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…
How do we define beauty?
Rav Lebowitz explains that the opposite of beauty in Judaism is something sullied and dirtied; something that you can’t see beyond the surface.
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.
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.
…בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
Then in the next passuk Moshe calls to Yehoshua and tells him basically the exact same thing: 31:7-8
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:
Looks kinda familiar.
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.
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.
3. Rav Yisroel (Taub, I believe) of Modzitz understands v’hisigucha in terms of hasaga – mentalcomprehension and knowledge.
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…
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.
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).
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.
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?
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”, ind
Amaleik: Devarim 25:17-18
Many meforshim write that Amalek embody “mikreh” – believing the world functions by coincidence, instead of Divine Providence. (see also dvar torah for B’chukotai )
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.
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.
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
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.
After Bnei Yisrael are commanded (reminded) not to consume the blood of an animal, Moshe provides a strong incentive to listen:
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.
The full section inside:
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.
[based on a dvar torah given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz]
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?’
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 …
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?
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:
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.
[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
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”
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.”
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?
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.
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.