attempts to seduce another into committing idolatry (masis), and the case of the wayward and gluttonous son (ben sorer umoreh). The Torah uses the following phrase when it presents their sentence: 'And all of Israel shall listen and become afraid (to repeat the crime.)'

It is interesting to note that these four crimes share this characteristic. The following came to mind.

A person has unique relationships and obligations with G-d, with his fellow man, and with himself. The Torah provides guidelines for them all. Perhaps the crimes of idolatrous seduction, false capital testimony, and the gluttonous son represent the most extreme instances of misconduct within these three relationships, while the Renegade Sage represents the most extreme example of distorting the Torah within its own system.

As a side note, we see from the laws of the Renegade Sage that Torah behavior is a well defined set of behaviors and that it is defined by that which Moshe taught us. Halacha can be subject to interpretation, but only when the interpretation is carried out by the specific methods that the Torah provides for deriving Jewish law. In deciding Torah law, our Rabbis as consultants, for they are (should be) accomplished Torah scholars. The Rabbis of each generation do not define Torah behavior on the fly and according to their whim. Authentic Torah behavior is based on tradition and truth, not on communal popularity.


17:10 And you shall do by the word that they [the Supreme Torah Court] tell you from the place [the Temple] that G-d will choose. And you shall take care to do whatever they teach you.

17:11 Act by the Torah that they teach you and the judgement that they tell you. Do not turn aside to the left or to the right from the matter that they tell you.

The Written and Oral Torahs specify procedures to determine law in cases of doubt.

During the era of the Great (Sanhedrin) Court there was never any (lasting) controversy within the Jewish people (about defining authentic Jewish practice). Anyone who required a clarification regarding Jewish laws and customs would pose the question to the (local) court of his city. They would tell him the answer if they knew it. If they didn't, then the person who had the question would travel to Jerusalem, together with the local court or with their messengers, and they would pose the question to the court that sat in the (outer area of the) Temple Mount. They would tell them the answer if they knew it. If not, then all would go and ask the court that sat by the entrance to the Temple Courtyard. They would tell them the answer if they knew it. Otherwise, they would all go and pose the question to the Great (Sanhedrin) Court that sat in the Chamber of Gazis. If the matter which puzzled everyone was known to the members of this court, whether by tradition or by derivation (in accordance with the manner that Moshe prescribed), then they would issue the ruling at that time. If the matter was not clear to the Great Court then they would discuss it until they either reached a consensus or they voted, where they would follow the majority opinion. They would (then) state the halacha and matter would be closed.

If two scholars or Torah courts issue opposing rulings, either during a period when we have no Supreme Court [e.g. today] or during the time that the matter was being resolved, whether the doubt arises concurrently or sequentially, where one rules that something is fit and another rules that it is not fit or one forbids and another permits, if you do not know how law should be, then if relates to a Torah-based matter, one must act with the restrictive ruling and if it relates to a Rabbinic-based matter, one acts according to the permissive ruling. (RAMBAM Yad Hachazacka Shoftim Mamrim 1:4-5.)

The ruling of the Supreme Court was determinative and final. The above verse (17:11) directs us to not 'turn aside to the left or to the right from the matter that they tell' us.

The Oral Torah provides two views of this verse. Actually, one appears to detract from the definitive nature of the Supreme Court's ruling.

Sifrei on 'To the right and to the left:' Even if it appears in your eyes that (they are saying that) the left is the right and the right is the left. You must still listen to them.

Yerushalmi Hurious 1:1 on the same verse: One might think that if they tell you that the right is left and the left is the right that you must listen to them. Says the Torah, 'right and left.' Only (listen to them) when they tell you that the right is right and the left is left.

The Ramban, a later scholar, provides the following commentary, which appears to reflect the Sifrei, not the Yerushalmi.

Even if you think that they are making a mistake and the matter is clear in your eyes, as clear as right and left, you must do what they say. Tell yourself that this is what the Master, the Commander of all commandments, commanded me. According to the meaning of their opinion G-d gave me His Torah, even if they are in error.

The Torah Temima, a recent scholar, reconciles the Sifrei with the Yerushalmi.

We are charged to preserve and to keep the Torah of Moshe (Moses).

Our records of the past seventeen-hundred years of the Oral Torah reflect the requirement to trace every ruling back to earlier rulings, eventually back to the teachings of Moshe himself. In actuality, only Moshe's rulings were of a definitive nature. Subsequently, every ruling was in reality an assessment of either what Moshe said or that which he would have said, given our knowledge of what he did say.

The Sifrei talks about a ruling appearing in a person's eyes to be opposite of what it appeared to be in the eyes of the Supreme Court. It refers to an assessment about Moshe's teaching. The Torah teaches that Supreme Court's assessment about Moshe's teaching is also definitive for all practical purposes.

However, this is only if the Court seeks to issue rulings that are consistent with Moshe's teachings. Authorization is not given to anyone, even to the Supreme Court, to redefine the Torah. The Yerushalmi addresses this case. The Torah charges us to ignore a person or a body of lawmakers that attempts to make right that which Moshe said is left and visa versa.

Traditionally, we follow the rulings of Torah scholars, those who are most able and committed to fully reflect the teachings of Moshe.

Today we have no Temple and no Supreme Torah Court. We live with the belief G-d does not abandon us and He only expects us to select and follow true Torah scholars, people who we know are competent, are objective, and who issue rulings with intellectual honesty.

Yet they are only human and are subject to error.

I share my thoughts on why, when the Torah charges us to follow the scholars, it uses the phrase, right and left, not right and wrong.

Right and left are relative to how up and down are defined. If you look at someone who is upside-down, his right is your left and visa versa.

In issuing their rulings, we can expect our scholars to receive Divine assistance.

They may be ruling that the right is right and the left is left. However, despite their best intentions and efforts, the teachings of Moshe may have been the reverse. In this case, G-d steps in to back their ruling, not by changing the Torah of Moshe, but if necessary by turning the world upside-down, until the right becomes the left and the left becomes the right. With His power to change circumstance and environment, G-d promises to assist those who seek to keep the Torah of Moshe.


17:14 When you come to the land that Hashem your G-D gives you and (when you) inherit and settle in it and (when) you shall say (that) I will appoint a king upon myself …

17:15 Appoint shall you appoint a king upon yourselves that Hashem your G-D chooses …

17:18 And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom he shall write a second (copy) of this Torah...

17:19 And it shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life …

17:20 So that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren …

Every Jew is required to write a personal copy of the Torah. (According to the Oral Torah, this can be fulfilled today by purchasing Torah books to study from. And a Jew is required to study Torah all the days of his life.)

Here, the Torah appears to place upon the Jewish king a greater emphasis on Torah study and connections. And it appears that a reason for the greater emphasis is so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren.

Humility is a spiritual need and goal for all.

Albeit that Torah study has great power to bring a person to higher levels of perfection, is there a special relationship between the Jewish king and the challenge for him to maintain humility?

The following came to mind.

An American president is an honored person. Presidential honor is an entitlement, it's supported and expected. But legal obligations that are imposed on the citizens to give honor are mostly non-existent. If the President walks into a room and someone refuses to respectfully stand up for him/her then that person will not be arrested.

And the president can certainly forego the honor that is due. So if you meet the president and he tells you to address him by his first name from now on, then you may certainly do so.

Torah rules for the Jewish king are entirely different. Citizens are obligated to give him honor by law.

Furthermore, the Talmud says that the Jewish king may not forgo the honor that is due. We derive this from the words, "Appoint shall you appoint a king upon yourselves …." The Torah repeats the word, "appoint." This indicates that reverence that we give him is continuous. (Kesuvos 17a).

Therefore, if King David tells a person, "Just call me Dave" then the person may not do so. Rather, he must continue to address the king as "My master the king." The moment after the king waives the privilege we again have an obligation to honor him.

Perhaps the Torah is especially concerned about the king's spiritual need for humility because the Torah itself assigns him an intensive level of honor from his citizens.


17:18 And it will be that when he [the king] will sit on the throne of his kingdom that he will write two copies of this Torah on a scroll from (that which is) before the priests, the Levites.

Rashi says that the king stores one copy of the Torah in his treasure chamber. The other copy is taken in and brought out.

The Ksav Sofer commentary takes this to mean that a king must have two personalities, a private personality, represented by the Torah that is hidden away in the treasury, and a public one, represented by the Torah that is carried wherever the king goes.

There are times when a leader must be very hard and demanding on himself. In this mode, the leader must take care to preserve his feelings of mercy, leniency, and patience towards those that are under him. Conversely, there are times when a leader must demonstrate outrage and impatience. When this mode, the leader must preserve his inner feelings of regard and respect towards the same people that he is admonishing.


19:3 Prepare for yourselves the road and divide the boundaries of your land by three, that which Hashem your G-D will cause you to inherit. And it will be a place for all (accidental) murders to flee to.

How do we prepare the road for the cities of refuge? Rashi says that road signs were installed by every intersection to point the way.

We also used the roads for the three annual pilgrimage holidays but the Torah does not command us to make road signs towards the temple.

Why does the Torah charge us to make signs for the accidental murderer but not for holiday pilgrims?

Rav Ruderman of blessed memory said the Torah wanted to spare the accidental murderer the embarrassment of asking for directions because he wouldn't want many people to know what he did.

However, going to the temple is a meritorious act and asking for directions elevates the traveler's esteem in the eyes of those he asks. It may also motivate others to follow in his footsteps, thereby promoting Torah observance.

Last week's Torah reading has the following verse:

12:5 Only to the place from all your tribes that Hashem your G-D will choose to associate His name there. You shall seek out His presence and come there.

The Shiras David understands the Ramban commentary's reading of this verse to say that there is a Torah commandment to ask others how to get to the temple.

Living in the generation of GPS, it will be interesting to see how things will turn out when the temple is rebuilt, may it occur speedily in our days.


19:3 Prepare for yourselves the road and divide the boundaries of your land by three, that which Hashem your G-D will cause you to inherit. And it will be a place for all (accidental) murders to flee to.

19:4 And this is the matter of the murderer who flees there and will live. One who strikes his fellow without knowledge and he never hated him from yesterday or the day before.

19:5 That he came to the forest with his fellow to chop wood and his hand swung with the axe to cut wood and the iron (head) slipped from the wood and found his fellow and he died. He will flee to one of these cities and live.

19:6 Lest the redeemer of blood pursue the murderer for his heart will be hot and he will reach him because the way is far off and he will mortally strike him. And there is no capital judgment of against him because he never hated him from yesterday or the day before.

Verse 19:5 ends by saying that the accidental murderer must seek refuge in a designated city of refuge. The next verse expresses a concern for accidental murderer being killed by the victim's close relative because of the distance to the city of refuge.

These two thoughts are somewhat related, but not directly. The refuge of verse 19:5 results from having reached the city, however the concern of 19:6 is about getting there in the first place.

In his commentary for verse 19:6, Rashi implies that verse 19:6 is referring back to verse 19:3. That is, prepare for yourselves the road and divide it into three (19:3) lest the redeemer of blood pursues the murderer because the way is far off (19:6).

A thought came to mind which could perhaps conceptually link the two successive verses together.

The Oral Torah teaches that the case of the accidental murderer is one where there is a slight negligence on the part of the woodcutter. That is, the forced exile is mandated only if the head flew off while the axe was being brought down on the wood, within the woodcutter's field of focus. Had the head flew up during the upswing then no negligence would have been assigned to the woodcutter.

The Oral Torah also suggests that had the accidental murderer lived a life that demonstrated more regard for the safety of his fellow man then he may not have been selected by Heaven as the agent to cause the death of another person.

Thus, despite the accidental nature of the tragedy, the Torah suggests some soul searching.

We should certainly view the experience of exile as being rehabilitative, not merely as punitive. Perhaps we can associate the two verses in this light.

That is, the accidental murderer must seek refuge and when he reaches the city of refuge he will have a head-start on the rehabilitation process because he was concerned with the redeemer reaching him during his rush to get there. Perhaps the process of correction is also what the Torah implied when it states that "he will live" when he reaches his destination.

That is, immediately after the death of his victim, perhaps the Torah is immediately redirecting his attention towards preventing another tragic death of a person who is not guilty of being put to death, which is himself. Such a tragedy had already occurred with the loss of the life of his victim and would repeat itself if he were to be killed by the redeemer on the way to refuge. The more he overcomes the sorrow and depression of the accidental death and rushes to refuge, the more deeply he demonstrates his regret over the loss of life, thereby beginning the process of rehabilitation.


19:5 And (about) one who goes into the forest with his friend to chop down trees and his hand swings an axe to cut down a tree and the axe head slips off wood (handle) and finds his friend and he dies. He will flee to one of these cities (of refuge) and he will live (there in exile).

The Talmud says that the Torah teacher/mentor of the accidental murderer must live together with his student in exile because the Torah says that he ‘will live there’ (Makos 10a).

The Rambam explains that for those who have Torah wisdom and who continue to seek it, a life without Torah study is a form of death (Rotzeach 7:1).

Similarly, the Talmud teaches that if a Torah teacher becomes an accidental murderer, his entire academy goes into exile with him.


19:8 And if Hashem your G-D widens your borders just like He swore to your ancestors, and He gives you all the land that He said He will give to your ancestors.

19.9 When you will guard the entirety of this commandment to do it, that which I command you today. To love Hashem your G-D and to go in His ways all of the days, then you shall add for yourselves another three cities (of refuge for the accidental murderer) in addition to these three.

Rashi says that this is speaking about a future time, which appears to be the Messianic Era.

Rabbi Hoberman of blessed memory poses the following question.

The Torah first introduces the cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12-13 in these verses:

One who fatally strikes his fellow (on purpose) shall die.

And he who did not seek out (the death of his fellow but rather) it was G-D who caused him to do it. Then I shall establish a place where he can flee (for refuge).

It is puzzling that G-D should cause someone to accidently kill another human being. Rashi explains that we are not speaking about a murder who was an innocent person. Rather both he and the victim are wicked people.

Rashi suggests a case where someone accidently killed another and deliberately did not fulfill the commandment to go into exile, which can happen if nobody was there to witness the accident. And was another person who committed murder intentionally, only he got away with it. G-D will cause both to come together in the same place. He will cause the accidental murderer to accidently kill the intentionally murderer, only this time in front of witnesses. Divine justice is now served in this world: The intentional murderer meets his death and the accidental murderer goes into exile.

Rashi cites this as an example of the verse, "… Wickedness comes forth from wicked people … (Shmuel / Samuel I, 24:14)

Given that the Torah is commanding us to build three more cities of refuge during the Messianic era, and given that accidental are not innocent, it must be, notes Rav Hoberman that there will still be wicked people around during the Messianic Era, and even intentional murderers.

Now, both the Talmud and the Rambam clearly indicate that the Jewish people will only be redeemed though their doing repentance. (Sanhedrin 97b, Rambam Teshuva 7:5).

If we have yet to see the Messianic Era then it must be that we still have wicked people running around. But if there will still be wicked people during the Messianic Era anyway, then why aren't we there already?

Furthermore, it is natural to assume that we will be on a higher level during that era. In what way will that level be better than the level we are currently on?

I discussed the following model with a great Torah scholar and perhaps we can use it to understand where we are and where we are headed.

There is discussion in the Talmud on how life will be in the Messianic Era. Everyone agrees that the exile will end, that the Jewish people will be gathered to Israel, that G-D will build the Third Temple, etc.

But what will day-to-day life be like? When we need something to wear, will we go to a mall to buy it or will we go to the backyard and pick it off a tree?

Rabbi Chiya Bar Aba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, "The prophets spoke only about the Messianic Era, not about the world to come. This, notes the Talmud, is in contrast to Shmuel's understanding, who said, "The only difference between this world and the Messianic Era will be our no longer being under the subjugation of foreign governments" (Brachos 43b).

The Rambam and the Raavad appear to differ, too. The Rambam echoes Shmuel's view but the Raavad cites the following verse, in refutation: "And I shall eliminate harmful animals from the land (Leviticus 26:6) (Rambam Kings 12:1).

It will be a different world. But will we be different?

The scriptures state: "And I shall cleanse from among you those who rebel and who brazenly disregard Me … "(Yechezkel / Ezekiel 20:38).

I suggest that we will indeed repent and be different. There will no longer be among us anybody who rebels against G-D or who will brazenly disregard His will.

We will all recognize G-D and will respect His will. Torah law will be the supreme law of the land and it will be practiced and enforced.

But we should not expect to be transformed into angels when we hear the shofar sound.

Rather, we'll still have our foibles and personality shortcomings. We'll have our habits, for better and for worse. Only we'll be focused on getting our act together within the framework of the Torah.

But as personality does not change overnight, we will initially be prone to doing things that we won't be later proud of.

Therefore, we will still need cities of refuge for the near-term.

May the redemption occur speedily in our days.


19:16 Should a vicious witness arise against a person to testify that something is amiss.

19:17 And the two men who have the quarrel shall stand before G-D, before the priests and judges that will be in those days.

19:18 And the judges shall thoroughly investigate and behold (if) the testimony was given falsely, he testified falsely against his fellow.

19:19 And you shall do to him just like he plotted to do to his fellow. And you shall clear out evil from your midst.

The laws of the false witness are delineated by the Talmud in the first chapter of tractate Makos.

The Hebrew word Makos is plural for Maka, which means a lashing or a blow.

The third chapter of this tractate deals with the capital punishment of lashing. It is somewhat puzzling that this tractate begins with the laws of the false witness but is named for a topic that is not focused on until the third chapter.

Although its first example of false testimony evokes the punishment of lashing, most of this first chapter deals with law of false testimony, not with lashings.

In its initial discussion, the Talmud in Makos says that its leading Mishna is a follow-on to the last Mishna of the previous tractate, called Sahnedrin. It goes to reference the last Mishna of chapter ten.

This is also somewhat puzzling because Sanhedrin has an eleventh chapter, which seems to be bypassed. This chapter deals with those whose punishment is the loss of their share in the world to come.

There are some who say that Sanhedrin's eleventh chapter was not initially a part of the tractate. Apparently, since it is included in our editions, this view was not universally accepted.

In summary, why is tractate Makos given a name for a topic whose detail is in the third chapter. Also, why does the Talmud relate its first Mishna to the end of the tenth chapter and not to the eleventh.

The following came to mind.

Among the crimes of the false witness is the transgression of slander, Lashon Hara (evil tongue).

False testimony is an extreme example of Lashon Hara. While general society does not stoop to this level of evil, we are all prone to carelessness with our tongues.

The term Makos can refer to the punishment of lashes. It can also refer to an affliction. Indeed, Lashon Hara is a Makas Medina, a common and serious affliction.

So perhaps our sages named this tractate to take the opportunity of reminding us to be careful in how we use our tongues.

Now, the Talmud in the eleventh chapter of Sanhedrin teaches the following:

"There are four classes of individuals that will not be greeted by the Divine presence in the next world: The scoffers, the liars, the charmers, and those who speak Lashon Hara."

So, perhaps the association of the first Mishna in Makos with the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin instead of the eleventh is because those who frequently transgress this guideline are themselves bypassing this teaching and they will also be bypassed in the world to come.


19:18 And the judges shall thoroughly investigate and behold (if) the testimony was given falsely, he testified falsely against his fellow.

19:19 And you shall do to him just like he plotted to do to his fellow. And you shall clear out evil from your midst.

If false witnesses tried to get someone fined then they are fined. If they tried to get someone killed then they are killed.

Rashi cites the Talmudic teaching that the sentence of reflective penalty for false witnesses is only imposed when they are unsuccessful. That is, if two witnesses give false testimony to get someone killed then they can only be killed if they are exposed prior to the execution of their victim. However, if they succeed and the victim is executed then they do not get killed.

The Talmud notes that this appears to be counter-intuitive. If an unsuccessful attempted murder is punishable by death then deductive reasoning mandates that a successful murder should have at least the same penalty. The Talmud (Makos 5b) explains this paradox by referencing a general rule that the Torah does not allow us to derive penalties by deductive reasoning.

How is this understood?

Rabbi Shmuel Felder reminded me of the teaching that the purpose of a Torah-defined penalty is for spiritual rehabilitation. That is, the penalty must match the spiritual defect so that it can provide the proper correction. Therefore, one has no basis to assume that a penalty for a minor defect can correct a more serious defect.

So, the reflective penalty for an unsuccessful crime may very well be insufficient for a successful crime.

We take note of another teaching, heard from Horav Yaakov Weinberg ZT"L, that many of the basic penalties that a Jewish court can impose are not for the sake of protecting society by providing a deterrent. This enhances our understanding of the above teaching that we can not use deduction to define penalties.

This approach reminds us that we have a spiritual dimension and that the Torah provides a standard against which a person's spiritual well-being can be evaluated and refined.


19:21 Your eyes shall have no pity (on the false witness and you shall do to him that which he tried to do to the defendant.) A life for a life, (the value of the loss of) an eye for an eye, (the value of the loss of) a tooth for a tooth, (the value of the loss of) a hand for a hand, (the value of the loss of) a foot for a foot.

19:22 When you go out for war against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a nation that is more numerous than you, have no fear from them. For Hashem your G-D is with you, (He) who brought you out from the Land of Egypt.

According to Rabbi Yosi Hagalli (Sifri), these two verses were written adjacent to each other to teach that a soldier must have hands, feet, eyes, and teeth. This is probably Rashi's source when he comments that a person is disqualified from going out to war if he is missing any limbs.

It is clearly in everybody's interest to keep amputees and the blind away from the front line. However, what's wrong with accepting a soldier that is missing one tooth?

The following came to mind.

If success on the battlefield was solely dependent upon physical brawn and brains then the toothless soldier would not be disqualified. I'm sure that there are today many battlefield-perfect soldiers who have had one or more teeth knocked out, either by the dentist or in battle.

But as 19:22 implies, victory on the battlefield is dependent upon G-D's will.

We know that our focus must always be on spirituality. Certainly, the merit of our trying to de-emphasize physical perfection versus spiritual perfection will be a significant factor in G-D's decision for the outcome on the battlefield.

So perhaps the Torah provides a disqualification that is irrelevant for the soldier's physical requirements for us to keep in mind another focus on the development and significance of our armed forces.

Let us non-soldiers take this lesson to our workplace and remember that while it is up to us to strive for success, the achievement of success is dependent upon G-D's will and what we need to do to gain His favor may have no relevance to marketplace tactics.


20:1 When you go out in war against your enemies and see horses and chariots, a nation that is more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them. For Hashem your G-D is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.

20:2 And when you come near the battle then the priest shall come forth and speak to the people.

20:3 And he will say to them, "Hear O Israel, today you are coming in battle against your enemies. Let your heart not become softened, don't be afraid, and don't become broken before them."

20:8 And the officers shall continue to speak to the people and shall say, "Which man is afraid and soft hearted? Let him go and return to his home so that he should not soften the hearts of his brothers as his heart is."

According to Rabbi Yosi Hagalili, the weak-hearted soldier is one who is afraid of transgressions that he committed (Sotah 44a).

Rabbi Yisochor Frand notes that this does not seem to be consistent with Rashi's commentary on the words, "Hear O Israel," in verse 3.

Rashi cites a teaching of Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai (Sotah 42a) that if the only merit we have is that we say the Shema (Hear O Israel …) then we will not be given over into the hands of our enemies.

Assuming that the soft-hearted soldier has at least the merit of saying his morning prayers then he has the spiritual energy for his defense. Why then would a spiritual shortcoming make him fearful in verse eight if verse three guarantees his victory?

Obviously, this soldier is afraid that a specific sin that he did would make him vulnerable. But what could that sin be? The Talmud in Menachos (36a) cites the following teaching from Abaye and Rava: "If a person interrupts with speech between his putting on the T'filin (phylacteries) that go on his arm and the T'filin that go on his head then this is a sin and he returns from the battlefield because of it."

It is puzzling that overlooking an apparently minor guideline for donning T'filin should cause a powerful and courageous soldier to lose confidence.

Rabbi Frand explains that we need to look at what this infraction symbolizes.

We place one T'filin on our arm and a second T'filin on our head. We are charged to do what we can make these two acts into one by not interrupting between them. One symbology behind this is to unite that which we do, as represented by the T'filin of the arm, with our intentions, as represented by the T'filin of the head.

So a soldier may have merits from what he has done, such as having recited the Shema. However, having interrupted between the two T'filin can be taken as an indication that his merits lacked the quality of being connected with devotion or proper intentions.

This does not imply that such disconnects are of no spiritual value. In our path of upwards spiritual growth, many of us experience them in one way or another. Indeed, the Torah encourages us to fulfill its precepts even if we initially have ulterior motives, for we will eventually come to fulfill them with the proper intentions.

Rabbi Yehudah says in the name of Rav, "A person should always engage in Torah study and fulfillment of its commandments, even with ulterior motives, for by doing so he will eventually come to fulfill them with pure intentions." (Pesachim 50b)

Lack of spiritual quality in our deeds should not discourage us. Neither should we remain complacent about it.


We received the following questions regarding the Cities of Refuge and we posted the response on 'Ask Jewish America'

I'm hoping you can help me with several questions I have regarding the Cities of refuge.

Was a protected person truly safe if he left the City after the High Priest died? If not, do you know if he would have been allowed to stay? Can you explain this rule? What is the connection between the High Priest dying and a person's safety away from the City?

When were the Cities of Refuge no longer cities of refuge? Was it with the arrival of the Romans? Can you give me a time line for this? Who was King and who was Emperor?


Our Response


My understanding is that the real mechanism of protection comes from our system of justice.

We don't murder because it is wrong to murder. In addition to being wrong, if a person murders then he can get punished.

Prior to the death of the High Priest, if the accidental murderer is found outside his city of refuge and he is killed by the relative of the victim, that person will not be punished. Also, the Torah removed the 'wrongness' of the relative's killing him. In fact, it may even be a mitzvah for the relative to kill him if he leaves. (According to Rav Yosef Hagalili it is a mitzva and according to Rabbi Akiva it is not a mitzvah. Talmud Makos 11b) Thus, if the accidental murderer leaves the city of refuge then the Torah offers him no protection from being killed.

Once the High Priest dies it is forbidden for anyone to kill the murderer.

He becomes protected by our system of justice like everyone else.

I don't know whether he must leave the city when the High Priest dies. I would imagine that he would be asked to leave if he was taking up space that was needed by someone else. I would also imagine that he would not receive any more support for staying there and I guess that he would have to pay rent.

I see lessons and benefits from the law which allows the murder to leave after the death of the High Priest. I can't give reasons for laws, because the source for this and every other commandment is G-d's will and reason, which is beyond us all.

Our sages say that the High Priest is 'held responsible' for the accidental murder and therefore the murderer needs to be exiled until he dies. The High Priest was 'responsible' because he should have prayed to G-d that a tragedy of accidental murder should not have happened during his lifetime.

This is one of many ways in which the Torah sets a very high ethical standard for both the Torah society and the Torah leaders.

Just imagine how our society would be today if we made such a fuss for an accidental murder. Now imagine how our society would have turned out had we made such a fuss from the beginning of its formation.

Put in these terms, it may be difficult for us to relate to these standards. We may need to grow into them. If it's in the Torah then it can be done.

The Chinuch (410) says that the laws of exile were in effect as long as the Jewish people were on their land and the Supreme Court of 71 Elders was established in their official Jerusalem location, which is within the Temple Area.

40 years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, 28 Common Era, the Supreme Court ceased to function in their designated location. This was due to considerations which were internal to the Jewish people. It was not directly related to the arrival of the Romans.

Our king during that time was Agripus Ben Aristoblus.

The Roman Empire began their eastward expansion toward Judea in 112 BCE and Pompeius entered Jerusalem in 60 BCE and decided in favor of Hyrcanus II.


Additional Questions Based On Our Response


Wasn't the 2nd Temple destroyed in 70 CE, meaning the Supreme Court would have ceased to function in their designated location in 30 CE (not 28 CE)?

Also, does this mean that the Cities of Refuge existed during the occupation of the Romans? This of course brings up several questions. After their arrival (the Romans), to which court was the accused brought (while under the protection of the High Priest)? If it was the (Jewish) Supreme Court, would they have had the authority to condemn someone to death (for other than a religious violation)? It seems as though the Supreme Court would have had a very difficult time abiding to their scriptural instructions.

And would the family member who successfuly avenged a death, not then himself be liable to prosecution under ROMAN law?


Our Response


There are sources that put the destruction at 68 CE. Our Tour of Jewish and World History is based on the chronology of the book, Toldot Am Olam by Rabbi Shlomo Rottenberg. This book strives to present a chronology that is fully consistent with traditional Jewish sources.

Off-hand I do not know how the Roman occupation was phased in. I do not know whether and the extent to which the Romans meddled into our internal affairs.

We would not have brought any court cases to the Romans unless we would have been forced to.

Under the Romans, we ALL had a very difficult time abiding to our scriptural instructions, especially once they destroyed our Temple.

A danger to life does NOT supersede the fulfillment of this commandment.

If the Romans insisted on controlling these laws, then the family member who successfully avenged a death would have been liable for prosecution under Roman law. Assuming that they would kill him, the family member should therefore not have avenged the death in the first place!


I was in an American Yeshiva (Ner Israel) during the Six Day War (1967). The Mashgiach of the Yeshiva was Horav Dovid Kronglass, ZT'L.

During the conflict there were calls for volunteers to go to Israel and fill the manpower shortages for their civilian and agricultural industries.

Former students asked his advice. They wanted to help but were concerned about the danger.

The Mashgiach devoted an entire Shabbos after-Mincha lecture to share his response.

I hope that I am correctly capturing his words.

The Torah requires us to insure our personal safety. Yet, the Torah allows us to be in a war zone and provide support, if needed. It would thus seem that one is permitted to go and help.

The only question comes from the Mishna (Talmud Makos 11b) which deals with the accidental murderer who lives in safety within a City of Refuge. It states that he may not leave the city to give testimony in court for matters relating to a mitzvah, monetary matters, or for capital offenses. Neither may he leave the city if even the entire Jewish nation needs him for war and he is as capable as (King David's General) Yoav Ben Tzuriah was.

The reason is because of the danger to his life. But why should this be different from anyone else being in a war zone? Why can't he leave in order to help save the lives of other people?

The Mashgiach explained that the Torah differentiates between a danger that is directed towards a mass of people and a danger that directed against a specific person.

Therefore, it is meritorious to support the defense of our people, even with personal risk, since those who are in a war zone are not specifically targeted.

However, the accidental murderer is a special case. He is specifically targeted by the victim's close relative. The Torah requirement to insure personal safety precludes him from leaving the City of Refuge even though he can help save the lives of others. The danger is too focused.

The Mashgiach concluded by saying that full-time and devoted Torah study provides the greatest protection for the Jewish people.

Therefore, if a person is not a Torah student then his going overseas to help is a great mitzvah. However, since we were full-time Yeshiva students, we were especially obligated to remain at our posts and intensify both our studies and our prayers during this unique time of danger.


20:5 And the officers shall speak to the people saying, "Who is the man that built a new home and did not (yet) inaugurated it? He shall go and return to his home lest he dies in battle and another man will inaugurate it."

20:6 "And who is the man that planted a vineyard and has not (yet) redeemed it? He shall go and return to his home lest he dies in battle and another man will inaugurate it."

20:7 "And who is the man that betrothed a woman and did not yet marry her? He shall go and return to his home lest he dies in battle and another man will marry her."

The order is house, vineyard, and then wife.

We find a different order later in the Book of Deuteronomy, by the warnings and curses that can happen if we don't listen to G-D's voice.

28:30 You will betroth a woman and another man will live with her; You will build a house and not live in it; You will plant a vineyard and not redeem it.

There, the order is wife, house, and then vineyard.

The Rambam in Kings:7 says that the priest speaks twice to the warriors.

Kings 7:2 When the soldiers are by the border but have not yet reached the battle site he says, "Who is the man that planted a vineyard …"

It is interesting that the Rambam begins with the one who planted the vineyard and not with the one who built a house, which is listed first in our verses.

Kings 7:3 When they are getting into formation and are about to wage war … he says to them … "Who is the man that built a new home … that planted a vineyard … that betrothed a woman …

This is the order of our verses: house, vineyard, and then wife.

However, an earlier Rambam has a different order.

Daos 5:11 It is the way of people who use their intellect to first have a profession from which they can derive a livelihood. Then they purchase a home to live in and afterwards they get married. We see this from the verses: Who is the man that planted a vineyard … that built a new home … that betrothed a woman …

The order in Daos is vineyard, house and then wife. It doesn't match the order of any of our verses, which is very puzzling.

Kings 7:2 appears to be consistent with Daos 5:11 but not with our verses. Kings 7:3 is consistent with our verses but not with Daos 5:11.

The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe) suggests that the Rambam's source for Daos 5:11 is Deuteronomy 28. The fact Deuteronomy 28 describes a curse means that it's opposite of what it should be. So the order in Daos (vineyard, house and wife) is reverse of the order in Deuteronomy 28 (wife, house, and vineyard).

But why do Kings 7:3 and our verses have an order that is different from Kings 7:2 and Daos 5:11, which appear to come from Deuteronomy 28?

The following came to mind.

In his discussion of these verses, the Chasam Sofer suggests that there is an extra merit to earn a livelihood when we are living in the Land of Israel because this fulfills the commandment to settle in the land. He cites as examples Boaz who winnowed his barley (Rus / Ruth 3:2) and Elisha who ploughed with twelve pairs of oxen (Melachim / Kings I 19:19).

The soldiers who hear both speeches are making the transition from being a civilian to being a warrior.

The speech of Kings 7:2 is at an earlier point in the transition than Kings 7:3. It reflects the state that they are leaving, that of being a son, father, husband, and /or wage earner. It is therefore consistent with what the Rambam says in Daos.

However, the speech in Kings 7:3 is right before battle.

The purpose of battle is to either protect the homeland or to expand the borders of the homeland, a land that has holiness and whose sanctification is prescribed by the Torah.

According to the Rambam who says that the natural order is to begin with the vineyard, beginning with building a home is indeed out of order.

Perhaps this is to remind the soldiers who about to risk their lives to perform a sacred duty that they focus their intentions on protecting and/ or building up the sacred homeland, a land that is so special that one achieves special merit for merely ploughing his field.


Ki Saytzay (Deut. 21-25)

21:10 When you go forth in battle against your enemies and Hashem your G-D gives them over in your hands and you take the spoils of war.

Verses 10-18 of the preceding chapter categorize the types of opponents that confront us in war. Verses 19-20 place limits on what may be destroyed in the name of war. Verses 1-9 of this chapter give a process to follow if someone was found murdered on the highway. Verses 10-14 provide guidelines on handling prisoners of war.

The verses about a murder victim appears to have inserted within a section that deals with war.

The Chofetz Chaim of blessed memory said that it was interleaved within the Torah’s guidelines for war to remind us that even in the heat of battle, both soldier and military planner must always bear in mind the value and significance of the life of even a single human being.


21:11 And you will see among the captives a pretty woman and you love her and take her for a wife.

Our sages teach that the Torah felt that the best way to address a surge of passion that a soldier may encounter on the battlefield was to provide him with these guidelines as the best way to deal with the his passion.

Obviously, founding a marriage on a reaction to momentary seductive gestures of desperate women is not the best way for a person to build a family.

The Talmud (Kedushin 21b) compares this to recommending meat from a sickly animal that was ritually slaughtered over meat from a sickly animal that died by itself, which is forbidden. Obviously, neither meat is recommended but if a person insists on partaking from this meat then at least the animal should be properly killed.

Given that this is appears to be a concession for what appears to be a morally weak soldier, it is quite a surprise to learn that none other than the great and pious King David himself took such a woman for a wife (Sanhedrin 107a). How do we understand this?

The following came to mind.

Given King David's greatness, it is expected that the members of his armed forces would feel obligated to set a high set of standards for themselves, even if they weren't actually holding there at that time in their lives. I would therefore assume that the average soldier would be embarrassed to take a captive woman in the prescribed manner because this does not appear to be consistent with the lifestyle of his commander-in-chief.

However, the Torah knows that some soldiers will need this outlet and if they suppress this urge then they will be at risk of compromising on Torah behavior by succumbing to the seduction.

Therefore, perhaps King David took such a woman to ensure that this option remain open to his troops, thereby ensuring their compliance with the expectations of holiness that are made of the traditional Jewish soldier.


21:11 And you will see among the captives a pretty woman and you love her and take her for a wife.

21:14 And it will be that if you will not desire her that you shall send her away and you may not sell her for (any) money. Given that you have afflicted her, do not deal with her as an article of trade.

The case of the captive woman is viewed as a compromise to keep the soldier from sin. Should a soldier feel overcome by passion then the Torah permits him to live with the woman just as long as he takes her into his house for a cooling-off period of one month. She must also be converted to Judaism, even if it needs to be done against her will.

The next portion in the Torah deals with inheritance and describes a home with two wives, one beloved by the husband and one who is hated.

The portion afterwards deals with the rebellious son.

In his commentary for 21:11, Rashi provide the following association between the three portions. Given that the marriage was established under this circumstance, the Torah foresees that the husband will eventually come to hate the woman and they will also have a rebellious son.

It is puzzling that Rashi repeats part of this in his commentary for 21:14 on the phrase, "And it will be that if you will not desire her." Rashi says, "The scripture declares that you will come to hate her."

What is Rashi trying to tell us by the repetition? Also, the scripture states that the husband will lose his love for this woman, not that he will hate her. A loss of love is significantly different from hate.

The following came to mind.

The mechanisms that get couples together do not always work to keep them together, especially over the long term. I've heard it said that romance ends with marriage. This is a bit fatalistic but is mostly true.

I propose that if one were to remove all of these mechanisms that couples would fly apart, as the incompatibilities would overcome the relationship.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkas of blessed memory provided the following thoughts regarding marriage.

G-D wants man and woman to get and be together under circumstances that are good for them and are constructive. The evil inclination wants man and woman to get together but under circumstances that are destructive for them.

If the match is consistent with G-D's will, then G-D assumes the responsibility to provide the needed glue and magnetism to feed the marriage and give it a reasonable chance to succeed. In this case, the evil inclination will look for opportunities to destroy the marriage and its parties. Unless there are unusual circumstances, G-D will take an active role in either holding the destructive forces in check or counteracting them, typically to the degree that the free-will of the couple is not impacted.

If the match is not consistent with G-D's will, then there is no reason for Him to get involved with keeping the couple together and the evil inclination is free to take assume this role to suit its destructive agenda. If the union is sinful then it will continue to feed it with attraction until something more destructive becomes an option.

Perhaps this is what Rashi is alluding to in his commentary for 21:14.

The Torah is discussing the marriage of a soldier with a captive woman who may have initially seduced him and who may also have absolutely no interest in Judaism.

Albeit the marriage was based purely on an animalistic passion and spiritual weakness, it is still legal and binding.

As the marriage is legal, the evil inclination would have little interest in keeping the couple together. If anything, inciting tension and hatred within the family would better meet its objective.

As the marriage is a spiritual compromise and is clearly not an outcome of G-D's will, it would seem that He would not intervene by providing any forces to keep them attracted or happy with each other.

So in 21:14 when the Torah states that the husband will not desire her, perhaps this is because neither G-D nor the evil inclination would have any reason for the husband to have any feelings of desire towards his wife.

Perhaps Rashi's commentary is alluding to the next stage in the relationship, hatred which results when the relationship becomes overtaken by the evil inclination and would not be checked by G-D.


The Jewish Soldier

The parshios of Shoftim and Ki Saytze provide many guidelines for the Jewish soldier.

The modern State of Israel has an armed force whose standards for morality and humanity are modeled largely on those of Western Civilization, with some influence from Jewish tradition. It is the opinion of this author that the behavior of their armed forces are truly exemplary among the armed forces that are guided by the ethics of Western Civilization. Furthermore, the accommodations that they provide to meet the special needs of their religious soldiers are truly praiseworthy.

The Jewish people had no armed force for the past nineteen-hundred years.

A careful analysis of these parshios reveals moral and ethical guidelines for an armed force that is based purely on Torah standards. It is on a plane that is different than any contemporary armed force.


20:1 prohibits the soldier from fearing the enemy. It links fear with a lack of faith in the G-d who took the Jewish people out of Egypt. Thus, the Bible's armed force requires their soldiers to believe in Judaism's principles of faith.


20:5-9 discusses mobilization for wars that are not for states of emergency. Four classes of people are deferred.

In 20:5-7 the Torah sends home anyone who just built a new home, just planted a vineyard, or who is a newlywed. It would be a shame if they were killed in battle and someone else had the opportunity to enjoy life with the new home/vineyard/spouse.

There are no exceptions to this deferment and even the most critical personnel are sent home. We are thus reminded that success or (G-d forbid) failure in battle does not depend upon the tactical qualifications of personnel. The outcome of battle depends upon the will of G-d.

Fulfillment of this commandment requires the commander to have supreme faith in G-d. It requires a nation that will expect, much less support, this decision.


20:8 appears to send home everyone who is afraid to fight. The Oral Torah teaches that the people in this fourth class are asked to leave the assembly area together with the other three classes of people so that they should not be pressured to stay and so that they should not be embarrassed to leave. A soldier who is afraid to fight but remains for the battle is in violation of the Torah.

Given the opportunity and the requirement to leave, how big an army do you think the Jewish people are going to be left with? If G-d desires that we have a military victory then size of the army is irrelevant.

The Oral Torah expands this fourth class to include anyone who committed a sin and is concerned that it may effect how G-d judges his fate during the danger of battle.

We now know that the Jewish army consists of people who either have never sinned or who did a full repentance for all of their wrong behavior.

It should now require a major miracle for the remaining micro-army to be militarily successful.

No problem.


War is destructive. Besides physical damage, it has the potential to scar a soldier's moral and ethical orientation.


In 20:19-20, the Torah requires that we minimize damage to the environment.

It is especially noteworthy that this commandment is placed within the context of the laws for battle. Despite the potential for battlefield anxiety, the Torah expects the soldier to be worried about saving fruit trees. Obviously, we are dealing with soldiers who are not worried that their own lives are in jeopardy. Whatever happens to them will be for the best.


Soldiers in victorious armies are prone to animalistic behavior that is at the expense of the rights and dignity of captive women. The Torah addresses this problem in 21:10-14.

The soldier is held fully responsible for the consequences of his behavior.

The soldier is liable to fall prey to physical attraction, a common and intentional defense mechanism of captive women.

If the soldier wants to maintain a relationship with a captive then he must marry her. Prior to the marriage they must undergo a trial period without some potentials for physical attraction. The Oral Torah teaches that a relationship that is based on physical attraction will not endure.

After the trial period, the soldier may realize that this woman is really not meant for him. Torah protects the rights and dignity of the captive woman.


According to Targum Onkolus, 22:5 provides a prohibition against women bearing arms. The Torah shelters women from the denigration of battle.


Besides providing high standards for what one does, the Torah provides high standards for what one thinks. A man must act in a manner that insures he does not fantasize about his conduct with women.

It is especially significant that this commandment (22:10) is written within the context of the battlefield, typically a place of wildness. Obviously, a Torah-based armed force must be highly disciplined.


From these selections we have a truly remarkable snapshot of the Torah army. You can read about their many successes in the Bible.

We all pray for peace in the world and hope that the Messianic era will soon arrive, when all of Mankind will abandon warfare and force as a means to get what it wants.


22:1 Do not see the ox or sheep of your fellow wandering without taking notice. Return them to your fellow.

22:2 And if your fellow is not near to you and you don't know him then gather it into your home and it shall be with you until your fellow seeks it, and you shall return it to him.

22:3 And you shall do the same for his donkey and the same for his garment and the same for any lost item of your fellow that is lost from him and you find. You may not hide yourself.

The previous portions deal first with the wayward son, who is executed. The Torah follows with some guidelines for execution and then we have laws for a lost article. Is there a lesson that we can derive from the adjacency of these laws? The Hebrew for a lost item is an 'Avedah'. The Torah uses this word in verse 3 but in verse one it uses another term, 'Nidach'. Why? Verse two suggests that even though the finder does not know who the looser is, the looser will be able to seek out the finder. How does this happen? Verse three seems to be repetitious. Why? Finally, verse two seems to be telling us to bring the wandering ox and sheep into our homes. Obviously, this is a figure of speech. Why does the Torah choose to use a figure of speech?

The following came to mind.

The word, 'Nidach' is used in Samuel 2 (14:14) in a different context.

".. And He (G-D) thinks thoughts so that those who were led astray ('Nidach) will not be made astray ('Yidach')."

From time to time we happen upon a stray soul, a lonely person who is a bit lost and in danger of becoming wayward. Perhaps the adjacency of these portions and the Torah's choice of words in verse one are an overlay to suggest that we give attention to the most precious of all lost items, the soul and destiny of another person, one who needs the encouragement of an invitation into a stable and caring Jewish home.

The lost soul need not be a relative, nor does he/she need to be an acquaintance. By providing this kindness to even a total stranger, we echo the great tradition of our ancestor Avraham (Abraham), who revived and restored many people to their spiritual roots.

In this light, perhaps verse two is telling us that if we can't immediately reach the spiritual needs of another that we should gather the person into our home, bringing him or her closer to being restored to the greatness that is locked in their soul.

May we all merit the opportunity to do this, each person in his/her own way and may we all meet with only success.


21:18 If a person has a wayward and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father and to the voice of his mother. And they disciplined him and he (still) does not listen to them.

21:19 His father and mother shall seize him and they shall take him to the elders of his city and to the gate of his place.

In describing all that the child must do to obtain have the status of a "wayward son," the Talmud says he receives the death penalty because his extreme behavior indicates that he is irrevocably corrupted. The Torah tells us that such a child will definitely become a murderous criminal when he grows up. Therefore, says the Torah: Let him die now while he is not responsible for his actions, not later with he will become responsible (Sanhedrin 71b).

The Talmud also says that there was never such a wayward son and there will never be one. I assume that this because the requirements to achieve that status are too numerous to make it possible. The Talmud says that the Torah presents this law merely as a model so that we can receive reward from studying it (Sanhedrin 71a).

One of the requirements is that both parents must agree to bring him to court to receive his punishment.

I wonder if this is just another technical requirement or whether it precludes there ever being one, in that a child can never reach that extreme as long as he has at least one parent that has not given up on him.


22:8 When you build a new house you shall make a (protective) railing for (the living area of) your (flat) roof. And you shall not make your home accountable for blood when the one who falls does fall from it.

Rav Sternbuch is puzzled over why we make a blessing when performing this commandment, which is to make a protective railing to prevent someone from falling over the edge of a roof.

He notes that there are many commandments for which we do not make a blessing, such as giving charity, returning lost objects, looking after the sick, and burying the dead.

There are two classes of commandments, those that pertain to a person and his fellow such as the above, and those that pertain to a person and G-D such as donning tefilin. The Rambam states that we recite a blessing before performing commandments that pertain to a person and G-D. This is why we do not recite a blessing when we care for the sick, for this pertains to a person and his fellow.

Rav Sternbuch cites an explanation for this distinction as follows.

Commandments that are between a person and his fellow are universal and have relevance to all mankind. Blessings were designed for commandments that are unique and have relevance to only the Jewish people. It is not appropriate for a non-Jew to recite a blessing for being commanded to don tefilin because he was never commanded or expected to do so.

Given this explanation, reasons Rav Sternbuch, one would expect both a Jew and a non-Jew to be obligated to make protective railings for this involves safety, which is universal need between man and his fellow. If so, why do recite a blessing when we fulfill this commandment since we don't recite a blessing for commandments that pertain to man and his fellow?

I understand his answer as follows.

We build hospitals to be able to care for the sick and this is a very noble and worthwhile endeavor. However, while there is a commandment to care for the sick, there is no commandment to build hospitals. Rather, we build hospitals to be able to provide better care for the sick.

We do not recite a blessing for building a hospital because there is no such commandment. However, we would consider reciting a blessing when we care for the sick, only the guideline that the Rambam provides says otherwise. That is, we only recite a blessing for a commandment that is unique and that has relevance to just the Jewish people.

Said differently, while making the foundation for a new hospital and looking at the blueprints, with mason's level in hand, there has yet to be an opportunity to fulfill the commandment to care for a sick person. The commandment presents itself only when one stands before a sick patient.

How do we understand the commandment to build a protective railing? Let's take a second look at our verse: "When you build a new house you shall make a (protective) railing for (the living area of) your (flat) roof."

If this commandment would present itself only when one already has a dangerous roof then we would have needed only the last part of this sentence, "You shall make a (protective) railing for (the living area of) your (flat) roof."

The preface of our verse, "When you build a new house" indicates that the commandment presents itself during the actual construction, while making the foundation and with mason's level in hand.

The presentation of the commandment from the commencement of construction makes the commandment unique to the Jewish people and this, reasons Rav Sternbuch, is why we recite a blessing.

Removing an existing danger is a universal need and has relevance to all mankind, from time memorial.

However, looking back some thirty-three centuries ago, it appears that in those days, mankind was not formally charged to take measures to prevent danger to his fellow. If we study history, we see that civilization has evolved and matured considerably since then. So while today it is commonplace to see governments insist that its citizens take precautionary measures, in the 'good old days' governments were too busy eating each other up.

The foundations for civilization were poured some thirty-three centuries ago, when the Torah was given to the Jewish people


22:8 When you build a new house you shall make a (protective) railing for (the living area of) your (flat) roof. And you shall not make your home accountable for blood when the one who falls does fall from it.

The last part of this verse is a bit puzzling, for the Torah could have written, "And you shall not make your home accountable for blood in case someone falls from it." What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The Shiras Dovid commentary cites a Tosfos that explains why we make a blessing for washing our hands before eating bread but not when we wash after the meal, as both are rabbinic obligations. Tosfos says that the reason for washing hands before bread has to do with ritual purity. However, washing hands after meals is based on personal health and safety concerns. In those days they used Sedomite salt, which could cause a loss of vision if it got into the eyes. The Rabbis therefore required everyone to wash after the meal in case there was a residue on the hands. (Chulin105a).

Given this Tosfos, Rabbi Akiva Eiger of blessed memory is puzzled why we make a blessing for performing the commandment to make a protective railing, as it is also for health and safety.

Now, the Talmud in Shabbos 32a uses pre-destiny to explain the complexity of our verse. It says that Heaven is inclined to make misfortune occur to people who are guilty.

Rashi in the Talmud explains that this refers to the owner of a house who fails to make the living area of his roof safe. The Torah adds extra words to identify the victim who became a "faller " because of the home owner's negligence.

The Shiras David takes this further with a teaching that Rashi himself cites in his commentary on accidental murder.

The Torah writes: And (if the murderer) does not hunt (the victim) but G-D causes it [the death] to occur then I shall make a place so that he can flee there (in exile) (Exodus 21:13).

Rashi says that it is possible for Heaven to cause someone to fall down and kill another as a punishment for his/her avoiding exile for a prior accidental murder. I may add that the first accidental murder may reflect his/her lack relative disregard for the safety of others.

Now, while a person may be pre-destined to fall off a roof and kill another person, the roof itself may not necessarily be pre-selected.

So besides avoiding negligence, the home owner who makes a protective railing is protecting himself from having this misfortune occur on his property.

Post-meal hand-washing is a matter of personal safety and Tosfos says that it does not qualify for a blessing.

However, the protective railing includes keeping away a pre-destined misfortune that will occur to others. This may be the reason that it is eligible for reciting a blessing.


23:4 An Amonite and a Moavite may not come into (marriage with anyone of) the Congregation of G-D. Even the tenth generation may not come for themselves into the Congregation of G-D, forever.

23:5 Because they did not greet you with bread and wine when you exited Egypt. And because they hired against you Bilam son of Beor from Aram Naharaim to curse you.

The Torah seems to provide two reasons for rejecting these two nations. The first reason, their lack of hospitality, seems minor in comparison to the second reason. Why was it mentioned? What it its significance?

These two nations emerged from Lot, nephew of Avraham (Abraham). The literature faults them for not remembering that Lot's life was saved because of Avraham's merit. Their lack of hospitality was a gesture of ingratitude.

Lot was saved some four-hundred years prior to the Exodus. Given that historical records were meager in those days, it's curious that all of Lot's descendents were cited for not behaving in a manner that was consistent with a remote historical event.

The following came to mind.

At that time, the Exodus was the dominant current event.

Exodus 15:14 Nations heard and became agitated. The settles of Pleshes were gripped with pangs.

Exodus 15:14 The mighty of Moav were gripped with shuddering. All of the inhabitants of C'naan melted.

Deuteronomy 4: 32 For please inquire about the early days (of history) that preceded you, from the day that G-D created man on the earth, and from one edge of the heaven to the other edge of the heaven, did such a great thing ever happen, or was it ever heard about?

Deuteronomy 4: 33 Did a nation ever hear the voice of G-D speak from fire the way that you heard and still continued on?

Deuteronomy 4: 34 Or did G-D ever try to come and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation with trials, signs, and wonders and with wars and with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great and fearsome events as Hashem your G-D did for you and before your eyes in Egypt?

Given the immense significance of these events, if Amon and Moav had any integrity then they would have thoroughly investigated their relationship with the Jewish people and their connection with Avraham would have been recognized and subsequently reinforced.

Thus, they were cited for ignoring the significance of current events, not for their historical amnesia.


22:6 If a bird's nest comes across you, (be it) in any tree or on the ground, (and it contains) young birds or eggs, and the mother (bird) is roosting on the young birds or eggs (then) you shall not take the mother (bird together with her) children.

22:7 Send shall you send away the mother (bird) and (then you may) take the children. (Do this) so that it will be good for you and you will have long days.

As implied in the first verse, this commandment is applicable only if one comes upon the nest by chance. A nest that was set up for breeding or to perform this commandment gives no credit for fulfilling this commandment.

Rabbi Tanchuma said that fulfilling this commandment will hasten the coming of Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet (Medrash Raba Devarim 6:3). And we all know that he will prepare mankind for Messianic Era.

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory explains the connection and this is how I understand his words.

For quite some time we all have been struggling with how to deal with the G-D's command and control of both the world and the history of mankind.

In widely varying degrees, some go into denial and others try to seize control for themselves. In the process, some hurt themselves and some take others down with them.

Part of the emotional and spiritual maturation process is to come to terms with G-D's will and supremacy. And from there, within the framework (i.e. Torah) that G-D provided us through Moshe and the teachers that He gifted us with, we can thrive and even thrill within an ever-growing relationship with G-D.

In a way that only G-D understands at this time, all of mankind will get there someday, some more and some less.

I suspect that once the (*GENUINE*) Messiah comes, the realization of the brilliance and Power that made it all happen will help push us all over the finish line.

In the past there have been many who have claimed to be able to bring on the Messianic period, not to mention assuming the mantle of the Messiah himself. Others have claimed to know when the Messiah will come.

The Talmud describes the pre-Messianic era. Of the many things listed, it says that the Messiah will come after we give up waiting for the redemption (Sanhedrin 97a).

Rabbi Zayra discouraged his students from dabbling with dates for the redemption. The Talmud (ibid.) cites his teaching that there are three things that come when we don't expect them: The Messiah, finding something valuable, and a scorpion.

The only encounter with a mother bird that brings spiritual opportunity is one that is unexpected, just like the encounter with the real Messiah that we all hope to soon experience.


22:13-14 insists upon a hygienic environment. Human waste material must be covered.

It is especially significant that this commandment is also written within the context of the battlefield, where human dignity can easily become compromised.

22:15 links this requirement with the fact that G-d Himself marches (so to speak) together with the Jewish army.

The Oral Torah applies this commandment to require that waste material must be covered in places where we pray or study Torah. Obviously, Torah expects its soldiers to be praying and learning while they march.


23:3 A mamzer [a child born out of certain forbidden marriage relations] may not come [marry] into the Congregation of G-d [the Jewish people]. Even (to) the tenth generation he may not come for himself into the Congregation of G-d.

23:4 A descendent of the Amonite or Moavite nation may not come into the Congregation of G-d. Even (to) the tenth generation may they not come for themselves into the Congregation of G-d, forever.

We believe that the life of every person has a purpose, a mission, a meaning. The people described in these verses come to this earth with difficult roles from birth. The above-mentioned implication to their lives will serve as object lesson to the rest of mankind.

We believe that G-d actively manages every detail of this world, except those which are dependent on a person's free-will choice to do good or bad. Therefore, while the ancestors of these children bear full responsibility and blame for the plight of their descendents, one can assume that G-d will provide the innocent children with sufficient resources to endure the hardship that their ancestors imposed on them. Furthermore, if the children fulfill the commandments that pertain to them, their eternal reward will far overweigh these hardships.

From a superficial reading, it seems that an eleventh generation mamzer is free to marry. However, the Oral Torah provides the following clarification:

Sifrei 23:3 'Even to the tenth generation' (- mamzer): It says here 'the tenth generation' and it says later by the Amonite and Moavite 'the tenth generation.' Just like the latter 'tenth generation' means forever, also here ,the 'tenth generation' means forever.

Sifrei 23:4 'Even to the tenth generation .. forever' (- Amonite and Moavite): If the Torah says 'forever', why does it say, 'to the tenth generation?' This is only to make the phrase available for deriving a law by process of 'gezairas shava' to the phrase 'tenth generation' that is written by the mamzer, teaching that it means forever.

So, from the word 'forever' that is written by the Amonite and Moavite, we know that any descendent may not marry into the congregation. The Torah writes 'to the tenth generation' by both the mamzer and the Amonite/Moavite to teach us that any descendent of the mamzer may not marry into the congregation.

If this is the only thing that the Torah wants to tell us, would it not have been easier to write 'forever' by both the mamzer and the Amonite/Moavite, without having to add 'to the tenth generation' to both and then deriving the law for a mamzer by gezairas shava. What else is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

It is naturally more difficult for a person to bear the fact that none of his/her descendents will ever be able to marry into the congregation than to hear that this restriction extends for just ten generations.

The mamzer shares the same plight as the Amonite/Moavite. Yet, relative to the Amonite/Moavite, he/she gets the news in a cushioned and indirect manner, by derivation through gezairas shava. Perhaps this can be viewed as a projection of sympathy to the mamzer.

However, the Amonite/Moavite do not get a signal of sympathy.

We can understand this by reviewing the nature of their ancestors' defects.

At worst, a mamzer is a victim of his ancestor's uncontrolled passion. However, the Amonite/Moavite nations were rejected because they displayed defects in character. The mamzer represents a momentary weakness. The Amonite/Moavite represents a deep-rooted and long-lasting corruption.

23:5 Because they [the Amonites/Moavites] did not come out to meet you with bread and water on the way, when you left Egypt, and (because) they hired Bilam, son of Beor from Pesor Aram Naharayim against you, to curse you.

G-d expected more from the Amonites and the Moavites, a nation that descended from Avraham's (Abraham's) nephew Lot, a person whose life was saved by Avraham's merit.

While both are serious defects, a character defect is more seriousness than a defect in strength.


22:29 And the man (who violated and) slept with her shall give to the father of the maiden fifty (shekels of) silver. And she shall be to him for a wife in place of causing her to suffer. He may not send her away his entire life.

This is probably the greatest deterrent to keep people away from doing such crimes, much more than the threat of any fine or jail sentence.

He did not control the passion that was aroused by natural attraction. He will be bound to a woman who will have little motivation to continue being attractive to him.

He dominated over her for the moment. She will dominate over him for the rest of his life.


23:4: A member of the Amonite or Moavite nation may not come into the Congregation of G-d (- marry a Jewish woman). Even a tenth generation (Amonite or Moavite) may not come into the Congregation of G-d, forever.

23:5: Because they did not advance towards you with bread and water when you were on the road, as you were leaving Egypt. Also, because it (Moav) hired Bilam the son of Beor from Aram Naharaim to curse you.

23:6: And Hashem your G-d did not want to listen to Bilam, (so) He turned around the curse into a blessing, because Hashem your G-d loves you.

23:7: Seek not their peace and welfare for all of your days, forever.

In the four and a half books of the Torah that precede these verses we find no open reference about a negative encounter with the Nation of Amon. When did this happen?

We do find a lengthy account of damage that Moav tried to inflict against the Jewish people by hiring Bilam. This evil prophet failed to curse the Jewish people with his evil tongue. Yet, he caused great damage by advising the Moavite and Midianite nations to lure the Jewish people into idolatry. With his counsel, they exploited their own daughters to seduce the Jewish men. (Numbers 25). Why does the Torah focus on Bilam's curse and not on his evil advice?

Amon and Moav share a common fate, but their mischief doesn't seem to have anything in common other than they both deal with the mouth (food and curses).

Amon is eternally rejected for an apparent lack of hospitality. Are we to treat a lack of hospitality as such a serious crime? If yes, how does their punishment fit their crime?

For forty years, G-d fed the Jewish people in the desert. He gave them Manna. He provided them with water. We didn't even need Amon and Moav to supply us with bread water. Why are they faulted for not 'advancing towards us with bread and water?' What terrible source of calamity does their behavior represent for which the Torah says, 'Seek not their peace and welfare all of your days, forever?'

What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

Let's take a look at an event that is recorded in Numbers 21, some thirty-eight years after the Exodus.

Numbers 21:4-9

  • 21:4: And they traveled from Hor Hahor to loop around the Land of Edom by way of the Sea of Suf, and the temper of the people became shortened.
  • 21:5: And the nation spoke against G-d and Moshe (Moses), 'Why did you bring us out from Egypt to die in the desert, for there is no (natural) bread and water and our souls are irritated by the condemned bread (the Manna).'
  • 21:6: And G-d dispatched burning snakes (nechashim) and they bit the people. And a great number of people from Israel died.
  • 21:7: And the people came to Moshe and said, 'We have sinned. We spoke (evil) against G-d and (against) you. Pray to G-d (for us) and He will remove from against us the nachash (snake).' And Moshe prayed to G-d for the people.
  • 21:8: And G-d said to Moshe, 'Make for yourself a burning (snake) and mount it on a pole. And it will be, whoever is bitten (nashuch) shall look at it and he will live.'
  • 21:9: And Moshe made a nachash made out of copper (nechoshes) and he mounted it on a pole. And it was, when a nachash bit (nashach) a person, he looked at the copper snake (nachash hanechoshes) and he lived.

The Hebrew word nachash is certainly well represented in these verses. What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The lack of natural bread and water caused the people to become irritated. They had already been eating Manna and drinking from the Well of Miriam for some thirty-eight years. Why did they complain at this time?

I wonder if those who complained at this time had for the past thirty-eight years an alternate means for supplementing the heavenly diet. The Torah does record that the people bought provisions from the neighboring countries (Deuteronomy 2:29). It appears that Moav sold provisions to the Jewish people, However, Amon is not listed among the suppliers.

From the above, they did not act in a neighborly manner. I wonder if perhaps Amon contrived an economic boycott against the Jewish people to incite discontent and strife.

If they did, it certainly worked. The Torah records that some of the Jewish people spoke against G-d and Moshe.

This was quite unfortunate, as they had just completed thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert because of slander that the spies made against the Land of Israel. (Rashi Numbers 20:1) It was an inopportune time for the Jewish people to incur Divine wrath because of discontent and complaints. Moav openly used Bilam's evil tongue to rid their neighborhood of the Jewish people. Perhaps Amon sought to do the same with their boycott, keeping the Jews out of the region for at least another thirty-eight years, or perhaps

'for all of our days, forever.'

Perhaps we have uncovered (yet) another plot against the Jewish people. Both Amon and Moav sought to use the power of the tongue against the Jewish people. Moav sought to use Bilam's tongue and Amon sought to use our own tongues. Their crimes and punishments now match.

Our traditional literature the nachash is a symbol of Lashon Harah, slander and evil tongue.

Taanis 8a:

Said Resh Lakish: 'What is meant by, 'If the nachash bites without (snake) charming, there is no benefit to the owner of the (evil) tongue.' (Perhaps symbolically,) in the future all the animals will have a meeting in the future with the nachash and they will pose the following question: The lion treads upon its prey and then it (uses its mouth to) eat. The wolf tears at its prey and then it (uses its mouth to) eat. What pleasure do you have in biting people? The snake will respond: 'There is no benefit to the owner of the (evil) tongue. (Koheles 10)''

Perhaps this is the reason that the Torah repeats the theme of nachash throughout its story of the fiery snakes. The tongue was the source of yet another downfall.

Time and time again, the Amonites have been a source of trouble for the Jewish people. We find them attacking the Jewish people during the beginning of King Shaul's reign. Shaul was a descendent from Rachel, Yaakov's beloved (Jacob's) wife who excelled in the power of verbal restraint. She kept silent when her father Lavan he switched her at her wedding, jeopardized her relationship with Yaakov. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to open Samuel I chapter eleven and find the name of that King of Amon.

Time and time again, the tongue has been the source of downfall for the Jewish people and for all of Mankind.

Our sages teach us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of slander. It has not yet been restored. There is still more work for us to do to correct this defect, until Mankind speaks in a manner of 'peace and welfare for all of our days, forever.'

Mankind's first encounter with the nachash was in the Garden of Eden. Evil and its tongue retains power down to this day. We believe that its power will eventually cease, when we bring the world to its completion.

From this writer's vantage point, we must be most careful about what we see and believe in the media. It appears to be skillfully used by the nachash of modern times.

Now seems to be a good time to share some the contributions from JewishAmerica's Unbiased Media contest.

1. Here are headlines from Infobeat's April 7th 1998 e-mail publication.

India and the Middle East
*** Palestinian probe says Hamas killed bomber
*** Over 200 Tibetans go on hunger strike in India
*** S. Lanka police question Clarke over tabloid charge
*** 23 bodies recovered from India boat accident
*** Arab shot dead by Israeli police near Jerusalem
*** UN council calls for Afghan cease-fire, talks

Arab shot dead by Israeli police near Jerusalem. Hmmm.

Suppose you don't have the time to read through the article which provides detail for this headline . You just walk away with pretty bad impression from these headlines.

'Arab shot dead' (sounds quite brutal) 'by Israeli police' (there they go again, those Israelis, with more police brutality against the Arabs who are unfortunate enough to be under their control) 'near Jerusalem' (the world certainly can't afford to let the Israelis have sovereignty over Jerusalem!)

Well, here is the full story, if you have the time to read it. Do you think that the headline matches the story. Do you think that it could have been worded in a different manner? Do you think that the first sentence is really necessary? Would the article evoked a different emotion if it were left out?

Israeli police chased a suspicious car and shot dead the Arab driver on the outskirts of Jerusalem Monday, a senior police officer said. Israeli security forces have been on heightened alert for possible Palestinian guerrilla bombings following the death last week in the West Bank town of Ramallah of Muhyideen al-Sharif, a master bombmaker of the Muslim militant group Hamas. A van with Israeli license plates, declared unroadworthy several months ago, fled from two police cars in a chase that ended outside Ramallah, said Jerusalem police. 'It hit several parked cars. A number of shots were fired, the driver was hit and he died later in hospital,' police said.

Hmmmm.

You know, someone without any affinity to the State of Israel would have to read and re-read this news article several times in order to retain his/her objectivity.

Here's another entry from Infobeat. Here are the headlines in a subsection of their April 8th 1998 e-mail publication.

This time we went to their source page, which turned out to be a download from Reuters, known for their enthusiastic and unbiased view of Israel.

World Front Page Stories
*** N. Ireland killing ahead of key peace talks
*** Monitors say Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire
*** Serbia backs referendum after talks snub
*** Muslims mark Feast of Sacrifice at hajj end
*** Freed Cuban prisoners plan to leave Canada for U.S.
*** Rwanda-type crisis still unstoppable - U.S. official

Let's look at that second item.

*** Monitors say Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire

Say, what's that comma doing there? My 5th grade English teacher taught me that we use commas to separate three or more items.

You know, a comma also makes for a good pause. It gives the reader a chance to let the message sink in a bit.

In the list of cease-fire violators, Israel is mentioned first. Perhaps, the writer also wanted Israel to be in the sink.

So, if you only have time to read the headlines then Israel has done it, again. Such a menace.

Let's look at the story in two levels.

First we'll look at the summary that came with the headline. Then we'll look at the detail from their Web site.

Here's the summary:

*** Monitors say Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire

An international group monitoring a south Lebanon cease-fire agreement said Tuesday that both Lebanon and Israel had recently violated the accord. 'The Monitoring Group acknowledged that on March 31, 1998, a roadside bomb placed by a Lebanese Armed Group on a road linking the military position of Kawka'be to the village of Kawka'be was detonated, killing six civilians and wounding a seventh,' the group said. The U.S.-brokered cease-fire, which ended a period of intense Israeli shelling of southern Lebanon in 1996, bars civilian attacks.

Hey, wait a minute. The headlines said 'Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire.' It seems to emphasize Israel. However, the story says that 'both Lebanon and Israel had recently violated the accord.' Who bears prime the responsibility?

Another question. Who is this 'international group monitoring.. the cease-fire agreement' I guess this is explained on the web site.

They say 'a roadside bomb placed by a Lebanese Armed Group' killed some civilians. So, the killers were Lebanese, not Israelis. Why were the Israelis listed first in the headline? And with a comma, too? I'm getting a sinking feeling.

OK. Ready for the web site and REUTERS. I can't resist interjecting my comments. I'll put them inside markers.

02:14 PM ET 04/07/98

Monitors say Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire

BEIRUT (Reuters) - An international group monitoring a south Lebanon cease-fire agreement said Tuesday that both Lebanon and Israel had recently violated the accord.

``The Monitoring Group acknowledged that on March 31, 1998, a roadside bomb placed by a Lebanese Armed Group on a road linking the military position of Kawka'be to the village of Kawka'be was detonated, killing six civilians and wounding a seventh,'' the group said in a statement.

The statement said that the Lebanese delegate to the group's April 6-7 deliberations had said those killed and wounded were civilians used by Israel for paramilitary purposes and that made the Jewish state responsible.

<Wait a minute. This monitoring group did NOT monitor the tragedy. Rather, some 'Lebanese delegate' told them that this happened. Who was that person? We don't know but this monitoring group liked what he/she said..>

<Next. The 'killed and wounded were civilians used by Israel for paramilitary purposes and that made the Jewish state responsible.' Oh? We have facts that may or may not be true. We also have a judgment which uses the facts, that since the civilians were used by Israel, the Jewish State is responsible. Do you agree with this judgment? It is logical enough to base a headline on it, that 'Israel, Lebanon violate cease fire'>

<Also remember again, that it was a Lebanese Armed Group that killed the civilians, not the Israelis. Wonder what type of Armed Group this was. Hmmmm.>

<Further>

The cease-fire monitors said the employment of civilians in military sites puts them at risk, but concluded that the incident violated the cease-fire.

<Oh. Now they were civilian employees. Now I better understand the first paragraph. They weren't paramilitary operatives. Rather, they were doing something that needed to be done for paramilitary purposes. Wonder what type of work they were doing? Read on.>

``The Group called upon Lebanon to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,'' it said.

<If Israel is responsible, why didn't they call upon Israel to take necessary measures. Maybe Israel really wasn't responsible!>

The U.S.-brokered cease-fire, which ended a period of intense Israeli shelling of southern Lebanon in 1996, bars attacks on civilians.

The cease-fire monitors come from Lebanon, Israel, Syria, France and the United States.

<Enough with this monitor business. Who are they? Who appointed them? What are their credentials? We'll never know.>

In the Kawka'be incident, six Lebanese construction workers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their pickup truck in the bloodiest single attack on civilians in south Lebanon in over four months.

<Now I'm getting the bloody picture. They were construction workers. They needed some work and the Israelis offered them a job. I'm sure that the Israelis gave them a salary and that they voluntarily accepted the job, together with all of the risks involved in working in a war zone. They were unfortunately killed by some Lebanese Armed Group. Do you agree that 'the incident violated the cease-fire' and that the 'Jewish State is responsible'? >

<Again, who in the world was this Armed Group?>

<Further>

Citing a separate incident, the monitoring group said that April 2 heavy machine gun fire ``by Israel or those cooperating with it'' had killed a civilian farmer on the road between Jarjua and Louaize.

<This is a good time to bring on all of the shmutz about Israel that you can find.>

<Someone was killed ``by Israel or those cooperating with it'' No additional facts provided. No clear focus of responsibility. This doesn't seem to matter.>

``The Group concluded that this attack constituted a violation of the Understanding and called upon Israel and those cooperating with it to take all necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of such incidents,'' the statement said.

<Shall Israel listen to their advice and fire all of the Lebanese people that they provided with economic opportunity?>

Pro-Iranian Hizbollah guerrillas are waging a war of attrition to oust Israeli troops and their South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia allies from the Jewish state's south Lebanon occupation zone. Civilians are often caught in the middle.

<OK, now. The 'Armed Group' consisted of pro-Iranian Hizbollah guerrillas. It took quite a long time for them to say this. Now I understand why they called upon Lebanon to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Why was Israel listed first in the headline? Hisbollar guerrillas don't exactly work for the Israelis. When Hizbollah guerrillas kill Lebanese civilians, why do people say Israel violates the cease fire?>

So far this year, nine civilians have been killed and 19 wounded.

<By who?>

REUTERS@

<Thanks, again.>

So, now you have it.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know why Israel doesn't have many friends in the general community.

Not only does Israel loose, so does everyone who accepts the Lashon Harah. Nations consist of people and people are fed negative opinions about Israel. Therefore, many nations have a basis for not associating with Israel, thereby not taking advantage of all the good that Israel has to offer. Israel may not be the utopian society and nation that we are waiting for. Nevertheless, they have a lot to offer. A tragedy for many nations.

You can't afford to stop here.

What does your media say about Orthodox Jews, about Ultra Orthodox Jews? Are you discouraged from associating with them? Are you fed negative opinions about them? Are they prsented a light of being normal, natural human beings? Are disadvantaged Torah students and Torah-true institutions not deserving of your extensive support? Have you heard people calling for a boycott? Organizations?

Now, I don't believe that we can find any group of Jews (actually of Mankind) whose every member is a perfect example of G-d's Chosen. Nevertheless, those who accept this type of Lashon Harah will have a basis for not associating with them and supporting them, thereby not taking advantage of all the good that this has to offer. This is one of our great tragedies.

May the coming High Holiday period bring growth and the restoration of peace for you and yours, for us all.


23:8 Do not reject the Edomite for he is your (ancestor Yaakov's) brother. Do not reject the Egyptian because you were a migrant in his land.

Every Passover, we remember the bitter enslavement and exploitation that we suffered during our residence in Egypt. Yet, here the Torah charges us to never overlook the fact that they opened their doors to us when we needed a haven.

It appears that the Torah sets the bar very high for its expectations of gratitude.

Perhaps the relationship with Egypt has the following additional message.

Egypt overlooked the good that Yosef (Josef) did for them as his management of their affairs sustained them throughout the seven years of famine. Their subsequent behavior towards Yosef's own people is an extreme example of ingratitude.

A major goal of our redemption from Egypt was our detachment and dissociation from their culture, lifestyle, and values.

Had we adopted their culture and attitudes then we would have taken it with us during the Exodus. Had we done so then our departure would have not been as profound as it would not have been a total separation.

We demonstrate an extreme in gratitude towards Egypt by fulfilling this commandment. By doing so, we also demonstrate that Egypt's corrupted value system had no effect on us and that we emerged from the entanglement with Egypt as the sole victor.


23:20 Do not cause your brother to take interest, interest of money, interest of food, interest of anything that can be taken as interest.

Rava asks the following in the Babylonian Talmud: Why are there separate prohibitions in the Torah for lending with interest, for stealing, and for cheating in business? Why didn't the Torah just prohibit one and we would derive the others from it? Rava goes on to explain why the Torah needs to prohibit each one separately. (Bava Metzia 60a)

It is puzzling to entertain the notion that had the Torah expressly prohibited either theft or cheating that we would know that the Torah didn't want us to lend money with interest.

Theft and cheating are immoral. However, certain types of interest-bearing loans don't appear to be immoral. Is it immoral for banks to offer mortgages with affordable rates? It is immoral to lend a child some money to buy a home under the same banking terms but with a point or two less? Doing so is indeed prohibited by the Torah but in what way can this be viewed in the same light as theft and cheating?

The following came to mind.

If you lend your neighbor a rake then you expect to get the same rake back in the same condition that you lent it. However, if you lend money and give over a hundred-dollar bill then you do not expect to get back that same hundred-dollar bill. The borrower can give you another hundred-dollar bill or two fifties, or ten tens, whatever.

When you lend the rake, your neighbor has your rake. When you lend, the hundred-dollar bill belongs to your fellow, no longer to you. He is obligated to return funds, not the same object that he received from you.

People put up with borrowing with interest but they generally prefer to borrow interest-free.

We can perhaps now view lending with interest, stealing, and cheating in a common light, for in all three cases a person is deriving unwanted benefit from someone else's property.


24:17 Do not bend the judgement of a stranger (or an) orhpan. Do not use the garment of a widow for collateral.

24:18 And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and Hashem your G-d redeemed you from there. I therefore command you to do this thing.

24:19 If you forget a bundle (of wheat) when you cut your harvest, don't come back to take it. It shall be for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in order that Hashem your G-d will bless you in all that you extend your hand (to do).

24:20 When you beat your olive tree (for harvest), do not remove the splendor behind you [i.e. the olives at the top of the tree.]. It shall be for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow

24:21 When you harvest your vineyard, you shall not harvest the young grapes behind you. It shall be for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow.

24:22 And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and Hashem your G-d redeemed you from there. I therefore command you to do this thing.

The commandment in the first section is followed by a charge to remember G-d's role in the Exodus. The commandment in the middle section is followed by the promise of a blessing. The commandments in the last section are followed by a charge to remember G-d's role in the Exodus, just like the first section. Why is the promise of a blessing most appropriate for the middle section? Why is there no charge to remember the Exodus in the middle section?

The following came to mind.

There are times when it is an advantage to use our mental capabilities and there are times when it is not.

The successful teacher must be both alert and dumb, perceptive and also blind and deaf. We dare not forget our spouse's birthday, yet it pays to appear to be very forgetful about our quarrels.

The Torah teaches us to be concerned about supporting the disadvantaged. It also teaches us to pay attention to how we provide this support, that the recipients should not feel ashamed.

In the Scroll of Rus (Ruth), we find Boaz instructing his workers to forget some bundles for the impoverished Rus to collect. 2:17 "And she gathered in the field until the evening … it was an epha (measure) of barley."

So in our middle section, perhaps the Torah is suggesting that we act forgetful in order to insure that the poor gatherers receive enough to sustain themselves. Since we are purposely forgetting, this would explain why the Torah does not charge us in this section to remember even the Exodus. Rather, the Torah promises us a blessing, and most appropriately so.

How does a blessing work?

Rabbi Chaim Veloszen teaches that a blessing is a mechanism by which G-D makes something increase.

The Talmud provides the following insight (Taanis 8b) Rabbi Yitzchok said, "A blessing will only be prevalent with something that is hidden from the eye as it says, 'May G-D command the blessing in your stomach.'" 'Rabbi Yishmael taught, "Blessings are only prevalent for things that the eye can not view, as it says, 'May G-D command the blessing in your stomach.'" The Rabbis taught, "One who enters to measure (the quantity of grain in) his storehouse should say, 'May it the will be before you, Hashem our G-d, that you send a blessing in the work of our hands.' Once he measures, he should say, 'Blessed are You, who sends a blessing in this pile.' If he measures and then prays, then the prayer is for naught, because a blessing is not prevalent in something that is already weighed, measured, or numbered. Rather it is prevalent for things that are hidden from the eye."

Why does a blessing not occur for things in the open view? Since a blessing is an increase, if we saw it happening then it would be an open miracle and not everyone is worthy of an open miracle. This explains the Talmud's requirement for a prevalence of blessing.

Getting back to our verse, since the Torah is speaking to some who purposefully overlooks in order to avoid shaming the poor, it is most appropriate for this person to receive G-D's blessings, a mechanism that works for things that are not in the open view.


25:17 Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you left Egypt.

25:18 That he [they] chanced upon you on the way and stuck those among you, the stragglers from behind, those who were weak. And he [they] did not fear G-D.

Rashi says that the weak stragglers were people who were sinners and were ejected by the Divine cloud that enveloped the Jewish people.

In my mind it is conceivable that Amalek targeted them because they were sinners.

From their corrupt perspective, G-D belongs with angels, not with imperfect human beings. G-D would therefore have never chosen the Jewish people because not every Jew is perfect. And therefore, whatever occurred in Egypt and by the Red Sea must have happened by chance, not by Divine intervention.

And for that matter, since every human being is not perfect, and because we can't understand right now the reasons for many occurrences in our lives, G-D must not be paying much attention to what's going on in this world. To them, G-D is not connected with this world.

The Torah responds:

25:19 And it will be when Hashem your G-D gives you rest from all of your enemies from all around in the land that Hashem your G-D gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven, do not forget (this).

Rashi says that we must destroy not only Amalek but everything they own. Destroying their possessions will erase the memory of Amalek because there will be nothing left behind to connect Amalek with.

The Mishnah says that G-D has five possessions in His world. They are: The Torah, the heavens and earth, Avraham (Abraham), the Jewish people, and the temple (Avos 6:10).

Amalek sought to disconnect G-D with the Jewish people and His world. Therefore, measure for measure they will no longer be connected with any possession in this world.


25:17 Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you left Egypt.

This commandment is written adjacent to the commandment of bringing first fruits.

The story of Amalek's attack is documented in the Book of Exodus. It is written adjacent to the story of Yisro's journey to the Israelite encampment and subsequent embracing Judaism.

The adjacencies that both portions have with the story of Amalek suggest an association between the commandment of first fruits and the story of Yisro.

The following came to mind.

Yisro's conversion to Judaism entailed a full repentance from his ties to idolatry. He was what we call a 'Baal Teshuvah.'

Repentance, or teshuvah requires a person to confess that he/she was wrong, regret the wrongdoing, and resolve to not repeat the mistake.

Teshuvah is more than a restoration. It can be a fresh start because by confessing error, the person may need to muster the courage to start anew. This surge of strength is perhaps echoed by the Torah portion of the first fruits. Just as the first fruits is a ceremony of praise of renewal to G-D, so is the sacrifice that the Baal Teshuvah must take by starting over from a sometimes distant point in his/her life.

And we must remember the teaching that "The righteous person falls seven times and (yet) rises up.(Mishlei / Proverbs 24:16).

So must those who strive for spiritual growth be prepared to cycle back to a starting point several times, much like the agricultural cycle that continually brings the farmer back to another offering of first fruits.


25:19 And it will be when Hashem your G-D gives you rest from all of your enemies from all around in the land that Hashem your G-D gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven, do not forget (this).

Amalek was the first nation to attack the Jewish people after their exodus from Egypt.

We are taught that their intention was to demonstrate that the Exodus was not an act of G-D but rather the result of sociology, political science, other natural causes, and good luck.

They were the first and strongest proponent of denying G-D's will with respect to the affairs and destiny of mankind. They disconnected G-D from the world, denying that He actively manages it.

G-D used the Jewish people as His proxy to demonstrate that this was false and Amalek sought to demonstrate the contrary by attacking G-D's proxy.

The Targum Yonosan Ben Uziel provides the following reading: "… you shall erase the mention of Amalek from under the heaven, even during the days of the Messianic King, do not forget."

The Messianic era will provide mankind with the greatest demonstration of G-D's existence and role, more so than even the Exodus. The Targum's reading suggests that the truth will be so exposed during the Messianic Era that those who are alive then will view Amalek's message to be so irrelevant that they will see no purpose in destroying them.

Exodus 17:17 states: And He said, "With Hand on the Throne of G-D, there shall be a war of G-D against Amalek from generation to generation."

The Targum's reading of this verse provides further insight: "… He will destroy them in three generations: From that of this world, from that of the Messiah, and from that of the world to come."

It brings to mind the teaching that those who do not repent prior to leaving this world will bring their distortions with them into the next and will suffer its consequences.

The Jerusalem Targum on this verse references King Shaul's and Mordechai/Esther's involvements with destroying Amalek. I assume that this is their reading of the phrase, "from generation to generation."

Shaul was our first king. He was charged by Shmuel (Samuel the prophet) to fulfill the Biblical commandment to completely obliterate Amalek. His soldiers pressed him to spare Amalek's herds so that they may be later sacrificed to G-D. Shaul did not kill their King Agag with the intent that the execution of the last remnant of Amalek be later done in public. These exceptions were consistent with the words of the charge that was given to him, but not with the intent, which was a swift and massive obliteration. I view this as a failure to fully compensate for Amalek's denial of G-D's will.

Mordechai was a descendent of Shaul's family. Despite the opposition from some of his colleagues, themselves great Torah scholars, and despite the great personal danger, he held steadfast to his understanding of G-D's will, which was to not show any respect for Haman, himself a descendent of Amalek. I view this as a compensation for Shaul's failure.

Mordechai's decision became the foundation of the Purim deliverance, itself a profound documentary of G-D's role as a manager of human affairs.


Ki Savo (Deut. 26-29)

25:17 Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt.

25:18 That he happened (to meet) you on the way and he struck those who were stumbling by the rear (of your camp) and you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear G-D.

25:19 And it will be when Hashem your G-D gives you relief from all of your enemies that surround the land that Hashem your G-D gives you for an inheritance to take possession of it that you shall erase the mention of Amalek from under the heaven, do not forget. (Above is from last week's Torah reading.)

26:1 And it will be when you come to the land that Hashem your G-D is giving to you for an inheritance. And you will take possession of it and you will settle in it.

The Baal Haturim commentary notes that the commandment to erase Amalek is written right before the verse that talks about coming into the Land of Israel. This teaches that the commandment to erase Amalek became obligatory when the Jewish people entered the land. He adds that this is the reason that Amalek tried to delay our entry. The Baal Haturim then reveals that Amalek told Pharaoh that the Jewish people fled and were not coming back and also informed Lavan (Laban) when Yaakov (Jacob) fled, all to delay our entry.

Like of many of the Baal Haturim's comments, his words are puzzling and deep.

According to the Torah's record, the events occurred in the following order:

1. Yaakov fled from Lavan some 242 years prior to the Exodus and this was when Amalek made contact with Lavan.

2. The Jewish people left Egypt and did not turn back after three days. Thereupon, Amalek notified Pharaoh that they fled.

3. Amalek attacked the Jewish people several weeks later and the Jewish people were commanded to erase "the mention of Amalek from under the heaven."

Given that the attack and subsequent commandment to destroy Amalek occurred after Amalek tried to delay our entry into the Promised Land, the Shiras Dovid commentary is puzzled why the Baal Haturim says that Amalek delayed us to push off destruction. The delay tactics occurred before the attack, not the reverse.

He suggests no solution.

The following came to mind.

Amalek was Aisav's (Esau's) grandson (Genesis 36:12).

The Torah describes the military victory over Amalek as follows: "And Yehosua (Joshua) weakened Amalek and his nation by the edge of the sword" (Exodus 17:13).

This description and the way the Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel translates it, suggest that Amalek himself was alive and led his nation of descendants into battle.

This same person was alive when his saintly great-grandfather Yitzchak (Isaac) lived and stood for a G-D who actively manages the affairs of mankind to achieve goals that He established.

And one of G-D's goals was for there to be a Jewish people that He would use to achieve His goals.

While the rest of the world stood spellbound from the miracles of the Exodus and splitting of the sea, Amalek wrote them off as chance and natural events, not G-D driven.

Amalek's disregard for recognizing compelling events and for deciding how to apply intuitive logic in to reach pre-determined conclusions did not emerge after the Exodus. Rather, Amalek's corruptive ways began many hundred years ago. This is how he educated his children and this is how he built his nation.

And today's holocaust deniers and hard-core evolutionists are merely following his footsteps.

Perhaps his theological background and astuteness gave him reason long ago to conclude that if there was a G-D who paid attention to what's occurring in the world then Amalek and his followers are doomed. And the same background and astuteness compelled toward this conclusion long before the Jewish people emerged on the scene.

This was all so real to him that he jumped at the opportunity to incite Lavan against Yaakov.

"They stand up against us in every generation. And G-D saves us from their hand." (Hagaddah)


25:17 Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt.

25:18 That he happened (to meet) you on the way and he struck those who were stumbling by the rear (of your camp) and you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear G-D.

25:19 And it will be when Hashem your G-D gives you relief from all of your enemies that surround the land that Hashem your G-D gives you for an inheritance to take possession of it that you shall erase the mention of Amalek from under the heaven, do not forget. (Above is from last week's Torah reading.)

26:1 And it will be when you come to the land that Hashem your G-D is giving to you for an inheritance. And you will take possession of it and you will settle in it.

26:2 And you will take from the first of all the fruits of the earth that you will bring from the land that Hashem your G-D gives you and you will place it in a basket. And you will travel to the place that Hashem your G-D will choose to reside His Name there.

Rashi for verse 25:19 comments that even Amalek's animals must be destroyed so that one should not be able to point to one and say that it belongs to an Amalekite.

Just as Amalek promoted the notion that G-D is disconnected with everything in this world, we are charged to obliterate any association that Amalek has with this world.

The commandment to praise G-D for the first fruits immediately follows in the next verses. We also note a similarity between the commandments for both take effect after the Jewish people take possession of their ancestral inheritance.

Amalek persisted on viewing the exodus as a series of natural events, caused by human nature, natural law, and luck. To them the exodus did not emanate from G-D's will, neither did G-D guide the events. To them, either G-D would not intervene or He couldn't.

If Amalek could write off G-D's involvement in the exodus, surely they would do the same for the annual emergence of new crops.

Of the many things that it is, the Torah is a set of behaviors that G-D expects mankind to follow. It is an expression of G-D's will and it makes mankind accountable for compliance.

It is therefore quite fitting for the commandment to praise G-D for the first fruits to be written in the Torah adjacent to the commandment of eradicating Amalek.

We are charged to delay both until after we settle in our ancestral lands, for the victorious and sometimes openly miraculous conquests of the land promised some four-hundred years in the past gave testimony of the existence of a G-D that is alive, interested, capable, and involved.

Amalek is categorized by the wicked Bilam as the first of nations, "Reishis." We praise G-D by bring from the first fruits, "May-Reishis."

The very first word in the Torah is "Be-Raishis." Commonly translated as "In the beginning," the Medrash offers the following reading: "Because of Raishis." Mankind's acknowledgement of G-D being One that is aware and involved is so significant that justified the Creation.


26:3 And you (who are bringing the first fruits to the Temple) shall say to him [the priest who is accepting the fruits], "I hereby declare today to Hashem your G-D that I came to the land that Hashem swore to our ancestors to give us.

The Shiras David commentary notes that the wording in this annual declaration is prescribed for all generations. Both those who indeed came to Israel from Egypt and their descendants said the same words, "I came to the land that Hashem swore to our ancestors to give us."

It's easy to see how those who entered the Promised Land can say that G-D gave them the land. However, their descendants got the land through inheritance. For them it may be more fitting to say that "I am in the land that Hashem swore to give to our ancestors." Why do they use the same declaration?

I understand his explanation as follows.

The Land of Israel is unique in that it's a land that G-D "continuously focuses (His) attention on, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:12).

Our teachers explain this to mean that Divine providence is significantly more obvious to those who live in Israel than to those who live outside this holy land.

This makes every day of life in Israel more of a new experience and opportunity. Nothing can be taken for granted. Living there, one can feel that the reason some things happen is a bit less because of the laws of nature and a bit more because G-D is involved in making decisions.

So after growing a bountiful crop and travelling to the Temple to give thanksgiving, both those who were newcomers and those who were later born in Israel can share the same feeling, that their lives in Israel are as if they just came, it was either actually or as if G-D gave them the land.


26:1 And it will be when you come to the land that Hashem your G-D is giving to you for an inheritance. And you will take possession of it and you will settle in it.

26:2 And you will take from the first of all the fruits of the earth that you will bring from the land that Hashem your G-D gives you and you will place it in a basket. And you will travel to the place that Hashem your G-D will choose to reside His Name there.

26:3 And you (who are bringing the first fruits to the Temple) shall say to him [the priest who is accepting the fruits], "I hereby declare today to Hashem your G-D that I came to the land that Hashem swore to our ancestors to give us.

26:4 And the Kohen will take the basket from your hands and he will set it before the altar of Hashem your G-D.

26:5 And you shall respond and say, "An Aramaic person (sought to) destroy my ancestor and he descended to Egypt and dwelt there with a small number (of people). And he became there a great, powerful, and numerous nation."

26:6 "And the Egyptians did evil to us and they afflicted us. And they imposed hard work on us."

26:7 "And we cried to Hashem the G-D of our ancestors and G-D heard our voice. And He saw our affliction, our labor, and our stress."

26:8 "And G-D took us out from Egypt with a strong hand, with an outstretched arm, with great awe, with signs, and with wonders."

26:9 "And He brought us to this place and He gave to us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

26:10 "And behold I now brought the first of the fruits of the land that You gave me, G-D."

And you shall place it before (the altar of) Hashem your G-D and you shall bow before Hashem your G-D.

26:11 And you shall rejoice over all the good that Hashem your G-D gave to you and to your household, you, the Levite, and the convert that is within your midst.

The widow and the orphan are listed elsewhere in the Torah where we are charged to support those who are less fortunate (26:13, 16:11 and several other places). What is the Torah trying to tell us here by not listing them here?

The following came to mind.

First of all, we are certainly obligated to help anybody who is experiencing hard times, including the widow and the orphan and including the time during which we bring the first fruits.

Perhaps the omission of their reference is meant to merely suggest the approach we are to take when celebrating with the first fruits.

The abundance is great cause for celebration. However, it is especially important that we raise our sights during a period of abundance.

That is, when the Torah states, "And you shall rejoice over all the good that Hashem your G-D gave to you," is one to focus on? Should one focus on what he as or on what he is?

If the focus is to be on what one has then certainly the widow and the orphan must be included in the list because they have no resources

However, the offering of the first fruits is preceded by the recitation of a review of Jewish history, which is all about what we are.

Given an introduction that places a focus on what we are, the widow and the orphan are just as fortunate as the wealthiest land owner who is now bring the first fruits.

Also given the focus on what one is, the Levite has his own source of happiness, for his special role in the Temple is part of his ancestral inheritance, a part of what he is, not of what he has. Also, the convert has his own special source of happiness for he is now a Jew.

So in this context, the Torah here singles out just three groups for happiness: the descendants of the patriarchs and this includes the landowner, widow, and orphan who are special people, the descendants of Levy who are also special people, and the newcomer to Judaism who just became part of a special people.

The following additional observations came to mind.

The Torah makes the farmer focus on Jewish history, how the Jewish people came to the land, and that the land is from G-D through our ancestors. The farmer's expression of thanks for a successful crop is implied but not directly said. Why?

Why is it significant at this time to say that G-D chose to reside His name in the place where the farmer brings the first fruits?

Most farmers who recited the thanksgiving verses received the land through inheritance from their ancestors who entered the land many generations beforehand. We know from the Oral Torah that these mandatory verses of recital remained unchanged for all generations. Why was it written in this manner?

The Torah says that the farmer will rejoice over all the good that G-D gave him. Is this a commandment? If not, then the Torah is stating that bringing the first fruits and reciting these verses will cause the farmer to rejoice. How?

The following came to mind.

A study of Jewish history brings one to realize that there is a G-D who exists and who manages history in great detail.

The believing Jew takes this one step further and comes to feel that every occurrence and turn of events in his personal life and the lives of his loved ones is directed and managed by G-D, also in great detail. This realization begins with a person's study of Jewish history and is internalized as a person experiences and observes life.

There are no accidents in a person's life. Everything that occurs is formulated and dictated by G-D for the person's best welfare, within the context of his/her eternal life. One comes to view inheritance as not merely a product of the a mechanism that is driven by law. Instead, within this framework one views everything as a direct gift from G-D.

So, by associating the successful crop with and exclusively with Jewish history, the farmer is stating that every aspect of his life is in the hands of an all-knowing and resourceful G-D. from the times of his ancestors and through his generation.

By stating that G-D chose to reside His great name in the place where the first fruits are brought, the farmer states that G-D makes choices affect our surroundings.

By subscribing to this outlook on life, the farmer is relieved of the pains of anxiety that plague the non-believer. By viewing his life within the security of G-D's control, he comes to great and serene happiness with all that he has because he realizes that it is all a gift from a very gracious and loving G-D. It is a happiness that overflows and makes an impression on the Levite, the convert, everyone that the farmer comes in contact with.


26:2 And you shall take from the first of all fruits of the earth that you will bring from your land, that which Hashem your G-D is giving to you, and you shall place it in a basket. And you shall go to the place that Hashem your G-D will select to rest His name there.

26:3 And you (who are bringing the first fruits to the Temple) shall say to him [the priest who is accepting the fruits], "I hereby declare today to Hashem your G-D that I came to the land that Hashem swore to our ancestors to give us.

Rashi provides the following commentary for 26:3

  1. '(The Kohen) who will be (living) in those days:' You only have for yourself the Kohen that lives in your days, the way he is.
  2. 'And you shall say to him:' That you are not ungrateful.
  3. 'I state today:' You do this (only) once a year.

These three Rash commentaries relate to the text in verse 26:3. Do they also relate to each other?

The following came to mind:

Rashi one and two: You only have for yourself the Kohen that lives in your days, the way he is; That you are not ungrateful.

It is not fair to compare our teachers and leaders of our generation with those of a previous generation, who may have been greater. We must appreciate the teachers and leaders that G-D gives us. G-D matches our spiritual resources with the level that we are on, that our ancestors were on.

Rashi two and three: That you are not ungrateful; You do this (only) once a year.

In the ceremony that is described in this section, the Torah instructs us how to formally thank G-D for His abundance. Knowing that this can be done only once a year provides incentive and energy for us to focus on how we say this special thank-you.


26:11 And you shall be happy with all the good that Hashem your G-D gave to you and your household, you and the Levite and the convert that is in your midst.

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory uses this verse to remind us that it is possible to have goodness and yet not be happy and even dissatisfied because there could have been more.

The remedy is to focus not on what we have but on what we are.

We have good and it came from G-D because he cares about us as we are His children and central creations.


26:12 When you complete tithing a tenth of your grain on the third year, the year of the tithe (for the impoverished), and you should give it to the Levite, convert, orphan, and widow and they shall eat (from) it and be satisfied.

26:13 And you shall declare before Hashem your G-D, "I have cleared the consecrated from the house and I also gave it to the Levite, convert, orphan, and widow in accordance with all of the commandments that You commanded me. I have not failed (in performing) Your commandments and I have not forgotten (them).

26:14 I did not eat from it while I was in a state of initial mourning; and I did not consume it in a state of ritual contamination; and I did not use it for the needs of a dead person; I listened to the voice of Hashem my G-D, I did all that He commanded me.

26:15 Look out from You Holy abode from the heavens and bless your nation Israel and the land that You gave us, just as you swore to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The Mishna teaches that "I did like all that You commanded me" (26:14) means that not only did we give the allotted portions out properly but we did it with happiness and also in a manner that made the recipients happy, too. (Maaser Sheni 5:12)

Making others happy requires us to know the needs and ways of those we are to make happy. This means that we must come out of our shells and extend ourselves to see the needs and ways of others.

If we succeed in extending ourselves to know about the impoverished and needs, then Divine justice will dictate that G-D Himself will respond accordingly and extend Himself to us, even from His "Holy abode" (26:15), as remote as it may be.


This Torah reading discusses a proclamation that must be recited every third and sixth Sabbatical year.

Everyone must affirm that the portions of produce that the Torah mandates for distribution were properly distributed. These portions include the first fruits that are brought to the Temple and given to the priests, the terumah that is given to the priests, the first tithe that is given to the Levite, and the secondary tithe that is either eaten in Jerusalem or given to the impoverished, depending on the Sabbatical year.

The proclamation contains this verse:

26:14 I did not eat from it while I was in a state of initial mourning; and I did not consume it in a state of ritual contamination; and I did not use it for the needs of a dead person; I listened to the voice of Hashem my G-D, I did all that He commanded me.

The verse appears to be focusing on the secondary tithe, which may not be eaten on the day that a person lost a close relative. The Mishnah explains that the restriction about not using secondary tithe for needs of a dead person include using purchasing a coffin, burial shrouds, or giving the secondary tithe to another mourner. The Mishnah says that listening to the voice of G-D means that the tithe or the funds were brought to Jerusalem. Doing all that G-D commanded refers to being happy and making others happy with it. (Maaser Sheni 5:12)

Secondary tithes are discussed in a previous verse:

14:22 Tithe shall you tithe the produce of your seed, that which the field brings forth from year to year.

14:23 And you shall eat (in Jerusalem) before Hashem your G-D in the place that He will chose to rest His name there the (secondary) tithes of your grain, grapes, and olives and the first-born of your cattle and sheep so that you will learn to fear Hashem your G-D for all the days.

If Jerusalem is too far to transport the secondary tithes themselves to Jerusalem, the Torah says that we can exchange it for money, bring the funds to Jerusalem, and purchase food there for eating.

14:26 And you shall give the money (in exchange for) anything that your soul desires (to eat), whether (it comes) from cattle, sheep, new or old wine, whatever your soul asks for. And you shall eat there (in Jerusalem) before Hashem your G-D, you and (those in) your household.

It appears the secondary tithe has a special focus on maintaining a state of happiness and on generating happiness in within our homes. Why? What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

We all have a natural aversion to discomfort and inconvenience. And we have the ability to transcend these aversions, overriding and masking them altogether.

Consider a woman who is fully dressed and walking besides a swimming pool on a cool and windy day. She suddenly hears a splash and a little voice cries out 'Mommy!' followed by "glub-glub." She turns her head and sees her child sinking below the surface. She doesn't think, neither does she take any time whatsoever to even remove her shoes. Instead, like lightening she bolts into the pool to save her child. And she pays no attention to the wetness or the shivering breeze while helping her child get the water out of his/her lungs.

Mommy's focus is on the welfare of her child and that masks and overrides the discomfort.

Consider this, too:

You have just won a set of tickets to an event that everyone is spending a fortune on to attend. You're there, together with your toddler. It's cold and rainy but nobody cares, except for the toddler, who can't stand the noise, the wetness, or the temperature.

The focus of the average attendee is not on themselves and their comfort. Rather, they are connected to the meaning and significance of the event and this masks their discomfort. But the toddler is too young to appreciate the event. It means nothing to the toddler. The child has nothing to mask the discomfort with.

However, as the child grows and connects to similar events, the child acquires the ability to scream with delight while attending, together with the other fans, no matter how cold or rainy it is.

Part of growing up is a shift of that which has meaning and significance. We all begin with a single focus, ME. And then we discover others people, first taking from them and then giving to them and onward.

Together with such shifts, we acquire energy for other arenas that we can use to transcend our preferences for comfort and convenience.

Now, secondary tithes have their restrictions. They must be eaten in a state of ritual purity and they can only be eaten within the walls of Jerusalem.

The Mishnah says that nobody ever said to their fellow that their lodging place in Jerusalem was too confined (Mishnah Avos 5:7). But the Mishnah does not guarantee lodging in a five-star hotel, either.

And so, the potential exist for family heads who eat from plentiful funds that reflect a bountiful harvest but who have to contend with a bunch of cranky kids, a cranky wife, even his own discomfort.

This kid wants his cocoa pebbles that may not be ritually pure, another misses his bedroom, another wants to eat with her friends that didn't make it to Jerusalem yet. When are we going back home?

I submit that this is a challenge that the Torah is addressing when it places such an emphasis on being happy and making others happy.

And note that the challenge has nothing to do with meals during a festive period. It's just about ordinary and mundane eating.

That's where we live most of the year and that's where we need to work hardest to be happy.

Perhaps we can look at this as more than a challenge. Rather, it's a goal to coach oneself and help bring his family into the reality of a realm that is much greater than the ME we started out with.

Our connections to greater sources of meaning and significance can shift and grow if we are open to change.

The more we make them real to ourselves, the easier it becomes to get up in the morning for prayer, to say no to business opportunities that may involve transgressing Shabbos, to set aside time for Torah study, to shut the cell phone when entering shul, and to travel three times each year and feel very fortunate to live for a while in a place that appears roomy but lacks all the comforts of home.


26:14 I did not eat from it while I was in a state of initial mourning; and I did not consume it in a state of ritual contamination; and I did not use it for the needs of a dead person; I listened to the voice of Hashem my G-D, I did all that He commanded me.

Saying that one did "I did like all that you commanded" instead of "I did all that you commanded" appears to be an expression of humility and uncertainty.

Rashi provides the following comment on this phrase: I was happy and I made other people happy with it (i.e. the tithes).

I wondered whether this was intended to reflect a different meaning on "I did like all that you commanded."

We are taught that the G-D's intention in creating the world was to bestow the greatest happiness upon mankind.

A person can not be fully happy until he achieves inner peace from maintaining his connection with truth. This requires discipline and self honesty. Other types of happiness are temporal and/or substitutes.

Abraham (Avraham) was one of the most successful people who ever lived. We are taught that he dedicated his life to emulate G-D and this is why he focused on doing kindness and providing hospitality. He sought to make other people happy by helping them and by guiding them towards the truth.

So indeed, the person who can tell G-D that he was happy and made others happy is saying, in effect, that he came in contact with the intention of all of G-D's commandments, that he did like all that G-D commanded.


26:15 Look out from You Holy abode from the heavens and bless your nation Israel and the land that You gave us, just as you swore to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.

We are taught that G-D is everywhere, that His presence fills the earth. What message can we take from this verse, which makes reference to G-D being in the distance, in His heavenly abode.

The following came to mind.

This verse is part of the proclamation to G-D that we properly gave people the portions of our crops that the Torah requires, such as the tithes to the Levites and the impoverished.

One could think that these allocations are like taxes. That is, we carve off a share of the produce we worked hard to grow and give it to the people that the Torah specified.

But in reality, G-D is sustaining many people and is merely using us to make this happen. That is, the share we keep is what G-D wants us to be sustained with and the share we give is what G-D wants other people to be sustained from. We are not being taxed to feed the poor. Rather, we are G-D's managers and agents to keep others from going hungry.

In this light, we receive our sustenance in a more direct manner from G-D than our recipients, who are relatively more remote because their sustenance has to go through us.

In our recognizing and supporting a system in which we are only the middle man and in which G-D is acting in the remote, we gain the merit of being able to call out to G-D no matter where He reveals Himself, even from the remotest part of the universe.

The charity we give is not an act of sacrifice. Rather, it is the act of an agent. We owe it to ourselves to give with happiness, that G-D bestowed us with this role and not the role of a recipient.


26:16: (On) this (very) day Hashem your G-d commands you to do these decrees and laws. [And] you will observe and do them with all of your heart and soul.

26:17: Today you have designated Hashem, for Him to be a G-d to you, [and] to walk in His ways, [and] to observe His decrees, commandments, and laws, and to accept His word.

26:18: And today Hashem has designated you, to be for Him a Treasured Nation just as He told you, and to observe all of His commandments.

Verse 16 is referring to the six-hundred-thirteen commandments that we received from Sinai.

Had we not accepted the Torah then we would not have been obligated to observe most of them. That is, our ideological commitment was a precondition to our being commanded.

It would thus seem that verse 16 which discusses the commandment should follow verses 17, which discusses ideology and commitment.

Rashi provides insight into another puzzling aspect.

Since these verses were written in the Book of Deuteronomy, it is natural to assume that they were said by Moshe (Moses) during his final years, almost forty years after we were commanded from Sinai to observe the Torah. Yet verse 16 says that we were commanded on that very day, as Moshe spoke.

Rashi says the following:

(On) this (very) day Hashem your G-d commands you..: (That is,) it should be in your eyes every day (of your life) as through (the commandments) are new, as though you were commanded on that day to (observe) them.

There is a dimension of quality in Torah observance and this can be enhanced by a person's approach and attitude towards the commandments. We are encouraged to approach Torah observance with the same excitement and freshness that we felt when we were originally charged to keep them, some thirty-three centuries ago.

Rashi's lesson is certainly applicable to verse 17 which discusses our ideology and commitment. One should be able to say that we charged to both re-commit ourselves each and every day and to also reinforce our feelings about G-d, Himself.

Still, what is the Torah trying to tell us from the ordering of verses 16 and 17?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps there are messages for both the Jew who is newly discovering Torah life and for the Jew who was observant from birth.

The Jew who has just discovered the value of Torah observance can actually experience that he/she has just been commanded 'today'.

While religious practice should follow ideology and commitment, we frequently find the reverse. Life experience can defy theory and experience shows that there is a natural tendency for a person to formulate ideology and commitment from past behavior.

A person may desire to accept Torah practice but since he/she may not initially be ready to make a sincere commitment to full practice. As a result, they may become discouraged and wind up outside Torah life, observing little, if any.

Perhaps the Torah is coaching us by re-ordering these verses. That is, one should just begin observing the commandments to the best of his/her ability and without commitment to the future. It is OK for the ideological commitment to follow at a later time, if needed.

The long-standing Jew needs a different message. He/she must constantly inject a freshness into his/her observance, as Rashi says. One can not afford to remain on a spiritual plateau. Spiritual stagnation is a precursor to decline. Verse 17 adds a dimension to observance, our feelings of commitment and relationship with G-d. Perhaps the ordering of verses 16 and 17 suggest one must constantly seek ways to improve the quality of observance. Verse 17 provides an example, charging one to enhance his/her observance by pursuing a deeper level of awareness of our relationship with G-d.

Whether a person is being newly introduced to Judaism or whether one is seemingly observant from birth, there are always new spiritual frontiers to conquer, to take on the privilege of being 'a Treasured Nation, per verse 18.


26:17 You have today set apart Hashem to be for you as a G-D and to go in His ways and to guard His statutes, commandments, and laws, and to listen to His voice.

26:18 And today Hashem has set you apart to be to Him as a Treasured Nation, just as He told you, and to guard all of His commandments.

Rashi provides the following commentary for 26:17

.. From all of the other gods of the idol worshipers, I (Moshe) have (today) set Him apart to be for you a G-D.

The commentaries explain that this refers to the solemn covenant of Chapter 28 that which the Jewish people were about to accept upon themselves.

The above introduction to this covenant is very difficult to understand. This is not the first covenant that G-D made with the Jewish people, and the Torah says so explicitly.

28:69 These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe (Moses) to establish with the Jewish people in the Land of Moav, besides the covenant that He established with them in Chorev (Mt. Sinai).

The Jewish people have been praying to G-D for at least the past 40 years when they were under the charge of Moshe. They built a glorious temple to G-D almost four decades ago and have been worshiping there ever since. How do we understand Rashi? Why is it as though we are now setting G-D apart from all the other gods? Also, the covenant of Sinai seems to be very similar to this covenant. In what way was this final covenant so significant that the Torah seems to view it as a new beginning? In what way was this covenant so significant that it qualifies our being "set apart to be to Him as a Treasured Nation?"

The following came to mind.

Let's have a look at the Sefurno of 26:17

"You have today set apart Hashem.." When you accepted upon yourselves to enter (this relationship with G-D) through a covenant and oath, (a covenant) that specifies the devastation of every material goodness if you disregard it, you have (thus) set (Him) apart and raised up (the recognized status) G-D (on this Earth), (demonstrating) that the fulfillment of His will is more important to you than all the goodness of the physical (world).

The religions have many heroes, many martyrs. But there can be a big difference in heroism and the Torah, in light of this Sefurno, defines a very high standard.

How do you think they get people to strap the explosives around their bodies?

Here's what they tell them: Life down here is miserable. Why not invest a few seconds of discomfort and transport yourself to an eternal paradise. Up there you'll have all the women you want, all the wine, all the money, all the glory, god will hug you, he will kiss you, you'll have all the food you can eat, they'll give you motorcycles, cars, planes, boats, video games, money, toys, more money, sleep when you want, how you want, wear gowns, crowns. Look. You're going to die anyway so why not take this way out?

It's really a no brainer - for people who lack the brains to keep from getting get sucked by a group of slick-talkers.

For most theological 'heroes,' the choice life and death is between that of a temporal and humdrum or a miserable life and that of an eternal bliss. It's frankly a smart and self-centered choice.

The Torah here expects more. Don't show faith by merely demonstrating that you are willing to get everything. Instead, show how much G-D's will means to you and demonstrate your relationship with Him by entering a covenant by which you are willing to put at risk everything you value.

And the entire Jewish nation delivered.

There still remains one question. We already made such a covenant some four decades ago. What's the significance of this covenant over that of Leviticus 26?

There's a big and powerful difference.

The covenant at Sinai took place before a long and painful forty-year trek through the desert. At that point in our history, we were told that G-D meant business but we did not yet feel it. Since then, we were decimated by our own flaws. We lost thousands to fire, plague, and to the sword. An entire generation was wiped out, the very parents and grandparents of the generation of this second covenant.

And after witnessing and experiencing the reality and consequence of the special relationship that we have with G-D, the entire Jewish nation still delivered.

Subsequent to this covenant, the Jewish people began another long and sometimes painful trek through history, a journey that will one day demonstrate its ability to refine the entire nation, to the degree that a later prophet will proclaim (Yeshayahu / Isaiah 60:21-22), "And your entire nation is (now) righteous, they will inherit the land forever, the shoot of My planting, the work of My handiwork that I will take pride in. The little one will come to be a thousand and the young one will become a powerful nation, I am G-D and in its right time I will make it happen quickly."


27:4 And it will be when you cross over the Yarden (Jordan River) that you shall set up these stones which I command you today on Mount Eval. And you shall coat them with plaster.

27:8 And you shall write on the stones all of the words of this Torah with good clarification.

The Oral Torah says that "good clarification" means to translate the Torah into the seventy languages that were spoken at that time (Sotah 32a).

G-D wanted the rest of world to know what the Torah contains.

Rabbi Yehudah said that they first wrote the Torah on the stones and then they coated the stones with plaster.

Rabbi Shimon said to him, "According to your words, how could the rest of the nations learn the Torah?"

Rabbi Yehudah responded, "G-D gave the nations of the world enhanced insight. They sent their scribes who peeled off the plaster and copied it (Sotah 32b)."

Why wasn't the Torah written on top of the plaster? Why did G-D want the nations of the world to expend the effort of peeling off the plaster in order to get to the Torah?

The following came to mind.

Huge amount resources and wisdom are put into maximizing the accessibility and readability of most educational material.

The great Torah scholars and mentors teach that Torah is different. Some effort must be expended in order to master the Torah.

Rabbi Yitzchak says, "Don't believe anybody who says that I exerted myself and did not find it. Do not believe anybody who says that I found it without effort. Believe one who says that I exerted myself and found it (Megilla 6b).

There is a point at which the degree of accessibility to Torah provides diminishing returns.

G-D wanted to maximize the exposure of the nations of the world to the Torah. He wanted them to appreciate its greatness. So they needed to exert some minor effort to get at it.

No pain, no gain.


28:64 And G-D will disperse you (into exile) among the nations, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth …

Rabbi Yehuda said that exile atones (is ‘mechaper’) for three dire consequences: death by the sword, plague, and hunger … Rabbi Yochanan said that exile atones for everything (Talmud Sanhedrin 37b).

The Talmud cites King Yechenia as an example, who was exiled to Babylon. Prior to his exile he committed misdeeds. The prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) said the following about him: G-D says the following – ‘Write about this man that he will be childless, a man that will not be successful in his lifetime … (Yirmiyahu 22:30)’ And yet, after he went into exile we find the following: And the sons of Yechenia were … (Divrei Hayamim / Chronicles I 3:17).

This reflects Rabbi Yochanan’s teaching and Heaven lifted the dire consequence of his being childless.

However, the Etz Yosef commentary on the Medrash Rabbah attributes his ability to have children to something else.

Nebuchadnezzar put Yechenia in a pit that served as his dungeon. It was very narrow and didn’t offer enough room for him to recline.

Fearing that the Davidic dynasty would end, the Torah scholars of that time interceded through Nebuchadnezzar’s wife and obtained permission to lower Yechenia’s wife into the dungeon so that he could have a child.

Any delay injected a risk that the tyrant would change his mind, so she was brought immediately to her husband. When she arrived, she told him in privacy that she had just begun her period. Despite the urgency and Yechenia’s intense feelings towards his wife, he refrained from having relations as prescribed by our Torah.

Rabbi Shabsai said, “They did not move from there until G-D proclaimed that He had forgiven them for all of their sins.”

Indeed, she was able to visit him again, this time after going to the mikvah. And despite the lack of room in the pit for them to be together in a way that that would have made it possible for her to become pregnant, she conceived a child in purity (Metzorah, last Medrash Rabbah).

Yechenia was the grandfather of Zerubavel, a leader of the Jewish people when they returned to their homeland after their 70-year exile in Babylon. He was the ancestor of a great chain of Jewish leaders, among them the Rabbi Yehuda who led the effort to record the Oral Torah.

At first glance, it appears that the Medrash Rabbah attributes Yechenia’s atonement to his repentance and not to his exile, which is what Rabbi Yochanan said.

One could say that these sources reflect a difference of opinion. I am more inclined to say that both the exile and Yechenia’s repentance contributed to his restoration.

Misdeeds cause several types of damage. Among them, they create flaws in people themselves. Misdeeds can affect society and our environment, both physical and spiritual. They also affect the relationship that we have with G-D.

Depending on the nature and type of misdeeds, stress and discomfort bring some forms of repair and restoration. The last Rashi on Sanhedrin 47a suggests that this works only when this is combined with repentance.

It is possible that the sincerity and effort that a person puts into repentance can itself take the place of all or part of the stress and discomfort that is needed because of our making wrong choices.

The month of Elul and the ensuing ten days of repentance provide opportunity for us to seek and achieve repair and restoration through repentance.

I wish us all success in our lifetime opportunity to make choices, including our choosing to do a full and complete repentance.


Ominous prophecies of calamity are written in Leviticus 26 and in this section, Deuteronomy 28.

We have been taught that Leviticus 26 foretells the events surrounding destruction of the First Temple and Deuteronomy 28 portrays the destruction of the Second Temple.

Leviticus 26 ends with the following verse:

26:45 And I will remember for them the Covenant of the initial (generation,) those who I took out from the Land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations to be for them a G-d, I am G-d.

Deuteronomy 28 ends with the following verse:

28:68 And G-d will bring you back to Egypt in boats, on the path that I told you that you will no longer see, and there you will sell yourselves to your enemies for slaves and maids, and there will be no buyer.

The vision relating to the destruction of the First Temple ends with consolation. That of the Second Temple ends abruptly, without consolation. Why?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps one can partition Jewish history from Egypt to the present era into two major periods: From Egypt to the destruction of the First Temple and from the construction of the Second Temple and on.

The destruction of the First Temple marked, for most practical purposes, the end of our glorious redemption from Egypt. The construction of the Second Temple marked the beginning of a long and bitter series of exiles, occurring in the Land of Israel and elsewhere.

Both periods consist of many attempts to bring the world to completion, a time when all Mankind will realize that G-d exists, that He is the Creator, that He has been actively managing history, and that is incumbent upon us to perform his will, in truth.

So, the section dealing with the first destruction ends with consolation. G-d is committed to the Jewish people and He will carry them through into the next phase.

The section dealing with the second destruction does not end with consolation because the exile will be ongoing until the Messianic Era, may it occur soon.


28:68 And G-d will bring you back to Egypt in boats, on the path that I told you that you will no longer see, and there you will sell yourselves to your enemies for slaves and maids, and there will be no buyer.

How is it possible to be sold if there is no buyer?

Perhaps the final words of the dreaded curses have a ray of hope for us all, according to the Chamudei Tzvi commentary.

A person can sell everything he has to a buyer. And in the days of slavery this includes his freedom.

But the most a buyer can own are obligations that the slave has to him and the slave's rights.

However, when a Jew is unfortunately sold into slavery, it only affects his body and what he does. His soul, his hopes, his connection with G-D, and his eternity are not included in the transaction and will therefore never have a buyer.


29:1 And Moshe (Moses) called all of Israel and said to them, "You saw all that Hashem (G-D) did before your eyes in Egypt to Pharaoh , to all of his servants, and to all of his land."

29:2 "The great trials that your eyes saw, those great signs and the wonders."

29:3 "And Hashem did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until today."

29:4 "And I led you in the wilderness for forty years. Your clothing did not fray on your (body) and your shoes did not wear out on your feet."

29:5 "You ate no bread and you drank no old or new wine so that you shall know that I am Hashem your G-D."

29:6 "And you came to this place. And Sichon King of Cheshbon and Og King of Bashan came out to meet you in battle, and we smote them."

29:7 "And we took their land and gave it for an inheritance to (to the tribes of) Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashe."

29:8 "And you shall guard the words of this covenant and you shall do it in order that you will be successful with all that you do."

How do we understand verse three, "And Hashem did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until today?"

Rashi explains that Moshe now realizes that it took forty years for the Jewish people to absorb their experiences and that they now have finally come to maturity with their relationship to G-d. He perceives that they actually feel close to Him.

Verses 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are a listing of the great things that G-D did on behalf of the Jewish people. Why is verse three in the middle of the list? Given Rashi's commentary, verse three should have been written either before the list or after it. What is the Torah trying to tell us by putting it in the middle?

The following came to mind.

Love has many definitions. It's quite an elusive term when it comes to love towards a human.

Consider the following verse: "And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your life, and with all your resources. (Deuteronomy 6:5)". How can a person come to love G-D?

The Rambam (Mada /Yesodei Hatorah 2:1) provides the following direction:

1: This Honored and Revered G-D commands (us) to love and fear Him, as it says, "And you shall love Hashem your G-D" and "You shall fear Hashem your G-D."

2: And what is the way to come to His love and fear? As a person understands His wondrous and great actions and creations, the person will see wisdom that has no comparison and limit. This will bring the person to immediately love, praise and exalt G-D and it will generate a great desire to know His Great Name. This is reflected in (King) David's words, "My soul thirsts for G-D, for the Living Power." As a person reflects upon these matters, he will immediately shudder and fear that he is but a small, lowly, and dark creature, standing with meager intellect before that Who is perfect in knowledge. This is reflected in David's words, "As I see Your heavens, the act of Your fingers, (I think,) 'What is man that you consider him?'" …

The commentary on the Rambam explains that there are two types of love. One is a love that a person feels towards one who does him favors or who gives him pleasure, such as the love of a servant towards a master or the sensual love that a man has towards a woman. The other is the type of love that is generated from an appreciation of the virtues of another. The former love is relatively inferior, because it is dependent on receiving something. It can be disrupted by a lack of kindness, by a perception of ill will.

The commentary notes that the Rambam is directing us to develop the second type of love towards G-D.

With this as a background, perhaps we can read this distinction into the above verses.

The first two verses focus on what G-D did to the Egyptians on behalf of the Jewish people, the great signs and wonders. They are listed first, reflecting the preferred way of coming to love G-D The latter four verses follow Moshes's observation that the Jewish people have finally come to feel close towards G-d. These verses focus on benefits that the Jewish people received from G-D.


29:3 And G-D did not give you the heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear until this day.

29:4 And I led you for forty years in the wilderness. Your clothing did not wear out, neither did your shoes wear out from (being) on your feet.

Rashi provides the following commentaries for 29:3

"And G-D did not give you the heart to know:" To be able to recognize G-D's kindness and to cling to Him.

"Until this day:" I heard (it explained) that Moshe (Moses) gave the Torah (scroll) to the tribe of Levi on that day (31:9). (After doing so,) all of the Jewish people came before him and made the following statement: 'Moshe our teacher, didn't we also stand by Mount Sinai? Didn't we also accept the Torah? Wasn't the Torah also given to us? Why are you letting the people of your own tribe dominate over the Torah? (We are concerned that) they may say in a future time that the Torah wasn't given to us, but to them.' Moshe was glad to hear them say this and this is why he said, 'You became a nation today.' (27:9). That is, today I understand that you are attached to and want to be close to G-D.

Verse 4 lists a number of open miracles that G-D did for the Jewish people during their forty-year travel through the wilderness. They seem to be acts of kindness. Why then does the first Rashi say that the Jewish were not able to recognize G-D's acts of kindness until now?

The revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people are documented in the Torah that Moshe gave to the tribe of Levi. (Exodus 19-20, 24).

The second Rashi says that the Jewish people were concerned that the tribe of Levi could later claim that the Torah was given only to them. But how could the tribe of Levi say this if the scroll that Moshe gave them states otherwise?

The following came to mind.

Human nature being what it is, it is not unusual for someone in his/her early stages of spiritual development to sometimes feel that commandments are an obligation and sometimes even burden. Frequently, life experience, maturity, and reflection brings a person to realize and then internalize the fact that fulfilling G-D's commandments are a great opportunity and even a privilege.

Over time, Torah observance becomes easier and more fulfilling.

The Torah does document that everyone stood at Mount Sinai. However, it is possible for someone to come up with the interpretation that not everyone was charged with the commandments.

Perhaps the Jewish people were concerned that the tribe of Levi may later say that they were the only ones who were charged to fulfill the commandments and this is the reason that Moshe gave them the Torah scroll.

By that time in their development, the Jewish people were so convinced of the value in Torah observance that they could not tolerate anyone making this claim. Indeed, this indicates significant development on a national scale and perhaps this is why Moshe was glad to hear it and respond with 'You became a nation today.'

Compensation for obedience is necessary for those who need to be motivated.

Had the Jewish people needed to be motivated by being compensated then the comforts and conveniences that G-D provided then during their travels would have been viewed by them as being expected, not as acts of kindness. However, the Jewish people didn't need to be motivated by anything other then having the privilege to be charged by G-D. At this stage in their development, they were able to view the conveniences as being acts of kindness from G-D.

A person can receive a goodness as a compensation for doing something for someone else. A person can also receive a goodness that is from an act of kindness that someone else does to him/her.

If the goodness is a compensation, since the reason for receiving this compensation is finite act, then it follows that the compensation should itself be finite. However, if the reason for receiving a goodness is the kindness of the one who provides the goodness, then the duration of this goodness should be related to the amount of kindness that the donor has.

Give thanks to G-D for He is good; For His kindness is eternal.

With this, perhaps we can better understand the eternity that is in store for us.

It is my understanding that the degree to which we will be able to experience the great joy that is in store for us will be limited by our own self-imposed inhibitions, not by G-D's benevolence. And the intensity of this joy will increase to the degree that we are able to connect with G-D. And we have the opportunity in this world to prepare ourselves for this great and eternal experience.


29:3 'Until today G-d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear.'

Moshe is speaking to the Jewish people. What is he referring to?

Rashi offers the following explanation.

Moshe completed recording the Torah on the last day of his life. We read the following about the this Torah:

31:25 And Moshe commanded the (people from the Tribe of ) Levi, those who carry the Ark of the Covenant, as follows.

31:26 Take this book of the Torah and place it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem your G-d and it will be there within you for a testimony.

Subsequent to this, on this last day of Moshe's life, the Jewish people assembled and together they filed a complaint against him.

They said as follows: 'Moshe our Teacher, we also stood by Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah. The Torah was given to all of us. Why are you placing the Levites, members of your own tribe, in charge of the Torah? Perhaps tomorrow they will turn around and say to us that the Torah was give to them, not to us.'

How do you think Moshe reacted to this demonstration?

He was overjoyed!

He responded with our verse, 'Until today G-d did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, or ears to hear.' He meant, 'Now I know that you truly desire and are attached to G-d.'

We now have an explanation for this verse. We now need to understand the explanation.

By no means was this Torah the only one that existed. From 31:19 we derive a commandment for every man to write his own Torah. Therefore shortly after Moshe's departure we can assume that there were hundreds of thousands of Torahs, several in almost every home.

Furthermore, this was not the only Torah that Moshe wrote. We have a tradition that Moshe miraculously wrote twelve other Torahs on that day and he gave one to each tribe.

Now, this Torah did have extra distinction because it was placed near the Ark. However, why was the desire of the Jewish people to have a share in this particular Torah an indication of their greatness. It enabled Moshe to discover that the Jewish people now have eyes, ears, and a mind.

It seems that until now, Moshe felt that the Jewish people were not capable of reading, listening to, or understanding the Torah.

The following came to mind.

The significance of this Torah was far more than its proximity to the Ark.

A Torah must be written by hand and mistakes are common. (Today we can scan and computer-check a Torah!) This particular Torah was the Reference Torah for all of the Jewish people. It assured that every Torah would be identical, down to the last letter.

The protest revealed to Moshe that the Jewish people recognized the importance of keeping the Torah exactly the way that it was given. G-d gave us something that has relevance for all generations and the Torah is not subject to modification.

By saying our verse, Moshe was teaching us that without this attitude, one is not truly capable of reading, listening to, or understanding the Torah.


Netzavim (Deut. 29-30)

29:9 You are all standing ('nitzavim') before Hashem your G-D, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel.

The Hebrew word 'omdim' is frequently used to denote standing. Our verse uses the Hebrew word, 'nitzavim.'

The Nesivas Shalom commentary says that this word connotes being set up in an established position or office.

By using this word, the Torah is telling us that a group can only succeed in becoming established when we are 'all standing' together, when are united.

When the people in a group fragment and are focused on their self-interests instead of the group and its purpose, the group will not have any permanence.


29:9 You are all standing ('nitzavim') before Hashem your G-D, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel.

The Hebrew word for standing can be 'Omdim' or 'Nitzavim.'

The word 'Omdim' can be used for humans as well as for animals.

The word 'Nitzavim' emphasizes an upright position that is unique to humans and heavenly beings.

The Ohr P'nei Moshe commentary suggests that the 'standing before Hashem your G-D' is a reference to our standing before G-D in judgment in the coming days, on Rosh Hashanah.

We must prepare ourselves beforehand so that our lives are viewed in heavenly judgment as having been lived within a framework that is unique to humans and heavenly beings, nothing less.

The Chamudei Tzvi commentary adds by first taking note that this verse lists several distinguished groups and ends with 'every man of Israel.'

Why is it not sufficient to just say that every man is standing before G-D? Why does the Torah need to delineate the leaders, tribes, elders, and officers?

He notes that it is inconsistent for us to stand before G-D in an upright position if we are spiritually incomplete.

And as we all have strengths and weaknesses, how can we all stand in a manner before G-D that suggests otherwise?

The answer is that we can only do so if we stand before G-D as one people, under a common leadership, not as individuals or as a collection of fragments.

In the merit of achieving this harmony, Heaven is able to apply the strengths of one person against the deficiencies of another.

May we all merit to have a good judgment and to see the goodness of G-D's judgment.


29:9 You are all standing ('nitzavim') before Hashem your G-D, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel.

29:10 Your infants, your wives, and your converts who are within your camp, from those who cut your wood to those who draw your water.

29:11 To bring you into the covenant of Hashem your G-D and His oath that Hashem your G-D is establishing today.

29:12 To establish you today as a nation and that He will be a G-D to you as He told you and as He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

29:13 Today I am not establishing this covenant and oath with just you alone.

29:14 Rather, (I am establishing this) with those who are standing with us today before Hashem our G-D and with those who are yet to be (born and) standing with us today.

Rabbi Bick of blessed memory poses the following questions.

We accepted the Torah some forty years ago and this included a covenant. What is the purpose of this second covenant?

The Exodus from Egypt already established the Jewish people as a nation, especially once we received the Torah. What does the Torah mean that are now being established?

Why are so many categories of people and roles listed?

There is no legal process for making a transaction with a person that has yet to be born. How could future generations be bound by this covenant?

I understand his explanation as follows.

On Sinai, each of the millions of participants accepted the Torah upon themselves alone. At that time, every person who did a good deed was deserving of a reward and every person who committed a misdeed was held personally accountable.

We note that there were times that the community was held accountable for the actions of individuals, such as by the golden calf. We could say that this accountability was because public attitude was not sufficiently focused to discourage deviant behavior. So it was a collective flaw.

We also note that we are commanded to rebuke transgressors and this provided a degree of collective responsibility for the acts of an individual.

Still, if a person committed a meritorious act it was viewed that he / she that did it. And if a person committed a transgression it was the deviation of that individual, alone.

Again, others would be implicated only if they contributed to the misdeed or if they neglected the commandment to rebuke offenders.

This new covenant served to redefine our relationship with each other.

From then on, the good deed of the individual was everyone's good deed and the transgression of the individual became everyone else's transgression. We were no longer a set of committed individuals with varying roles. Rather we were inter-connected and transformed into a single unit.

It was a redefinition of nationhood.

This inter-connection spanned bodies, roles, even time. It was an upgrade, not a transaction.

This meant that the excellence that was achieved by the greatest of all Jewish people became the excellence and merit of us all, and for all generations.

It comes at a price, for we all must pay for every shortcoming.

But payment is finite and the One who collects debts is all merciful.

And reward is eternal.


29:11 To bring you into the covenant of Hashem your G-D and His oath that Hashem your G-D is establishing today.

29:12 To establish you today as a nation and that He will be a G-D to you as He told you and as He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Rashi explains that G-D promised our ancestors that He will never replace the Jewish people with another nation. The covenant and oath were established to ensure that this will never happen.

The words of the covenant are the ninety-eight dreadful curses that are enumerated in last week's Torah reading (28:49).

We know that G-D is all merciful and that if punishment is required, He will always favor that which is least painful and destructive.

We must therefore say that to be relieved of our responsibilities and mission and be replaced by another nation is more dreadful than all the suffering we will ever experience as a result of these curses.

This brings the notion that our having an eternal bond with G-D has nothing to do with our behavior.

When we make the right choices, we contribute directly to maintaining the bond. We are even rewarded for it.

Heaven forbid if we make wrong choices, we contribute indirectly to maintaining this bond, for the resulting suffering that we bring upon ourselves is in place of any dissolution.

In no way is our painful history any indication whatsoever that G-D has abandoned us.


29:13 Today I am not establishing this covenant and oath with just you alone.

29:14 Rather, (I am establishing this) with those who are standing with us today before Hashem our G-D and with those who are yet to be standing with us today.

29:15 For you know how we lived in the Land of Egypt and how we passed in the midst of the nations that you traversed.

29:16 And you saw their abominations and detestable idols, of wood and stone, of silver and gold, that were with them.

According to the textual reading of the first two verses, the covenant and oath were made in a manner that was binding for not only the generation of Moshe (Moses) but for all future generations.

According to the Medrash, the souls of those who were yet to be born were present and they personally accepted the solemn responsibility of the covenant and the oath.

How do we understand the verses that follow which flash back to the Egyptian exile and make reference to strange faiths? Of what relevance are the theological conclusions that were made about the neighboring nations?

The Orach Chayim commentary relates these verses to the textual and literal reading of 29:13-14. He applies the following principals of Jewish Law.

It is understandable that a person can make a commitment that is binding upon himself or herself. However, a person can not make a commitment that is binding upon someone else without their consent.

So while the generation of Moshe could have certainly committed themselves to the covenant, how were they able to make it binding upon their future generations?

The Orach Chayim answers that Jewish law allows for a person to make an acquisition on the behalf of another person without that person's knowledge if that acquisition is of pure benefit to the recipient. So for example, if I see a hundred dollar-bill lying on the street, I can pick it up for someone else without their knowledge or consent and he/she becomes that much wealthier.

However, it if the act of acquisition is not of benefit to the intended recipient then the acquisition is invalid. This is because the acquirer lacks sufficient resolve to make a transaction that does not help the recipient, given that is not of benefit.

Now, Judaism is wonderful. Entering into this special relationship with G-D made sense at that time and our ancestors were in their right to make a personal commitment. But without first-hand knowledge of all of the alternative theologies and life-styles, they really had no right to make a long-term and binding relationship for their posterity. This is because such a commitment would preclude their future generations from adopting another theology that may be even better.

With this in mind we can now understand the last two verses.

The Jewish people witnessed first-hand that Judaism was far superior to the faiths and was of pure benefit to their descendents. Since the covenant was of pure benefit to their future generations, they were indeed able to make a binding commitment for them and they did not need their consent.

I may add that there was no need for them to consider the emergence of future theologies that would have claimed to be an improvement over Judaism. This is they assessed every theology that existed at that time and any further theological innovations had no basis for their descendents to later adopt.


29:18 And when he hears the word of this oath and he will think in his heart saying, 'I will have peace, for I will go [act] as my heart sees fit..'

29:19 G-d will not be willing to forgive him, for the anger and zeal of G-d will be kindled against this man '

These verses strongly discourage us from letting our hearts dictate behavior.

The following verses are in a later section:

30:11 For this commandment that I command you today is not mysterious to you, and it is not distant.

30:12 It is not in the heavens, (moving you) to say, 'Who will go up for us into the heaven and get it for us, and will explain it to us, and we will do it.

30:13 And it is not on the other side of the ocean, (moving you) to say, 'Who will cross over for us to the other side of the ocean and get it for us, and will explain it to us, and we will do it.

30:14 Rather, the matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.

These verses appear to be telling us to follow our hearts, contradicting the earlier verses.

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the section between these verses can clarify.

30:6 And Hashem your G-d will remove the foolishness of your heart and the heart of your children, to love Hashem your G-d with all of your heart and with all of your soul, for your living.

A person's heart contains two opposing drives, two inclinations: one to do good and the other to do evil.

Verse 30:6 describes a future era in history, when G-d will remove the evil inclination from our hearts.

Until then, we are charged to manage this conflict and not allow our evil inclination to affect our behavior.

Our hearts tell us to do a lot of things. One doesn't always know whether the source of an impulse is from the good side or from the evil. In fact, we are taught that the evil inclination is quite tricky fellow, frequently making a destructive option appear to be virtuous.

We are evaluated according to how we deal with our inner conflict between good and evil. A person who abandons the charge to deal with this conflict is abandoning his mission in life.

'I will have peace, for I will go [act] as my heart sees fit ..'

Not all forms of peace are virtuous. In 29:19, the Torah describes a peace that is self-destructive.

While the thoughts of our heart can cause havoc, they can also bring a person to greatness, for the good inclination is in the heart, too. Therefore, one can not afford to cope with the conflict by ignoring every suggestion.

30:14 is telling us that the behaviors that comprise true Torah observance are not foreign to mankind. Rather, the innermost chambers of our heart contain a reflection of the entire Torah. The process of growth in Torah observance is one of coming more in touch with our inner self.

While the basis of Torah knowledge is external, today imbedded within the written words of the Torah and our sages, its awareness and observance are parts of our make-up, for this is how we were designed.


30:1 And it shall be that when all these things occur to you, the blessing and the curse that I gave before you, that you will return in your heart from (living) among all the nations that Hashem your G-D pushed you there.

30:2 And you shall return until Hashem your G-D and you shall listen to His voice, just as all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul.

30:3 And Hashem your G-D will return your captivity and He will have mercy on you. And He will return and gather you from all the nations that Hashem your G-D scattered you there.

Rabbi Yonasan said, "Repentance is great in that it brings the redemption closer" (Talmud Yuma 86b)

An alternate version reads: Rabbi Yonasan said, "Repentance is great in that it makes the redemption occur" (Mesorash Hashas, ibid.).

There is significant difference between the two versions. In the first, repentance brings the redemption closer. In the second repentance makes it happen.

The versions must be referring to two different types of repentance, each having their own effect. Rabbi Hoberman of blessed memory references the Droshos Haran (10) to explain, as follows.

The Mishnah and the Talmud discuss a time period that is called B'Ikvus Hamoshiach, the 'Heels of the Messianic Era.' Rashi defines this as being at the end of the exile, before the coming of the Messiah (Rashi Sotah 49b).

Verse 30:1 above speaks about returning "in your heart." Verse 30:2 speaks about returning "until Hashem your G-D" and much more.

The first, explains the Ran, is about realizing a need to repent and wanting to do so. The second is about following through with action.

Verse 30:3 speaks about two responses to repentance. One is that "Hashem your G-D will return your captivity and He will have mercy on you." The other is that "He will return and gather you from all the nations that Hashem your G-D scattered you there."

In response to having thoughts and desire to repent, G-D will reduce the stress of our exile by moving others to have mercy on us.

I assume that this is to eliminate distress as a factor in our repentance. This would help bring us to repent out of love, not out of fear or pain.

In response to bringing our thoughts into action, continues the Ran, we will merit a full redemption, described in the verses that follow.

We really need to take the lull in the stresses of Jewish history as an opportunity to develop our Judaic identity and our relationship with G-D.

This means more time for study, more resources for observance, being more selective with who we take on as mentors.

The Mishnah provides more detail on the period called B'Ikvus Hamoshiach (Sotah 9:15).

Insolence (chutzpah) will increase. Inflation will soar. The vine will give its fruit but wine will be expensive. The government will undergo a transformation into heresy. There will be no rebuke. The meeting place will be used for immorality. The Galilee will be destroyed; the Gavlan will be desolated. People (who live / lived?) on the border will wander from city to city but they will not be pitied. The knowledge of scholars will rot. Those who fear sin will be despised. Truth will be hidden. Youths will shame elders. Elders will stand up for youth. "A son will shame his father. A daughter will rise against her mother; a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. The members of one's household will become his enemies (Micah 7:6)." The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog (which shows no shame). Children will not feel ashamed before their parents (because of their behavior).

The Mishnah was recorded about eighteen-hundred years ago.

From what I have heard and from what I observe, we and our parents have been living in a very special time period.


30:1 And it will be when all the things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I presented before you, that you will take it to heart among all the nations Hashem your G-D has dispersed you.

30:2 And you will return to Hashem your G-D and listen to His voice according to everything I command you today, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul.

Rav Bick of blessed memory questions the role that the blessing will have in moving the Jewish people to return to Judaism.

Verse one says that we will take something to heart but it doesn't say what that will be.

He suggests that the Torah is foretelling us about an era when the Jewish people will experience both unprecedented blessings and unprecedented curses.

Together they will make us realize that the events which befall us are not the result of random chance.

Rather, we will come to realize they are designed and managed to move us to correct persistent flaws and to move us to change, to bring us to the greatness that we are capable of achieving.


30:1 And it will be when all the things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I presented before you, that you will take it to heart among all the nations Hashem your G-D has dispersed you.

30:2 And you will return to Hashem your G-D and listen to His voice according to everything I command you today, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Orach Chayim commentary for verse 30:1 asks how receiving G-D's blessing will contribute to our spiritual restoration to the Torah way of life. He answers that the curse that resulted from deviating from the Torah would not have been justified had we not also been blessed as a result of compliance.

I understand his response in the following way.

We are taught that reward and punishment for compliance of the Torah is to occur in the next world. Thus, the blessing and the curse of these verses are not consequences of positive or negative behavior. Rather they are given by G-D to motivate us to become better.

If the purpose of the world would have been for G-D to have creations that are obedient to His will then the curses alone would have sufficed.

However, we are taught that the purpose of the world was for G-D to have creations that He could bestow the greatest happiness upon them. Torah observance is our means for achieving this happiness. Since the focus is mankind's happiness then a one-sided motivation of just curses for non-compliance would appear to be contradictory to this principle and is thus not justified.

Thus, our having both the blessing and the curse serve to remind us that achieving a close and positive relationship with G-D is for our betterment and happiness. This provides us with drive and energy for spiritual restoration, and to do so out of love and appreciation towards G-D.


30:2 And you will return to Hashem your G-D and listen to His voice according to everything I command you today, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul.

The concept of returning until G-D is echoed earlier in Deuteronomy.

4:30 When you are in distress and all these matters find you in the End of Days you will return until Hashem your G-D and you will listen to His voice.

It is also echoed in the scriptures.

Return Oh Israel until Hashem your G-D for you have stumbled in your sins. (Hoshea 14:2)

The Talmud records the following teaching of Resh Lakish: "Repentance is so great that it reaches the heavenly throne, as it is written, 'Return Oh Israel until Hashem your G-D ...' (Yoma 86b)."

The Rinas Yitzchak commentary discusses why Resh Lakish selected the verse in Hoshea as his source and not one in Deuteronomy, which would have provided a much stronger basis.

His discussion brings out three motivations for repentance. One is to stop the suffering that sin is causing, another is out of fear and awe of G-D, and the third is out of love.

That is, a person may come repent when he realizes that sin caused his suffering. The quality of this type of repentance is the lowest level of the three. Another person may repent when he realizes the greatness of G-D and is ashamed that he did not comply with His will. A third may repent when he realizes that sin interferes with the thing that matters most to him in life, his relationship with G-D. The latter is of the highest quality.

The Rinas Yitzchak derives from Rabeinu Yonah's teaching (Shaarei Teshuva 1:1) that our verse (30:20) is speaking about doing repentance from love of G-d, as only a repentance that touches on a deeply meaningful relationship would move a person to involve both heart and soul, as described in the verse.

The scripture in Hoshea which uses the phrase "return to G-D" must be teaching us something about repentance that we would not have known from the other two verses in the Deuteronomy that use the same phrase. Since our verse is speaking about the highest level of repentance and teaches that it reaches the heavenly throne, then the Rinas Yitzchak reasons that the verse in Hoshea must be telling us that the next level down, which is repentance out of awe, also reaches the heavenly throne. So this is why Resh Lakish selected that verse for his lesson.

But what lesson do we derive from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:30? Why didn't Resh Lakish use that verse?

Actually 4:30 appears to be teaching a much greater lesson because it discusses a repentance that was done out of suffering, which is the lowest level. If true then we don't need the verse in Hoshea because if Deuteronomy 4:30 teaches that a repentance that was done out of suffering can reach the heavenly throne and we already know from our verse that the highest level of repentance reaches the heavenly throne, then we can derive that the middle level will also achieve this success.

The Rinas Yitzchak resolves this from a teaching in Rabeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:1) that connects both verses together. He says that suffering can jolt a person into starting the process of repentance, which is Deuteronomy 4:30. Once on the road to restoration, G-D helps a person enrich his relationship with G-D until the repentance is completed out of love, which is our verse.

So both verses in Deuteronomy teach us that a repentance that is done out of love is so great that it reaches the throne of G-D. The verse in the beginning of Deuteronomy teaches that this holds true even if the starting point of a person's repentance was out of suffering. Therefore, the verse is Hoshea is teaching us something that we would not know from our verses, which is that a repentance that is done out of awe and respect of G-D will also reach this level of success.

Up to here we now know that three types of repentance can achieve great success. They are: Repentance out of love, repentance from suffering that ends in a repentance of love, and repentance out of awe. All three types achieve great success.

Apparently, the quality of a repentance that is done out of suffering and which does not end in a repentance of love, which is the next level down, will not reach the heavenly throne, although it can still be accepted by G-D.

The Rinas Yitzchak does not end his discussion with a full resolution.

He notes that in Shaarei Teshuva 2:2, Rabeinu Yonah writes that G-D in His loving kindness will accept a person's repentance even if it was done out of suffering. This is that lowest level. The interesting thing is that Rabeinu Yonah references the above verse in Hoshea as his source. Since the verse in Hoshea says that this repentance reaches G-D's throne, then we know that the lowest level of repentance will also achieve great success. Now, Deuteronomy 4:30 openly talks about a repentance that is done out of suffering. If we know that the lowest level reaches the heavenly throne, how does Rabeinu Yonah know to connect the two verses of Deuteronomy, which are far from being adjacent? And why doesn't he use the first verse in Deuteronomy as his source, for once we know that the lowest level succeeds then we shouldn't need a second verse from Hoshea to teach the same lesson.

I believe that a closer examination of Rabeinu Yonah in 2:2 provides a resolution.

He writes the following:

"It is out of loving kindness that G-D accepts a repentance that was done out of suffering and it is acceptable to Him. And He will bestow love upon the person as a grant when he returns in a Day of Rebuke and out of distress. We derive this from: 'Return Oh Israel until Hashem your G-D for you have stumbled in your sins (14:2). … I will repair their repentance and I will grant them love (14:5).''

Let's look at this in the historical perspective. Hoshea the prophet is talking to the entire Jewish people. Some of them had a very close relationship with G-D and were able to repent out of love. Others were very G-D fearing and were able to repent out of awe. Others needed a jolt but eventually repented out of love. Others were only moved to repent because of their suffering.

Hoshea 14:2 is not saying that every person's repentance will reach G-D's throne. So perhaps only the first three will achieve this success. Hoshea 14:5 states openly that a repentance can be in need of repair and that G-D will repair it. This can refer to the lowest level, which is out of suffering alone.

This puts us back to the resolution we arrived at, with the addition of yet another level of repentance.

Actually I can see a fifth level of repentance, that which was done by Pharaoh in the period of the Exodus. For instance, in Exodus 9:27 he says, "G-D is righteous but I and my people are wicked." Pharaoh's repentance was done out of suffering also, only we do not see that it was of much value.

But while the repentance of Hoshea 14:5 and Pharaoh's were out of suffering, there is a tremendous difference between the two.

A person can repent out of suffering and it is possible that he will return to his old ways. But if a normal person does return to sin, he will be embarrassed about it and will feel pangs of remorse and guilt. This indicates that the repentance was meaningful to him.

However, Pharaoh kept on flip-flopping and his final plunge into sin was done with vigor and vehemence, culminating with the destructive plunge of his army into the Sea of Reeds.

To summarize, we discussed five levels: Repentance done out of love, repentance that began because of suffering but ended with love, and repentance done out of awe. These reach G-D's throne. Then we have repentance done out suffering but the person is not moved towards love. This is also accepted by G-D and He will grant love to that person, as long as the repentance had some affect on the person. The lowest level is that of Pharaoh's, which was done exclusively to deflect suffering and in which he took nothing to heart.

May we all be worthy of achieving the highest levels.


30:3 And Hashem your G-D will return (with) your captivity and He will have mercy on you. And He will return and gather you from all the nations that Hashem your G-D scattered you there.

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Rashi notes that the phenomenon of G-D's bringing captivity back to a losing nation is recorded a number of times in the Bible. For example, "I shall bring back the captivity of Moav (Moab)" (Yirmiyahu / Jeremiah 48:47). Also, "And I shall bring back the captivity of Egypt" (Yechezkel /Ezekiel 29:14).

However our verse has a different construct. It says that G-D will return, not that He will bring back. This suggests the notion that G-D A-llmighty Himself is among those suffering in the captivity of the Jewish people. So when the Jewish people will be redeemed, so will G-D.

In his Gur Aryeh commentary, the Maharal adds the following depth, according to my understanding.

War is not an exception to G-D's management of the world. The Talmud says that G-D will correct the nations of the world when in a future version of the world they will claim that they who made wars. G-D will tell them that it was He who caused wars to occur, not them (Avoda Zarah 2b).

As the results of war can cause an inconsistency in what G-D allotted to each nation, it is up to G-D to correct the inconsistency by ensuring that captivity is restored. This is how we understand the verses that talk about G-D bringing captivity back to losing nations.

But population and property, important as they are, are mere attributes of a world that has goals and a mission that G-D set out for mankind, enabling humanity to chart the course of their eternal destiny.

After trying several configurations to give all of mankind the same type of opportunity, G-D decided to assign the responsibility of carrying out the mission through a single nation, with the rest of the world to follow. This eventually focused on the Jewish people. The assignment was made when we took upon ourselves at Mount Sinai the responsibility of accepting and upholding the Torah.

So when the Jewish people went into exile, the method that the goals and mission were to be achieved needed to be adjusted. And it became much more difficult for us to make progress.

Furthermore, the close bond with G-D that the Jewish people are privileged to have from Mount Sinai brought expectations from others nations, such as that we should be immune to exile and the ravages of war. But we are not.

Rather than viewing our suffering in light of our failure to keep up with the expectations of the Torah, some can take license to view our painful history as G-D's inability to take care of His people, Heaven forbid.

Our suffering is therefore bound up with the honor and recognition that is due to G-D from mankind.

So, when G-D decides to redeem us, may this occur speedily in our days, it's as if G-D is redeemed, also.


30:6 And (in the future) Hashem your G-D will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children to love Hashem your G-D with all of your heart and with all of your soul for the sake of your lives.

The Sefurno commentary provides the following insight:

He will open your eyes so that you will turn away from every error (of Mankind) that (only) confuses the intellect (and keeps it) from (achieving) knowledge of the Truth. When you put forth effort to attach yourselves to Him in a manner that you will recognize His goodness. And you will then (naturally) love Him.

The Sefurno explains the mechanism that will bring us to "love Hashem your G-D with all of your heart and with all of your soul."

The verse includes our children among those who will come to love G-D. The Sefurno's mechanism seems to be relevant to adults, people with developed intellect. How will this work for our children?

The following came to mind.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, witnessed the immigration of masses of Eastern European Jewry in the early years of the twentieth century. He notes that the parents of many families were able to assimilate Torah observance into their lives but not their children, who lost touch with authentic Jewish practice. He explains this phenomenon in the following way. The immigrant parents struggled to provide their family with the barest of necessities. The struggle sapped their strength. The strain manifested itself in many ways, including Torah observance. While they did observed the commandments, their Jewish behavior lacked energy and happiness. As a result, their children were not sufficiently inspired to continue in their footsteps.

In the end of days, we will recognize all of His goodness and we will then naturally love G-D. We will thereby inspire our children and they will come to love G-D, too.


30:11 For this commandment that I command you today is not hidden from you, nor is it distant.

30:12 It is not (up) in the heavens, that you would be saying, “Who will go up to the heavens for us, take it for us, and we will hear it?”

30:13 Neither is it on the other side of the ocean, that you would be saying, “Who will go the other side of the ocean, take it for us, and we will hear it?”

30:14 Rather, this matter is very close to you. It is in your mouth in your heart to do it.

The Ohr Yahel remarks there is a vast distance between something that is in the heavens and something that is in one’s mouth. The difference should be obvious to anybody and not need Moshe (Moshe) to provide this clarification.

The answer is that we are a combination of a heavenly neshama (soul) and a physical body.

These verses are saying that the distance between us and the Torah’s commandments is subjective, not objective.

If we chose to mold our attitude and elevate our worldly life towards the Torah then the commandments will eventually come within easy reach. However, those don’t apply themselves and instead opt for remaining focused on physicality will struggle with the distance they are from the Torah’s way of life.

The distance is up to us.


30:19 I call the heavens and earth to testify on you that I placed before you the life and the death, the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life so that you will live, you and your offspring.

Rashi explains why the heavens and earth were called in. He says as follows.

See that the heavens and earth perform their functions without failure. Has there ever been a day that the sun did not shine? Did the earth ever bring forth barley when you planted wheat? They get no reward for doing what they are supposed to and are not punished when they don't. How much more so should you do what is expected, for you will be rewarded for doing so and punished if you don't.

The Shiras Dovid commentary cites references that the heavenly bodies themselves have intelligence and free will.

He also cites the Meshech Chochma commentary (introduction to the Book of Exodus) who writes that the realities the heavenly bodies perceive compel them to faithfully perform their function. This is portrayed by our sages as "they are jubilant and happy to do the will of their Owner."

This appears to contradict the notion that they have free will.

According to my understanding, there is no contradiction. The celestial bodies realize that they have the world's best job and there is no way that they would ever deviate an iota from what is expected from them. They fully connect with the reality of their Master and feel extremely privileged to have their responsibilities and fulfill His will.

They know very well that they serve in the court of the King of all kings.

Indeed, as a person studies Torah, realizes his relationship with G-D, and begins fulfilling commandments with some depth, to some degree he can come to achieve a comparative level of joy from doing even the most superficially inconvenient commandments.

Over time, he comes to view his Jewish identity and responsibilities as great privileges that can even be humbling.

It could come to mind as one climbs the rungs of spiritual achievement that the joy of connecting with G-D through Torah observance is itself a reward.

However, our Rashi tells me that that this is not so.

Rather, having a happy, totally meaningful, and satisfying life as a practicing Jew has nothing to do with the reward that G-D bestows in the afterlife.

This also sheds meaning on the last part of the verse, according to the teachings of Rav Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory.

"You shall choose life so that you will live, you and your offspring."

The goal is to grow persistently and with knowledge and cease viewing Torah practice as being challenging or burdensome. One who continually discharges obligations as if they are burdens will have a hard time motivating his children to keep the Torah.

Rather, grow to observe the Torah with joy and this will inspire your offspring to follow in your footsteps, giving you the greatest nachas imaginable.

30:20 (Choose) to love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His teaching and to cling to Him (Hebrew: "uledovka bo"), because this is your life and (it will) lengthen your days on the land that Hashem swore to your parents, to Avraham to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, to give to them.


30:19 I call the heavens and earth to testify on you that I placed before you the life and the death, the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life so that you will live, you and your offspring.

Moshe (Moses) is charging us to choose life. The Jerusalem Talmud says in the name of Rabbi Yishmael that this refers to having a profession (Kedushin 1:7).

I believe that we must view the way our Torah worded this charge, that we should choose a profession (life) so that we will live, we and our children.

I've been taught a number of times that the difference between the following is very significant:

  1. My wife and I are physicians. We have two children. (Typical)
  2. My wife and I are parents. We work as physicians to make a living. (Much better)

It's so easy to confuse a means with an end.

As human beings, what we are is more important than what we have. What we are should have a greater priority over what we have. If we are professionals who have children then our children are at risk of being neglected, of growing up as orphans. They will have plenty of money to be able to buy whatever they want. They will come home from school to a large and immaculate house, equipped with a heated swimming pool and game room. But they may feel empty and abandoned. They may even rebel and give their parents much grief, just in order ensure that their parents get the message, that they are their children, that they want parents to show care and recognition.

We need to choose a profession in order to be able to live, and not the reverse. The more we detach our profession from what we are, the better we will be able to cope with life when we will no longer be able to engage in it.

And so the Torah tells us to have a profession so that we can live and so that our children will have a life.

The Torah wants us to be happy, both in this world and in the next. We just need to understand and appreciate what happiness really means.


30:19 I call the heavens and earth to testify on you that I placed before you the life and the death, the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life so that you will live, you and your offspring.

The Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel points out that the choice for life that Moshe (Moses) is referring to is a life that is consistent with the Torah. A person who chooses to follow the Torah's instructions for living is choosing a life and a person who chooses to disregard them is choosing a form of death, in a relative sense.

The Torah appears to be saying that a parent's choice to be religious will cause his/her children to be religious and a parent's choice to be irreligious will cause the children to be likewise. Experience dictates that this is not necessarily true. This approach can lead to neglect. A parent can't assume that children will follow his/her lead. Conversely, there are many people who are much more religious than their parents.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Z'L understands this verse to be much more than a commission to observe the Torah. It also provides us with direction on how we should mold our attitude towards Torah observance.

One must strive to find the great meaning and value in the Torah's way of life. By doing so, one will come to observe the Torah with enthusiasm and joy, thereby motivating his/her children to follow the lead.

We can now read into this verse that by choosing a life of Torah and living it in an uplifting manner, we will find new dimensions for our lives and we will inspire our children to live in the same way, when they grow up.

I believe that we can see this reflected within the Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel.

The Hebrew word for 'you shall choose' is 'uvacharta', derived from the root 'bachar.'

I found two Targumic approaches for its translation.

In Genesis 13, Avraham (Abraham) asked Lot to separate from him by selecting one of two paths, one to the right and one to the left. Lot saw an advantage in the path that led to Sodom and he chose it - 'vayivchar.' The Targum for this word in Aramaic is 'uvechar.'

In our verse the Targum uses a different Aramaic word, 'usesayrun.' This word has a similar derivation with the Aramaic word 'ra-avah,' which means to desire something.

We thus have two types of choices. One can choose something because of its advantage over something else. Also, one can choose something because it is the objective of his/her inner desires.

Perhaps the Targum is also telling us to approach Torah life in a manner that we can see how it connects with that which we really want to have and be.


30:19 I (Moshe) testify within you today (by) the Heaven and (by) the Earth (that) I set before you life and death, blessing and curse, and you shall choose life so that you shall live, you and your children.

30:20 (Choose) to love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His teaching and to come near to his service, because this is your life and (it will) lengthen your days on the land that Hashem swore to your parents, to Avraham to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, to give to them.

What does the first verse mean when it says that we should choose life so that we and our children will live? It is self-evident that a person who chooses death will not remain alive, nor will he be able to have any more children. If the Torah is referring to the person's existing family, then why does the Torah link the life of children to way their parents choose to live? Children usually survive a parent who unfortunately chooses death.

The second verse says that if we love G-d then we will remain on the land that he gave to our parents. The Jewish people are about to cross over the Yarden (Jordan) and G-d will give the land to them, not to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

Finally, what is the flow of thought between the first verse and the second verse?

The following came to mind.

A good person is tempted to do evil because of the benefit he sees in the sin for himself. This person will usually not do a sin if only someone else will benefit from it.

However, the good person is happy to do something good if it benefits someone else, especially if it benefits his children.

In motivating us to keep the Torah, Moshe is focusing on the positive.

If we choose to do good then G-d will reward us directly. He will also reward us indirectly, by doing good to our children. As proof, Moshe in the second verse reminds us that we are about to enter the Land of Israel. That is, we are about to receive a benefit from the way that our ancestors lived.

In a way, our ancestors will also be receiving the land. In heaven they will be happy over the good fortune that they caused their children to have. Therefore, the Torah writes that G-d is giving the land to Avraham Yitzchak, and Yaakov. G-d is giving them indirect benefit.

We will be receiving the Land of Israel because our ancestor's relationship with G-d. Moshe therefore urges us to live in this same manner so that we will pass on great benefits to our children, too.


29:17 Lest there is a man, woman, or family within you whose heart is turning away today from being with Hashem our G-D to go serve the gods of these nations; lest there is within you someone who thinks about doing sin intentionally or unintentionally.

29:18 And it will be that when he hears the words of this oath that he will think in his heart saying, 'I will have peace for I will go with the (free) thoughts of my heart, (thereby) adding the unintentional sins to the intentional

29:19 G-D will not want to forgive such a person. For the anger and zealousness of G-D will be activated against this person and all of the curse that is written in this Book will leap upon him. And G-D will erase his name from beneath the sky.

 

30:1 And it will be when these occurrences will happen to you, the blessing and the curse that I gave before you, that you will return to your heart (while) living amidst the nations that Hashem your G-D will thrust you.

30:2 And you will return to Hashem your G-D and you will listen to His voice according to all that that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your life.

30:6 And Hashem your G-D will open your heart and the heart of your children to love Hashem your G-D with all of your heart and with all of your life for your living.

30:10 When you listen to the voice of Hashem your G-D to guard his commandments and statutes that are written in this Book of the Torah, when you will return to Hashem your G-D with all of your heart and with all of your life.

 

30:11 For this commandment that I charge you with today is not extreme for you, neither is it distant.

30:14 (Rather,) it is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.

 

30:15 See that I give before you today life and good, death and evil.

30:16 That which I command you to day to love Hashem your G-D to walk in His ways and to guard His commandments, statutes, and laws. And you will live and be fruitful and Hashem your G-D will bless you in the land that you are going there to inherit.

30:17 And if your heart turns away and if you don't' listen and if you are pushed away and bow to other gods to serve them.

30:18 I testify before you today that you will become lost. You will not have extended years on the land that you are crossing the Yarden (Jordan) for to go there and inherit.

 

There are forty verses in this Torah reading and to help remember this number, one editor suggested using the Hebrew word, "Levavo' which means 'his heart.' This word consists of four Hebrew letters and their numeric equivalency adds up to forty as follows: Lamed is thirty, the two vaises are each two, and the vav equals six.

Indeed, the theme of the heart is permeated throughout this Torah reading, as is evident from the selection of verses that are quoted above.

The following thoughts came to mind.

Perhaps these verses are presented with an intention of addressing several periods in history.

In verses nine through twenty-eight, the Torah first focuses on the present, right as the Jewish people are taking their solemn oath of faith and allegiance. They are told that shirking responsibilities will bring serious consequences.

Afterwards, verses one through ten talk about the distant future, when the dire consequences of non-compliance will bring us back to G-D and the He will demonstrate His acceptance of our return to Him.

The message of these verses is that we have hope and a future no matter how we initially take to our charge. If we do what we are supposed to then the good will be immediate. If we don't then we'll still obtain it, but only after paying a very heavy price.

Verses eleven through fourteen give us hope by telling us that we already have the affinity inside ourselves to be observant Jews. The spark of Judaism and the instinctive connection that each and every one of us has with G-D will never be extinguished from our hearts.

Verses fifteen through twenty tell us apply ourselves to observe the commandments, despite our inborn tendency towards spirituality. It is not enough to feel Jewish. Rather, we must take our feeling into action and exertion for this is the only way that we can grow and develop.


For the Hebrew words "uledovka bo" I would like to suggest a reading of "and to be connected to Him."

I have been taught that mankind is the only creation in the physical world that was provided the ability to connect with G-D, and this is our charge.

The high holidays are almost upon us and synagogue attendance will surge. It is a good time to give some thought and preparation on why we attend. I believe that the more clarity we have one on why we are there, the more confident we can be that each visit will be significant, meaningful, and productive.

I have been taught that a synagogue is a place where people can congregate and openly demonstrate that there is a Creator and that we are His creations.

Having also been taught that the purpose of life is to provide mankind with opportunities to be tested, it is no surprise that this focus is sometimes blurred.

Among many things, life is a set of connections. We are connected to our parents, spouses, children, friends, jobs, projects, pets, communication networks, etc.

My reading for this verse suggests that we view and orient the multitude of connections that we manage within the context of that which has the greatest and relatively sole significance, our connection with G-D.

I speak about a sharpness of focus, where the conflicting connections come to be viewed and treated as mere noise.

With this in mind, I believe that we can and must do more upon entry into the synagogue and apply it to this context.

My travels have taken me to a wide variety of places of worship. In some places the spiritual leader expends much effort on reminding the congregants to not engage in conversation during the services.

Now, one could provide a saving grace for the offenders by viewing them as being in extreme union with the notion of an omnipresent Creator.

We can better understand this with a counter-example. Picture a place where people worship a deity that is totally disconnected from anything that goes on this earth. The only way for spiritual leadership / coordinators / innovators / inventors to compensate for the irrelevance of their lowly religion is to impose an extreme set of measures to enforce decorum in the house of worship.

Using this theory, one then could use reverse engineering to establish a set of metrics that assigns theological quality to those having the noisiest congregations, for to each worshiper G-D is real and equally exists both inside the structure where they pray and outside where they play.

Continuing on with this line of insanity, we would need another measurement approach for the Shabbos and the holidays, during which we may not employ electronic devices to measure decibel levels.

I would propose counting orbits. This is what I mean.

One person stands up and leads the congregation in their acknowledgement of the Creator and that they are His creations. Others participate. This is one orbit.

Maybe you will also find a pair of people who are deeply engaged in a discussion about what's going to be served at the Kiddush. That is another orbit. Then there may be a small forum on current events. This is another orbit.

Getting back to reality, I have come to suspect that we need to view habitual and uncontrollable talking in shul as sometimes being symptomatic of a deeper problem that an individual is struggling with. I believe that they are trying to reach out and that we owe them more than gentle admonishment.

The synagogue is one of many vehicles that we use to connect with G-D. It needs maximum focus. Sadly, the noisy big contributor to the building fund may not realize or intend this but he/she is doing more to destroy the institution that to build it up. I have heard of commentaries that relate talking in shul with some of the destructions that we mourn over.

Getting back to connections, we live in a time where the numbers of new ways to connect are accelerating at a ferocious pace. This provides ample opportunity for new tests.

Given their historical context, the Babylonian Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch provide absolutely no open guidance on what to do with cell phones, messaging devices, and headsets upon entry into the sanctuary.

Now handling foreign objects during the Shmoneh Esreh prayer is another matter. So during these most deeply personal moments that one stands before his Creator it is completely inappropriate to whip out a Blackberry and fire off a response to a message. The only thing one can and must do is quickly to turn off a cell phone or device that is making noise. Note that I said turn it off, not read the message and then turn it off, unless of course we are dealing with a life-or-death situation.

But what about fidgeting with these leash-like devices during other times of the prayer service? Say one finished prayers and is waiting for the congregation to catch up. Say there is a break between prayers. What does one do upon feeling a vibration when the congregation is in the middle of Kedusha. Can I just take a peek to reduce the stress that curiosity provides?

There is no doubt in my mind that the synagogue is a place where one and only one connection should be displayed, that between ourselves and the Creator. This is even embedded into the very architectural requirements of our shuls, where men and women are separated by a partition.

Given the absence of our technology during the historical period when the Codes Of Jewish Law were put into writing, we must give offenders the benefit of doubt and plead their ignorance of the intent that these great teachings do provide those who study them on a deeper level.

I therefore expect to soon see many synagogues providing guidelines for appropriate use, such as posting guidelines by entrances requesting the removal of headsets, silencing / turning off cell phones and messaging devices, not using them during or in-between prayer services, and even signs by exit signs reminding worshipers to turn their appliances back on.

I provide below some suggested texts as a starter.

(Choose) to love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His teaching and to be connected to Him, because this is your life and (it will) lengthen your days on the land that Hashem swore to your parents, to Avraham to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, to give to them.

Keep up the faith. Keep up the focus.


Sign by entrance.

We respect your being considerate of others who enter to demonstrate and focus upon their connection with the Creator and we hope that you join us in doing the same.

In consideration of the sanctity of the shul, its reputation, and the wishes of the Rav and the shul membership we request upon entry that you:

Remove your headset if you wear one.

Silence / turn off your cell phone and/or messaging device that you have.

Give no attention to devices that accidentally ring during the services, other than to quickly turn them off.

Do not read or respond to messages or callers while inside the sanctuary.

And as always, do not engage in conversation.

We expect compliance during all services and also in-between the weekday Mincha-Maariv.

If urgent matters make you not at ease with being unable communicate with others at all times then we request that you pray in the lobby and we sincerely hope that you will soon be able to rejoin us.


Sign by exit.

Thank you sincerely for silencing / turning off your cell phone and /or messaging device and for removing your headset.

This is a friendly reminder to put them back into service, if needed.


Vayelech (Deuteronomy 31)

31:2 And he (Moshe / Moses) said to them, 'I am one-hundred-twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and return. And G-d said to me, 'You may not cross over the Yarden (Jordan River.)''

We are taught that some righteous people leave this world on their birthday, indicating that they succeeded in living each of their years to the fullest. (Note: A person can be very righteous and still not have this distinction.)

Moshe is speaking to the Jewish people on the day of his death, which is also his birthday. Since this implies a great distinction, why does he, the most humble of all men, make mention of this fact, that he is 'one-hundred-twenty years old today?'

33:7 And Moshe was one-hundred-twenty years old as he died.

Why does the Torah use the phrase, 'as he died' instead of 'when he died?'

The Ohr Hachayim commentary provides an interesting side note. Moshe's one-hundred-twenty years of life ended at the precise moment that his soul left his body.

What is the Ohr Hachayim trying to tell us? What is the Torah trying to tell us?

The following came to mind.

In conversation and even for legal matters, a person becomes a year older at the commencement of his/her birthday, regardless of the time of day that the person was born.

Moshe lived one-hundred-twenty years to the month, to the week, to the day, and from the Ohr Hachayim even down to the moment.

When speaking to the Jewish people, Moshe realized the great distinction that G-d was about to bestow upon him. Perhaps he attempted to minimize this by noting that he is one-hundred-twenty years old 'today,' sometime later that day.

So, G-d gave him life for a full one-hundred-twenty years, down to the moment.

Honor pursues those who flee from it.


31:9 And Moshe (Moses) wrote this Torah and he gave it to the Kohanim (Priests), the sons of Levi who carry the Ark of the Covenant G-D and to all of the elders of Israel.

31:25 And Moshe commanded the Levites who carry the Ark of the Covenant G-D, saying.

31:26 "Take this book of the Torah and put it at the side of the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem your G-D and it will be within you for a testimony."

Rashi (Deuteronomy 29:3) records an event that appears to surround verse 31:9.

I heard that … (referencing) "and he gave it to the Kohanim (Priests), the sons of Levi," (that) all of Israel came before Moshe and said to him, "Moshe our Teacher, we also stood at Sinai, we accepted the Torah, and it was given to us. How is it that you are putting the people of your (own) Tribe (of Levi) over it [i.e. the Torah]? (Perhaps) tomorrow they will tell us that the Torah was given to them, and not to us." Moshe was happy to hear this (from the people). It was about this that he said, "You have become a nation on this day." On this day I see that you are attached to and have a desire of G-D.

For the past 39 years, the Levites exclusively carried the Ark, which contained both sets of great and holy tablets. Why didn't the people complain earlier about that? Given the great tragedies that surrounded previous complaints about the assignment of responsibilities, specifically with Korach and the aftermath, why did the people risk complaining at all?

Also, What does this behavior have to do with them becoming a nation, of them being attached to and having a desire of G-D?

Also, if the people were really complaining about Moshe's partiality towards the Tribe of Levi, why didn't Rashi reference verse 31:26 that focuses exclusively on the Levites. Instead, Rashi referenced 31:9, which includes all of the elders of Israel. If anything, 31:9 portrays Moshe's impartiality, as he included the elders of all of the tribes.

Finally, all Moshe did was to ask the Levites to take the Torah and put it next to the Ark. It would be very presumptuous for the Levites to later claim that the Torah was exclusively their domain. This is especially astonishing in light of the fact that there are two Torahs, an Oral Torah and a Written Torah. They are completely interdependent on each other. Moshe handed over a Torah scroll that at most represents just the Written Torah. Was this the only copy? If the Levites later withheld the Torah, couldn't the Jewish people storm the small band of Levites and make a copy for themselves? Let the Levites claim all that they want to!

The following came to mind.

Perhaps their intent was not a complaint about favoritism. There was no danger of civil war. Rather, the Jewish people were using favoritism to package their real concern, and this was done out of the greatest respect.

They were not upset that the Levites were asked to put the Torah next to the Ark. They had accepted long ago that the Levites maintained the Temple area. Rather, perhaps they were deeply concerned that it appeared that only the elders were involved and not them also, and this is openly portrayed in 31:9.

You see, every Jewish person stood at Sinai, accepted the Torah, is responsible for the keeping and studying the Torah, every person has a share in the Torah and every person is connected with the Torah. The Torah is not the domain of just the elders, just the elite.

This is perhaps is why Rashi references 31:9 and not 31:26.

Moshe understood this fully. He was not upset about another complaint of favoritism because they were really not complaining about it at all. Instead, he was overjoyed in the common people's desire to maintain their connection with the Torah. Furthermore, he saw a great and healthy respect that they had towards their elders by their not referencing them in the complaint.

Perhaps it is for this display of respect that Moshe said, "You have become a nation on this day," for without this respect there is no solid foundation for maintaining our status of being a "Kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).

We also find the following in Exodus:

16:2 And the entire congregation of the Children of Israel complained against Moshe and against Aharon.

16:8 And Moshe said, "When G-D gives you meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to satisfy (you), when G-D hears your complaints that you are making against Him. (For) who are we? Your complaints are not against us. (Rather,) your complaints are against G-D."

Perhaps this type of complaint is a reflection of human nature. When people do not feel related to G-D or when they are not ready to commit to His will, their discomfort is redirected towards complaining about people who appear to best represent G-D and His will. This is what troubled Moshe most from their complaint. Conversely, when people develop an appreciation of G-D and His Torah, these types of complaints cease and this is why Moshe was now happy.

I believe that it is within this context that segments of the Jewish people have taken quite a few hits from some of their neighbors throughout history. And unfortunately, some of the hits have come from within.

Therefore, given this demonstration that the Jewish people have come to appreciate the Torah, Moshe's observation concludes with "On this day I see that you are attached to and have a desire of G-D."

An appreciation of the Torah is now part of our heritage. A long time ago it took us thirty-nine years to develop it. Today it can happen overnight. Make a prayer. Find out where to go. Give true Torah observance a taste. Take the first step, sincerely make an opening in your heart. "Make for Me (G-D) an opening for repentance the size of the point of a needle I will make for you openings that oxen and wagons can pass through." (Medrash Shir Hashirim 5).


31:10 And Moshe (Moses) commanded them saying, "At the end of (each) seven years, on the holiday of the Sabbatical [- seventh] year on the holiday of Succos."

31:11 "When all of Israel comes to be seen before the presence of Hashem your G-D in the place that He will choose, you [- the king] shall read this Torah, before all of Israel in their ears."

31:12 "Gather [Hakhel] the (entire) nation, the men and the women and the infants and the convert that is in your gates so that they shall listen and so that they shall learn and they shall fear Hashem your G-D and they shall guard to do all of the words of this Torah."

Once every seven years we would all gather in the Temple courtyard and the king from the Davidic dynasty would read from the Book of Deuteronomy. In doing so, we revived and strengthened our link with the Torah, the teaching that we received from G-D through Moshe some 33 centuries ago.

There are three annual pilgrimage holidays: Pesach (Passover), Shavuos, and Succos. As Shavuos is the anniversary of our receiving the Torah, it would seem to be more appropriate for this commandment of Hahkel. What is the Torah trying to tell us by selecting Succos over Shavuos?

Furthermore, the simple reading of the Torah implies that Hakhel should be performed on the Succos of the seventh year. However, the Oral Torah explains that Hakhel was performed on the Succos of the year that follows, the first year in the Sabbatical year cycle. What is the Written Torah trying to tell us by referring to the Succos that follows the Sabbatical year as 'the holiday of the Sabbatical year?'

The following came to mind.

Succos is the apex of happiness. It follows the yearly spiritual climax of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after achieving new spiritual insight, forgiveness, and purification. It is the time when the crops are gathered in and our abundance is secured.

We quote this description of Succos from Deuteronomy:

16:13 Make the holiday of Succos for yourself, when you gather in from your grain and vineyard.

16:14 And you shall be happy in your holiday, you and your son and your daughter and your slave and your maid and the Levite and the convert and the orphan and the widow that is in your gates.

16:15 Celebrate to G-D for seven days in the place that G-D will choose for Hashem your G-D will bless you with all of your grain and all of your handiwork. And you shall be only happy.

Of all the Succos holidays, the Succos that followed the Sabbatical year was the happiest, for it followed a year when nobody worked their farms, nobody planted, and yet everybody survived, with G-D's help. It was the 'holiday of the Sabbatical year' because of the Sabbatical year's contribution to this achievement. It showed that people who keep the Torah can and do succeed.

So, on this particular Succos, the happiest of holidays of happiness, we gather in the Temple and hear the Torah read. In doing so, we are in the best position to refresh the great bond of the Covenant between G-D and the Jewish people, to re-commit ourselves to Torah observance. The Torah has us directing the energy from the happiness of holidays towards cementing our bond with the Torah, with G-D Himself.

Yes, Torah observance costs something. It's not fashionable for one to be bound by a code of behavior that he/she can not manipulate or redefine. But the cost is astronomically insignificant when compared to the gain, the achievement of personal and national greatness, the material benefit of living in a manner that is consistent with our make-up and design, the formation of an everlasting relationship with G-D Himself that only sincere Torah observance can provide.

We close with a Sefurno in Deuteronomy that inspired this reading.

27:4 And it shall be that when you cross over the Jordan (river) that you shall set up these stones, that which I command you today on [i.e. about] Mount Eval …

27:6 And you shall sacrifice shelamim offerings and you shall eat there. And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-D.

Sefurno: "And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-D:" Over the fact that you are entering a covenant with Him on Mt. Grizim and Eval.


31:10 And Moshe (Moses) commanded them, saying: 'At the end of (every) seven years, in the holiday of the Sabbatical year, during the holiday of Succos.

31:10 When all of Israel comes to be seen before Hashem your G-d in the place where He chooses (the Temple to be situated), you shall read this Torah before all of Israel in their ears.'

This occurred during the holiday of Succos that followed every Sabbatical year. The King would stand on a platform in the Temple and read from the Book of Deuteronomy

Every Jewish year has a number of holidays, including the Sabbatical year. Why does the Torah designate the Succos after the Sabbatical year as 'The Holiday Of The Sabbatical Year?' Why was the Torah read?

The following came to mind.

Observance of the Sabbatical year involved a cessation of farming, a truly heroic act of faith for an agricultural society.

Leviticus 25:20-21: And should you say, 'What will we eat during the seventh year? Behold we will not sow our seed, nor will we harvest our crops.' (Do not worry says G-d, for) I will decree My blessing for you during the sixth year and (the land will) make produce (to last for) three years.

Perhaps the Succos after the Sabbatical year was especially joyous because the Jewish people had just successfully completed this demonstration of faith. Maybe this is why it was called The Holiday Of The Sabbatical Year.

Perhaps there is more to this picture, because the miraculous blessing was still needed for several months, during the time when the newly sown crops grew. Also, we would also like to understand why the Torah was read.

The holiday of Succos is called Chag, or Holiday. During most years, it represented the successful culmination of an agricultural cycle, when the harvest was gathered up from the field.

The Sabbatical year had no crops to gather, at least not in the physical sense.

You see, the Torah expects every Jew to try and become a scholar, farmer included. The Sabbatical year provided the farmer with a special opportunity to return to his studies, which can become a great source for celebration for those who learn to appreciate it. So, the Succos that follows a Sabbatical year represents the culmination of a cycle, too.

After six years of involvement with Earthly matters, the Torah gives the farmer one year to restore his ties with the knowledge base of his heritage. Perhaps this is a reason for reading the Torah at this time.

Perhaps the Torah reading also suggested to those going back into the fields that they make more of an effort to maintain their link with Torah study.


31:11 When all of Israel comes to be seen with the presence of Hashem your G-D in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all of Israel in their ears.

The Oral Torah teaches that the Torah is read by the king.

This Torah portion is read during the Rosh Hashana season, when the King of kings judges every person, both individually and collectively. The theme of this period is repentance, in preparation for the judgment and also for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

I share with you the following commentary from the work "Yaarei Im Divshi," a compilation of the teachings of Rabbi Yonasan Eibuschutz.

The Talmud in Brachos 10a provides the following.

King Chezkiyahu never came to the prophet Yeshiya because of protocol, as he was a King. Yeshiya did not come before King Chezkiyahu because of protocol, as he was a prophet.

G-D resolved this by making Chezkiyahu terminally ill, so Yeshiya came to him because of the commandment to visit the sick.

He told the king that he will die because he never got married.

Chezkiyahu said that he didn't marry because he had a prophetic vision that he will have a wicked son.

Yeshiya responded, "Why are you (acting) with G-D's hidden matters? Rather, you should have fulfilled the commandment to "Be fruitful and multiply" and you should have left it to G-D to manage the consequences."

In the end, Chezkiyahu prayed to G-D for a complete recovery and he married Yeshiya's daughter. Their son was wicked King Menashe.

This teaching is very puzzling.

Both men were very righteous and humble. Why did they let formality and protocol stand in the way of meeting each other?

Why did Yeshiya refer to Chezkiyahu's prophetic vision about his offspring as a hidden matter? It was not hidden from either of them, as both were prophets.

Rabbi Eibuschutz provides the following resolution.

We can understand why King Chezkiyahu never left his court and to visit the prophet because the Torah forbids a king to compromise on regal honor. The question is really on Yeshiya.

Rabbi Eibuschutz says that he did this to demonstrate a point in Jewish law to King Chezkiyahu.

Yeshiya knew all along why Chezkiyahu did not marry.

There is actually more to it than his wanting to prevent bringing a wicked person into the world.

Chezkiyahu is renowned for his devotion to Torah study. People with this rare level of intense dedication are partially protected from the implications of not trying to have children because of the impact on their study from the distractions that come from family life. I say partially protected because heaven may impose a punishment for not trying to have children, anyway. This depends on the climate of judgment at the time. Specifically, people who take this course action are vulnerable for punishment during periods of "Heavenly wrath."

However, Chezkiyahu was a king and the Talmud says that kings are judged first, before Heavenly wrath has a chance to build up (Rosh Hashana 8b).

So Chezkiyahu had the right to refrain from having children and he also had a good personal reason for not having children, as his prophecy showed him that his offspring would be wicked. Also, he was protected from punishment because of his regal status.

However, there was another factor that was significant to Yeshiya but not to Chezkiyahu.

Chezkiyahu was King of Yehudah, which consisted of only two tribes. He felt that this entitled him to being judged first. However, Yeshiya's opinion was that this protection was reserved for one who ruled over all twelve tribes.

I assume that he communicated this to the king and that his opinion was well respected but overruled. So he refrained from coming to king Chezkiyahu's court and instead expected the king to come to him for his needs, as this is what all of us non-kings would do. His intent was not from pride, but to maintain consistency with his ruling.

We can assume that because of his humility and deep respect for Yeshiya, Chezkiyahu never treated this as an insubordination.

Indeed, a punishment was decreed upon King Chezkiyahu because he did not marry.

I suspect that his terminal illness was not what made him change his mind about matrimony. Rather, it was Yeshiya's statement, "Why are you (acting) with G-D's hidden matters?"

Rabbi Eibuschutz explains it as follows.

A prophet can know whether a person will come to do a wicked act. However, no one can ever know whether a sinner will repent and become restored to his spiritual greatness. This is because only G-D can fathom how repentance can succeed. In His great mercy, G-D creates a hidden and secret tunnel under His Divine throne for those who repent.

The temple's southern wall has an entrance that is sealed up because it is reserved exclusively for G-D. Rabbi Eibuschutz teaches that G-D carves a secret opening through this entrance for those who repent.

In fact, the Talmud teaches that Menasha did a full repentance and now sits in the Garden of Eden at the head of all those who repented.

So, Chezkiyahu's decision was based on incomplete information, for while he knew what Menashe would do, he did not know how whether he would repent, which is G-D's hidden matter. He therefore retracted his decision and suggested the hand of Yeshiya's daughter, which the latter readily agreed to.

May we all achieve success in Torah and may we all merit a year of redemption and salvation.


31:16 And G-D said to Moshe, "Behold you will lie down with your ancestors and this nation will arise and stray after the strange gods of the land that it is coming in its midst and (the nation) will leave Me and will break My covenant that I made with it."

In the Hebrew text the verb "will arise" follows immediately after the words, "your ancestors." An alternate translation, true to the ordering of the Hebrew words but awkward in English, is "Behold you will lie down with your ancestors and arise (will this nation arise) and stray after the strange gods of the land that it is coming in its midst and (the nation) will leave Me and will break My covenant that I made with it."

This verse is referenced in the following discussion in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 90b).

The Romans asked Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya, "How do you know that G-D will bring the dead back to life and that He knows what will occur in the future?"

He replied, "Behold you will lie down with your ancestors and arise," implying that the G-D was promising Moshe that he will eventually be restored from death.

The Romans deflected the proof because it appeared to be based out of context, for a simple reading of this verse is that it will be the nation that will later arise, not Moshe. So Rabbi Yehoshua's proof is weak and potentially defective.

Rabbi Yehoshua accepted the criticism of his reading of the verse but noted that their alternate reading is clearly answering their second question, that G-D knows what will occur in the future, that the nation will arise and go after strange gods and exhibit other negative behavior.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 90b and 91a) brings many sources that the dead will come back to life, which is a central belief of Judaism. While this verse is used as a source, why didn't Rabbi Yehoshua give other sources that are more compelling? Why did he select a verse that left him open for criticism by the Romans?

And to begin with, what was bothering the Romans in the first place? What made them pose these questions to one of the greatest Torah scholars of that generation?

The following came to mind.

Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya was a survivor of the Roman conquest and devastation of the Jewish people. He saw the destruction of the Second Temple.

These Romans had recently committed untold atrocities to us in the name of greed and hatred. They were also well aware that every nation that hurt the Jewish people eventually met their end. Given the eternal nature of the Jewish people's survival, the Roman's only source of hope was that the fall of their empire would occur long after the perpetrators of the destruction are gone.

But if G-D brings everybody back to life then the very same people who committed these atrocities will be doomed eternally. And besides being tormented in the world after death, they will be brought back to the same place and physical state where they had committed their crimes to continue the torment and anguish eternally.

Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya was in a quandary that was life-threatening. He had to say things that were politically correct so as not to insult or threaten them but he could not compromise on the truth of the Torah. And he probably felt no obligation to comfort the Romans, either.

So he said something that was true but that left himself open.

But by being defeated in debate, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya let these thugs condemn themselves, for their alternate reading made them realize and confront another central belief, that G-D knows the future.

It's sometimes a challenge to meet G-D's expectations, which is for everyone to be always in full compliance of G-D's will, as defined in the written and oral Torahs of Moshe.

Throughout history, the Jewish people are sometimes more and sometimes less successful. And G-D gave us prophets to keep us in line. And their words sometimes express frustration. But then again, some of their words and teachings provide hope, that despite our ups and downs, history will purge us from defects and we will eventually succeed.

It's strange that some groups seem to selectively embrace our Torah, interpreting the literal in a manner that serves their agenda by focusing exclusively on what appears to be the frustration of our prophets while ignoring the consolation. And so these people justify verbal, physical, economic, and legal abuse against us. They go so far as to invent their own improvements, and trying to impose them on the Jewish people through conversion and assimilation. Their only hope is to frustrate G-D's plan and provide some excuse for having a decadent lifestyle.

If G-D had no clue of what the future will bring then their strategy wouldn't be so stupid, for one could say that all of the hope and consolation that is recorded in the Torah is contingent upon the behavior of the Jewish people.

And if G-D let the Romans destroy His temple, then it was obvious that the Jewish people were in a spiritual slump at that time.

But G-D does know the future. So despite the fact that the Jewish people do fail sometimes, G-D still promised them that He will back them and they will succeed.

So Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya let the Romans gloat over their partial win, thereby keeping himself safe from reprisal. But he also left them with doubts to haunt them for the rest of their depraved lives.


31:17 [Many evils and much distress will befall the Jewish people and they will come to say the following:] … "Is it because my G-D is not within us that these evils have come upon me?" And I [G-D] will surely conceal My face (from them) on that day …

The Torah is speaking about a time when the Jewish people will realize that they are deficient and will confess their shortfalls. G-D's response will be to distance Himself. This is puzzling as it appears that their repentance will not be accepted.

The Ramban's commentary says this apparently their repentance will be deficient and this is why G-D will further distance Himself. This will cause the Jewish people do a complete repentance.

The Ramban says until they do a repentance of a higher quality, this will not be what the Torah calls "And they shall confess their iniquity (Leviticus 26:40).

The Nesivos Shalom commentary provides the following explanation of the Ramban's statement.

The Rambam prescribes a formula for doing the commandment to repent.

He says that one must confess before G-D as follows: "Oh G-D, I have sinned before you and I did the following ... I regret what I did and am embarrassed from it. I will never do it again."

It is interesting that his definition of what a confession is includes a requirement to state that one will never repeat it.

This indicates, says the Nesivos Shalom, that confession must be done with conviction and remorse. Saying with sincerity that the act will never be repeated indicates sufficient remorse.

Saying "I'm sorry" is not enough because we sometimes regret mistakes when the cost outweighs the benefits, when regret is based circumstance being different, not that we have actually changed ourselves and our values.

This brings us to Yom Kippur, when we say the same confession each year.

It's easy to get discouraged when we seem to be repeating the same misdeeds.

But we need to know that the expected level of quality for repentance of the Jewish people as a group to propel themselves and the entire world into the planned level of perfection may be a bit more what is expected from every individual each year, especially since the Jewish people are given much more time and resources to get there.

And it's actually encouraging to see from our verse that G-D sometimes steps in and turns up the pressure when He sees that we are able to take more and when the time is ripe for us do an upgrade.


31:19 And now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel, put it in their mouths. (Do this) so that this song can be for me a testimony within the Children of Israel.

The scriptures do not say who is to write this song and which song it is.

Rashi's commentary says that this song refers to the next Torah reading, from 32:1 through 32:43.

Apparently, Rashi is addressing the simple meaning of this verse.

The Oral Torah (Sanhedrin 21a) provides further detail and brings this verse to another level of practice.

This verse is one of the 613 commandments and mandates every male to write a copy of the entire Torah for himself.

This illustrates that one can not define standards and expectations for Jewish behavior solely on the basis of what is written in the scriptures. Rather, one must take into account both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.

We find very few people today who actually write a Torah. This is based on the Rosh's commentary on the Talmud. He says that for this particular commandment, the objective of this commandment has great significance on how it is practice.

The Torah wants everyone to have study materials. During the early periods of our history, the only materials available were the Torah scrolls themselves. However, more study materials became available as Jewish history evolved and they eventually became our primary tools of study. Therefore, today we fulfill this commandment by obtaining whatever printed material we need for Torah study.

This illustrates that one can not define standards and expectations for Jewish behavior solely on that which is written in the Talmud, for it was never intended to be a complete recording of the entire Oral Torah. Rather, Jewish behavior and expectations can only be clarified within the context of both Torahs and only by how they are explained by all of their commentaries, together with the traditions of how they are to be interpreted.


Ha'azinu (Deut. 32)

This portion is always read on the Shabbos that is either before or after Yom Kippur.

Shabbos provides spiritual resources for the days of the week that surround it. The Shabbos before Yom Kippur, says the Nesivos Shalom commentary, must therefore inspire Yom Kippur.

Besides not eating for about 25 hours, the real challenge of Yom Kippur is for us to not give up on ourselves. For it is on that day, when we beseech forgiveness for our shortfalls, that we confront our personal failures.

We must know, says the Nesivos Shalom, that because the Torah teaches that we are like G-D’s children, we can better understand why Yom Kippur is one of the happiest days of the year to G-D.

While He is Master of the universe and can do as He wills, during the current phase of our existence G-D does not override the protocol that he defined eons ago. It is therefore challenging for us to succeed in obtaining a full pardon from Him, especially when we have a daunting list of things to fix. However, Yom Kippur was institutionalized as an exception.

On that great day G-D does what He really wants to do, which is to forgive more than what would have ordinarily been forgiven during the other days of the year, based on the quality of our repentance.

Now, one can abuse Yom Kippur by sinning with intent to be later forgiven. That won’t work. Barring abuse, Yom Kippur is our Easy-Pass, if we only sincerely try to repent on that great day.

It is therefore very important to strengthen our faith. The Torah says, “You are children to Hashem your G-D …” (Deuteronomy 14:1). The more we believe in the Torah and every one of its words, the more we take its words to heart, the easier it becomes to take advantage of Yom Kippur and to not give up on ourselves. G-D is really with us no matter what, somewhat like a parent and only more.

The Nesivos Shalom goes further to say that when a person does sin, the real objective of the Evil Inclination is not the sin itself, no matter how much of a whopper it is. Rather it’s the aftershock and its effect on the person to cause depression and a false feeling of hopelessness.

We must learn to channel the natural feeling of guilt to propel ourselves to improve, not to give up.

G-D is waiting and routing for our success. And he’s waiting and ready for us when we ask for his help.

Have a greater Yom Kippur.


32:1 Heaven give ear and I will speak and the land shall hear the words of my mouth.

The Targum Yonoson Ben Uziel provides the following reading for this verse:

As time drew near for Moshe (Moses) the prophet to leave this world he had the following thought: "I am not going to get witnesses for the Jewish people who will taste death in this world. Rather I am going to get witnesses who will not taste death in this world. However, they (the witnesses) will cease to exist in the world to come."

Of what relevance is the reference to temporal nature of the heavens and the earth?

I believe that the Medrash Sifri provides the needed connection.

In the future, the Jewish people will state before G-D, "Master of the world, my witnesses are still present as it states in 30:19 "I make the heavens and earth witnesses for you ..." G-D will respond, "I will remove them." We know that this will occur from verses in Yeshia (Isaiah) 65:17-18, "For behold I create a new heaven and earth. The first ones will not be remembered, neither will they be thought of any more. Only rejoice and be happy forever over that which I am creating, for behold I am creating Jerusalem (to be called Joy) and its people (to be called) Happiness."

In his final moments, Moshe seeks to both warn the Jewish people and to give them encouragement. Among many things, his reference to the longevity of heaven and earth reveals that the journey towards reconciliation and perfection will be a long struggle for the Jewish people throughout history. They will make mistakes but one day they will succeed. When they finally become a nation of only righteous people, they will be ashamed of the mistakes that they made in the past. In response, G-D will destroy those who were made to witness their failings and He will provide a new heaven and earth.

This is awesome.


32:1 Heaven give ear and I will speak and the land shall hear the words of my mouth.

32:2 May my teaching drip like rain, may my sayings flow like the dew, like storms upon foliage and like downpours upon grass.

Rashi in 32:1 says that Moshe (Moses) summoned the heavens and earth to bear witness to his words because he was about to die. He was concerned that at a later date, the Jewish people may come to deny their having entered a covenant with G-D. So he therefore summoned the everlasting heavens and earth to bear witness to the covenant.

Rashi in 32:2 enumerates the testimony of the heavens and earth:

"This is the testimony that you shall testify: I say before you that the Torah that I gave the Jewish people is life to the world, just as rain is life to the world."

These two commentaries seem to contradict. Rashi of the first verse says that the heavens and earth are charged to prevent the Jewish people from denying their commitment to the covenant. Their testimony should be that the Jewish people did indeed make a covenant with G-D. However, Rashi of the second verse says that their testimony will be that the Torah is the source of life. Both commentaries were written by the same person. How do we understand them?

The following came to mind.

The Torah is the source of life and goodness and Moshe continually emphasized this to the Jewish people many times throughout the Book of Deuteronomy.

At the end of his life, Moshe realized that the Jewish people would never deny their commitment with G-D unless they were enticed by physicality and the only way they would ever be so enticed is through their losing sight of the great significance and value of the Torah. So, by charging the heavens and earth to testify that the Torah is life, this would prevent the Jewish people from losing their great role and destiny.


31:19-21 calls Chapter 32 a song.

31:19 And now, write this song for yourselves and teach it to the Children of Israel, [put it in their mouths] (familiarize them with it), so that this song will bear witness to the Children of Israel for Me.

31:20 For I will bring them to the land that I swore to their parents (to give them), flowing with milk and honey, and they will eat, become satisfied, and they will become chubby. And they will turn to other gods and worship them, making Me angry, and they will suspend My Covenant.

31:21 And when they will experience many bad things and suffering, then this song will reply to them as a witness, because it will never be forgotten from the mouths of their children. I know their tendency, based on what they are doing today, even before I bring them into the land that I swore (to give to them.)

Even though it is called a song, Chapter 32 is mostly a script of future history.

Other sections in the Bible are also called a song, for example, The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15).

Those other sections contain praises of G-d and they are reflections of human inspiration. This section contains no praise. It is a message from G-d, Himself. In what way can it be compared to the other songs? In what way is it a song?

The following came to mind.

Today, much of history appears to be a series of disconnected events. These events do not reflect a goal, a plan, design and management.

Our tradition assures us that someday Mankind will understand how all of history fits together. It will come to reflect the greatness of G-d, much like all of Creation does today. We will all come to recognize G-d's Hand in controlling and managing history.

Someday, this snapshot of history will become a source of praise and inspiration. It can thus be called a song.


32:2 Let my teaching drip like the rain, let my sayings flow like the dew..

Rashi explains why Moshe (Moses) likens his teachings to both the rain and the dew.

'Let my teaching drip like the rain:' the Torah that I gave to the Jewish people is life to the world, just like the rain that (brings) life to the world..

'Flow like the dew:' Because everyone is happy with it. As some people are gloomy when it rains, like those who are on travel

Moshe is using the rain and the dew to remind us that the Torah is both a source of life, like the rain, and also a source of only happiness, like the dew.

At first glance, it seems that while dew causes happiness, is not a source of life.

However, the Oral Torah teaches otherwise. It says that dew is so essential to the sustainment life, that heaven never withholds it. While we have prayers for rain, we are not even required to pray for the dew (Taanis 3a). It's almost as if the provision of dew is part and parcel of G-d's commitment to see that the Mankind exists. It is perhaps for this reason that we have no formal prayer for air.

So, dew has both characteristics, that of being a source of life and a source of only happiness. Why then did Moshe need to refer the rain?

The following came to mind.

Torah observance is the source of our life. It also requires commitment and effort. This can cause stress to some people, depending on their stage of development and their level of commitment. However, through practice and study, one can come to appreciate the Torah and one can see its relevance to life to the degree he/she views Torah observance as a privilege and does it with joy.

Shoveling rocks for a sustained period can be stressful, with the laborer languishing for a break. However, consider a person who just discovered a gold mine and who needs to collect as much of its wealth as possible before its location becomes known. He really doesn't want to be distracted by taking a break. He works day and night, without food or water, and loves every minute of it.

This can be your life! Just replace the gold with Torah and good deeds.

The story goes that Mr. Irving Bunim, a friend of the Lakewood Yeshiva, once confided his fear to Rabbi Aharon Kotler of blessed memory, founding dean of the Yeshiva. Mr. Bunim realized that he could learn more Torah but this would require him to take time away from his very busy schedule.

'Rebbe, perhaps I am going to miss out in the next world,' he bemoaned.

'Oy Bunim,' Rav Kotler responded, 'you are worried about missing out in the next world. I wish you'd learn more Torah so as not to miss out in this world.'

As an outsider may view some commandments as burdens, Moshe therefore likened the Torah to the rain, something that is a source of life but can also sometimes cause stress. Moshe therefore mentioned both the rain and the dew to remind us of our potential to rise above the stress and achieve Torah observance with joy.


32:4 (He is) the Rock whose work is perfect for all His ways are judgment. G-D who is steadfast with no injustice, He is righteous and upright.

Both the Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel and the Yerushalmi preface their translations of this verse with the following.

Moshe the Prophet said, "When I ascended to the world above I saw that the Master of the world divides His daily schedule into four parts. He is engaged in Torah study for three hours and He is engaged in judgment for three hours. He provides nourishment to the world for three hours and for three hours He matches husbands with their wives."

The Talmud cites a similar tradition in the name of Rabbi Yehudah (Avodah Zarah 3b).

Rabbi Yehudah substitutes the matchmaking with "sporting together with the Leviathan." Perhaps one is an analogy for the other.

Rabbi Yehudah elaborates on the three hours of judgment. He says that G-D sits in judgment over the entire world. When He sees that the world will be sentenced for destruction He arises from the throne of strict judgment and sits on the throne of mercy.

Rashi notes that Rabbi Yehudah's teaching is consistent with the view of Rabbi Yossi who teaches that man is judged every day.

The Rinas Yitzchak commentary cites the above together with the following question that was posed by the Turei Even's commentary.

We recite the Hallel praises during our holiday prayers. However we do not recite Hallel during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The Talmud says that this is because G-D sits in judgment and the books of those who are living and the books of those who are no longer alive are opened up before Him (Rosh Hashana 32b).

However, we just said that G-D judges the world every day and we assume that this includes the holidays.

Passover, Shavuos, and Succos are holidays and we recite Hallel despite the fact that they are also days of judgment. How do we understand the Talmud's explanation for why we do not recite Hallel during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? What makes them different?

The Rinas Yitzchak answers that way we are judged during the High Holidays is what makes the difference.

The Talmud teaches that we are judged on these days both as individuals and as a whole (Rosh Hashana 18a). Some understand the latter to include the impact that each and every person has upon the community.

We can now propose that the judgment on the High Holidays is different than the daily judgment because the daily judgment is performed on the world as a whole and people are not usually singled out.

G-D's role is more than that of a Creator. He is also an Owner with an active interest in our actions and fate. He has goals and intentions and He periodically assesses where we are with respect to them.


32:5 Devastation to Him not His children is their deformity, a crooked and bent generation.

The first part of this verse is difficult to read and understand.

The Ohr Hachayim provides the following explanation:

The Jewish people cause evil to befall upon themselves when they set upon a devastating path. The evil that they cause is that they are 'not His children.' That is, (for that moment) they are not called His children. This is reflected in the Talmud (Bava Basra 10).

Thus, the Ohr Hachayim provides the following reading. (If they set upon a path of) devastation (then with respect) to Him (it will be considered as though (they are) not His children.

Let us examine the Talmudic teaching of Bava Basra that the Ohr Hachayim cites.

Turnus-Rufus the Wicked asked Rabbi Akiva the following question: If your G-D loves poor people then why doesn't He feed them?

Rabbi Akiva answered: "So that we can be saved from Hell."

Turnus-Rufus responded that this is illogical and that feeding the poor should cause a person to be condemned to Hell. He proposed the following analogy: A king of flesh and blood became angry at one of his servants and had him jailed with orders that no one should feed him. If someone feeds him anyway, then wouldn't that person incur the king's wrath? And, he noted, "You are called G-D's servants as it states in Leviticus 25, 'For the Children of Israel are servants to Me.'"

Rabbi Akiva responded with another analogy. Consider a king of flesh and blood who became angry at his son and had him jailed with orders that no one should feed him. If someone feeds him anyway, wouldn't that person be a recipient of the king's gratitude? And, Rabbi Akiva noted, "We are called G-D's children as it states in Deuteronomy 17, 'You are children to Hashem your G-D.'"

Turnus-Rufus answered: "You are called children and you are called servants. When you behave in a manner that is consistent with G-D's will then you are called children and when you do not then you are called servants. And in the current period of history you are not behaving in a manner that is consistent with G-D's will! (Therefore, feeding the poor, which is apparently a metaphor for being benevolent to the Jewish people, will cause the benefactors to be condemned to Hell. Conversely, it follows that doing evil to the Jewish people would be carrying out G-D's will and this should keep fine people such as Turnus-Rufus from being condemned to Hell.)

Rabbi Akiva's responded by citing the following verse: 'Shouldn't you extend your bread to the hungry? And, you should bring the downtrodden poor into the house (Yeshia / Isaiah 58).'

Per Turnus-Rufus' observation, the Jewish people are currently downtrodden and poor. And yet, the verse expects one to 'extend your bread to the hungry.'

The above discussion brings several questions to mind.

First, if the Jewish people are not behaving in a manner that is consistent with G-D's will then they are not serving Him. If so, then why are they even called G-D's servants? This question was asked by Rav Sholom Schwadran, of blessed memory.

Secondly, how do we apply Rabbi Akiva's response to our verse of Deuteronomy 32:5? The Ohr Hachayim says that evil will befall the Jewish. Rabbi Akiva notes that they will become downtrodden and that they will loose their status of being called G-D's children.

What is the evil that will befall the Jewish people? We can easily see that becoming downtrodden and poor is a negative consequence of not behaving in a manner that is consistent with G-D's will. But, what is the significance in our loosing the status of being called G-D's children? What role does this play?

The following came to mind.

We first note that the worst loss of status that can happen to the Jewish people is that they will become considered as G-D's servants and not His children. That is, they will always be associated with G-D, either as His children or as His servants. The bond between G-D and His people is so great that it can never be broken.

And, even Turnus-Rufus recognized this.

A servant is a servant, regardless of whether he serves his master. And, the Jewish people can never be anything less that G-D's servants. This answers Rav Schwadron's question.

The evil that befalls us when we loose our status as G-D's children is that this provides prowlers such as Turnus-Rufus with a rationale to attack and persecute His people.

Their rationale is imaginary. It is a product of their frustration with G-D and His Supremacy. They don't want to be bound by standards other than their own. They don't want to be controlled by anything, including G-D. G-D's selecting the Jewish people and providing them with great responsibilities and reward suggests that a Supreme Being exists that is greater and more powerful than themselves.

And so, they generate their own readings and interpretations of the scriptures so that they can act out their frustrations with G-D by attacking His people.

Therefore, a Turnus-Rufus can obtain a temporal peace of mind by mistreating the Jewish people. According to his logic, he will be shielded from being thrown into Hell.

Turnus-Rufus's logic made sense but it was irrelevant. Logic can only be applied in the absence of direction.

Rabbi Akiva pointed out that the scriptures themselves expect a different behavior. They direct one to act in a benevolent manner to the Jewish people when they loose their status as G-D's children and become His servants.

In all probability, Rabbi Akiva's teaching did not cause Turnus-Rufus to change his behavior because he was biased.

In all probability, Turnus-Rufus was obsessed by doing whatever he could to avoid going to Hell because he knew deep down inside that he was going there.

There are a number of such people and movements out there.

Throughout the generations, detractors have attempted to pry the Jewish people from their faith in an attempt to disconnect the Jewish people from distinctions that the Torah assigned to them. They manipulate masses of people to follow their directives so that they can assert their personal supremacy over G-D. They cite scriptures. They make up their own scriptures.

Then they die.


32:7 Remember the days of the world; understand the changes from generation to generation. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say it to you.

Rashi provides the following commentary: Understand the changes from generation to generation so that you will be able to discern the future, that it is within G-D's ability to provide you with the Messianic Era and the world to come.

I understand Rashi in the following manner.

We become more distant from our great ancestral sources and strengths as history evolves. Avraham's (Abraham's) covenant with G-D occurred 2018 years from creation. The Torah was given 430 years later. We have celebrated a new year that is 5767 years from creation.

The promises of a great future have kept our spirits up during the many difficult times in our history.

To prevent us from feeling isolated and hopeless as this distance grows, the Torah is telling us that G-D has already demonstrated in earlier generations many fulfillments of great His prophecies, despite their distance from these sources.

So too can the great prophecies that we are anticipating occur to us or to our children.

I tell myself that the reason the Messianic Era has not yet occurred to date is because it is not impossible enough.

May it occur speedily in our days.


32:10 He (the Jewish people) will discover Him (G-D) in a desert land, in desolation, a howling wilderness ...

The Unkelus translates this section of the verse is as follows: He (G-D) provides for their needs in desert land, in parched earth where there is no water ...

At first glance, it is difficult to match his translation with the verse.

However, after some observation, thought, study, and over twenty grandchildren, the following comes to mind.

We cannot be expected to fully believe in G-D from speeches that are given by people who were born with a natural ability to speak in a convincing manner. There are too many mutually exclusive religions with such talkers and they can’t be all true. Neither can we be expected to fully believe in G-D because that’s what ‘everybody’ nearby does, so it must be true. History has shown us way too many social manipulators who have succeeded in getting large masses to do strange things, including atrocities. And from Deuteronomy chapter 13 we know that we cannot be expected to fully believe in G-D from miracles.

And we live in a world with so many types of visible bullies. So how can we be expected to fully believe in a G-D that is invisible? And how can we be expected to fully believe in a G-D who knows everything that is going on and who actively manages the affairs of mankind as a whole, and who actively manages the affairs of each person, and who gives and monitors just reward and punishment when we see good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good people?

Yet again, how can somebody who lived long ago expect that after over thirty-three scary and frequently hostile centuries of Jewish history there will still be Jews who are still alive and who know that they are Jews and who loyally try to keep the Torah?

And how can anybody who lived long ago expect that the Jewish people will return to a land promised to them by G-D after they left it or after they were forcibly exiled from it not once, not twice, but three times? (Yaakov / Jacob’s family returning to Israel after slavery in Egypt, the exiled to Babylon returning to Israel and building the second temple, and the exiled to four corners of the globe living today in Israel.)

I know that many people today go hungry. And I know that many people have died from starvation (as well as from other causes). And I know that there have been years of shortages in different places over the globe.

Every morning I seek to properly say all the blessings in our prayer book. In one, I thank G-D who ‘provides for all my needs.’

I can only speak from my own personal life experiences. My experiences in how my needs and those of my family were provided for have helped me discover G-D and solidify my belief in the sometimes desolate and howling wilderness we wake up to each day.

Discover G-D yourself while you can.

Think about your own life, the lives of your parents. Speak to people you know. … Ask you father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say it to you (verse 7).


32:36 For G-D will judge his nation and He will have compassion for His servants. For He will see that there is no support and nothing is saved or assisted.

The saintly Chofetz Chaim wrote that this is a reference to the Jewish people who live during the pre-Messianic era. It speaks about two groups of Jews, those who try to serve G-D and those who don't because they are Judaically disadvantaged.

There will be those who chose to be knowledgeable and serve G-D. They will be vilified and discriminated against. These difficult conditions will magnify the significance of their Torah observance by no less than a hundred-fold.

This generation will also have a mass of Judaically disadvantaged people. There will be no effective means of keeping them from backsliding into Judaic extinction. This will prompt G-D's intervention to keep them from being lost forever.

Just as the redemption seems to be so remote, it will be these two groups that will bring it closer into reality.


32:43 (Let the) nations (of the world) praise His nation for He will take revenge for the blood of His servants. And He will return vengeance to those who (sought to) oppress. And He will atone for His land and His people.

This verse concludes the Torah's warnings of dire consequences for misbehavior.

We have warnings in the end of Leviticus, in Deuteronomy 28, and in this Torah reading.

It is noteworthy that none of the warnings make any mention of the destructions of our two Temples (422 B.C.E and 68 C.E).

The Jewish people annually devote a three-week period to mourn these loses. They are the focus of four fast days. We pray three times a day for the Temple to be restored. We commemorate these losses in a number of other ways.

Yet, the Torah never openly warns us that their destruction will be a consequence of misbehavior. Why?

The following came to mind.

The consequences that the Torah does enumerate are losses of human welfare and life.

To G-D, these losses are more significant than the loss of several magnificent buildings that we had the privilege to erect in His honor.

I derive this from the following Medrash in Eicha (Lamentations):

"G-D spent out His anger, He poured out His fury. He kindled a fire in Zion and it consumed its foundations." (Eicha 4:11)

It states the following in Tehilim (Psalms) 79:1: A song of Asaf. Nations came to Your inheritance, they defiled the palace of Your holiness, they transformed Jerusalem into desolations. Why is this called a song and not a call for tears?

Rabbi Elazar gives the following model for understanding this verse.

Consider a king who made a wedding home for his son. He painted it and decorated it.

One day, the son angered his father and the king destroyed the home.

Subsequently, the son's tutor began to sing.

People asked why the king's destruction of his son's wedding home should be a cause for the tutor to sing.

The tutor responded that he was glad that the king spent his fury on the buildings and not on his son.

This is how we can understand why the above verse was introduced as a song.

They asked Asaf why the destruction evoked a song. He responded that I am grateful that G-D spent His anger on wood and stones and not on the Jewish people.

From G-D's perspective, the existence and welfare of a single human being is sufficient justification for creating the universe.

The loss of the Temple has no significance when compared to the loss of a single human being.

The Torah was authored by G-D, not by a human.


32:48 And G-d spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying.

32:49 Ascend this mountain of Avarim, Mount Nevo that is in the land of Moav (and) facing Yericho (Jerico). And see with your eyes the land of Canaan, that which I am giving to the Children of Israel for a possession.

32:50 And die on the mountain that you are ascending there and be gathered to your people, just like Aharon (Aaron) your brother died on Mount Hahar and he was gathered to his people.

Note that the Torah does not state, "Ascend the mountain … see with your eyes … and you will die on the mountain.." Rather it states, "die on the mountain…" an expression of a commandment. Why? Could it be that Moshe (Moses) was being charged to take his own life, G-D forbid?

The following came to mind.

Moshe took no hand in his death. He was going to die in the way that only the most righteous die. Rather, perhaps by wording his death as a commandment, G-D sought to cushion this saddest event in Moshe's life.

The Talmud (Sotah 13b) recognizes the great degree that Moshe cherished G-D's commandments. "Come and see how precious G-D's commandments were to Moshe our Teacher. When all the Jewish people were busy taking the spoils of Egypt, he was busy doing a commandment (relating to Yosef's - Joseph's remains) as it states, 'The wise of heart takes commandments.'

We also see this trait in Deuteronomy 4:41 when Moshe established three cities of refuge even though this act had no effect on giving them this status. "Even though they provided no refuge until the cities in the Land of Canaan were established, Moshe said, 'Let me do as much of a commandment as is possible.' (Rashi 4:41).

To Moshe, making his death a commandment had great meaning and this must have provided him some degree of consolation.

Another thought came to mind.

32:49 states, "And see with your eyes the land of Canaan."

We are taught that the time of his death, Moshe didn't see just real estate.

34:1-2 "And G-D showed him all of the land … until the last Yam (sea). The last sea could refer to the Mediterranean, which was beyond the Dead Sea that overlooked Yericho. Rashi on that verse tells us of an alternate reading, 'until the last Yom (day).

Right before his death, Moshe was given a panoramic vision of the future of the Jewish people in its entirety, to the day when all of Mankind (including the Jewish people) will realize and accept that the Jewish people have succeeded in their mission.

Thus must have been breath taking, especially for Moshe our Teacher.

Picture Moshe our teacher, one who dedicated his life to selfless strain and stress for only the best for the Jewish people. He invested his entire life, his entire being into the Jewish people.

Moshe was instrumental in starting a process that would last over thirty-three centuries. To this day, nobody lives to tell how it's going to work out, how each sometimes anguishing piece of Jewish history will fit together and contribute to this great and glorious last day of history as we know it.

Perhaps nobody can live to tell about it until it actually happens. Perhaps this panorama is too overwhelming, too brilliant for a person to behold until history is behind him.

A human being is not designed to be able to take a thrill of this intensity, including Moshe our Teacher.

Forty years prior, Moshe requested of G-D, "Show me your Glory." G-D responded, "a person can not see Me and live." At that point in Moshe's life G-D said no. Perhaps now G-D is saying yes.

With this in mind, "see with your eyes … and die" takes on a new meaning. Perhaps this is a commandment. Or, perhaps this is a giving of permission.


32:48 And G-d spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying.

32:49 Ascend this mountain of Avarim, Mount Nevo that is in the land of Moav (and) facing Yericho (Jerico). And see with your eyes the land of Canaan, that which I am giving to the Children of Israel for a possession.

32:50 And die on the mountain that you are ascending there and be gathered to your people, just like Aharon (Aaron) your brother died on Mount Hahar and he was gathered to his people.

32:51 Because you dealt falsely with my word within the Children of Israel, by the waters of Merivas Kadesh (in the) wilderness of Zin, because you did not sanctify Me within the Children of Israel.

32:52 For you will see the land from afar and you will not go there, to the land that I am giving to the Children of Israel.'

Verse 49 says that Moshe will die on the mountain that he is ascending. Why does verse 52 need to say afterwards that Moshe will see the land from afar?

The following came to mind.

There is a fascinating Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel on verse 50.

(Upon hearing of his death) Moshe opened his mouth in prayer and said, ' Master of the World, I beg of you that I should not become likened to (the following person:)

A man's only son was taken into captivity. He ransomed (his son) with a lot of money. He taught him wisdom and a profession. He consecrated a wife (for his son) and he planted a festive orchard in a style of royalty (for the occasion). He built a house for them to live in. He spread a bridal canopy inside and attached a veil to it. He invited guests, baked bread, slaughtered animals, and mixed drinks (for the wedding feast). When the time came for his son to rejoice with his bride, when the guests were about to break bread, this man was called to appear before the King. (For some reason, the King's court) decreed the death penalty against this person and they did not give him time to see any of his son's happiness.

Similarly (says Moshe,) I went through a lot of difficulty for this nation. I took them out of Egypt and I taught them Torah. I built for them a Sanctuary for Your Name. Now that the time has come to cross over the Jordan river to inherit the land, I am penalized with death.

If it is acceptable to you, (please) wait and let me cross the Jordan so that I may see the good that happens to the Jewish people. Let me die afterwards.

Such a heart rendering plea!

G-d's response: '.. you will see the land from afar..'

How do we understand this? Can't Moshe just go to see the good that will happen to the Jewish people? Why from afar? Also, of what good is it to see just the land rather than what happens to the people who will live in the land? Mercy!

We now turn to the final verses of the Torah, in Chapter 34, when G-d shows Moshe the land.

1: And Moshe ascended from the plain of Moav to Mount Nevo that is facing Yericho (Jerico), to the top of the peak, and G-d showed him all of the land, the Gilead and Dan.

2: And all of Naftali and the land of Ephraim and Menashe, and all of the land of Yehuda, until the last sea (Yam - Hebrew).

3: And the Negev (South) and the plain, the valley of Yericho the City of Dates until Tzoar.

What is this last sea (Yam) in verse 2?

Let's first see how the Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel translates these verses. As you read the Targum it becomes obvious that it was G-d's intention to show Moshe not just the land, but what will happen to the people who live on the land - the Jewish people.

1: And Moshe ascended from the plain of Moav to the Mountain of Nevo that is facing Yericho, to the top of the peak, and G-d showed him the mighty people of the land: The powerful deeds of Yiftach of Gilad and the victories of Shimshon (Samson) the son of Monoach who came from (the Tribe of Dan).

2. And General Sarchon who came from the house of Naftali who allied himself with Barak, and the kings who will kill Yehoshua (Joshua) the son of Nun who came from the Tribe of Ephraim, and the powerful deeds of Gideon the son of Yoash who came from (the Tribe of) Menashe, and all of the kings of Israel and the Kingdom of Yehudah, who reigned in the land until the last Temple was destroyed.

3. And the King of the South who will join with the King of the North to destroy the inhabitants of the Earth, and the Amonites and the Moavites who live on the plain who oppress Israel, and the exile of the students of Eliyahu (Elijah the Prophet) who went into exile from the valley of Yericho, and the exile of the students of Elisha (the Prophet) who went into exile from the City of Dates by way of their brethren, the House of Israel, and the suffering (Tzoar = tzaar = suffering?) of every generation, and the punishment of the wicked Armalgus, and the battle formations of Gog, and at that time of great suffering (the Angel) Michael will come with force to save (them).

This is ballistic!

Now for Rashi on 'the last sea' - HaYam Hoacharon

Read this not HaYam Hoacharon, but rather read it HaYom Hoacharon - the final day. The Holy One Blessed Be He, showed Moshe all of the events that will occur to Israel in the future, until the dead will come back to life.

Oh my G-d! Moshe was shown in his final moments of life some of the worst moments in Jewish history. Why? He pleaded to G-d to be shown the good that will happen to the Jewish people. Let him die in peace. This seems so uncharacteristic!

Now, the Jewish people make a lot of blessings. We make a blessing before we eat, after we eat, our prayers consist of blessings, we have a blessing of 'Hagomel' that one recites after surviving a dangerous happening, and we even have a blessing that we recite when we hear good news. The latter is called a 'Hatov U'Maitiv,' One who is good and who does good.

We also have a blessing that we recite when we hear bad news. It is termed a 'Dayan HaEmes,' the True Judge.

Now, we believe that G-d controls nature. Moreover, Judaism proclaims that G-d manages the affairs of Mankind, down to the smallest micro-level. We also believe that everything G-d does is for the best.

Given such an all-powerful, all-capable manager who has nothing but the best of intentions for us all, how can anything that is actually bad happen to the Jewish people or to any person?

There is a stunningly awesome statement in the Talmud about the future to come (Pesachim 50a):

'And it shall then be (obvious) that G-d is the King over all of the Earth. On that day (it will be understood that the essence of) G-d was (always) one, and His name [- actions/behavior] was (always) one.' (Zacharia 14)

Is G-d not one right now? Says Rabbi Acha Bar Chanina: This world is not like the world of the future. In the world of the present we make the blessing of 'Hatov U'Maitiv' for good news and we make 'Dayan HaEmes' for bad news. In the world of the future we will only make 'Hatov U'Maitiv.'

Rashi: (In the future there will be) no more bad news.

We understand this as follows.

This world is not like the world of the future. Until the Messianic Era arrives we are destined to hurl down the path of history with a form of tunnel vision. We will fail to see what is at stake, the potentials and huge rewards of greatness that are for each and every person. We will fail to see how events are interconnected. We will fail to see how G-d designs events to compensate for deviations from the course towards completion, deviations that we are responsible for.

However, in the end of days we will be able to look back and see the forest from the trees, the pattern and sense of Jewish History. We will also begin to see how our lives contributed to this grand scheme. We will lose the ability to label news as being bad. We will thus become disqualified from reciting the blessing of 'Dayan HaEmes.'

During this glorious period we will be able to see this because we will then be able to view all of history - from afar.

We can now view 32:52 in a new light

'For you (Moshe) will (be able to) see (all that happens to the people who are going to inherit) the land (and you will have the perspective of being able to see it all) from afar..'

In Moshe's last moments, G-d presents to Moshe the entire panorama of history. The elusive solution to this most complex puzzle is suddenly revealed. It is stunning, magnificent, sheer genius. Everything makes perfect sense, events that seemed like communal tragedies and events that seemed like personal tragedies, such as Moshe's own death are now essential pieces to this puzzle.

He is overcome by the splendor and goodness. This is how he dies.


On a superficial level it appears as though the entire Torah provides three views of this world.

  • What happened.
  • What should/should not happen.
  • What will happen.

The Torah provides many historical details about creation and civilization. They encompass the 'What happened' view.

The Torah provides mankind with instructions for living and this constitutes the 'What should/should not happen' view.

In rare places throughout the Torah we find predictions of the future, the 'What will happen' view.

The first forty-three verses of this chapter are talking about a future generation.

They were written over thirty-three centuries ago We can assume that people in many generations since then have suspected that the Torah was talking about them. We are certainly no exception.

I encourage you to find an English translation that is based on authentic Jewish sources and read this chapter for yourself. The vision of the future that it provides and how one could relate to our own generation is electrifying and is somewhat scary.

We must not take this Chapter out of context. While it predicts a 'rocky landing,' we should also keep in mind Chapter 30:1-7, which promises that the Jewish people will have a glorious ending.

This chapter is read prior to or during Ten Days of Repentance. We can use its message to prod ourselves to do a better job of fulfilling the Torah's 'What should/should not happen' view.


Zos Habracha (Deut. 33-34)

33:1 And this is the blessing that Moshe (Moses) blessed the Children of Israel before his death.

33:2 And he said, 'G-d revealed Himself to us from (Mount) Sinai (to give us the Torah), the radiance of His glory was shown to us from Seir, He was revealed in His might from the Mountain of Paran, and with Him (came) tens of thousands (of His holy angels). From within a fire He gave us the Torah, a scripture of His right.'

33:3 'Even an endearment of the (Twelve) Tribes, all of the holy ones in the House of Israel, He took them out from Egypt with power. They were taken under your cloud, held by Your word.'

33:4 'Moshe charged us with the Torah, he gave it over for an inheritance to the community of Yaakov (Jacob).'

33:5 'When the heads of the people gathered together there was a King in Israel, as one of the tribes of Israel.'

33:6 'May Reuven (Reuben) live ..'

33:7 'And this is for Yehuda (Judah) ..'

The first verse introduces Moshe's blessings. However, they do not begin until the sixth verse. How do we understand the verses in between?

Moreover, the fourth verse appears to have been said by the Jewish people, not by Moshe. How do we understand this?

In verse two, Rashi quotes from the Sifri's commentary. Let's try to understand these verses from the perspective of the Oral Torah.

This (Moshe's final words) can be likened to (those spoken by) an attorney who was retained to speak (in the King's court) on behalf of his client's needs. Prior to presenting these needs he opens with praise to the King. (He speaks in an inspiring manner and he brings) everyone to praise the King with him. He then presents his client's needs and he concludes with more praises of the King.

In a similar manner, Moshe Our Teacher did not present the needs of the Jewish people without first praising G-d:

'G-d revealed Himself to us from (Mount) Sinai (to give us the Torah), the radiance of His glory was shown.. (verse 2). '

Afterwards, he began with the needs of the Jewish people:

'When the heads of the people gathered together there was a King in Israel, as one of the tribes of Israel. (verse 5)'

From this Sifri we see that not only was Moshe giving us a blessing, he was also making his final request for the welfare of the Jewish people. This is apparently how the Sifri understands verses two through five.

Using the Sifri's analogy, verse two is Moshe's (the attorney) introductory praise to the G-d (the King.) Verse three appears to be an attempt to place the Jewish people (the client) in a favorable light. Moshe's words inspire the Jewish people to openly praise G-d and they do so by in verse four. They proclaim their endearment and attachment towards the Torah of Moshe, itself an expression of G-d's (the King's) will.

Verse five is Moshe's final request for the needs of the Jewish people. Let's take another look at it:

'When the heads of the people gathered together there was a King in Israel, as one of the tribes of Israel.'

Rashi: When they gather together as a unit and they are in harmony then (it can be felt that) G-d is their King.

With his final breaths of life, Moshe is beseeching that G-d help maintain unity within the Jewish people.

We can now better understand how verses two through five are a great blessing. Perhaps this is why they are preceded by verse one, which we can now understand as an introduction to all of Moshe's final blessings.


33:1 And this is the blessing that Moshe (Moses) gave the Jewish people before his death.

One could read these words to mean that Moshe blessed the Jewish people a number of times beforehand and this was his last blessing. However, Rashi's commentary implies otherwise.

"And this is the blessing .. before his death:" Prior to his death, for when else if not now?

So, from Rashi it appears that Moshe never gave the Jewish people a blessing of his own. Why did he never give them a blessing until now?

Also, we find otherwise in the Torah. The Book of Exodus records a blessing that Moshe gave the Jewish people.

39:33 And they brought the tabernacle (that they constructed) to Moshe, the tent and all its vessels, its clasps, boards, bars, pillars, and bases.

39:42 Just as G-D commanded Moshe, so did the Jewish people make the entire product.

39:43 And Moshe saw all of the work (of the tabernacle's construction) and behold they did it just as G-D commanded they did so. And Moshe blessed them.

So how do we understand this Rashi?

The following came to mind.

I'm sure that our great teacher Moshe was very generous with bestowing blessings. I can't imagine him not giving a hearty Mazel Tov when a fellow Jew celebrated a special occasion like an engagement, wedding, or bris. So while he probably gave many personal blessings to individual people, perhaps his role as the teacher and leader of the entire Jewish nation compelled him to withhold blessing the people on a national scale until they demonstrated that they were worthy of his great gift, somewhat like the way a very demanding head coach would act.

So, did we ever get our collective act together to merit a national blessing from Moshe? Yes, we made it one time and we were finally deserving of his blessing when we constructed the tabernacle.

Unfortunately for our great patron and friend, this was the only opportunity Moshe found during his tenure as our 'coach' to give us a national blessing.

Well, Moshe's tenure is now over and Yehousha (Joshua) is in charge. He no longer has a role that constrains him from giving this type of blessing. He can now bless us collectively even though we are not perfect enough to deserve it.

As Rashi says, 'If not now, then when else?' And so Moshe takes full advantage of this opportunity and he blesses us.


33:21 And he (the tribe of Gad) saw (that) the first (lands of conquest were fitting) because the portion of the scribe was hidden there. And he came (in battle) at the head of the people. He did that which was righteous before G-D and His judgments with (the people of) Israel.

The Seforno commentary provides the following background.

The tribe of Gad wanted the land of kings Sichon and Og, which were east of the Yarden (Jordan) river. While these lands were not as sanctified as those on the west bank, Gad wanted them because the hidden grave of Moshe (Moses) the Scribe was somewhere in these lands.

This is very puzzling because the Torah in Numbers 32 seems to provide a different reason for their requesting these lands.

32:1 And the children of Reuven and Gad had a lot of flocks, very massive. And they saw the land of Yazer and Gilead and behold the place was one for flocks.

32:2 And the children of Reuven and Gad came and they said to Moshe and Elazer the priest and to the elders of the congregation, saying.

34:4 And G-D said to him (Moshe / Moses), "This is the land that I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I showed (it) to you in your eyes and you will not cross over there."

34:5 And Moshe (Moses) servant of G-D died there on the plains of Moav, by the mouth of G-D.

Moshe’s response was one of rebuke.

32:6 And Moshe said to the children of Gad and Reuven, “Shall your brothers go into battle (for their lands on the other side of the river while) you live here (in peace)?

From this interchange it appears that they wanted the lands of the east bank for financial reasons. Why does the Sefurno say in Deuteronomy that they wanted the lands because they contained Moshe’s burial place/

The following came to mind.

Perhaps the real reason for their request was that of the Sefurno. They couldn’t see themselves crossing the Yarden and leaving their beloved master entombed behind. However, they couldn’t say this openly to Moshe as they didn’t want to remind him of G-D’s painful decree against his crossing the Yarden together with the Jewish people. Also, given his great selflessness and humility, Moshe would have waived this reason away. So they packaged their request with a personal advantage and risked Moshe’s wrath by making the request in this manner.

This would also explain why there is a paragraph break in Numbers 32 between verse four which presents the rationale for their request and verse five which presents the request itself, as the rationale in verse four had little or nothing to do with the request in verse five.


34:4 And G-D said to him (Moshe / Moses), "This is the land that I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I showed (it) to you in your eyes and you will not cross over there."

34:5 And Moshe (Moses) servant of G-D died there on the plains of Moav, by the mouth of G-D.

This seems like one of the saddest parts in the Torah.

Moshe strongly wanted to cross the Jordan river together with the Jewish but G-D held fast and denied his requests.

We do know that G-D's kindness is infinite and He only shows strictness within the context of kindness, when it's really the very best for us.

There must have been a silver lining. The following came to mind.

We know that Moshe wanted only the very best for the Jewish people and he put his life and destiny on the line for them (Exodus 32:32 and Numbers 11:15).

We are taught that had Moshe crossed with them and built the Temple in the Promised Land then that Temple would have been indestructible. G-D knew by the time of Moshe's passing that the Jewish people needed a Temple that could be destroyed so that Heavenly wrath could focus on a building instead of the Jewish people.

Thus, Moshe's untimely passing averted the loss of countless Jews some nine-hundred years later. As much as he wanted to cross the Jordan, he would have wanted this more.

Some say that had Moshe succeeded in building the Temple then this would have prematurely heralded in the Messianic Era.

Of his many accomplishments, Moshe's greatest was his receiving the Torah from G-D and so that we could have it.

Little did they realize this at that time, but our receiving the Torah put us on a painful and dangerous journey through history that would take no less than thirty-three centuries to play out, until mankind would come to completion.

And when time comes for this glorious event we will clearly see what kept us going all along, with G-D's help. Our arrival couldn't have depended upon having a king, nor a temple, nor living in our homeland, for we were without these assets for most of the time. By then, we will all realize that it was the Torah of Moshe that powered our survival.

In his final moments, the Torah says that G-D showed Moshe all of the land, up to the final 'Yam', which means the furthest sea, probably the Mediterranean (34:2). Rashi says that we can read this word as 'Yome,' which means day. G-D showed Moshe everything that will befall the Jewish people from then on until the final day, when the dead come back to life, Moshe too.

Moshe wanted only the best for us. G-D showed him that he gave the Jewish people only the best for them, that he succeeded beyond imagination despite our failings. And G-D showed him that his death was really the best for him.

He saw the silver lining. He saw that it was gold.

We are taught that Moshe was not unique in this respect, for that's how it is for us all. If we can't clearly see G-D's loving kindness in our lifetime down here, we'll surely see it afterwards.


34:4 And G-D said to him (Moshe / Moses), "This is the land that I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I showed (it) to you in your eyes and you will not cross over there."

The Sefurno provides the following commentary:

"I showed (it) to your in your eyes." So that you will bless it.

"And you will not cross over there." So that your blessing will not extend in a manner that (the settlement of the Jewish people) will not be destroyed, as is what happened when they (the Jewish people) reached the limit (of transgression).

From this Sefurno we see that had these same words of blessing been said by the same person but in the Promised Land instead of West Jordan, then they would have had an entirely different effect.

How great were our ancestors that they were able to infuse such a degree of holiness into this great and promised land.


34:4 And G-D said to him (Moshe / Moses), "This is the land that I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I showed (it) to you in your eyes and you will not cross over there."

This Torah reading begins with the phrase: "And this is the blessing that Moshe gave to the Children of Israel," chapter 33, verse one.

The Sefurno commentary writes that Moshe's blessing begins with the last five verses of the chapter. Verses two through twenty-four are actually just a prayer for the people. Only verses twenty-five through twenty-nine provide Moshe's blessing and they focus on the Messianic period.

According to the Sefurno, Moshe's final blessing is for invincibility, which is foretold for the End of Days.

The same Sefurno commentary provides the following for verse 34:4

'And you will not cross over there:' So that your blessing will not extend in a manner that (will cause) the destruction (of the Temple) to not occur. The destruction had already been decreed to occur when their transgressions will reach a certain threshold.

According to the Sefurno, it is remarkable that even though Moshe's blessing of invincibility was focused on the Messianic era, it would have an effect on the era of the first temple, which occurred thousands of years earlier.

This brings to mind the nature of a blessing, which is an overflow from an internal increase.

Apparently, had Moshe entered the land, then this would have generated great spiritual energy and this would have caused his blessing to overflow into another historical era.


34:5 And Moshe (Moses) servant of G-D died there on the plains of Moav, by the mouth of G-D.

The Talmud (Menachos 30a) asks how Moshe wrote the above words, as the Torah states that he gave the Levites a scroll that we assume was complete. The Talmud answers that Moshe wrote the concluding verses with 'Dema,' which we can translate as meaning with tears.

The Torah in several places writes that Moshe will pass away and there is no record of his being moved to tears from the news.

However, these verses are very different because the others are written in the future tense but these are written in the past tense.

The Talmud (Brachos 10a) records an encounter that King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) had with the prophet Yeshia (Isaiah).

Lying on what appeared to be his death bed and after hearing from the prophet that he will die, the King responded, "Finish off your prophecy and leave. I have a tradition from my ancestors that a person should not stop seeking mercy from G-D, even when a sharp sword is resting on his neck."

Thereupon, the King turned his face to the wall in prayer, G-D answered his prayer, and he recovered.

As long as there is a future there is always hope.


34:6 '.. and no one ever knew (the location of) his (Moshe's) grave site..'

Why did G-d bury Moshe (Moses) in this manner?

Since we never saw Moshe die and we don't know exactly where he is buried, it's almost as if Moshe disappeared.

The following came to mind.

Funerals, burials, and grave sites help the survivor gradually accept the painful reality that a loved one is truly gone.

The deceased leaves behind possessions. Over time, the survivors grow accustomed to the transfer of ownership.

The deceased leaves behind accomplishments. Over time, the survivors realize that it is up to them to carry on and pick where he/she left off.

Moshe shunned honor. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, he was given the greatest honor possible. He was the conduit through which the will of G-d was transmitted to Mankind. Moreover, he is the only conduit. We therefore refer to the Torah as Moshe's Torah.

Perhaps, as part of his role and the honor which comes with it, Moshe's death and his burial were concealed.

In some aspects, then, it's as though Moshe never died.

There was no transfer of ownership. For the past thirty-three centuries the Torah has remained Moshe's Torah.

In the study of Moshe's Torah, our focus is to ascertain that which Moshe taught us. Every Torah innovation (hand washing, Purim/Megila, etc.) must pass a test of consistency with Moshe's Torah. This truth is obvious to every student of the Oral Torah. For example, the Talmud provides a basis in Moshe's Torah for reading the Megilla of Esther, an event that happened almost a thousand years afterwards.

Therefore, in the full sense of the word we do not carry on where Moshe left off. That is, we are not free to evolve his Torah into someone else's Torah.


34:10 And there never arose a prophet in Israel like Moshe (Moses), one who G-D had face-to-face relations with.

34:11 With respect to all of the signs and wonders that G-D sent him to do in the Land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all of his servants and to all (of the people in) his land.

34:12 And with respect to the mighty hand and the great awe that Moshe made before the eyes of all of Israel.

Rashi provides the following commentary for the last verse of the Torah:

"And with respect to the mighty hand:" That he [Moshe] received the Torah in his hands in (the form of very heavy stone) tablets (and he was still able to carry them in his hands).

"And the great awe:" Miracles and mighty acts in the great and awesome desert.

In this final tribute to the accomplishments of Moshe, it is my opinion that one accomplishment is missing, and it is perhaps the most significant of all. G-D gave His Torah, the centerpiece and foundation stone of humanity, to the Jewish people through Moshe. Without our receiving the Torah, the entire Exodus story loses significance. Our tradition teaches that the world would have ceased to exist if the Jewish people would not have accepted the Torah of Moshe.

In these final words, the only link between Moshe and the Torah is that Moshe's hands were physically powerful enough to carry the heavy tablets. How do we understand this?

The following came to mind.

Perhaps Moshe's greatest achievement with respect to his role as our greatest teacher was his transparency. He faithfully transcribed that which G-D dictated into what we call today the Five Books of Moses. He added nothing. He changed nothing. He derived no benefit in this role, not even for his children.

The Rambam (Teshuva 5:2) says that anyone can use his free-will choice to become a righteous person like Moshe or a wicked person like (King) Yeravam (Jerobam).

Why does the Rambam single out these two people, especially since they lived almost five-hundred years apart?

The following came to mind.

Both received teachings from higher authorities and both wrote / promoted Torahs.

Moshe received instruction from G-D and he faithfully transcribed that which he heard.

G-D was the author of Moshe's Torah. Moshe was a humble and transparent secretary.

Yeravam received instruction from his parents, teachers, and from the prophets of the generation. Yet, he made up his own rules and revisions according to his preference. Yeravam authored Torah that was inconsistent with that which he was taught. He was a distorter.

Perhaps the Rambam is teaching us that the difference between a righteous person and one who is wicked is best understood in the light of the difference between being loyal and consistent to tradition versus introducing distortion.

So, perhaps the greatest way to mention Moshe's role as a law giver is to not mention it.


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