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motzei shabbos: shoftim 5781

“Judges and officers shall you appoint at your city gates.” – Deuteronomy 16:18

“The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth. Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal “judges” to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and “officers” to enforce the judges’ decisions.” – Siftei Kohen, Shoftim parashas in depth, chabad.org

drash: parashas Re’eh 5781

parashas Re’eh 5781

“For thou art a holy people unto the L-RD thy G-d, and the L-RD hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth.”

– Deuteronomy 14:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The children of Israel are an am segulah – a treasured people – unto the L-RD. As a people, we are still His treasure, that He values “out of all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” In the words of the Targum, “a people more beloved than all the peoples who are upon the face of the earth” (Targum Jonathan; sefaria.org). Within the overall context of the passage, wherein this verse is found, this is the reason given for the children of Israel not to disfigure yourselves as is the custom of the nations to do when mourning. Additionally, as follows in the passage, also, not to eat anything considered to be an abomination.

This is the basis of holiness, whereas the Hebrew word translated as “holy” is kadosh, having the basic meaning of “to be separate,” as in separated unto the L-RD, or separate from the nations. According to Rashi, one reason for this spiritual status is because of the merit of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moreover, it is the children of Israel that H’Shem appeared to at Mt. Sinai; and, He gave us the Torah, when He made an eternal covenant with us. The eternal nature of this covenant is expressed as follows:

“Thus saith the L-RD, Who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, that waves thereof roar, the L-RD of hosts is His name: If these ordinances depart from before Me, saith the L-RD, then the seed of Israel shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever. Thus saith the L-RD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the L-RD.” – Jeremiah 31:35-37, JPS

In other words, our relationship with H’Shem is as sure as the heights of heaven and the foundation of the earth; by signifying our bond to H’Shem by way of this comparison, it is made clear to us that we are truly a treasured people unto the L-RD, despite all of our transgressions against Him. Even so, we are called to turn our hearts to Him, through sincere teshuvah (repentance), a heartfelt confession of our sins, with a commitment not to repeat them; rather, that our lives may be changed for the good.

shiur: parashas Re’eh 5781

 “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.”

 – Deuteronomy 11:26, JPS 1917 Tanach

“See, I set before you this day,” in other words, perceive that I present before you this very day, the significance of blessings and curses in your lives. According to Rabbeinu Bahya, the so-called, “mental eye” of the spiritually sensitive is able to see the effects of the blessings and curses, on an individual basis, in their own lives. Incidentally, the blessings originate with the Attribute of Mercy, whereas the curses are derived from the Attribute of Justice.

R. Bahya makes reference to the pasuk (verse), “I have seen great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). As a direct result of our being aware of the blessings and curses in life, we may obtain great knowledge, concerning the causal relationship between our thoughts, speech, & actions, and their consequences. This may lead towards wisdom, having to do with how H’Shem Elokim guides us – each and every person, according to hasgachah peratis (divine guidance), weaving a tapestry of events and consequences in our lives, dependent upon the nature of our conduct.

Additionally, consider the words of King David, who wrote, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, JPS); he was assured through H’Shem’s guidance and correction, that he would remain on the derech (path). H’Shem’s guidance, as represented by a staff (a shepherd’s crook) and His correction, as symbolized by a rod. This is akin to the understanding that blessings can be understood as signs that we are on the right path; and curses are a form of chastisement meant to correct us, whenever we go astray. Shabbat shalom.

dvar: parashas Re’eh 5781

“Unto the place which the L-RD your G-d shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek.”

– Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moshe explains to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) that they should not do like the nations in regard to their service to H’Shem. The idolatrous nations worshipped anywhere and everywhere to various so-called deities. However, when entering Eretz Canaan, B’nei Yisrael would be called upon to “destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree” (Deuteronomy 12:2, JPS). Rather, Israel is called to worship in “the place which H’Shem your G-d shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:5, JPS).

The place that H’Shem chose, eventually was Jerusalem. That is where the first and second Temples were built. Moreover, we await the building of the Third temple. Until then, we congregate in assemblies, that are referred to as “small sanctuaries,” as per one interpretation of the following pasuk (verse): “Thus saith the L-rd G-D: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come” (Ezekiel 11:16, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The original meaning of the verse was meant to convey a sense of reassurance to the exiles, after the first Temple was destroyed, that H’Shem’s presence would still be with them; i.e., that H’Shem would be a sanctuary – a place of refuge for them. This rendering is also apropos today, during the current galus (exile), inasmuch that we believe that His presence, otherwise known as the Shechinah, went into exile with us after the destruction of the second Temple. Although, the return of the Jewish people has already begun at the time of the recreation of the State of Israel, our exile is not officially, over until the third Temple is built in the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

motzei Shabbos: Chayei Olam

“Ye are the children of the L-RD your G-d: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.” – Deuteronomy 14:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael is cautioned against desecrating their bodies through mutilation, as a sign of mourning; although a practice of the heathen nations, cutting oneself out of grief, an expression of pain for the loss of a loved one, is forbidden. Moreover, the prohibition against marring the flesh in regard to mourning, implies that there is no need for the Children of G-d to despair, in regard to the passing away of a life, because H’Shem extends His promise of eternal life (Sforno). “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life [eternal life]” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS; Sforno).

Why else is B’nei Yisrael forbidden from certain customs that would mar the body? (The sign of circumcision is an exception because it is not considered a marring of the body; rather, it is the removal of that which is superfluous). “G-d said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” (Genesis 1:26, JPS). Man is created in G-d’s image (tzelem); that image should not be desecrated in a physical manner; neither should that image be tainted in the sphere of morality.

“Then the L-RD G-d formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, JPS). Our lives are not finite – there is an eternal nature of the soul. The Hebrew word for man, “adam,” is almost identical to the word for earth, “adamah.” The body of man, composed of the same elements of the earth, returns to the earth. Yet, the soul of man returns to G-d.

 “The dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto G-d who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, JPS). At  the time of the Tehillas HaMeisim (the Resurrection of the Dead), the soul is restored to the body. “And many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 12:2, JPS).

drash Eikev: yiras H’Shem

parashas Eikev 5781

“Everything is in the hands of G-d, except for the fear of G-d.” – Berachos 33b

 “And now, Israel, what doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-RD thy G-d with all thy heart and with all thy soul; to keep for thy good the commandments of the L-RD, and His statutes, which I command thee this day?”  – Deuteronomy 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

Yiras H’Shem (fear of G-d) is a major component of one’s relationship to G-d; fear, in the sense of awe, reverence, and respect. The Torah records, “What doth the L-RD thy G-d require of thee, but to fear the L-RD thy G-d?” The quality of yiras H’Shem is what will determine the level of kedushah (holiness) in a person’s life. For our response to constant acknowledgment of G-d, will compel us to watch our own thoughts, speech, and behavior at all times, thereby elevating our level of kedushah.

Our response to H’Shem’s directive, through His commandments, requires giving Him the due respect that He deserves as our King. As a consequence of our reverence towards Him, we bring kedushah (holiness) into our lives through our obedience. We become sanctified through His commandments; every aspect of our lives may become sanctified (made holy). “Happy is everyone that feareth the L-RD, that walketh in His ways” (Psalm 128:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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).     

 

A Very Present G-d

The Decalogue Revisited: (Deuteronomy 5:1 – 26)

“The covenant made between G’d and the people at the time did not only include the generation which was an eye-witness to the revelation but that it included all the subsequent generations of Jews throughout the ages.” – R’ Bachya, on Deuteronomy 5:1, sefaria.org

“Future generations who were not present at the time this covenant was made will consider it binding for themselves and conduct themselves accordingly.”

– Sforno, on Deuteronomy 5:3, sefaria.org

פָּנִ֣ים ׀ בְּפָנִ֗ים דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה עִמָּכֶ֛ם בָּהָ֖ר מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֵֽשׁ׃

“Face to face the L-RD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire.”

– Deuteronomy 5:4, JPS 1985 Tanach, sefaria.org

According to Sforno, the words פנים בפנים that are translated above as “face to face,” may be rendered, ”I have spoken to you revealing many different facets of Myself” (Sforno, on Deuteronomy 5:4, sefaria.org). Thus, perhaps, we may infer that this may be understood as a prooftext for the midrash (textual interpretation), concerning how it is “as if” the L-RD appeared at Sinai to the Children of Israel, like a many-faceted diamond, figuratively speaking, like a “vision within a vision” (R’ Bachya, on Exodus 33:11, sefaria.org).

The teaching inferred from this metaphor, for, indeed, there is no image that can be made of G-d, is that the Words of the L-RD that day were heard by the ears of the multitude of Israel at Sinai, according to the capacity of each individual to receive what was being said. Thus, we have a model, for the manner that we are able to receive the words of scripture today, as if each individual may receive what needs to be learned for the edification of the soul; consequently, this is like receiving a personalized message from G-d.