בראשית ־ BEREISHIT

בראשית ־ BEREISHIT
״ בראשית…״
“In the beginning…” (1:1)
QUESTION: Wh y does the Torah start wit h the letter beit,
the second letter of the Hebrew alef-beit, rather than wit h the
first letter, alef?
ANSWER: The Torah consists of two parts, the Written
Torah and the Oral Torah. The Written Torah starts wit h the
word “bereishit,” and the Oral Torah starts wit h the wor d
“mei’ei’matai” (מאימתי .(Thus, the first letters of the Written and
Oral Torah spell the word “bam” . This alludes to what our
sages tell us (Yoma 19b) on the words “vedibarta bam” — “and
you shall speak of them.” A person should use his speech and
conversation for the study of the Written Torah and the Oral
Torah and not for idle or forbidden talk.
(מגיד תעלומה)


Actually, the Midrash Tanchuma (Berei shit 5) asks this question and answers as follows: “Because alef is the first letter of the word “arur” — “cursed,” whereas beit is the first letter of
the word “baruch” — “blessed.”
But this explanation is difficult to understand. Alef is also
the first letter of beautiful words, such as “emet”— “truth, ” or
“ahavah” — “love,” while beit is also the first letter of bad words
such as “barad” — “hail ” (seventh of the ten plagues of Egypt),
and “bli’ya’al” — wickedness. Why then does the Midrash offer
an explanation that doesn’t seem to fully answer the question?
The Midrash may be alluding to the following: The letters of
the Hebrew alef-beit also serve as numbers. Each has a number-
value — alef equals one, beit, two , and so on. By extension, alef
can mean to care about only one person, oneself, and to forget
about others. Beit, on the other hand, means coexistence, caring
and getting along wit h another.
The Torah starts wit h a beit to teach us that caring about
others is baruch — the source of all blessing, and that alef —
selfish caring only about oneself is arur, cursed.
The explanation of the Midrash thus shows how the very
first letter of the Torah teaches us the importance of ahavat
Yisrael, loving one’s fellow Jew!
A similar idea is expressed in a story told i n the Gemara
(Shabbat 31a). A non-Jew came to Hillel, the great sage and leader
of the Jews in his time, and said to him, “Convert me to Judaism
on the condition that you will teach me the entire Torah while i
stand on one foot.” To do this, Hille l chose a brief teaching that
summarized all of the Torah: “What you dislike, do not do to
others, this is the entire Torah. The rest is an elaboration [of what
is hateful to others and should be avoided].”
Hille l wanted to show this proselyte, at the very beginning
of his journey to Judaism, that the basis of the entire Torah is to
avoid selfishness and to care about others.
(פניני התורה)
״ בראשית ב רא א לק״ם…״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…” (1:1)
QUESTiON: On Simchat Torah, when we finish reading all
five books of the Written Torah, we immediately start reading
all over again from Bereishit. This shows that the Torah has no
end, like a circle which has no beginning or end.
i n this spirit, it is customary when finishing a volume of the
Gemara to explain some connection between the start of the trac¬
tate and its end. The same is true of the Written Torah; how are
the very first word of the Torah and the last words connected?
ANSWER: One connection between the beginning and the
end of the Torah can be understood according to a famous
story related i n the Gemara (Megillah 9a). The Egyptian king,
Ptolemy I I (3476-3515 or 246-285 BCE) commanded 72 Torah
sages to translate the Written Torah into Greek.
He placed them in separate rooms, where they would be
unable to communicate with each other. By placing them in
solitary confinement, he hoped to demonstrate that their
separate translations would reflect many differences of opinion,
proving that the Torah is not Divine in origin (G-d forbid).
Hashem inspired them all to produce the exact same
translation, known among non-Jews to this day as the
Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning “seventy.” Al l 72
sages made certain identical changes from the literal meaning
of the Torah in several places to forestall possible
misunderstandings by non-Jews seeking to confirm their own
mistaken beliefs.
One of these changes was at the beginning of the Torah, i n
the words, “Bereishit bara Elokim.” The sages were worried that
non-Jews, seeking to prove that our Torah substantiates their
belief in the existence of more than one god, would try to bring
proof that some other god called “Bereishit” created G-d!
Therefore, all the sages individually reversed the order of
these words to read, “Elokim bara Bereishit” — “G-d created i n
the beginning.” This shows that G-d is but one, and He was the
First Being and the sole Creator of the world and all other
beings.
This change, however, was only for the sake of non-Jews,
whose mistaken beliefs could bring them to a false
interpretation of the verse. But when Hashem commanded
Moshe to writ e down the words of Torah that He taught him,
He knew that the Jewish people would not misinterpret these
words. He, therefore, told Moshe to write them in their true
order. (Many profound meanings lie in the order of the Torah’s
words and letters.)
This, then, is the connection between the very first words of
the Torah and its last phrase: “Le’einei kol Yisrael” — “before the
eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34:12). Hashem told Moshe that
“le’einei kol Yisroel” — “before the eyes of all Israel,” [he should
write ] “Bereishit bara Elokim,” and there is no need to reverse the
order of the words, since the Jewish people believe i n only one
G-d, and He alone created everything.
(שרית תירוש ויצהר סי קס״ג בשם ספר מגדל דוד)
״ בראשית ב רא א לק״ם״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating.” (1:1)
QUESTION: On this first pasuk of the Torah, the Midrash
(Yalkut Shimoni) says that it will be understood with the saying
“Rosh devarcha emet” — “Your very first utterance is truth “
(Psalms 119:160). What is the connection between these two
passages?
ANSWER: The final letters of the words רא ב בראשית ״
spell the word — “truth. ” The Gemara (Shabbat
55a) says, “Hashem’s signet is .” Hashem exists simultane¬
ously i n the past, present and future. Likewise, the word
is made up of the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew
alef-beit to indicate that truth does not change, it is consistent in
the past, present and future.
The word אמת״ ״ adds up to 441, whose numerals (4+4+1)
add up to 9, and i n mispar katan (“single numerals” —
disregarding the “0” in the numerical value of a Hebrew letter
so that is 2 and is 3, etc.), it also adds up to 9. The
uniqueness of the number 9 is that the digits of all its multiples
always add up to 9 (e.g., 9×73 = 657, 6+5+7 = 18, 1+8 = 9).
Likewise, truth always remains the same and can never be
altered. Similarly, Hashem is true from beginning to end.
Moreover, taking the letters of the Hebrew alef-beit, begin¬
ning with , every three letters together add up to 9 (e.g.
9 = 2+3+4 = ד+ג+ב , and 9 = 2+7 ,27 = 8+9+10 = י+ט+ח , etc.).
The word — “falsehood” — in single numerals
(3+1+2), adds up to 6. Starting with , the alef-beit can be
divided into sequences, each of three consecutive letters, each
of which adds up to six, (e.g. = 1+2+3 = 6, and =
7+8+9 = 24, 2+4 = 6, etc.).

The Midrash is questioning why the Torah begins with and not with . i t answers, since the beginning of Hashem’s
words (לקים״ א רא ב ״בראשית (emphasize the concept of truth,
therefore, the Torah starts wit h , as it is the beginning of the
sequence of groups of letters adding up to 9.
(פון אונזער א לטען אוצר – ד ת ודעת)
״ בראשית ב רא א זיקים א ת ה שמים ו את ה ארץ, ו הארץ ה יתה ת ה ו
ו בהו ו חשך עזי פ ני ת הום… ו יאמר א זיקים יהי א ור״
“In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. And
the earth was formless and empty, with darkness over the
depths…And G-d said: ‘There shall be light.'” (1:1-3)
QUESTION: The word “Torah” is derived from the world
“hora’ah” — “teaching” (see Psalms 19:8, Radak. Zohar Vayikra
53b). What lesson do these very first words of the Torah teach us?
ANSWER: I n a letter to a Bar-Mitzvah boy, the Lubavitcher
Rebbe once wrote that these opening words of the Torah teach
the approach all Jews should take i n serving Hashem. Every
Jew should always remember the three lessons he or she can
learn from these three verses:
1) It was Hashem Himself who created heaven and earth,
and therefore He alone is Master of the world and of
everything within it.
2) A t first the world is dark and empty of Hashem’s light,
but every Jew has his ow n share of the world , which he has to
improve and illuminate.
3) The way to brighten his share of the world is through
“and G-d said” — fulfilling the word of Hashem by studying
Torah and keeping mitzvot. Through this, the Jew accomplishes
his purpose in the world and “There shall be light ” — the
world becomes illuminated with the light of G-d’s Torah.
(אגרות קודש ח״ז להב״מ של א חי הרב שמואל פסח שי׳ באגאמילסקי)
״ויה״ ע רב ויה״ ב קר יום א חד״
“It was evening and it was morning, one day.” (1:5)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah say “yom echad” — “one
day” — and not “yom rishon” — the “first day” (as for the next
five days, which it calls “second,” “third, ” etc.)?
ANSWER: The Midrash calls the Yeitzer Hara, the inner
voice and evil inclination that tells us to do wrong , “evening”
because it brings darkness to the world . “Morning, ” on the
other hand, refers to the Yeitzer Tov, our inner voice that tells us
to do good, for it brings only light to the world .
The innate selfish instincts every child has at birth come
from the Yeitzer Hara. The Yeitzer Tov begins to express itself
only gradually in the child, and is first fully expressed when a
boy turns thirteen years old — Bar Mitzvah. (See Shulchan Aruch
Harav 4:2.)
This, then, is the meaning of the verse: I n man’s life,
“evening” — the Yeitzer Hara — comes first: Then “morning, “
the Yeitzer Tov, comes. When do they first meet, both being
fully expressed? On yom echad: the day a Jew becomes echad, of
which the three Hebrew letters (alef equals one, chet, eight and
daled, four) total thirteen!

Parashat Ha’Azinu / פרשת האזינו

Torah Reading: HA-AZINU, Deuteronomy 32: 1-52
THE SONG OF G-D’S JUSTICE

Some songs are happy, some are sad. Some are for entertainment. Some come to tell a story or teach a lesson. Some express the inner heart and soul. Unique among all songs is the song of Moses in our parashah. HA-AZINU is the song of G-d’s perfect Justice — the ultimate reproof to man.

The Hebrew word for song, SHIRAH, is related to the word SHER, which means a chain or necklace. A song is a chain, thread or structure that connects various particulars together in order to make a meaningful order. As the very climax of the Torah, Moses’ song of HA’AZINU gives order and meaning to the history of the people of Israel with its great highs and terrible lows. Everything comes to show the faultless, inexorable justice of G-d. “The Rock — His work is perfect, for all His ways are Justice, the G-d of faithfulness in Whom there is no wrong, He is righteous and straight!” (Deut. 32:4).

This may be easy to say, but it is very hard to actually know and believe in our heart of hearts. Nevertheless, Moses challenges us to join him in this song of testimony, so that we too will know and declare G-d’s justice. The song is “interactive”: Moses chants, calling upon us to respond. “For I will call upon the Name of HaShem — ascribe greatness to our G-d” (ibid. v. 3). This verse is the Torah source for the prayer leader’s call to prayer and the congregational response, both in the synagogue — BAR’CHU — and at the table introducing the blessings after eating bread — NEVORECH (Brachos 45a). HA-AZINU challenges us to respond: to wake up, see and acknowledge G-d’s truth and justice, and to respond in the proper way, by repenting. HA-AZINU is such an important expression of the essence of Israel’s faith and destiny that some communities had the custom of reciting it daily in the morning prayers together with SHIRAS HAYAM (“Song of the Sea”) (Rambam, Laws of Prayer 7:13). In the Temple, successive portions of HA-AZINU were read every Shabbos in a six-week cycle as part of the service accompanying the Shabbos additional offering (Rambam, Temidim Umusafim 6:9).

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak. Hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (Deut. 32:1). Moses calls upon the heavens and earth, G-d’s impassive, unwaveringly obedient servants, as his witnesses. For mortal man is too devious and full of ploys to be a valid witness — he has a vested interest: he wants to justify himself. “Why did this happen to me? It isn’t fair.” Moses confronts us — the latter generation that he is addressing — with independent testimony that cannot be denied: the actual history of the people of Israel from the very beginning to the very end, for it is all encapsulated in HA-AZINU. “Remember the days of the universe, understand the years of generation after generation; ask your father and he will inform you, your grandfather and they will tell you…” (v. 7). What has happened in the past and what is happening now to Israel is of significance to the entire world. Israel is at the very center. “When the Supreme gave the peoples their inheritance when He spread out the children of man, He established the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the Children of Israel…” (v. 8).

The history of Israel is the history of Adam writ large. Adam was created out of dust and nothingness and placed in G-d’s sublime garden, but he quickly rebelled and sinned, causing G-d to punish and chasten him, in order to make him repent and to cleanse him. Similarly, G-d “found” the Children of Israel in wild, desolate land and built them into a nation, giving them to ride on the high places of the earth — the land of Israel and Jerusalem. But their very good fortune and prosperity became their undoing. “And Yeshurun became fat and he kicked” — causing G-d to let loose all the evils and terrors of persecution and oppression that have plagued the people of Israel for thousands of years. Only when we internalize the message that rebellion leads to nothing but the pain in the end and that we have no recourse except in G-d — only then will G-d relent and swing everything around to goodness and blessing — VE-ZOT HABRACHAH (the closing parashah of the Torah).

* * *

G-D ALWAYS HAS THE UPPER HAND

We cannot escape from G-d and His Covenant, with its privileges, responsibilities and its terrible sanctions. The stark severity of the message of HA-AZINU may cause discomfort among those in today’s obese, irreverent world who seek a sweet, undemanding spirituality that complements and enhances contemporary lifestyle without causing any radical upsets. People are bewildered by the war, terror, crime, disease and other scourges afflicting us, but we would like to see them as mere aberrations that should be able to be eliminated if only we could apply sufficient human ingenuity. HA-AZINU teaches the futility of trying to overcome these G-d-sent scourges without confronting the rebelliousness and deviousness in our own hearts. G-d always has the upper hand. “For I am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill and make alive, I struck the blow and I will heal, and none can save from My hand” (v. 39).

“If only they would be wise and apply their intelligence to this, and understand their latter end. How could one chase after a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight if not because their Rock sold them and HaShem delivered them?” (vv. 29-30). How could it be that small groups of Nazis were able to uproot thousands from their homes and towns and lead them literally like lambs to the slaughter? How could it be that today a people that are not a people have the whole world dancing to their tune, while small cells of terrorist torment and demoralize the entire population? How can this be if not that it is G-d’s doing?

If it is true that our sins as a nation have brought us great suffering, it must also be true that the stirrings of Teshuvah in our hearts will also prove to be the channel for abundant blessing and peace. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that when Israel accepted the Torah, their essential wisdom lay in their willingness to throw away their own sophisticated wisdom and humbly submit themselves completely to G-d’s superior wisdom. Rabbi Nachman brings proof from Onkelos’ Aramaic translation of the verse in HA-AZINU: “O foolish people and not wise” (Deut. 32:6) — “O nation that received the Torah and was not sophisticated” (see Likutey Moharan I:123).

We cannot redeem ourselves with sophisticated ploys but only through taking the ancient, unglamorous path of Teshuvah — honest self-scrutiny, remorse, contrition, owning up to the foolishness and evil in our own hearts and taking ourselves in hand in order to better fulfill G-d’s commandments. HA-AZINU calls to repent with all our hearts and come home to G-d as we stand before Him in prayer during these Days of Awe. Repentance — Teshuvah — is the hallmark of the true savior, Melech Mashiach, as personified in David, the messianic king of Israel. David came to complete the work of Moses in rectifying the original sin of Adam. The striking fact about David is that he sinned. His greatness lay in the fact that he had the courage to acknowledge it and to repent. The true Messiah is Yeshua, not a flawless, superhuman saint who rides on clouds of glory. He is one who — on his level — knows sin and knows the devices of man’s heart. And he knows that only G-d can rectify It through Yeshua.

“Cleanse me of my sin and purify me from my transgression… O G-d, create in me a pure heart and renew within me a proper spirit… I will teach sinners Your ways and transgressors will return to You” (Psalm 51).

As soon as we learn that there is no other way but to repent, we will be redeemed. And then: “Sing aloud — O you nations — of His people, For He does avenge the blood of His servants and render vengeance to His adversaries, and will make atonement for the land of His people.”

Shabbat Shalom! Shanah Tovah! Gmar ChaTimah Tovah!

Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech / פרשת נצבים־וילך

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe continues to address the Jewish people and to impress upon them the importance of keeping the Torah properly, and the reward which will be afforded to those who do, and on the flip side, the severity of the recompense a person will receive for not adequately abiding by the Torah’s holy laws.  However, there is one particular equation in this week’s Parsha which does not seem to add up correctly.  The Torah says that if a person says to himself, “I will go upon my path, everything will be okay”, Hashem will not forgive him and the verses go on to say the terrible punishment he will receive.  I believe that this “non-commensurate” response requires a bit of explanation.

The famous Mashgiach, R’ Chazkal Levenstein explains beautifully that when a person says to himself that he will embark on his path and everything will be fine, he is lacking the most rudimentary and fundamental trait that a Jew is required to possess – the fear of Heaven.  A person who fosters a cavalier attitude about his life and his actions has no hope of ever returning to Torah observance, whereas a person who visualizes the consequences of his actions assumes a true level of responsibility for his misdeeds, and will do everything in his power to ensure that his mistakes are not repeated.  It is specifically for this reason that the Torah tilts all the punishment dials to the right when it comes to this kind of stance.  It is to show us how far we need to stay away from this casual approach and how necessary it is for us to work on our level of fear of retribution for our actions.  We have to always drive home the reality that if we sin, there will be very real and very unpleasant countermeasures for that sin, and allow the fear of those countermeasures to always motivate us to do the right thing.

The famous Tosafos in Shabbos (88) ask a fantastic question.  The Gemorah teaches us that in order for Hashem to have ensured that the Jews would accept the Torah properly, He held a mountain over their heads and said, “If you accept the Torah, then fine, and if you don’t, you will now be buried”.  Needless to say, they accepted the Torah.  Tosafos ask if the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai with the famous remark “נעשה ונשמע” – “We will do, and then we will hear”, why was it necessary for Hashem to then go and hold a mountain over their heads?  Tosafos give their own answer, but The Maharal from Prague answers that although the Jews at Sinai were enthused with a predominant desire to do the will of Hashem forever the moment they uttered that famous declaration, we all know that when the inspiration which led to that moment would begin to die down with time, their resolve may not hold as strong as it once was.  I am sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this statement of the Maharal in our own lives.  It was precisely for this reason that Hashem held a mountain over their heads.  It was to teach them that although inspiration is wonderful, it is not enough.  We need to always maintain a constant level of trepidation at the thought of transgressing the word of the Torah.  This fear and this alone will be instrumental in helping us to keep our lusts in check during a time of temptation.  When we feel a pull toward a particular sin, there is a specific commandment in the Torah to arouse ourselves to feel terrified about the retribution we will receive if we cannot hold our excitement for that sin at bay, and the Torah is teaching us that only this type of fight will truly be effective at curbing our passions.

R’ Yitzchak B’lazar asks a fascinating question.  He proposes that if fear of Heaven is so integral to our service, then it should have been hardwired into our system, much the same way fear of danger or survival instincts is.  Why wouldn’t Hashem have built us with these components if He expected us to succeed in our service of Him?  R’ Yitzchak explains that had we possessed the same fear of Hashem that we do of worldly dangers, we would essentially be robots.  The factor which makes us human, and differentiates us from every other inhabitant of this earth, is our ability to choose right from wrong.  If we would fear Hashem like we do a shark, there would be no room for us to err.  You don’t find many human beings swimming in shark infested water.  Although it is difficult to reach this level of fear, this is exactly what we were created to do.

What are some practical methods a person can use to achieve a higher plane of consciousness in this area?  Firstly, it goes without saying that learning Mussar with great enthusiasm and fervor is certainly effective in increasing one’s general level of awareness of Hashem.  Another powerful tool one can implement is to boost his feeling during the prayer and blessings he recites during the day.  But I would like to share with you something R’ Nachum Zev from Kelm used to do.  He would go every week to visit the sick people in the hospital in order to help enhance his fear of Heaven.  He would explain that although we all know that Hashem is running the world, and we could be sick or healthy at any time of day based on His say so, Chazal says we cannot compare knowing something to seeing it.  When one sees the terrible disfigurements and suffering a human being can become exposed to based on no bad choices of his own, one will certainly begin to inculcate a very real sense of reward and punishment, and how vulnerable we really are at any given time.

During this period we find ourselves in, fear of Heaven is probably the most precious commodity a human being can have in his possession.  Although it is somewhat difficult to come by, let us look to the Gedolim for some examples of outstanding success in achieving fear of Hashem.  The famous Rebetzin Yaffe writes about her father the Beis Halevi; “During the month of Elul, my father was virtually inaccessible.  There was a palpable fear in the air as if there were some capital court case about to happen, and my father was on trial, and if he lost, he would be taken out to the gallows to be hung publicly.”  One of the Brisker Rav’s students once asked him whether or not all the scary feelings Chazal write about the month of Elul are to be taken literally.  The Brisker Rav responded, “of course they are.  In fact, two week’s before Rosh Hashana, I can’t even taste any of my food!”  Once another student met the Rav on the street shortly before Rosh Hashana and asked him how he was feeling.  The Rav responded that he was feeling a little scared about the upcoming judgment and that he needed to repent.  The student asked the Rav in surprise if even the Rav needed to repent.  The Rabbi looked at the man like he was crazy, and asked his Gabbai to check if the student had suffered any sort of brain injury, and remained upset at that question the rest of the day.  Although these giants clearly were able to attain an extremely heightened sense of fear of Heaven, and we are perhaps just taking baby steps to make inroads into our development, it behooves us to do everything in our power to avoid the attitude we described above in this week’s Parsha that everything will be fine, regardless of our actions, and instead replace it with one of genuine concern that our behavior is not quite up to par, and return to Hashem with all of our hearts.

May we all merit to work on our level of fear of Heaven and earn a wonderful sweet new year filled with every blessing!

PARSHAH KI TETZE

Torah Reading: KI TETZE

49) Ki Tetze:
Torah: Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-11
New Testament: Mark 1:1-14, Matthew 24:29-42, Ephesians 6:10-18

THE HOME AND THE FAMILY

The opening mitzvah of the parshah, that of the beautiful captive, takes us directly inside the home, which is where the captive is taken to “grow her hair and nails”. Life in the home and in the family is a central theme throughout the parshah. Immediately following the law of the beautiful captive comes a hint of marital discord (the hated wife), followed by the Torah law of family inheritance and the birthright. This is followed by the law of the gluttonous son, whose penalty is to be stoned to death. The requisite amounts of meat and wine the gluttonous son would have to imbibe were so gigantic that in practice no one would ever fulfill all the conditions that would make them liable to the death penalty. The Torah does not want to kill the son, but rather to teach the essence of good parenting, from childhood onwards and especially during puberty and adolescence. Children need not be given everything they want. They must be taught to listen to the voice of mother and father, wisdom and understanding.

The education of girls for the life of Torah and the holiness of Israel is no less important than that of boys. The stoning of the girl whose new husband found her to have been unfaithful after their betrothal is not only a terrible punishment for the girl. It is a bitter lesson for her father, outside whose house the execution takes place. “See the offspring you have raised” (Rashi on Deut. 22:21). The holiness of the Israelite home and family is based upon KIDDUSHIN, the act of betrothal whereby husband and wife sanctify and dedicate themselves to one another. In bringing up a new generation, the parental duty is to ensure that girls understand the holiness and seriousness of marriage and of marital fidelity. They must understand what is happening to their pubescent bodies and the attendant dangers in the outside world and from the lurking Evil Urge. This education is particularly important today, when the world is flooded with a culture that encourages teenagers to think of nothing but sexual attraction and romance all day every day. The laws of rape and seduction in our parshah underline how carefully parents must protect their daughters (and sons). Protection must start by lovingly teaching our children about the uniqueness and holiness of Israel and the special level of conduct required of BNEY MELACHIM, children of kings — “for your are children of HaShem”.

Our parshah contains the laws of marriage and divorce that make up most of SEDER NASHIM, the Order of the Mishneh relating to these areas. These include the laws of YIBUM, the Levirate marriage, and CHALITZA, the ceremony for nullifying it, with all their many secrets. Many of the basic laws of KIDDUSHIN and NISU’IM, betrothal and marriage, are learned from verses in our parshah, as are the laws of the GET, “bill of divorce”. The prohibition against a divorced woman who married another man from subsequently remarrying her first husband sets Israel apart from the alien culture that licenses switching back and forth from one partner to another. The holiness of the bond between husband and wife is founded on its exclusiveness. In the realities of life in the world we live in, divorce is sometimes necessary and must be carried out with the proper procedure. However, there is no doubt that the Torah prefers not to license divorce (which “makes the altar-stones weep”) but rather that man and wife should joyously build their home together to fulfil “and your camp shall be holy” (Deut. 23:15) for many long, good years. The first year of marriage sets the foundation for all that follows. In that year the groom is commanded that “he make joyous his wife that he took” (Deut. 24:5). The surest foundation for joy in the home is the study and practice of the Torah.

Bound up with the laws of marriage are the laws relating to personal status and those entitled to enter the community of Israel. The community excludes male Ammonites and Moabites (though King David himself was descended from a Moabitess), and Egyptians and Edomites to the third generation. A different status is that of the MAMZER, who as the child of an incestuous relationship of Israelites is also inherently flawed and may not marry into the community. The purpose of these laws is to protect the purity of the Israelite family.

The home is a private domain — so much so that even a creditor may not enter to take a pledge but must wait outside for the debtor to bring it out. But while the home is private, it must be a place of dignity so that G-d’s holy Presence may dwell there. Dignity begins with personal hygiene and cleanliness, which is why the Torah commands us to attend to our physical needs “outside the camp” and properly cover the waste. Within our homes, we are free to do all that the Torah permits, but we must keep our eyes open and take precautions against potential dangers. “Make a parapet for your roof”. The law to make a parapet to prevent someone falling off the roof is the foundation of the general Torah law that potential hazards of all kinds should be removed (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat #427). Not only does the Torah govern how we build our homes. It even governs the clothes we wear: we may not wear mixtures of wool and linen, and men must wear Tzitztis. The Tzitzis are the first line of defense against immorality (which is why the commandment of wearning Tzitzis immediately precedes the laws of the betrothed maiden). A man must not wear women’s clothes or ornaments and vice versa.

MAKING A LIVING: BETWEEN MAN AND HIS FELLOW

Commandments relating to making a living — from plowing the land to loans and the money economy — also take up major parts of parshas KI SEITZEI. Just as the separation between Israel and the nations is part of G-d’s order, so is the separation between different species of animals and vegetables. One must not drive the plow with an ox and a donkey together. One may not plant one field with diverse species. What distinguishes Israel is the trait of kindness and compassion, which must be carefully cultivated. When harvesting the crops, gifts must be left for the unfortunate and the needy: the proselyte, the widow, the orphan and the poor. The farmer must even be sensitive to the feelings of his ox: while threshing, he may not muzzle the ox to prevent it munching on some of the produce while at work.

Relevant to all are the laws governing the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees. The employee must work industriously and may not abuse the privileges the Torah gives him. Having completed his work, he is entitled to prompt payment: now the mitzvah is on the employer. The laws in our parshah relating to the money economy include those of giving interest-free loans to fellow Israelites and the strict prohibition of taking interest (RIBIS). Business activity is to be governed by the laws of fair weights and measures.

Not only are we bound to conduct our business dealings with integrity. We are responsible for the property of others if they loose it — our parshah contains the laws of lost property. And if our friend gets into trouble — if his donkey can’t carry the load — we must help him rearrange the load.

* * *

DOUBLE STANDARDS — AND AMALEK

The detailed laws in our parshah culminate in what on one level is a business law — the prohibition of keeping a big and a small weight: a big weight to use in weighing what one buys, and a small weight in weighing what one sells. We are to use one standard in our business dealings, and likewise, one standard in all of our judgments and evaluations: the Torah standard. We may not judge ourselves and those we like favorably while judging those outside our preferred circle unfavorably. We are to examine ourselves and others and everything in our lives with sobriety, carefully examining to see how things measure up according to the Torah standard. It is this that protects us from Amalek.

From the proximity of the prohibition of double standards to the law of remembering and wiping out Amalek, we learn that having double standards is what brings the scourge of Amalek. The war against Amalek is a theme during this month of Elul, just as it is in the month of Adar, which is six months earlier and diagonally opposite/facing Elul in the circle of the months. Just as fighting Amalek is necessary in Adar in preparation for Nissan, the month of redemption, so it is necessary as part of the Teshuvah process during Elul as we approach Rosh HaShanah and the Days of Awe.

Amalek “encountered you [KORCHO] on the way” (Deut. 25:18). The Rabbis stated that Amalek “cooled [KAR] you” — When the Israelites were flushed with joy and innocent fervor immediately after the Exodus, Amalek attacked with demoralization and despair. Amalek attacked with MIKREH, “chance” — the philosophy that there is no order in the universe and that therefore everything is permitted. Amalek attacked with KERI, the wasteful emission of seed through sexual permissiveness and immorality. These are the very opposite of the holiness that is the foundation of Israel.

The alien culture around us is now reaching its climax in the espousal of the unholy. The Torah states that a man shall not wear the clothes and ornaments of a woman, and vice verse. Yet the alien culture is obsessed with gender and cross gender issues, and has legitimized homosexual relationships — an abomination in the eyes of the Torah — to the point that the countries which consider themselves most advanced are those that have legislated to give homosexual couples the same rights and benefits as husbands and wives. The Midrash clearly states that giving sanction to homosexual marriages brings ANDROLOMUSIA — chaos in which the innocent suffer with the guilty. We can see with our own eyes how the very world that has sanctioned this mockery of marriage is reeling from the fires of war and terror, crime, violence, economic recession, disease…

The foundation of the holiness of Israel has nothing to do with this mockery of marriage, this vain emission of seed. The foundation of the holiness of Israel is KIDDUSHIN, the sacred bond of marriage and fidelity between man and his wife. This is the foundation of family, continuity, the education of children, refinement, modesty, compassion and all other good traits.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parashat Shoftim / פרשת שופטים

When the Torah tells us two things in practically the same breath, we can be sure that they are very closely related. Yet sometimes the connection is somewhat obscure, and we are completely dependent on the guidance of the Talmud to enlighten us.

In this week’s Torah reading, we are instructed to appoint judges of the highest integrity, people who are honest, upright and unwavering, people who would never consider taking bribes or otherwise corrupting the process of justice. Side by side with these laws is the prohibition against planting an asheirah tree, a species commonly worshipped in the pagan societies of the Near East.

What is the connection between these two apparently unrelated topics?

The Talmud tells us that the appointment of an unworthy judge is comparable to planting an asheirah tree.

Illuminating but not completely enlightening. The corruption of justice and idolatrous practices are both unarguably very grave transgressions, but how are they related to each other? What specific kinship places them on a common ground?

The commentators explain that the asheirah tree has marvelous natural beauty, as do all the other trees the Creator implanted in this world. But through their idolatrous practices, people have transformed this thing of pristine beauty into an abomination. Although the asheirah tree still retains its enchanting exterior, its very essence has been corrupted, and therefore, it is forbidden to plant such a tree. The Torah compares people to “the trees in the field.” People are also dominant and exceptionally beautiful fixtures on the natural landscape of the world. Some of them, endowed with special talents and abilities, are even more outstanding. They exude an aura of wisdom and integrity that seem to make them ideal choices to serve as the magistrates of society.

Beware, warns the Torah. Do not be taken in by exterior appearances. This seemingly ideal candidate for judicial office may be nothing more than an asheirah tree. If he is guilty of the slightest bribery or any other subversion of perfect justice, he has become an abomination, and all his cleverness, wisdom and charisma mean nothing.

A king was seeking a suitable candidate for a ministerial office which had become vacant. He invited a number of promising government officials to his palace for a conference on the pressing problems facing that ministry. The most knowledge official would be offered the post.

The king prepared a royal table for his guests, with the finest foods and beverages and an assortment of exotic fruits which could not be found anywhere else in the realm.

At the conference, one official, in particular, stood out among all the rest. He was a highly personable man who spoke with eloquence, wisdom, and wit. His grasp of the issues and problems was exceptional, and the solutions he offered were clever and insightful. After an hour, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be chosen, but to everyone’s surprise, the king chose another man.

The disappointed candidate approached the king. “Your majesty, why was I passed over for the post? Am I not the most qualified by far?” “Take out what you have in your right pocket,” said the king.

The man flushed crimson. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a persimmon. “Your majesty, for such a minor matter I lost the post?” he said. “It is nothing but a tiny fruit that I wanted to take home to my family.”

“It is indeed a very minor thing,” said the king. “And if you had asked, I would surely have given you a basketful to take home. But when I saw you slip that persimmon into your pocket I knew I could never trust you.”

In our own lives, we are all impressed by the glittering people we encounter, people who sparkle with personality, wisdom, talent and extraordinary accomplishment. But those are not necessarily the best people. We wouldn’t buy a car without taking a good look under the hood. In the same way, we should not invest admiration in this glitterati without asking ourselves if there is true goodness behind the façade if there is kindness, humility, and integrity. Those are the qualities we should admire and emulate. Those are the qualities that will make us better people. Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.

Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.

Parashat Re’eh / פרשת ראה

Parsha Summary for Parshas Reeh

Note: The Shabbos Torah Reading is divided into 7 sections. Each section is called an Aliya [literally: Go up] since for each Aliya, one person “goes up” to make a bracha [blessing] on the Torah Reading.


1st and 2nd Aliyot: Moshe instructs the Chosen People to eradicate any remnant of idolatry and strengthen all aspects of service to G-d. All offerings must be brought to the “Chosen” place, the Bais Hamikdash, so that worship is an act of humility and selflessness, rather than a self-indulging “need”. An even greater danger to our uniqueness is the innate desire to compromise and assimilate Torah values with other forms of worship. (the Chanukah bush syndrome)

3rd and 4th Aliyot: Moshe forewarned the Jews against incorporating any pagan practices, and against the false prophet, idolatrous missionaries, and the Ir Hanidachas – the Apostate City. These must be destroyed along with their material belongings. When using the wo​_rld in accordance with the wishes of the Creator, we declare the existence of a Creator who has a divine purpose for creating the material world. When we misuse the physical in the service of “gods who are not G-d”, we negate the Creator’s purpose for creating the universe. Therefore, they and all their belongings must be destroyed.

5th, 6th, and 7th Aliyot: The remainder of the Parsha, details those Mitzvos that set us apart from all other nations: Kashrus; Maasros – Tithes; the Shmitah – sabbatical year; the laws regarding lending money; the Eved Ivri – a Jew who is a slave; the consecration of the first-born animal, and a review of the main Yomim Tovim – holidays: Pesach, Shavouth, and Succoth.

Rav S.R. Hirsch points out that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not reviewed in Sefer Divarim because there were no changes in the practices of those Yomim Tovim when living in the desert or living in Eretz Yisroel. (Intro. to Divarim)

Parashat Re’eh (פרשת ראה): The Three Pilgrimages…

By Rav. PhilJ Alcide, PhD

Blessing before reading the Torah:   

 

Praise Hashem, to whom our praise is due! Praised be Hashem, to whom our praise is due now and forever! Blessed is Hashem our God, Ruler of the universe, who has chosen us from all peoples by giving us the Torah. Blessed is Hashem, Giver of the Torah.

Reading: “שלוש פעמים ׀ בשנה יראה כל־זכורך את־פני ׀ יהוה אלהיך במקום אשר יבחר בחג המצות ובחג השבעות ובחג הסכות ולא יראה את־פני יהוה ריקם איש כמתנת ידו כברכת יהוה אלהיך אשר נתן־לך”

Transliteration

  • “shalosh pe’anim bashanah yera’eh kal zekhurekha et penei adonai eloheikha bamaqom asher yivchar b’chag hamatzot ub’chag hashavuot ub’chag hasukkot v’lo yera’eh et penei adonai reqam ish kematenat yado k’birkat adonai eloheikha asher natan lakh ” (Devarim 16 : 16-17)

Translation:

  • “Three times a year all your males should appear before Hashem your God in the place that He will choose: on the Festtival of Matzot, on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot. And he shall not appear before Hashem empty-handed, everyone according to what he can give, according to the blessing that Hashem, your God, gives you.” (Deut.16: 16-17)

Blessing after reading the Torah:

Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, implanting within us eternal life. Blessed is the Lord, Giver of the Torah.

This week’s Parshah covers a lot of material. We would be dizzy if we were to go over them all right now. We would be amazed as well. Yet, I choose to focus on a very small section that will do just as much. Please, accept my apology. Why three times a year? Why only male must appear? Where is the place to appear? Why not empty-handed? These are some of the questions that I will explore with you but before that let us make a b’rachah (say a blessing):

  • Baruch Atah adonai eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam yihyu l’ratson imrei-fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha adonai tsuri v’goali [Amen]
  • Blessed are you Hashem our G-d, king of the universe. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you Hashem, my Rock and my Redeemer [Amen]

It is interesting to note that during the forty years that the Israelites lived in the wilderness they were never commanded to appear before Hashem any number of times a day, a week, a month, or a year. However, it is only before they enter the Promised Land that they are reminded to present themselves three times a year “before Hashem” and “at the place He will choose.” This command is known in our circles as “shalosh regalim” or three pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage

What is a pilgrimage? What purpose does it serve? In the Encyclopedia Britannica (2011) we read:

  • “A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for a religious motive. Although some pilgrims have wandered continuously with no fixed destination, pilgrims more commonly seek a specific place that has been sanctified by association with a divinity or other holy personage…Given its presence in so many different cultural and historical contexts, no single meaning can be attributed to the act of pilgrimage. Structural similarities are discernible, however, across disparate traditions of sacred travel. Pilgrimage usually entails some separation (alone or in a group) from the everyday world of home, and pilgrims may mark their new identity by wearing special clothes or abstaining from physical comforts. Frequently, pilgrimages link sacred place with sacred time…Apart from involving movement across physical and cultural landscapes toward a sacred goal, pilgrimages frequently involve ritual movements at the site itself…A factor that unites pilgrimage locations across different religions is the sense, variously expressed, that a given place can provide privileged access to a divine or transcendent sphere…In all religious traditions, hierarchies of sites are evident, as some places are regarded as more sacred than others.”

Why three times a year?

In the book of Joshua we read:

  • “So the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book, and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions.” (Josh.18: 9-10)

This establishes the Israelites as sedentary people now. They are no longer wandering in the wilderness. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read,

  • “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Eccl.4: 12)

The number three here seems to serve at least two purposes in relation to the pilgrimage. The first one is that it is an opportunity for the Israelites to show gratitude to Hashem. The second one is an opportunity to show that they have confidence in Hashem as a partner in the covenant (Exod.34: 24). A third one is to confirm the everlasting character of the covenant through the principle of the three witnesses (Deut.19: 15). Therefore, the three pilgrimages are the eternal witnesses and testimony of what Hashem has done for the Israelites. This is very important to remember.

Why only male must appear?

The ancient Israelites never understood this to exclude women. In fact, in the book of Samuel we read:

  • “There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” (1 Sam.1: 1-7)

If women were not allowed appear before Hashem, then why did Penninah and Hannah go up with their husband Elkanah? Who was this man anyway? Why didn’t any of his wives ask him to leave the other as the ultimate proof of his love for her? Does the Torah forbid a man to have more than one wife? We must be very careful not to read in the Bible what is not there, things that are informed by anti-Bible biases. Interestingly, the text says:

  • “When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.” “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.” (1 Sam.1: 21-23)

Here, as you can see, Hannah chose not to appear before Hashem simply because she was nursing a newborn child. However, she made clear that she would continue to appear before Hashem when the boy is old enough. Her husband agreed with her. He didn’t tell her that she was not commanded to go. What we understand is that women are exempt from performing certain mitzvot simply because of who they are, which determines the role that they play in the community. Men, on the other hand, do not enjoy the privilege of exemption under any circumstance. Therefore, the omission of women in the text is not due to sexism but to accommodate their exalted status. It is that simple. One must read the text in its context, as a Hebrew would read it in the light of his tradition. Also, men that were ritually unclean could not present themselves before Hashem even if they were commanded to appear.

Where is the place to appear?

Traditionally, the place has always been where the priesthood is quartered. The first place was Shiloh. After that, it became Jerusalem. Should we really focus on a particular place, a physical location? In the time of exile, as right now, and before that during the Babylonian captivity, where is the place? We cannot go to Jerusalem because we do not have a Temple there nor a priesthood. Yet the power of pilgrimage as a metaphor may be retained even in contexts apparently unfavorable to its practice. We must, therefore, understand why Hashem commanded us to appear before Him three times a year. Is there a place that Hashem is not? David, in Psalm 139, answered with a resounding “no”. The point of the pilgrimages then is to bring people together. It is not the physical place that is really the focus but the “unity of people”. Wherever people are united this is where Hashem chooses. This idea is clearly stated in Psalm 133, where it is written:

  • “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Ps.133: 1-3)

The Three pilgrimages have one thing in common. They are all “Shabbat days”. In other words, they are set apart for a particular purpose. The place is “in time” because it is time that Hashem “made holy”. Man made a place holy. Which is greater: what G-d sanctifies or what man sanctifies? A place can be destroyed but time cannot be destroyed. We will always have the opportunity to appear before Hashem as long as we are alive. Let us briefly look at each pilgrimage:

Pesach or Passover began and remains a family holiday. It symbolizes in words and deeds the ideal of freedom (Gen.1: 26-27). It is associated with the Exodus from Egypt. On this holiday we are commanded not to eat yeast. The sages taught:

  • “Leaven represents the evil impulse of the heart” (Talmud, Berachot 17a)

Pesach, therefore, teaches us to subdue our appetite and control what we eat.

Shavuot or “feast of weeks” is traditionally known by many names each of which reflects the agricultural nature of the holiday celebrated in the Spring. The Bible nowhere associates the holiday of Shavuot with G-d’s revelation on Mount Sinai. The Talmud (Pesachim 68b), however, does make an association between the two. The connection was established when scholars, following the biblical account, calculated that the dates of the agricultural festival of Shavuot and the event at Mount Sinai coincided. In this Parshah, the reason for the observance of Shavuot is that “we were once slaves in Egypt”.

Sukkot or “feast of booths” was originally an agricultural holiday. We are told to remember that the Israelites people lived in booths when G-d took them out of Egypt. It marks the beginning of the rainy season. Therefore, it became known as a Day of Judgment for Rain.

Why not empty-handed? 

All three pilgrimages refer to the Exodus from Egypt, which is G-d’s greatest act of love to the Israelites. G-d gives because He loves. Therefore, we must demonstrate our love by giving back. This is the law. Therefore, Solomon taught:

  • “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of your crops.” (Prov.3: 9)

The three pilgrimages give us a framework to test our own obedience and gratitude. They provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. They invite us to take journeys without leaving our physical place. We are to go into the depth of our soul each time to meet with our G-d. Also, the pilgrimages provide us with opportunities for redemption. What are we to be redeemed from? Our sages, by linking Chametz (yeast) to the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), teach us that we are to be redeemed from our evil inclination, the Yetzer Hara. Who can redeem us and how? G-d answers, saying:

  • “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen.4: 7)

G-d has already provided for us in all aspects of our lives. He gives us opportunities to prove ourselves worthy. He gives us the Torah, a Covenant of Peace, a Pact of Friendship. Now it is up to us to show Him how much we love him. Notice that out of 365 days we are only commanded to make three pilgrimages. The rest of the year concerns our treatment of others. We cannot present ourselves before G-d favorably if we neglect our neighbor or oppress them in any way. We are different and receive differently from G-d. Therefore, we cannot look at what others give to G-d when we want to present gifts to Him. How good has G-d been to you? How much has He given you? How much does he ask you to give Him?

Shabbat Shalom,

Reference

pilgrimage. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.