Va’etchanan 5781

parashas Va’etchanan 5781

“Ye that did cleave unto the L-RD your G-d are alive every one of you this day.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach

During Moshe’s speech that lasted thirty-seven days, he prepared B’nei Yisrael to enter the Promised Land.  He cautioned them, admonished them, and reminded them in a tactful way of previous sins.  Rather than naming the sins, he would mention the place where the transgressions occurred.

One such instance that appears a little more direct is when he mentions the matter of Baal-peor, whereof H’Shem punished “all the men that followed the Baal of Peor [the deity of the Midianites]” (Deuteronomy 4:3).  He further mentions that those who cleaved to H’Shem, rather than follow the deity, “are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

This juxtaposition makes it clear that those who did not transgress through idolatry and licentiousness were preserved by H’Shem because they “cleaved” to Him.  The Hebrew word used for “cleave,” in this instance, is “deveykut.”  The word connotes a clinging to H’Shem in the sense of one who is dependent on Him for his sense of well-being.

Deveykut is necessary for hitbodedut (Jewish meditation).  Within the practice of hitbodedut, one pours out his heart to H’Shem, hoping for an answer to all of his prayers.  Yet, in complete deveykut, one lives his life in constant acknowledgement of the L-RD.  Furthermore, he is able to speak to H’Shem from within in his heart in the quiet moments of the day. May we avoid the secular deities of modern society, so that we can cleave to the L-RD in our own lives.

Our Ingathering

B”H

וְאֶתְכֶם לָקַח יְהֹוָה וַיּוֹצִא אֶתְכֶם מִכּוּר

 “You hath the L-RD taken and brought forth out of the iron furnace.”

 – Deuteronomy 4:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Rashi explains, “a כור is a vessel in which one refines gold” (sefaria.org). Moshe’s choice of words, attempts to impress upon the new generation, that the nisyanos (challenges) in Egypt, were meant to serve as a means to refine the people. Consider that when gold is placed in “a refiner’s fire,” the impurities are drawn out; consequently, what remains is pure. On the level of practical application, the soul is also refined, through the challenges of life, in order to be free from taint.

Consider the following as well, Joseph, who went ahead of the children of Israel into Egypt, endured many challenges, “until the time that His word came to pass; the word of the L-rd had tested him” (Psalms 105:19). His character was refined in the refiner’s fire, in preparation for his role as a leader in Egypt, only second to Pharoah. In this manner, he was tested, until his prophetic dreams were fulfilled by H’Shem, through the circumstances of his life.

Moshe continues, “The L-RD shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the L-RD shall lead you away” (Deuteronomy 4:27). “From thence ye will seek the L-RD thy G-d; and thou shalt find Him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). These words are addressed to the current generation; this is denoted by the phrase, “the end of days,” wherein we currently are on the Biblical timeline.

בַּצַּר לְךָ וּמְצָאוּךָ כֹּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּאַֽחֲרִית הַיָּמִים וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְשָֽׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלֽוֹ׃

“In thy distress, when all these things are come upon thee in the end of days, thou wilt return to H’Shem thy G-d, and hearken unto His voice; for the L-RD thy G-d is a merciful G-d; He will not fail thee.” – Deuteronomy 4:30-31

“G-d assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders” (Deuteronomy 4:34). So too, will He lead us out of exile. As the sages note, the time that precedes the Final Redemption, will mirror the plagues that preceded the First Redemption, when B’nei Yisrael was led out of Egypt. “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Pleading for an Undeserved Favor

“And I besought [implored] H’Shem at that time, saying: ‘O L-rd G-D, thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy mighty acts?  Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.'”

– Deuteronomy 3:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe was considered the humblest man alive; yet, he spoke in anger, and transgressed at the waters of Meribah when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as H’Shem had commanded; therefore, he was not permitted to enter Canaan.  Moshe pleads for H’Shem’s mercy in an attempt to ask Him to annul His decree that he would not enter the Promised Land.  However, he is only permitted to view the Promised Land from the top of a mountain (see Deuteronomy 3:26). According to Rashi, even though Moshe was denied entrance into Eretz Yisrael, he was received into Olam Haba .

Vaeschanan – I implored.  Rashi further comments that the verb chanan, signifies a gift given out of kindness or grace. “Although the righteous might make a claim to reward depend upon their good deeds, yet they solicit from the Omnipresent only an ex gratia gift” – a gift given out of kindness, not dependent upon merit (Rashi on Deuteronomy 3:23, sefaria.org). In looking at ourselves, we should acknowledge our lowliness, and our own need to seek G-d’s mercy. If we were to consider all of the ways that we offend H’Shem, how can we even stand before Him? “Not in the merit of our righteousness do we cast our supplications before you, but in the merit of Your mercy” (morning prayers).     

 

Turn Again

“What is meant by, ‘Surely he scorneth the scorners, but he giveth grace unto the lowly’ [Proverbs 3:34]? If one comes to defile himself, he is given an opening; if one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped.”  – Talmud Shabbos 104a

The Sages teach, based on the above Talmudic passage, and the configuration of the Hebrew letter, “hei,” that H’Shem will “give grace unto the lowly” to do teshuvah (repentance) through the narrow way.  This is represented by the small space towards the top of the letter hei – ה – the narrow gate that leads towards teshuvah (repentance). On the other hand, “surely he scorneth scorners” can be understood to mean that G-d will also give occasion to those whose way is stubbornly opposed to following G-d’s word. The scorners are bent on following their own way that leads to “defilement;” for them, the way is broad, symbolized by the broad space at the bottom of the letter hei: ה.

“Know whence you came and to where you are going and before Whom you are destined to give a final accounting.” – Pirkei Avos 3:1

“The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge.”

– R’ Nachman of Breslov

Steady Course

“There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea.” – Deuteronomy 1:2

The book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was previously known as Mishneh Torah, Repetition of the Torah, because the book is mostly an account of the journeys of B’nei Yisrael and reiteration of certain laws. The reason being that Moshe sought to rebuke, instruct, and inspire the new generation that would be entering Eretz Yisrael.

The account mentions that there is an eleven day journey from Horeb, the general area where Mount Sinai is located, to Kadesh-Barnea, passing around Mount Seir to get there. Kadesh-Barnea is where B’nei Yisrael gathered, before being commanded to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 32:8). “Behold, the L-RD your G-d has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the L-RD G-d of your fathers has said to you; fear not, nor be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

However, the next verse after the eleven day journey from Mount Sinai to the edge of Eretz Canaan, states, “And it came to pass in the fortieth year…that Moses spoke to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 3:3); and, thus begins Moshe’s thirty-six day discourse. By contrasting the eleven day journey to Kadesh-Barnea, with the fact that now it is the fortieth year after leaving Egypt, attention is drawn to the point that had it not been for the debacle of the spies, B’nei Yisrael would have entered the Land from Kadesh-Barnea, only eleven days after leaving Sinai.

Yet, thirty-nine years  transpired since that time; and, this is the new generation that is being prepared to enter the Promised Land after the many years of wandering in the desert. This teaches us that not all who wander are lost. For H’Shem remained faithful to the Children of Israel and brought them into the land despite the many delays, nisyanos (tests), and detours.

He will also bring us into the Promised Land, as long as we do not stray; rather, that we should always seek Him as our Guiding Light. Inasmuch that the pillar of fire provided light for B’nei Yisrael at night, the L-RD will provide us with light in the darkness of our lives; despite the challenges in our lives, G-d will lead us to the Promised Land.

Beyond Trust

“The land the L-RD, our G-d, is giving us is good.” – Deuteronomy 1:25

G-d had previously said, that the land was good, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Sifrei emphasizes that both Joshua and Caleb asserted that the land was good, even after seeing the land for themselves, despite the ill report of the ten other spies. Their perspective was positive, while the others had a negative perspective; yet, the words of the malcontent “descend into the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8), in this case, influencing the people in an adverse manner.

Even to the extent that they claimed that the L-RD hated them, saying that He brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of their enemies (Deuteronomy 1:27). Fear, as well as their own hatred towards G-d (see Sifrei) compelled them to project their own hatred onto Him, as if they were the hated ones. As if G-d’s design from the beginning was to permit them to be exterminated?

A lack of judgment engulfed them because of the cloudiness of their minds. In Egypt, the Nile allowed for an irrigation system that would distribute the water for farming. Yet, in the land of Canaan, where the Israelites were being brought, only through natural means, by rainfall, allotted to the land by G-d Himself, would their survival depend (Numbers Rabbah 17). Yet, they trusted in the security provided for them in Egypt, and disparaged trusting in the L-RD to provide for them.

Isn’t this like modern man, with all of his comforts, as per the result of civilization, buttressed by the foundation of the industrial revolution, and its counterpart, the age of technology? To consider for ourselves, how much this may be the case, we may ask whether we would be willing to give up our material comforts for a two week camping trip.

Yet, the children of Israel went on “a camping trip” for forty years. During this time, the L-RD provided for them, beyond any means that Egypt could have provided. And if we were faced with the prospect of becoming “enslaved” by technology, would we be willing to leave everything behind us, for the sake of our freedom? Is our emunah (faith) in the L-RD strong enough, that our subsequent trust in His provision for us would foster resiliency in the face of adversity?

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the L-RD, and whose trust the L-RD is.”

– Isaiah 17:7, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Journey

dvar for parashas Mattos – Masei 5781

“These are the stages of the children of Israel, by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt.”

– Numbers 33:1 , JPS 1917 Tanach

The forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel, “their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of H’Shem” (Numbers 33:2), were seen from the perspective of G-d, each one as a significant journey of progress, according to His plan. Each time they set out on a journey to the next encampment, there was no need for regret, if they accomplished, learned, and advanced in character development, according to G-d’s will. Lessons learned, although, often from past mistakes, should also compel us anew to be more circumspect in our lives.


Thus, here is the segway to the applied application of Torah, from the passage that lists the forty-two journeys of B’nei Yisrael through the desert: each journey was a necessary stage, paving the way for the next advancement on the overall path from Mitzraim (Egypt) to Eretz Yisrael, as the Children of Israel are transformed into a G-d fearing people in alignment with the will of H’Shem, as given through His commandments.


Our own life journeys, from place to place mirror the template: the 42 journeys of the Israelites through the wilderness. They were brought out of a place of tumah (impurity), namely Mitzraim (Egypt), crossed through the Sea of reeds that parted for them, symbolic of immersion in a mikveh, and continued for forty years in the wilderness until reaching a place of kedushah (holiness) in the Land of Israel.


This journey serves to remind us of one of the main purposes in life: to move away from a sense of spiritual impurity to greater kedushah (holiness) by repairing our character defects and turning away from sin. In a similar manner that the Children of Israel were encompassed on all sides by tumah (impurity) in their environment, we should also be aware of the negative influences in our environment.

Our individual paths are designed by H’Shem to guide us through the various challenges we face in life. Once we learn the lesson, we may move on to the next place or situation that has another inherent challenge for us. Each stage may serve as a tikkun hanefesh, a repairing of the soul. The ultimate destination of the Israelites was the Promised Land; so, too, in a way, for us, inasmuch that Israel, under the reign of Moshiach (Messiah) is our ultimate inheritance.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

drash Pinchas 5781

 “Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace.”

– Numbers 25:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Kohein Gadol, nevertheless, had not been granted the status of a kohein (priest), at the time that Aaron and his four sons were designated as such. Rather, only the progeny of Aaron’s sons after their designation as kohein would also become kohein. Pinchas, having already been born at that time, did not automatically become one. Only the future born sons of Aaron’s sons would have that status. Yet, an exception was made, later on in the life of Pinchas, as shown from the narrative recorded in the Torah portions of Balak and Pinchas.

In spite of Balaam’s inability to curse Israel, he compels Balak to enact a devious plan. He explains to Balak that the way to bring malaise and judgment upon Israel is to weaken their kedushah (holiness) from the inside. Therefore, “through the counsel of Balaam,” given to Balak, King of the Moabites, both Moabite and Midianite women were sent to entice the people, “who began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1, JPS). Moreover, a leader of one of the tribes, Zimri, was seen with a Moabite princess.

Pinchas “rose up from the midst of the congregation” (Numbers 25:8, JPS). He followed the Israelite man into his tent, and executed both Zimri and his cohort. For this act, described as a zealous act for the L-rd, the plague that H’Shem inflicted upon the people for their harlotry ceased. Also, Pinchas himself was rewarded with H’Shem’s covenant of peace, an eternal covenant of priesthood, “‘because he was jealous for his G-d, and made atonement for the children of Israel'” (Numbers 25:13). This may sound like a conundrum, for how can he be rewarded with “a covenant of peace, for acting out of zealousness in such an aggressive manner?

Pinchas, was the only Israelite to take responsibility for the effrontery of Zimri and his cohort. For this outrage, of a Prince of Israel (Zimri) cohabiting with a Moabite princess, when he took her into his tent in full view of the congregation, could have set off sparks that would undermine the teshuvah (repentance) of the Israelites, and set an example of the worst kind. Moreover, Zimri’s very act is considered to be a challenge to the authority of Moses. When Pinchas acted, he brought peace between G-d and His people, thus compelling H’Shem to stop the plague that He had enacted as a punishment for the immorality of the people.

shiur Pinchas 5781

Discord was sown, when the advice that Balaam gave to Balak, was enacted upon the Children of Israel. Although Balak was not able to curse Israel, being compelled instead to bless, he still managed to set up circumstances in an underhanded manner, whereby the kedushah (holiness) and emunah (faith) of B’nei Yisrael would be diminished. He knew that the only way to bring about malfeasance upon Israel was to cause them to sin; as a consequence, G-d would have to respond to Israel’s transgression.

Balak and Balaam conspired against Israel; and they sent out Moabite and Midianite women to entice Israel. “And the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto the Baal of Peor; and the anger of the L-RD was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3, JPS).

The kindling of H’Shem’s anger resulted in the form of a plague. Although the guilty were hanged after a makeshift court was held with the leaders of Israel residing, and a follow up by the judges of Israel further eliminated those who sinned in this incident, apparently, the plague continued to spread. The children of Israel were weeping, signifying teshuvah (repentance) outside of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moses and Aaron were present at the Mishkan, when an Israelite prince brought a Midianite princess into his tent, in full view of everyone present outside the Mishkan. What an affront to the dignity of the nation, and an insult to H’Shem. Such effrontery was condemned in one swift action by Pinchas.

His response was born out of zealousness; Pinchas executed the Israelite man and his cohort. “So the plague ceased from the people of Israel.” For this zealous act, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace. As the Talmud explains, “The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moses, ‘Be the first to extend a greeting of peace to him,’ as it is written, wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace; and this atonement [that Phinehas has made] is worthy of being an everlasting atonement” (Sanhedrin 82b). Pinchas atoned for the sins of Israel, and reconciled the people to G-d.

dvar Pinchas 5781

The idolatrous nature of the Baal-Peor incident should shock the senses of those of us, who are G-d fearing today. We may easily ask, how could so many of the children of Israel fall prey to idolatry and licentiousness? Since this occurs after 38 years had passed from the time of the golden calf incident at Sinai, it can be inferred that the new generation had not guarded themselves against this enticing form of idolatry, nor fully learned from the mistakes of yesteryear.

Idolatry, whereof the “daughters of Moab” invited the Children of Israel to their feasts, designated for their g-ds, took rampant hold of B’nei Yisrael, and led towards immorality. How similar to the festivities that the previous generation took part in when worshiping the golden calf? Yet, Pinchas stood up, and took responsibility on his own by committing an act of zealousness. For this, he was rewarded with “a covenant of peace.”

Keep in mind, that those who had fallen prey to idolatry were executed at a makeshift tribunal, to meet the demands of the moment. While the plague still raged, an Israelite prince, Zimri took a Midianite princess, hand in hand, figuratively speaking, into his tent, in full view of the congregation. So, when Pinchas acted out of zealousness, by executing them on the spot, this may be viewed in light of the previous tribunal and executions.

Why a covenant of peace for such an aggressive act? Because he restored the Children of Israel, by reconciling them to G-d. As a result of his own zealousness, he took responsibility for the effrontery that ensued; and, definitively showed to all the people the sinfulness of the act. This would serve as an object lesson, of sorts, that would continue to make an impression on the people. Inasmuch that H’Shem awarded him with “a covenant of peace,” this shows that H’Shem approved of his act, because it was a swift response to a gross act of immorality that could have continued to run amuck; otherwise, Zimri’s immorality could have set a wrong example for the people, if it was not punished.