Parshat Re’eh 5779

In this week’s parshah, Moses gives his second discourse. Instead of continuing to speak in general terms of the necessity to serve God and adhere to His commandments, Moses deals with laws that are to govern the Israelites when they arrive in the land of Canaan. These laws deal with religious institutions and worship, government,
criminal law, domestic life, and laws concerning the first fruits and tithes. We will focus on some of the laws outlined in this parshah.

 

Regarding idol worship, the Moses instructs the people: “You shall surely destroy all the places wherein the nations that you are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and upon the high
mountains” (Deut. 12:2). In the Mishnah 7 chapter 3 in tractate of Avodah Zarah we are taught: “there are three categories of houses; 1) a house which was constructed in order to serve as a place of worship. Such a house is totally forbidden. 2) A house which originally was not used or intended for such worship but has been redecorated in order to serve as a house of worship. 3) The Gentile made an addition to the existing house, which was intended and used as a residence. In the latter two instances, the Jew has to demolish all the new decorations or additions and he may have use of the rest of such a house.” The Or Hachayim explains that the Talmud elaborates on this mishnah saying that if someone prostrates himself in front of any house (indicating that he worships it) he has thereby made it completely forbidden to every Jew. From this, we deduce that even if someone had only joined together individual stones and attached them to the ground, they are still considered as if they were separate and the house is not forbidden until it was used for the purpose for which it has been designated! The Talmud answers that the mishnah taught us the law that even if the house had only been built for a purpose for which it had not yet been used it is already totally forbidden. Maimonides accepts this ruling in his treatise Hilchot Avodah Zarah
chapter 8. This ruling is reflected in what our verse says: “all the sites where the Canaanites used to serve idols.” The meaning is that it is irrelevant if the place had originally been built for the purpose or not. If idolatrous practices had been performed there the Israelites must destroy if even if only an addition to such a house had been used for idolatry.

 

In chapter 12 verse 8, Moses prohibits altars of a private nature, and that the people must offer sacrifices only in the central place of worship. The Alshekh comments that the only reason private altars had been tolerated so far was due to the fact that Israel had not yet reached a final destination. The whole paragraph from v.8-14 seems full of repetition of laws which had been previously stated. Actually, Moses, in his prophetic vision, talks about different periods in Jewish history. The tabernacle in Shiloh which preceded the temple in Jerusalem, though its ceilings were portable coverings such as had been used in the desert for the first tabernacle, was nonetheless a structure with solid walls. It contained the 5 elements that were absent during the period of the second temple. Moses called Shiloh ‘menuchah’- rest, and the temple of Solomon ‘nachalah’ – inheritance. Since the site of the temple
corresponds to the throne of God in the higher world, he describes search for God as ‘leshichno tidre-shenu’.
Concerning the temple, Moses says ‘uvata shamah’ – you will get there (v.6). In case people would think that only THAT temple would be a central place of worship, Moses stresses that there is another temple which shares most of the holiness character of the temple Solomon was to build – namely, the one in Shiloh. This temple would be available immediately after crossing the Jordan. Since the site in Shiloh is NOT opposite the temple in the higher world, it says only “which the Lord will choose where his name will rest” (v.11). In order that the people do not belittle the sanctity of that temple, Moses gives even more details of all the sacrifices to be offered there (v.11-12).

 

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Ekev 5779

Parshat Ekev 5779

Parshat Eikev begins with a sentence that for the most part is straightforward, except for the word that gives the Parsha its name. “And it shall come to pass, “Eikev”, because you harken to these ordinances (as a result of your hearing) and observe and keep them, that God will keep his covenant with you.” (Devarim 7:12) There follows a lengthy cataloge of the blessings that will follow obedience: God’s love; the fruitfulness of the people, their land and livestock; good health and the defeat of all enemies – material success and well being (what may be likened to a virtual return to Eden, to the life that existed in the land of Eden, in days of old). Consistent with the apparent sense of the sentence,”Eikev” then is most commonly translated as “because” or “if only.” Other translations of “Eikev” include an emphasis on the Brit (the covenantal aspect of the law), and its attendant obligations, in order for it to be fulfilled. Hence “Eikev” is translated as “in exchange for” or “on account of.”

The mystery of “Eikev,” however, is that its literal translation is “heel.” And the puzzle that has intrigued the biblical commentaries, is why the word “heel” should be used in this context, and with such prominence. What special message lies within the use of “Eikev” in the context of the Parsha? The most familiar explanation is that of Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105). Rashi teaches that “Eikev” stresses obedience to those Mitzvot, (those commandments) which a person is inclined to treat lightly. “Even if the lighter commands which a person usually treads on with his heels, which a personal usually treats lightly, you will listen to and obey, THEN G-d will keep His part of the Covenant and deal kindly with you.”

 

The frame of reference here seems to be those Mitzvot which usually don’t get the coverage they deserve because they are viewed as less important, or less pressing in the eyes of the people.

 

In order to better understand Rashi’s interpretation, Rabbi Yosil Rosenweig explains: I’d like to refer to the comments of the great leader of the Orthodox Jewish community in the 19th century Germany, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Zt”l (the righteous should be remembered as a blessing). Rabbi Hirsch explains Rashi’s interpretation in an interesting way: The message of “Eikev” is that we must treat commandments, great or small, with equal care and concern, in the sense that we should give no thought to whether our reward for obedience will be great or small. Rabbi Hirsch elaborates by saying “from time immemorial such arbitrary differentiations between laws that are supposedly ‘more important.’ and those presumed ‘less important,’ particularly between the commandments pertaining to the relationship between man and God and those pertaining to the relationship between man and his fellow man, those distinctions have had disastrous consequences for us.” The end of our first era of political independence – the destruction of our first Temple – is ascribed particularly to our neglect of those Mitzvot that deal without relationship with God. And the collapse of our second period of statehood is attributed to our neglect of the commandments that govern the area of human relationships. Hence, Rabbi Hirsch derives from the experience of our past an important insight into “Eikev”. We can expect future happiness only if we will accept God’s Law as a WHOLE, and strive towards its observance in its entirety, without any distinctions. Only as an all-encompassing, complete entity will the Law of God have its intended effect. I might still extend this one step further. In addition to Rabbi Hirsch’s message,”Eikev’s” message to man might also be that we are not to take anything for granted. Nothing should be viewed lightly. Nothing should be trampled on: “And it shall ‘Eikev’ come to pass, because you harken to these ordinances (as a result of your hearing) and observe and keep them, that God will keep his covenant with you.” In other words, if you hear the music in the rustle of the trees, if you do not ignore the simple beauty in everyday life, THEN you will find true fulfillment.

 

In the realm of Mitzvot (observance), as well as in our outlook on life, nothing can be seen as insignificant. And God exhorts us to pay attention to the ordinary, the regular and the commonplace. Living a life in the fast lane (as many of us lead today), it is so easy to run over and trample on simple beauty and everyday blessing. The Torah, then, in our parsha today, warns us against taking too great a leap in our quest for beauty and bounty. For in the midst of our search and climb, we often miss the first step

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Vaetchanan 5779

Parshat Vaetchanan 5779

 

In this week’s parshah, Moses continues his discourse to the Children of Israel. Moses, in chapter 4, renews his warning of idolatry to the people and their threat of exile, with, however, a promise of grace upon repentance. Moses, when discussing the future exile, says the following: “And the Lord shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the Lord shall lead you away. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell”
(Deut. 4:27-28). The question is asked if the statement with the idols is a continuation of the previous clauses outlining the retribution lying in store for a rebellious Israel, or is it merely a further description of the sins they might commit? Here are the views of two commentators: a) Abravanel – As a result of their terrible sufferings, many Jews (so Holy Writ foretells) will be brought to forced conversion, worshipping idols but knowing full well that they are made of wood and stone. Their idolatry will be committed just to escape death…It is not mentioned here as a part of their sin but as the punishment for their misdeeds. This would constitute the climax of their sufferings – to be inwardly aware of the true faith and have to pay lip service to idols… b) Biur – This passage continues to outline the retribution that would overtake them. In my opinion, there is no greater punishment than this – for the soul to be caught in the toils of sin, till it cannot escape…as a result of the force of evil habit. There is no cure for such a soul till it makes every exertion to sunder the bonds of habit.

 

Nechama Leibowitz questions what the difference is between the above explanations. She explains: Both
commentators maintain that the passage describes the punishment that would overtake the Jewish people – being forced, against their better judgment, to worship idols – poetic justice for worshipping idols of their own free will, in their own land. But Abravanel interprets the passage in terms of his own age, when his
co-religionists were suffering under the terror of the inquisition, being forced to solemnly renounce their faith or be burnt at the stake. He saw them worshipping idols not because they believed in them, but only ‘to escape death.’ The 18th century author of the Biur saw the fatal attractions of Western secularism and ‘enlightenment’ as the greatest danger, threatening the integrity of the Jewish people in his own day. Emancipation beckoned the Jewish youth of his day, promising an entry ticket into European culture, in return for renunciation of their own traditional observances and faith. Each age has its own idolatry and suffering. Only one solution remained and this is outlined in the next verse: “But from thence ye will seek the Lord thy God; and thou shalt find him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all they soul” (4:29). Abravanel detected in the Torah a
message of comfort to his sorely tried co-religionists. Even the Jew forcibly estranged from his faith was not lost, if he still remained true in his heart. Literalists will interpret “from thence” to allude to the places of Jewish
dispersion from whence the exiles would come to seek the true God. But Abravanel sees in it a reference to the tragic situation of the Marrano, the forced convert and evokes the ancient Rabbinic principle of the ‘The All
Merciful requires the heart.” The phrase: “if thou search after Him with all thy heart…” which is usually taken to refer to a maximum demand, calling on the whole of man to serve God, is taken, instead, to mean a minimum demand. Leibowitz explains that even if the Jew is reduced to the state of being only able to serve God inwardly, he would still find God. Does this do violence to the text? It is certainly not its plain meaning, but such
interpretation is legitimate and even obligatory. Each generation must view the Torah as personally addressed to it and directly applicable to the contemporary situation. Indeed, each individual must read and understand the sacred text in accordance with their own powers.

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Devarim 5779

Parshat Devarim 5779

This Shabbat we begin the reading of the last of the Five Books of Torah – the book of Devarim. In this book, Moses is the speaker as indicated by the fact that it states Hashem spoke to me” (1:42, 2:9, 3:2). Whereas in the rest of the Torah discourses begin by stating “Hashem spoke to Moses”. According to Nachmanides, the book of Devarim may be divided into three main sections: 1) 1:1-3:29. This section contains the words of reproof to the people. He discusses the experience of the children of Israel – the first generation – those who left Egypt and how they stood on the threshold of the Promised Land only to sin and defer their entry for thirty eight years. This section also witnesses Moses addressing the second generation; those who were permitted to enter the land of Canaan. 2) 4:1-26:15. This division contains the main subject matter of the book – a recapitulation and elaboration of the statutes and ordinances. 3) 26:16-end of the book. This section concludes the book with blessings, curses, and a song.

 

The Torah reading begins by stating: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel” (1:1). The word ‘these’ or in Hebrew ‘eileh’ is restrictive, especially in regard to what has been written previously. The Or Hachayyim explains the seeing Moses recorded in this book only words which he had spoken on his own initiative, the Torah wishes to emphasize that only the admonition recorded in this book were spoken by Moses on his own initiative. We are told in Megillah 31 that Moses personally composed the curses recorded in this book, and that even legislation which Moses repeated in this book he had not been commanded to repeat, but did so on his own volition. The Torah was concerned that we might conclude that just as Moses had felt free to say things of his own volition in this book, he might have done so in the previous four books. This is why the book commences with the “Eileh devarim”, “ONLY these are the words Moses spoke of his own volition, none other.”

 

Moses addresses the judges of the people and reviews the laws of how to deal justly and rightly with the people that come before them. In our parshah, we have directives of how judges are to judge, and later on in Devarim, we have more instructions. It states later on in Devarim: Thou shalt not pervert judgement; thou shalt not respect persons” (Devarim 16:19). Similarly, in Leviticus 19:15 it states: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favor the person of the mighty, but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.” Nechama Leibowitz , in her introduction to the book of Deuteronomy comments that our Sages have taught us not to regard any text in the Torah as merely repetitive, and they elicit for us the separate and exclusive messages of each word and phrase. She examines the implications of the repeated references to favoring the “poor” and “mighty”. The word “poor” does not only mean the destitute in worldly goods. Here is the interpretation of our sages on the text in Exodus 23: If a disreputable and a decent person stand before you in judgement do not say that since he is a disreputable, I shall view his cause unfavorably , but “thou shalt not pervert the judgement of thy poor” – he who is poor in good works (mitzvot). The judge, Leibowitz explains, has to limit his consideration to the parties standing before him in court and take no account of a person’s past, but weigh up the matter objectively on the basis of the facts presented to him. We find a similar duplication in the case of the admonition not to favor the poor man. In Exodus, we are bidden not to favor the poor man in his cause; in Leviticus not to respect the person of the poor nor favor the person of the mighty. Malbim, who specializes in clarifying the subtle differences in apparently synonymous expressions in the Torah directed his expertise to explaining our text: He says that the phrase ‘nesi’at panim’ (“lifting up the face” translated in our text by “respect the person”) implies overlooking some transgression or unsavory matter. The word “favor” comes from a Hebrew root meaning external beauty (hadar) referring to whatever is attractive in man’s eyes. It is the way of the world to make allowances for poverty and to pay respect to external appearances. The Torah therefore forewarned us against both these pitfalls. But it could be argued that though forbidden to make allowances for the poor in the question of a lawsuit, it is permissible to pay him honor and give him respect, so that his opponent should forego some of his claim. For this reason, the Torah states that it is forbidden, too, to favor i.e. to honor the poor in his cause.

 

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

Parshat Matot Masei 5779

Parshat Matot Masei 5779

In commemoration of the ninth yahrzeit of our father and  zaidie, Cecil A. Labow, Zisse Alexander ben Yisrael Meir Halevi, Z”L on the 3rd of AV

“Omikneh  rav  haya  livnai  Reuven , Vilivnai  Gad  Azom  Miod.”  “The children of Reuven and the children of Gad had abundant livestock”(32:1). The question is asked, why the letter vav, because if you read the previous chapter, there doesn’t seem to be a link between it and this chapter. Chapter 31 describes the war with the Midianites, and the vengeance that they took because of  the Midianite women inducing them to sin. Chapter 32 is talking about livestock!  So what’s the connection?

The Alschech states that not a word had been said about the fact the conquered  lands were grazing lands. Now, in connection with the count of the herds of sheep and cattle, and the need to retain grazing lands, this whole matter had become an issue. So the letter vav is indeed necessary, as it links this chapter, this episode, with the count of the spoils taken in Midian.

Reuven and Gad then aggravate Moshe by stating “…Let this land be given to your servants as a possession: do not bring us across the Jordan”(32:5) Moshe answers them “Shall your brethren go out to war, while you sit here”(32:6). He then compared them to the “Miraglim”, the spies, who “dissuaded the Children of Israel not to come to the Land that the Lord had given them”(32:9) . One can discern Moshe’s anger when he tells them that they are “A society of sinful men”(32:14)

Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, in his Book, Eretz Yisrael in The Parshah explains….  In the end, Moshe, after some  clariifications,  amendments, and conditions, agrees to their request. Chazal try to figure out what their “sin” was, and what they said to convince Moshe that they should not be judged harshly. Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni (Hagut BeParshi’ot Ha’Torah) sums up the “sins” Moshe accused them of..(1) Love of material  possessions( 2), rejection of the Chosen Land,  (3) Lack of Jewish Unity. The Midrash underscores these three sins, and show that they are interconnected.

Two rich men arose in the world…Korach from Israel, and Haman from the Gentiles, and both of them were utterly destroyed. Why? Because their gifts were not from the Holy One, Blessed Be He, rather they grabbed it for themselves. You can see the same thing in the Children of Gad, and the Children of Reuven. They were wealthy, and possessed an  abundance   of livestock. But they loved their money, and settled outside the Land of Israel. Therefore, they were exiled first, before all of the other tribes.  What caused this? The fact that they separated themselves from their brethren because of their possessions (BeMidbar Rabbah 22:7)

So we see that their love of money led to the rejection of the Holy Land, and their isolation from  Klal Yisrael. (It is  simply amazing that the Midrash compares the Children of Reuven and Gad to Korach and Haman!)

The Midrash seems to imply that the eastern side of the Jordan is not considered part of Eretz Yisrael, as it is written “they settled outside the land of Israel”. Rav Aviner, in his his “Tal Chermon” asks, “ How can the Children of Reuven and Gad be compared to the Meraglim, the spies, because they displayed a bond for the land, which was destined for them. They did not despise it!. He answers his own question. They  were only concerened with their financial gain. They neglected the unity of the Jewish People, and the fact that Eretz Yisrael belongs to all of Am Yisrael. The conquest of the western side of Eretz Yisrael precedes that of Transjordan, because there are different levels of sanctity in the Land of Israel: The land of Judah, the site of the Sanctuary is the holiest place, then comes the Galilee, and last to come is  the Transjordan.

We must learn the lesson that we must put our priorities in the right place and realize that the future of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael is more important than our own physical comfort.

Prepared by Devorah Bat-Sheva Abenhaim and Martin S. Labow

Parshat Pinchas 5779

Parshat Pinchas 5779

At the very end of last weeks parshah, we read that 24,000 Israelites perished in a plague which was the result of a scheme of Bilaam. Unable to harm B’nai Yisrael through a curse, he had the nation of Moav send their daughters to seduce the men of Israel. The latter were joined by the Midianite women.

This week we are told that Pinchas acted courageously and zealously to stop the immorality that was going on around him. He caused the plague to stop, and was rewarded with “Kehuna”, the priesthood.

In Chapter 25, verse 17, Hashem commands Moses TZAROR ET HA-MIDIANEEM, VI-HEEKAITAM OTAM “Harass the Midianites, and kill them”, to avenge what they did to you.

The obvious question is, why have the Midianites been singled out. Was not Moav also responsible?

Rashi explains that Moav sincerely feared B’nai Yisrael, who would be travelling through their land. Midian, on the other hand joined in a battle which was not theirs to fight. They did so out of pure hatred of Israel.

We read next week in Chapter 31, verse 6, that Moses sent Pinchas to do battle with Midian. Why did he use a “Shaliach”, a messenger to do his battle?

Tosafos explains, that we should remember that after Moses killed the Egyptian Taskmaster, he fled to Midian, and was helped by the people. It would, therefore be wrong for him to lift a hand against a nation that helped him. It was clear to Moses that the way to fulfill the command of Hashem was to have Midian avenged through someone else. Pinchas began the miztvah of defeating Midian, and Moses summoned him to complete the task.

At the beginning of Chapter 27, we read of the daughters of Tzelophchad, who appealed to Moses that they receive their deceased father’s inheritance in the Land of Israel. Their father, after all, was not amongst the insurgents who rebelled against Moses during Korach’s rebellion. Moses consulted Hashem

and was told that they had a valid argument, and that land should be allotted to them.

A few sentences later, Moses asks Hashem to appoint a person to replace him, so that B’nai Yisrael should not be “as sheep without a shepherd”.

Rashi explains the reason why this request immediately follows the episode of Bnot Zelopchad. Moses felt that if the daughters were entitled to inherit the land, were not his own children entitled to be handed the leadership of the people? Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobel explains that Moses was concerned that the very sin that prohibited him entry into the land of Israel would prevent his children a chance at inheriting leadership. When he was told that Zelophchads’ daughters would not suffer from any misdeeds, he realized that his sin had nothing to do with his children. Hashem simply wished that Joshua, Moses own disciple assume the leadership, and lead the nation into the land of Israel.

The parshah ends on a rather unique note. Chapter 29 contains 39 sentences, all of which deal with sacrifices. Nachmanadies explains why this chapter is different. Previously, Moses communicated the instructions exclusively to Aaron and his sons, and here, the detailed instructions are being addressed to all of the Children of Israel.

                                                                                                                   Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim