Posts in Category: Devarim

V’zos Haberacha

Devarim 33:13:

 וּלְיוֹסֵף אָמַר מְבֹרֶכֶת ה’ אַרְצוֹ מִמֶּגֶד שָׁמַיִם מִטָּל וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת

And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the Lord be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that couches beneath

In Moshe’s blessing to the Tribe of Yosef in V’zot Haberacha, one of the blessing, as explained by Rashi, is that the waters from beneath the ground in Yosef’s portion of the Land of Israel rises to the surface to saturate the ground above.

I would like to humbly suggest a (somewhat shorthand) explanation of what this blessing might mean, based on a few ideas said over by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz shlita

In Sefer Breishit, Yosef is described as being very attractive – “Yefat to’ar v’yefat mar’eh”  (39:6)
Rashi in Breishit 49:22 says that women in Egypt would come to gaze at Yosef.
Exterior beauty seems to be an odd characteristic of Yosef HaTzaddik for the Torah to stress…what is really being conveyed?
The Ramban refers to Sefer Breishit as Sefer Ha’Avos, and Sefer Shemot as Sefer Ha’Banim.
Yosef’s death is recorded at the end of Breishit and at the very beginning of Shemot, because Yosef had characteristics of both forefather and son. He is the bridge.The Midrash says that the Arbah Minim correspond to the following figures and traits:

  • Esrog = Avraham: Heart, Ba’al chessed
  • Lulav = Yitzchak: Spine, Gevurah, Courage.
  • Hadas = Yaakov: Eyes, ‘Seeing is believing’, Emes
  • Aravot = Yosef: Lips — revealing inner beauty (to hopefully be explained…)

How do we define beauty?

The Gemara in Keddushin 49b says that 10 measures of beauty came down to the world, and 9 were taken by Yerushalayim.
Yerushalayim is certainly beautiful now, but was not always so outwardly beautiful, yet there is intrinsic beauty. The Kotel isn’t the most gorgeous structure in the world, but it represents so much beauty and unseen history.

Rav Lebowitz explains that the opposite of beauty in Judaism is something sullied and dirtied; something that you can’t see beyond the surface.

Yofi/beauty is clarity; the ability to see what lies beneath.
The world, by contrast, typically describes beauty in external terms.

Yosef/Aravot (the least externally attractive of the Arbah Minim) are likened to lips; lips/language take thoughts that can’t be seen and gives them expression; they uncover what is hidden. Language and word usage – implemented properly –  is what separates us from the animal kingdom.

The bracha for the Tribe of Yosef in V’zos Haberacha is that specifically the richness from below the surface is what makes the ground fertile and beautiful.
וּמִתְּהוֹם רֹבֶצֶת תָּחַת

Yosef may have been a handsome guy, but that’s not what we celebrate. We admire and try to emulate his deep inner strength and beauty, and it is that authentic attractiveness that can bridge generations and make our rich mesorah attractive from father to son; from one generation to another.

A main aspect of Sukkot is to teach and remind all generations to come, that Hashem protected us as we left Egypt. As Vayikra 23:42-43, says:

…בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Yosef’s inner qualities and middah of clarity is a good place to start when trying to accomplish this directive.

Ha’azinu (Rosh Hashana)

[based in part on a dvar torah written by by Rav David Silverberg]
Part of “Shirat Ha’azinu” describes the process of sin and punishment, mapping the progression of: Bnei Yisrael’s (BNY) abandonment of G-d; pursuit and acceptance of idolatrous faiths; and consequential punishment. As an introduction to the description of BNY’s sins, the song asks:

הַלְה’  תִּגְמְלוּ-זֹאת עַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם הֲלוֹא הוּא אָבִיךָ קָּנֶךָ הוּא עָשְׂךָ וַיְכֹנְנֶךָ

“Do you thus requite the Lord?!… Is not He the Father who created you, fashioned you and made you endure?” (32:6).

This passuk appears to underscore BNY’s lack of gratitude toward Hashem; their abandoning and rejecting the “Father” who turned them into a nation and gave them all that they possessed.In the middle of this verse, the shira describes BNY as an “am naval ve-lo chacham” – which roughly translates as, “a despicable and unwise people.”

BNY is called out on on two matters: moral depravity (נָבָל – despicable) and foolishness (וְלֹא חָכָם – unwise). Read in context, the first adjective seems a more fitting description of BNY’s behavior than the second one. As stated, the verse seems to highlight BNY’s ungratefulness to G-d – as expressed by their rejection of Him – in spite of the ongoing kindness He showered upon them. Such ungratefulness clearly warrants the description of “despicable.”

But why does the verse also describe the nation as “unwise”? How does the lack of demonstrating gratitude make a person unwise?

The Ramban, expounding Targum Onkelos, associates the word “naval” with a term found earlier in the Torah, in Sefer Shmot (18:18) - “navol tibol” – which refers to fatigue, or weariness. The description of BNY as an “am naval” refers to them having “wearied themselves in intense fulfillment of the commandments of the Torah,” in the words of the Ramban; the perceived burden that G-d’s laws had become on their shoulders, prompting them to resort to other, new, foreign modes of religious worship. The Ramban says that were we wise, we would recognize that casting off Hashem only hurts us, not Hashem.

Using this as a springboard, perhaps BNY is also “unwise”, for were we to display more intelligence, we would recognize the beauty, priceless nature, timelessness and infinite depth of Torah, and thus avoid the spiritual fatigue that unfortunately develops with repetition and the passage of time. Human nature is such that we are willing to exert ourselves and make sacrifices for that which we deem valuable and attractive at that moment in time; once this sense of worth, importance and allure begins to wane, our willingness to dedicate time and effort and commit ourselves, fades or disappears entirely. The“naval” phenomenon results directly from being “lo chacham” – an inability to recognize the greatness of Torah.
This approach may help to shed light on a later verse in Ha’azinu, where the shira describes the idolatry practiced by BNY:

יִזְבְּחוּ לַשֵּׁדִים לֹא אֱלֹהַּ אֱלֹהִים לֹא יְדָעוּם  חֲדָשִׁים מִקָּרֹב בָּאוּ לֹא שְׂעָרוּם אֲבֹתֵיכֶם
They sacrificed to demons, no-gods, gods they have never known, new ones, who came but lately, whom your fathers never feared. (32:17)

The verse emphasizes the novelty of these idols; the fact that Am Yisrael had not previously discovered these false deities. At first glance, this emphasis is meant to underscore the gravity of the transgression – that BNY substituted Hashem, with Whom they had a unique relationship with for centuries – with foreign deities with whom they had never previously associated. But in light of the explanation of the Ramban, we can interpret this verse as explaining why BNY resorted to new, foreign religions: specifically because they were new and foreign. BNY grew tired of their relationship with the one, true G-d and the mitzvot He commanded; they felt the time had come for the latest fad, something new, something different, something seemingly innovative.

Furthermore, perhaps that is why the song invokes the concept of Hashem as our Father in  this verse – a parent is always the biological creator (partnered with Hashem, of course) of a child. No matter what happens, no matter how many years go by, no matter what other influences arise in a person’s life — a father or mother is a child’s biological parent (at the very least). Rhetorically, the song asks: “Is Hashem not your Father?” He made you! You are comprised of His essence. How could you deny Him and lose interest? For He is your Father, and your father’s Father, and that truth will never change.

Historical continuity is a central theme of Shirat Ha’azinu, as it says: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past… ” (32:7). New is not necessarily better. In contrast to most everything else in existence, Torah does not lose its value with time; it is only our appreciation of Torah that often diminishes with time.

Shirat Ha’azinu implores us to be chacham – intelligent enough to retain our perspective and sense of priorities and recognize the magnificent gift we have been given, to be the Am HaNivchar and to study and practice Hashem’s Torah.

If we are able to accomplish this, then, with Hashem’s help, we will avoid religious and spiritual fatigue, and not fall victim to the temptation to search for new (and ultimately unfulfilling and transitory) substitutes for mitzvot.

Rosh Hashana is a time of rebirth/renewal/hischadshus. A huge portion of the Rosh Hashana service is dedicated to proclaiming Hashem as Supreme King of the Universe – past, present and future.

May we be privileged in the coming year to feel the excitement of learning His Torah, and serving Hashem with gratitude, with intelligence and with passion.

Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova, and Ketiva Vachatima Tova

Nitzavim-Vayeilech

In Moshe’s final address to the nation, he informs them about the future and how they need to face their responsibilities:

ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ הוּא עֹבֵר לְפָנֶיךָ הוּא יַשְׁמִיד אֶת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה

Hashem, your G-d; He will cross you over, He will destroy the nations before you. (31:3)The Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh, picks up on the double usage of the word hu.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the Jews were concerned about the loss of Moshe, specifically about two advantages of having Moshe “in their corner” that they would no longer possess:

1. As Moshe had demonstrated by, among others, Cheit HaEigel and the Meraglim, Moshe was willing to intercede on their behalf if they erred. His teffilos had halted deadly plagues and prevented their destruction. Fearful that they would err again in the future, they wondered – who would atone for their sins?

2. Bnei Yisrael would be waging wars to conquer Eretz Yisrael, and they worried how they would defeat their enemies without Moshe’s help, with his arms raised high in the air, ensuring victory as he did against Amaleik, and for leading the most recent victories over Sichon and Og…

Sometimes when a leader or a great athlete (l’havdil) steps down or retires, he wants to take all the credit for himself, for his illustrious career and crowning accomplishments. The best milestone/MVP/retirement/ Hall of Fame induction, etc. speeches, however, are the ones in which the athlete thanks his parents, coaches, teammates, family, friends, and perhaps deity of choice. Athletes who just want to brag about themselves demonstrate a complete lack of perspective and appreciation.

L’havdil eleph alphei havdalos, Moshe Rabbeinu, always staying true to form as the most humble man to ever live, both comforts and teaches the nation – in his final address – about where everything came from: Hashem.

Moshe addresses the first concern by telling them that they were forgetting about the source. It was never about Moshe.
הוּא עֹבֵר לְפָנֶיךָ – the word oveir invokes Hashem’s characteristic of being an  עובר על פשע
The Ohr HaChaim brings a couple proofs from Shmot 17:5 and 32:10, that demonstrate that it was Hashem’s “idea” that encouraged Moshe to pray for Bnei Yisrael. Hashem’s willingness and desire to forgive would remain, even after Moshe’s departure from this world.

The same holds true for the battles that were won on the path from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael; Moshe was a conduit, but Hashem was behind everything and delivering our enemies into our hands.

Moshe then says that Yehoshua will now be the one who will fight for them, in both instances, but always know that the source of forgiveness and success is Hashem.

With so much in Parshiot Nitzavim and Vayeilech about teshuva, and the proximity of these parshiot every year to the Yamim Noraim, perhaps a lesson here is about an important focus during this time. Without taking an iota of importance or reverence from rabbeim or the chazzan leading slichot or any of the teffilot on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, ultimately teshuva comes from Hashem. Teshuva cannot be attained only from listening to a good shiur or standing in shul listening to others. Those are incredibly important conduits and bridges to help us get to the proper place to daven for teshuva. A big chunk of our avodah, however, is a focus on our own personal teffilos and the meanings and feelings behind the words we say in davening. Assistance from others is amazing, but there has to be a level of our own effort.

Another interesting occurrence in this incredibly poignant moment in the Torah, happens in the next few p’sukim in Perek 31.
In 31:6, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to be strong, not to fear, for Hashem is with them; He will not fail you and not forsake you
חִזְקוּ וְאִמְצוּ אַל תִּירְאוּ וְאַל תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם  כִּי ה אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ

Then in the next passuk Moshe calls to Yehoshua and tells him basically the exact same thing: 31:7-8

…וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לְעֵינֵי כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ
 וַה’ הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ לְפָנֶיךָ  הוּא יִהְיֶה עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ  וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ לֹא תִירָא  וְלֹא תֵחָת

A beautiful example of our mesorah in action and of selfless encouragement, is found in virtually identical wording between Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo. Divrei Hayamim I, Perek 32 records Dovid speaking about Hashem prohibiting him from building the Beis HaMikdash. Instead, Shlomo, his son, would have that prestigious honor. Dovid tells his son, in Divrei Hayamim I 28:20:

חֲזַק וֶאֱמַץ וַעֲשֵׂה אַל תִּירָא וְאַל תֵּחָת כִּי ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הִים אֱ-לֹ-הַי עִמָּךְ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ עַד לִכְלוֹת כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבוֹדַת בֵּית ה

Looks kinda familiar.

Moshe being denied entry to Eretz Yisrael is akin to Dovid being denied permission to build the Beis HaMikdash. Dovid takes a cue from Moshe, who also had to relinquish a dream to a successor (Yehoshua was like a son to Moshe and Shlomo was of course Dovid’s son). Dovid implements the identical language used by his holy forefather, and, like Moshe, he hands off his position with grace and encouragement.
Dovid perpetuates the mesorah and midos of Moshe, inculcating the next generation with those same lessons.

 

Ki Tavo

Devarim 28:2

וּבָאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַבְּרָכוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְהִשִּׂיגֻךָ כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּקוֹל ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ
Hashem promises that if we listen to His words, then He will bestow blessings upon us, and then an unexpected word is used:  וְהִשִּׂיגֻךָ

Many mephorshim pick up on this seemingly odd phrasing; first, the passuk already tells us that the blessings will come to us, so why do we need another verb to tell us that we’ll be receiving blessing, and second, v’hisigucha, is most commonly translated as ‘overtaken’ or ‘captured’ – aggressive verbs we don’t typically associate with blessings.

A number of the explanations offered by various mephorshim are brought down by Rav Baruch Simon in hisImrei Baruch: Ki Tavo, maimar bet. A quick summary of a few of them:
1.  The Degel Machaneh Ephraim points out that the passuk should say, that we attain/capture the bracha, not the bracha attains us. He answers using another passuk from Tehillim 23:6:
אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּי

Who runs away from good? And why is good ‘chasing’ us?
Sometimes in life we don’t know that a certain occurrence will good for us. We may run away, so to speak, from something that will ultimately be good but just don’t realize it yet. This passuk in Ki Tavo and the words of Dovid HaMelech are a prayer that even when we run from or avoid something that we don’t realize as good, and don’t chase after it ourselves, that ultimately it catches up to us and we become enraptured in the blessing.

2.  Rav Tzaddok HaKohen suggests that Moshe is giving us a bracha of anivus. An abundance of blessings and kindness from Hashem is wonderful, but we can’t let it alter who we are (for the bad), or blind us to forget our ideals and the truly important aspects of life. To quote, V’hisigucha is saying“vhisigucha bimkomcha = to keep you in your place; the place where you were before the blessings started pouring in. Newly-attained wealth should change and increase our tzeddaka-giving practices, but not change us into a haughty, unappreciative, ostentatious, egomaniac.

The Sheim MiShmuel has a beautiful reading of the passuk in Toldos describing Yitzchak’s accumulation of wealth (Breishis 26:13):
וַיִּגְדַּל הָאִישׁ וַיֵּלֶךְ הָלוֹךְ וְגָדֵל עַד כִּי גָדַל מְאֹד
He says that the passuk doesn’t refer to Yitzchak by name; just an ish/man. Why? Because the words are a reflection of Yitzchak’s heart, who didn’t think that he was any better than anyone just because of his newfound wealth. He knew it was all from Hashem. No thoughts of kochi v’otzeim yadi. Yitzchak Avinu was the same man and on the same, humble social/mental/spiritual rung before the blessings of abundance, as he was after. V’hisigucha bimkomcha.

3.  Rav Yisroel (Taub, I believe) of Modzitz understands v’hisigucha in terms of hasaga – mentalcomprehension and knowledge.

He says that there are many people who have tremendous riches but don’t know how to (or simply don’t want to) properly use that wealth. The wealth is used only on themselves, or only for fleeting and meaningless objects and thrills, etc. When we receive Hashem’s blessings – whether it be money, talents or otherwise –  the hope is that we can use it to improve the lives of those less fortunate, through tzeddaka, chessed and compassion.
We see this idea in many places, one of which is in the zemer of Menucha V’simcha, sung on Friday night. The author writes: B’rov mat’amim v’ruach nedivah, meaning that when we have the blessings of rov mat’amim/abundance of tasty foods (i.e. wealth), that we are supposed to possess and express aruach nedivah – a spirit of giving. Having much should naturally flow into giving much, and to give b’nidivas leiv.
(Another way to understand this, which I saw brought down by the Divrei Yehoshua  is that when we eat the rov mat’amim on Shabbos, that we do so as a ‘nedava‘, in thanks and recognition, to Hashem and for oneg Shabbos, instead of to simply stuff our faces.)

4.  Finally, a related idea that came to mind is something I once heard explaining the difference between bracha and schar. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between a blessing and reward…

In truth, however, a schar/reward is akin to a nice pat on the back for doing something good. It is a reward that you get and sit back and enjoy.

A bracha, on the other hand is an ENABLER. It is a gift from Hashem that the recipient of the bracha is supposed to use to do enrich the world; a bracha is something you are supposed to harness and utilize for something great. The message being, take the blessings referred to by Moshe and Hashem, and let them ‘take you over,’ empowering us with the G-d-given abilities and skills to positively affect others and the world around us.

Ki Teitzei

One of the many laws present in Parshat Ki Teitzei is Shiluach HaKan – to send away a mother bird before taking the eggs or the young birds from the nest.

This is one of only a few mitzvot where the Torah specifies a reward for the proper observance of the mitzvah, namely, a long life. It is also one of only three such mitzvot that directly promises longevity, the other two being – honoring one’s parents, and using proper weights and measures in business (also found in Ki Teitzei).

Rashi on 22:7, quoting the Sifri, notes that Shiluach HaKan is an “easy” mitzvah to fulfill, and so if such an easy mitzvah gives a person long life, then kal vachomer how great the rewards will be for much more difficult mitzvot. In contrast to the ease of sending away a mother bird, the Gemara in Kiddushin 31a notes the extreme difficulty of properly fulfilling Kibud Av Va’Eim - honoring one’s parents. A lesson suggested from the fact that the same reward is given for such starkly different mitzvot, is that we cannot decide the value of mitzvot and that all are equally important.
Interestingly, there is also something to learn from the similarities shared by these two mitzvot…

In a sicha written by my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital z”tl, he notes that although there are obvious differences between the two mitzvot, they do share something in common. Most mitzvot demand preparation and planning – plan then execute; other mitzvot pop up unexpectedly. Kibbud Av Va’Eim and Shiluach HaKan share the characteristic of being the latter type.

Shiluach HaKan, as noted by Rashi, is only a mitzvah when you encounter a bird’s nest “along the way”; it has to be unintentionally; “ba’derech”. 
Similarly, although there is an aspect of preparation for the constant obligation to honor one’s parents, often times a parent’s wishes/requests/needs will arise unexpectedly. We have no way of predicting every wish a parent might have (such as, “come for shabbat” or the like, I’m told).

Rav Amital writes that mitzvot like these present us with an opportunity and a challenge – are we (a) going to make an immediate adjustment to an unexpected circumstance, and (b) are we going to do so with excitement to have an opportunity fulfill an unanticipated mitzvah?

The “adjustment” in the case of Shilu’ach HaKan is not particularly demanding, as opposed to the potentially more time-consuming obligations that arise to fulfill a parent’s request, but both demonstrate the importance of always being ready and eager for a chance to perform another mitzvah, making whatever adjustments that might be required.The Torah promises long life to a person who embraces such mitzvot, because it shows a strong love for Hashem and a deep-seeded commitment to fulfilling Torah and mitzvot.

I would like to humbly suggest that there is also a connection between Shiluach HaKan and Amaleik. In both instances, the Torah uses the exact wording of (i) “ba’derech” and (ii) related wording of “yikareh” and “karcha”, indicating coincidence/happenstance – both words sharing the root of  ק.ר.א.

Shiluach HaKan: Devarim 22:6-7
כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּכָל-עֵץ אוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ בֵיצִים, וְהָאֵם רֹבֶצֶת עַל-הָאֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ עַל-הַבֵּיצִים לֹא תִקַּח הָאֵם  עַל הַבָּנִים
שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת הָאֵם וְאֶת-הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח-לָךְ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים

 

Amaleik: Devarim 25:17-18

זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם
אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ  וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה  עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱ-לֹ-הִים

Many meforshim write that Amalek embody “mikreh” – believing the world functions by coincidence, instead of Divine Providence. (see also dvar torah for B’chukotai )

The Torah does use “yikareh” – an unexpected occurrence – as a prerequisite to be able to perform Shiluach HaKan, but clearly Hashem does not want us to think that our ability to do this mitzvah is brought on by pure coincidence. From OUR perspective, coming across a mother bird and her eggs was unexpected, but Hashem decides to put someone in the position to carry out the mitzvah. Unlike Amaleik, who look at everything as coincidence, we are meant to believe that Hashem gives us opportunities to do mitzvot for a reason – to fulfill them and grow from that action, and to do so in an excited and eager way, as noted above.

Some mitzvot, such as Shiluach HaKan and Kibbud Av Va’Eim, present themselves unexpectedly, but perhaps one of the ways we can counter Amalek is that when presented with such mitzvot, we view them as Hashem’s specific and targeted calls to action, and perform them with dedication and zeal.

Shoftim

[based in part on divrei torah by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz and Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl]

There is a machlokes in Yevamos daf 4, about whether we are meant to learn anything from the ordering of the Parshiot/subjects in the Torah (doreish smuchim). Even Rav Yehuda, who typically holds that there is no added lesson in the ordering, says that Sefer Devarim is the exception, and that there are lessons to be learned from the way in which Moshe ordered his speech in Sefer Devarim.

What can be learned from the juxtaposition of the descriptions of the Shalosh Regalim at the end of Parshat Re’eh, with the commandment about appointing judges and officers at the beginning of Parshat Shoftim?
Rav Nebenzahl suggested that the juxtaposition teaches us about ensuring the longevity of the religious high and spiritual heights we achieve during the chagim

The end of Re’eh talks about the halachot, karbanot, and joy associated with aliyah l’regel. Without question, we are supposed to be inspired on these pilgrimages to Yerushalayim. We are supposed to be wrapped up in the moment and the celebration.

But real test, is how/whether we are be affected once the chagim have come to a close. No doubt it was easy to be inspired on the shalosh regalim; seeing the nation gathered together, seeing the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash etc. We know, however, that the chagim are not the only time in the year for religion – Judaism is all day, every day (with varying levels of intensity and ritual service).

When the chagim are over, and we go back to our job or school, are we still acting like someone touched by religious experience?

As part of a related thought, a question is posed about the reasoning behind the name of “Akeidat Yitzchak.” The word ‘akeida’ means ‘binding’. But wasn’t the most impressive part of Yitzchak Avinu’s behavior his messirus nefesh or the fact that he was put on the altar in the first place?  

Why not ״העלעת יצחק״? Why highlight the actual binding, instead of the actual placement on the alter and Yitzchak’s character traits of willingness and devotion that were at the heart of this brave act?

The Shemen Hatov points out that, according to Chazal, Yitzchak asked Avraham to tie him more tightly to the altar, lest he jump up at the last moment, and ruin the sacrificial act.

Yitzchak wasn’t merely caught up in the inspiration he felt while preparing to do Hashem’s will.  He also thought about the next few moments; he thought about ensuring that he wouldn’t lose that inspiration – at the key moment – as his father came toward him with the knife.  At a time of great inspiration, before the climax of the moment, he was preparing a method to ensure that he wouldn’t fail once some of that inspiration began to dissipate. The physical binding was Yitzchak instituting a safeguard to ensure that his dedication to his mission would continue, even after that inspiration might be challenged.

That safeguard is what we celebrate; we celebrate not as much the messirus nefesh moment, but what did he did with that moment. He used that moment to make sure it would be lasting. Forward thinking as to how he would react as time went on.

One possible way to ensure this for ourselves is the commandment of having  שופטים ושוטרים…בכל שעריך

The hope is for us to ensure that we see Hashem and have ambassadors of Torah all of our cities and communities.
It is a communal responsibility and a personal question to be asked: what system/infrastructure do I/we need to put in place to ensure I still feel inspired; what measures/safeguards need to be taken to live in the proper framework; what is ourakeidah?

Perhaps that is why we read the story of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana – to get us to think, ON Rosh Hashana, specifically during our season of inspiration, about what measures we need to take to ensure the inspiration continues through Yom Kippur and Sukkot and throughout the entire year.

Re’eh

After Bnei Yisrael are commanded (reminded) not to consume the blood of an animal, Moshe provides a strong incentive to listen:

‘לֹא תֹּאכְלֶנּוּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה
Do not eat it [blood] so that it may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do that which is right in the eyes of Hashem. (Devarim 12:25)
The Kli Yakar picks up on the specific inclusion of it being good for “your children after you”, by avoiding consumption of blood. He explains that the many commentators learn that consuming blood causes cruelty to develop within the person who consumed it. [One possible source I found for this is the Ohr HaChaim in Vayikra 17:10-11. There, the Torah tell us not to eat the blood of animal because the blood is the soul of the animal. The Ohr HaChaim says that when we eat the soul of animal, so to speak, we become more animalistic, taking on the traits of the animal’s soul. We lose parts of our humanity. The punishment is kareit because we are “cutting off” the human spark and cheilek elokah mi’maal and replacing it with the nefesh ha’behamis.]

The nature of a father (parent), flows into and can get passed down to children. Therefore, the Torah says that avoiding blood will be “good for you and for your children after you” so that the terrible trait of cruelty does not flow from you into future generations.

There only 2 other times in the Torah that the exact language is used of  יִיטַב לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ 
One is in Devarim Perek 4:40 after summing up all the goodness and miracles Hashem performed on behalf of Bnei Yisrael, and the importance to love Hashem and follow His mitzvot. The other, is just 3 psukim after the passuk quoted above in this week’s parsha; immediately after prohibiting the consumption of blood, we are instructed about the correct way to bring sacrifices i.e. bring the sacrifices and sprinke the blood on the alter (instead of consuming it). The summary of the section is, again, לְמַעַן יִיטַב לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ

The full section inside:

‘כה לֹא תֹּאכְלֶנּוּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה
‘כו רַק קָדָשֶׁיךָ אֲשֶׁר יִהְיוּ לְךָ וּנְדָרֶיךָ תִּשָּׂא וּבָאתָ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה 
כז וְעָשִׂיתָ עֹלֹתֶיךָ הַבָּשָׂר וְהַדָּם עַל מִזְבַּח ה אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ וְדַם זְבָחֶיךָ יִשָּׁפֵךְ עַל מִזְבַּח ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ, וְהַבָּשָׂר תֹּאכֵל
כח שְׁמֹר וְשָׁמַעְתָּ אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּךָּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ עַד עוֹלָם כִּי תַעֲשֶׂה הַטּוֹב וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי ה’ אֱ-לֹ-הֶיךָ 

Perhaps somewhat allegorically, the Torah is highlighting the importance of the examples that parents set for their children. A parent’s tremendous influence can either have incredibly positive or disastrously negative outcomes. If a parent has cruel traits – whether it be from literally consuming blood (unlikely these days) or simply not keeping his/her anger and emotions in check – then, as the Kli Yakar notes, that can easily, and tragically, be passed down to a child, whether intentionally or not. Assuring that we don’t have such traits will be good for us and for our children

On the flip side, if a parent has the traits of loving Hashem and demonstrating thanks to Hashem for all the good He has provided, then that example will hopefully be seen and emulated by that parent’s children. The root of the Hebrew word for sacrifice – korban – is ק.ר.ב. , which means ‘close/near’. The closeness that a parent strives to achieve with Hashem and cherishes with Hashem, will hopefully be a path adopted by the child, bringing richness and goodness to the parent, child and future generations to come.

Eikev

[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]

In this week’s parsha, we are taught about the the mitzvah that we have come to know as Birkas HaMazon. (see Devarim 8:10)
Also in this week’s parsha, the Medrash Rabba teaches about the bracha of Borei Nefashos. Logically, we would think that if the Midrash wanted to teach us about the bracha to be said after drinking liquids, it would do so in connection with the bracha said after bread.
Instead, the bracha of Borei Nefashos is taught in connection with the following, seemingly unrelated, psukim in Devarim 9:2-3:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתָּה עֹבֵר הַיּוֹם אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן לָבֹא לָרֶשֶׁת גּוֹיִם גְּדֹלִים וַעֲצֻמִים מִמֶּךָּ עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וּבְצֻרֹת בַּשָּׁמָיִם
עַם-גָּדוֹל וָרָם בְּנֵי עֲנָקִים אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ וְאַתָּה שָׁמַעְתָּ מִי יִתְיַצֵּב לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי עֲנָק

Hear, O Israel:you are to pass over the Jordan this day, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to the heavens.
A people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard others: ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’

Says the Midrash on these psukim:
שמע ישראל אתה עובר היום את הירדן: הלכה אדם מישראל ששותה מים לצמאו אומר ברוך שהכל נהיה בדברו רבי טרפון אמר בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונם

The question is, how does Borei Nefashos relate to Bnei Yisrael’s commandment to enter the land and the tall task (no pun intended) of conquering a land with fortified cities and giants?

Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer ztl (the last pre-war chief rabbi of Krakow) gives a beautiful answer, highlighting the importance of empathy, and the “blessing” of experiencing difficult times: He explains that many times we genuinely want to help another person, but we simply do not know how because we cannot truly relate to another’s situation. If we never struggled with a particular situation or issue, then it becomes difficult to help someone else through that problem.

The text of Borei Nefashos reads:

בורא נפשות רבות וחסרונן, על כל מה שבראת להחיות בהם נפש כל חי, ברוך חי העולמים …

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies; for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being. Blessed is He, the life of the worlds.

We thank Hashem for the chesronos – that which we lack; it’s an odd thing to be thankful for, but we acknowledge that we have times when we feel that we’re uncomfortable or missing something.How does this relate to Eretz Yisrael and kivush Ha’Aretz?

The answer is that the difficulty of acquiring Eretz Yisrael teaches us about how we are to use challenges to help others in the future…
When we look at Eretz Yisrael, we see a place where we feel we belong; a land we ought to be able to call our very own because it was promised to our forefathers. In reality, just as it was in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu and now in our days, there are difficulties, yisurin and nisyonos standing in our way. These challenges are not merely punishments, but they also empower us for the future.
Wherever we find ourselves, we are bound to encounter individuals who have gone through difficult times, who feel they don’t belong, or who feel left out. As a result of us having that shared experience of coming to Eretz Yisrael under tough circumstances, we can use that 
chisaron to help others who are also having difficulty acquiring what they need or want.
Borei Nefashos is a truly unique bracha, in which we thank Hashem for the fact that sometimes we have to struggle, that then enables us to empathize and help our brothers and sisters in need.

Very often it’s difficult to see or accept this lesson while in the midst of a difficult challenge, but hopefully in hindsight we can see how experiencing a particular hardship empowered us to help others.

This idea reminded me of a Shabbos HaGadol drasha given a few years ago by Rav Moshe Weinberger shlita, in which he said that the “rechush gadol” – the “immense wealth” that Avraham’s descendants would carry out as they left Egypt, as promised by Hashem to Avraham — is our ability to have compassion toward others. Compassion is a key aspect of being a Jew. In fact, the direct commandment for this concept is (not coincidentally) found in this week’s parsha. Devarim 10:19:

וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Love your stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Hashem made us go through the shibud of Mitzrayim (and all the challenges in the desert and of conquering the Land) so that for the rest of existence we would know compassion. Jews know what it feels like to be alone and downtrodden. It is our job now to treat others experiencing similar feeling with love and kindness.

Va’eschanan

[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]

There is a mnemonic that Chazal created to help us remember when we read certain parshios throughout the year. The mnemonic as quoted in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 428:
פקדו ופסחו, ולמעוברת סגרו ופסחו, מנו ועצרו, צומו וצלו, קומו ותקעו

 
All of the examples in the mnemonic list the Torah portion that comes BEFORE the chag…except for one:
For Tish’a B’Av, it says: צומו וצלו
“Fast and then pray” i.e. Tish’a B’Av (fast) occurs and then we read Parshas Va’eschanan (which is a prayer of Moshe, hence “pray”)
 
Rabbi Lebowitz poses the following 3 questions:
Question 1: Why for 9Av, does Chazal list the “chag”/occasion first and then the Parsha that comes AFTER it? It should say ‘read Devarim and then have 9Av’…


Question 2: Moshe says in Devarim 1:37 that Hashem punished him, by not allowing him to enter Eretz Yisrael, because of Bnei Yisrael’s sin of the Meraglim:
גַּם בִּי הִתְאַנַּף ה’ בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר גַּם אַתָּה לֹא תָבֹא שָׁם

Why is Moshe blaming Bnei Yisrael for being denied entry to the Land; wasn’t he punished because he hit the rock, instead of speaking to it?

Question 3: The Midrash in Meggilas Eicha instructs us to read Devarim 1:12 in the somber tune of Meggilas Eicha. The passuk begins with the word “eicha,” and in it Moshe recounts his feelings that he could no longer bear the burden of the multitude of the people. Other than the word “eichah”, what link is there between this passuk/Parshas Devarim, and 9Av?

To begin, there is certainly a link between Devarim and 9Av: As Rashi explains at the beginning of Devarim, Moshe lists all the places where Bnei Yisrael traveled where something bad happened, to hint to them that they should remember their missteps in that location. Since 9Av is a result of our sins, it is fitting to hear Moshe’s mussar, with regards to our sins, on the Shabbat before 9Av.

Rav Soloveitchik points out further, that the only sin that Moshe expounds upon in detail and explicitly states in the parsha, is Cheit HaMeraglim – the sin occurred on 9Av ,and triggered all future suffering on this day. To understand this, we must recognize the degreeof devestation of the Meraglim. Before the Meraglim, Bnei Yisrael were on a tremendous high, making their way out of slavery, with the Torah in hand, on the way to the Promised Land. Along comes the damaging report of the Meraglim, and Bnei Yisrael plummet drastically. The ultimate and final gift after all Bnei Yisrael endured, and after all miracles Hashem performed, was Eretz Yisrael…and we spit, kaviyachol, in Hashem’s face, by believing the spies’ negative report. 

Cheit HaMeraglim is the culmination of all of Bnei Yisrael’s complaining and all the jabs they took at Moshe by asking ‘why did YOU [Moshe] take us out of Egypt to die in the desert’. It was a lack of emunah that was too much to recover from, and why that generation dies in the desert. Moshe knew it wasn’t him that really took Bnei Yisrael out and was testing them, but after a while it had a tiny effect on him. It is this frustration that causes him to veer ever so slightly from Hashem’s word at Mei Meriva. Moshe hits the rock because he reaches a breaking point precipitated by Cheit HaMeraglim

As noted, Cheit HaMeraglim was the first of the major catastrophes to happen on 9Av. According to Megilla 31b, some Tanaaim held that we should read the story of the Meraglim in Parshas Shlach on the morning of 9Av. We, however, follow a different opinion and read from Va’eschanan…
A shift occurred where we went from using 9Av only as a day to remember the bad things in Parshas Devarim, to a day where we also think to the future and pray. 
“Fast and pray,” say Chazal; make sure you pray after you fast. We certainly mourn all the terrible things that happened, but we don’t wallow and abandone hope. We don’t mourn just to mourn, so we can say, ‘woe unto us’. The reason for the fasting is for us feel our distance from Hashem, and use that aching feeling to move closer toward Him. If fasting doesn’t motivate us to pray to move closer to Hashem, then it didn’t fulfill it’s purpose.
The goal is V’shavta ad Hashem elokecha v’shamata b’kolo”

The Gemara in Ta’anis 30b and Bava Basra 60b, famously states:
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה
All who mourn over Yerushalayim will merit and will see its simchah
 
We still mourn, because we know that when we mourn, it’s not just about the pain of the past, but also about bringing the joy of the future. The past brings us to our destiny; we glance backward, to eagerly look forward.
Rav Soloveitchik said that because we remember our past, we know how to live in the present, so that we can achieve our future.
 
Part of Chazal’s mnemonic is to inform us what our focus should be on and after 9Av. The past is extremely important; lessons from Devarim must not be discounted. But the parsha that more accurately dictates what our mindset should be on 9Av and during this period, is the parsha after 9Av, namely this week’s parsha of Va’eschana. In it, Moshe wasn’t praying for just anything; in the first few psukim of Va’eschanan he is desperately pleading enter Eretz Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael allowed the spies’ reports to chill this passion and deep love of Eretz Yisrael that should have been blazing inside of them. I believe we are supposed to experience the pain of 9Av, and come out mimicking Moshe’s prayer, yearning to be in our Homeland with the Beis HaMikdash.
 
Our goal on 9Av and going forward is not self-loathing. Instead, we take the lessons of the past, to pray for the future and merit:
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

 

Devarim

Sefer Devarim – the book of Moshe’s speeches (literally meaning the “book of words”) – opens:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל

The Midrash Tanchuma asks how it is that Moshe went from being a man in Sefer Shmos of few words, who could barely speak, to a man of many words, and an orator of such eloquence…how did he get from לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי  to  אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים ?

The Midrash Rabbah, quotes Mishlei 15:4 to help answer this question: Marpeh lashon eitz chaim = “The one that heals the tongue is the tree of life.” 

The “tree of life” in this passuk is Torah, and so the the Torah represents the power to improve and direct our speech toward something great. Indeed the Torah is meant to teach us a romantic language – one between man and Hashem and one between man and man. Hashem’s words give us the capacity to make a meaningful life, for ourselves and those that hear the words we produce.
Among the many proofs of how Torah is supposed to effect our speech, Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim 119:97:
מָה אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ כָּל הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי

How do we fulfill this goal of having our entire day filled with words of Torah? If we’re not sitting and learning the entire day, how can we make Torah our day-long conversation? 

By using the unique power of speech humans were granted to speak and conduct ourselves properly. It is this overwhelming importance of speech that makes Lashon HaRa such a grave offense, and why abuse of speech brought the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara in Erachin 15b quotes Tehillim, which says: Hachaim vehamavet beyad halashon, “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue.” The Gemara discusses why the expression “in the hands” is used. Beyad means “dependent on,” but it is unusual that the verse uses another part of the body for this expression – the toungue obviously does not have hands. 
The Gemara explains that the verse uses this particular phraseology in order to juxtapose the hand with the tongue: “ma yad meimita, af lashon meimita” =  “in the same way that a hand can kill, so too the tongue can kill.” Words from the tongue are just as capable – in fact more capable – of inflicting physical harm as the hand.

These ideas came to mind not only with Tish’a B’Av around the corner, but also because Daniella’s matzeivah was recently erected, and on it is the perfectly fitting passuk of:
מָה אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ כָּל הַיּוֹם הִיא שִׂיחָתִי 

This passuk was chosen for Daniella’s kever and so magnificently encapsulates Daniella’s way of approaching her day and the world – always speaking and interacting in the ways of Torah, with kind words and no judgments.

(A picture of Daniella’s matzeivah can be viewed here: http://inmemoryofdaniella.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Daniella-Kever.jpg )

Finally, Rav Ozer Glickman shlita writes on the original question posed about Moshe’s “transformation”, that the Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Teffila explains that the liturgy chosen was the response to the dispersion of Jews throughout the world, and the lost ability to express themselves in a single, unified language. We lost our ability to articulate our praise and affection for Hashem and our requests of Him, on a personal and communal level. (Please G-d, our unified teffila, particularly of matir asurim, should be answered for the IDF soldier captured this morning: Hadar ben Chedvah Leah)

The more Torah and Torah values we study and personify, the more significance our prayers will have. Just as a person cannot pick up a musical instrument and produce beautiful music without  practice, and just as Moshe needed Torah and closeness to Hashem to learn to produce the beautiful words of Sefer Devarim, so too is Torah the key to our refined speech and d’veikus, both with Hashem and our fellow man.