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Date :23 Elul 5760, 23/9/2000
“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list
subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for
members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)
Dedicated to the loving memory of Avi Mori
Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l
Please respect the Holiness of these pages
These pages are also sent out weekly via the internet in MS Word
format. Anyone interested in receiving them, please feel feee to
contact me at the following email address: [email protected] Arieh.
Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel
by Rabbi Baruch Gigi, Yeshivat Har Etzion, and Rabbi of the
Sephardi Synagogue, Alon Shevut
"You are standing today ... You stand today ready to fulfill His
covenant .... It may be that He made a new covenant with them, like
the first one at Sinai" [Ramban]. This covenant, agreed to on the
Moav Plain right before entering into Eretz Yisrael, had a new
element - mutual responsibility. "The secrets remain for our G-d, and
the revealed things are for us and our descendents for ever"
[Devarim 29:28]. Rashi explains this, according to the opinion of
Rabbi Nechemia (in Sanhedrin), that there is no punishment for
hidden sins, while for overt sins everybody took on responsibility for
the others after they accepted the oaths at Mount Gerizim and Mount
According to the Mechilta, the covenant at Sinai also had an
element of mutual responsibility. "Rebbi said: This is praise for Bnei
Yisrael. When they stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they
joined together with one heart to receive the kingdom of heaven with
joy. Not only this, but they took on mutual responsibility for each
other." Rebbi's comment is based on the fact that the first
commandment was given in the singular: "I am your G-d" [Shemot
20:2]. It is also probably related to another verse written in the
singular, "And Yisrael camped there across from the mountain" [19:2]
- as one man, with one heart.
However, if this is the case, what innovation was there in the
mutual responsibility taken on at Moav, over and above the same
obligation which already existed at Sinai? It would seem that there is
a basic difference between the two covenants. The agreement on the
Moav Plain was initiated by the Almighty, who insisted that the people
be responsible for each other. On the other hand, the covenant at
Sinai was initiated by the people, who reached this level because of
their exalted spirits.
In fact, the difference between the two covenants is deeper than
this. On the Moav Plain, the description of the event is in the plural You are standing, the revealed things are for us and for our
descendents. In this case, one part of the nation agrees to be
responsible for stopping the others from sinning. At Sinai, on the
other hand, the language is singular - Yisrael camped there, I am
your G-d. This is related to the fact that the people are not totally
separate but are a single entity, the community of Yisrael. And the
mutual responsibility among the people is a natural consequence of
understanding this point.
At this time, as we approach the start of the new Shmitta year, let
us strengthen our feelings of mutual responsibility for one another,
not only in the sense of the Moav Plain but in the deeper meaning of
Sinai. From this recognition of unity - "All of the people were as one
heart, to joyously accept the kingdom of G-d" - we can hope for
fulfillment of the verse from Shir Hashirim: "You are completely
beautiful, my beloved, you have no blemish" [4:7].
EDUCATION IN THE TORAH: Education in the
Presence of the Community
give a reward to those who bring them.
It may be suggested that the deep impression left on very young
minds is in itself the reward for those who brought them. When
Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai listed the praises of his students, he
said about Rabbi Yehoshua, "The one who gave birth to him should
be blessed" [Avot 2:10]. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, this is
because "his mother would take his crib to the synagogue so that his
ears would be inspired by the words of Torah" [Yevamot 1:6]. As a
baby, Yehoshua certainly did not understand what he heard in the
synagogue, but the impressions he retained maintained him as a
youth in his determination to study and become an illustrious rabbi.
And in this way, his mother received her proper reward.
Thus, the young children brought to the event may not have
understood what was said, but they would be inspired for many years
afterwards. And this itself is the reward given to the parents.
POINT OF VIEW: UNcivil Reform
by Rabbi Yisrael Rozen
"It is indeed so, the inclination rules us ... let the merit of a citizen
blossom" [from the Ashkenazi prayer "Omnam Ken" on Yom Kippur
Perhaps one of my readers can explain how to reconcile some
contradictory statements. On the one hand, there is a declaration to
the whole world, "The Temple Mount is the most important of our
national holy places, and we will never relinquish our holy sites." On
the other hand, the following slogan has been proposed for civil
reform: "We will march with heads held high towards the twenty-first
century, by deleting 'nationality' from our ID cards and, on Shabbat,
by instituting El Al flights in the heavens and commerce and public
transportation on the ground."
And perhaps somebody can explain another contradiction.
Today, instituting civil marriage and marriage records that will lead to
a division in the nation. On the very same day, it was decided to
establish a "togetherness council" in order to instill a feeling of unity
in the nation.
And with a third paradox, my point has been proven (see Amos,
chapters 1 and 2 - "Al arba'a lo ashivenu"). The chief is infused with
megalomania reminiscent of Ben Gurion, acting as one on a higher
level than the people, even though he was chosen by them. On the
other hand, the very same chief does everything in his power to
destroy Ben Gurion's "historic covenant" and attempts to wipe out
every vestige of a common national heritage between the labor
movement and the religious sector.
There might be some people who claim that what we are seeing
cannot be understood or explained. The popular reaction would be
something like, "The chief has gone mad." Others would blame
misguided advisors who surround the Big Boss, leading him to err
with a "new agenda," in order to turn the public eye away from
political failures. But I say that neither of these approaches is right.
What we are seeing is a well thought out tactical plan, similar to the
legend about the wise rabbi and the overcrowded cabin. The chief is
opening our crowded homes to let the sheep in, only to expel them
later, for the price of abandoning the Temple Mount and parts of
Jerusalem, Yesha, and the Golan.
However, we must beware, for a "reform" can develop its own
dynamics, and marginal items within it may come true, whether we
like it or not. The unwelcome sheep leave behind droppings and
unpleasant odors. And even if the animals are removed from the
house, the filth remains.
Do I have to spell out the moral of this story in terms of current
events? Even if the "civil reform" dissipates, and the sheep are
removed from the altar of "UNcivility", following the lead of "the
Number One Soldier of the Nation," the plan will still leave its mark.
There is no way to erase the ideas which have been voiced: to
remove "nationality" from the ID cards, to secularize the public
atmosphere of Shabbat, and to institutionalize mixed marriages, thus
wiping out the public institutions related to marriages and the Jewish
In addition, even if the Arab whispers die down for now, and the
waits quietly in its lair, we have heard ideas about making
Jerusalem an international city, about transforming the Temple Mount
into a "B" area (joint sovereignty), about freeing prisoners with hands
tainted in blood, about forcing settlers to move, about the return of
Arab refugees, and about Syrians returning to the 1967 borders.
The phrase "civil reform," similar to "citizenship privileges," is
considered as opposed to a nationalistic approach. The citizen is at
the center, the individual "little pawn" who worries us most. But this is
a mistake. When the word "citizen" appears in the Torah it does not
refer to individuality. Rather, the "citizen" is always part of a
community. "There should be one Torah both for the citizen and for
the stranger" [Shemot 12:49]. "Let him be a citizen of the land"
[12:48]. And there are many similar examples. One memorable
example is in the section relating to Succot. "Every citizen in Yisrael
shall sit in succot" [Vayikra 23:42]. And the Midrash adds, "This
teaches us that all of Yisrael are worthy of sitting in a single succa"
[Succot 27b].
Thus, the essence of citizenship is to be part of a community. Let
us return the cart to its rightful place after the horses, and put our
own "civil reform" into place. Let us put our nationalistic feelings in
proper perspective and emphasize "Jewish citizenship," striving for a
single unified community of all of Yisrael (as on Succot), including
each and every person.
by Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv
The Torah commands that after the seventh year of Shemitta,
"men, women, and small children" should gather together in the place
that G-d chooses, to hear the leader read the words of the Torah
(Devarim 31:10-12). Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria said, "Men come to
study, and women come to hear. But why bring the young children?
They are there to give a reward to those who bring them" [Chagiga
3a]. However, his entire question is not clear. Doesn't the rabbi know
the educational value of having small children participate in such a
great and impressive event? Even if they do not understand anything
that happens, they will retain the memory for many years afterwards.
This is evidently the reason that the small children participated in the
ceremony of signing the covenant, as related in the beginning of the
portion ("and your small children" [29:10]).
FROM THE HAFTARA: "I Have Placed Guards
It may be that Rabbi Elazar's question is based on the fact that
Around Your Walls, Jerusalem"
the Torah explicitly gives the reason of the gathering, "so that they
by Rabbi Amnon Bazak
will hear, and they will learn to fear G-d" [31:12]. The same is written
This is the last Haftara of the year, and it is also the last of the
about the sons, "And their sons who do not know will hear and they
Seven Haftarot of Consolation. It is near the end of the book of
will learn to fear" [31:13]. Rabbi Elazar therefore asks about the
Yeshayahu, "I will rejoice in G-d" [61:10-63:9]. It contains a very well
young children, who cannot be expected to learn anything at this
known verse, "I have place guards around your walls,
gathering. Why should they be brought? And his answer is, to
Jerusalem, all day and all night. They will never be silent." [62:6].
Targum Yonatan explains that this refers to early ancestors,
righteous men who lived in Jerusalem and defended it like a wall.
RADAK quotes other commentators who feel that this refers to the
mourners of Tzion, who pray day and night about Jerusalem.
However, it would seem that the most straightforward explanation is
that of Rashi, based on the sages, that the verse refers to angels.
There are other cases in the Tanach where angels are said to
keep watch over Jerusalem. Here is the way Yechezkel describes the
part that they played in the symbolic destruction of the city. He first
hears the cry, "the officials of the city approach" [9:1]. Six people
appear, one of them wearing a uniform and carrying a scribe's slate,
and they are figuratively commanded to kill all the sinners in
Jerusalem. The people are called officials of the city, like the real
guards, who also caught Yirmiyahu: "And behold he was at the gate
of Binyamin, and there was an official there named Yiriyah"
[Yirmiyahu 36:13].
Thus, in parallel with the earthly guards of the city there are also
heavenly guards, and they participated in the destruction. However,
G-d promises that in the future guards will be appointed who have the
opposite task. "Do not be silent and do not give Him silence, until it
will be rebuilt and Jerusalem will be a source of praise for the world"
[Yeshayahu 62:6-7].
the King's Torah Reading
by Rabbi Binyamin Tabory
"At the end of seven years, on the occasion of Shemitta, on the
holiday of Succot ... read this Torah in front of all Yisrael" [Devarim
31:10-11]. What is unclear in the verse is who should read the Torah.
According to Chizkuni, Moshe commanded Yehoshua to do this, and
since Yehoshua had the status of a king, it is clear that the king is the
one who should do the reading. In the Sefer Hamitzvot, the Rambam
lists this as one of the 613 mitzvot but he does not mention who
reads the Torah (mitzva 16). In Hilchot Chagiga, the Rambam writes
that there is a positive mitzva to gather all of Bnei Yisrael together
and read to them sections "which will encourage them to perform
mitzvot and strengthen their belief in the true religion" [3:1]. But here
again he does not mention who does the reading. Further on, in
describing the mitzva, the Rambam writes, "the king is the one who
reads to them." This implies that there is no special commandment
for the king to read, but that this is simply a detail of the more general
However, the Sefer Hachinuch, which usually follows the
approach of the Rambam, quotes his words but adds the following.
"And one who transgresses this, whether a man or a woman, and
does not come to hear the words of Torah, and also a king who
refuses to read - has avoided a positive mitzva." Thus, the Sefer
Hachinuch agrees with the Rambam that there is a positive mitzva to
gather the nation but he feels that there is a specific command for the
king to read the Torah. At first glance, this might imply that there are
two mitzvot and not just one.
The Yerai'im in fact lists a specific mitzva of "reading by the king"
(266). This is a mitzva for the king and not for the community as a
whole. He proves that the king is obligated to read from a verse about
King Yoshiyahu. "The king sent out messengers and the people were
gathered ... And he read to them the entire book of the covenant
which had been found" [II Melachim 23:1-2]. The Yerai'im also lists
an additional mitzva, that "when the king reads the Torah, all the
people must come and listen" (433).
In 1889, Rabbi Aderet printed a pamphlet anonymously, called
"In Memory of the Temple." He explained the foundations of the
mitzva of "Hakhel" and proposes instituting a ceremony in its
memory. He gave two reasons why this mitzva is not binding in
modern times. (1) Perhaps the obligation is only when "all of Yisrael
comes" [Devarim 31:11]. (2) It may be that there is an obligation only
at a time when Shemitta is a Torah obligation, and there are many
sages who feel that in modern times Shemitta is only a rabbinical
decree. Rabbi Shlomo David Kahane suggested two other reasons.
(1) The reading must take place in the Women's Section of the
Temple, which we are not permitted to enter today. (2) The king must
do the reading, and today we have no king.
Rabbi Aderet suggested that even if the king is required to read,
the people might be able to fulfil the mitzva by listening to some other
leader reading the Torah. This might be especially true according to
the Yerai'im, who feels that the requirement for the king to read is a
separate mitzva.
NOTES ON IBN EZRA: The Beginning or the End of
by Rabbi Uri Dasberg
"At the end of seven years" [Devarim 31:10], refers to the mitzva
of "hakhel," gathering Bnei Yisrael. Ibn Ezra interprets this as, "the
beginning of the year." That is, he feels that the mitzva should be
observed in the beginning of the Shemitta year, during Succot (about
two weeks from now). This is not the accepted halacha, which rules
that "hakhel" is at the end of the seventh year, at the beginning of the
eighth year. According to Ibn Ezra, the reading of the Torah during
this ceremony should be linked to the beginning of this special year,
when every man is free of obligations to the land and can devote all
his time to studying Torah. And that is why the verse continues, "so
that they will study" [31:12]. According to Ibn Ezra's "long"
commentary on Shemot (20:8), Shabbat should similarly be
considered as the beginning of the week and not the end. This gives
a person an opportunity to store up the energy required to face the
coming week.
Ibn Ezra brings a proof of this interpretation in his "long"
commentary, Shemot 21:2, where we are taught that a Hebrew slave
"should work for seven years, and go free in the seventh year." In
Yirmiyahu, it is written, "Set them free at the end of seven years"
[34:14] (using the same wording as in our verse in the Torah,
"mikeitz sheva shanim"). As Ibn Ezra explains, "Every object has two
ends ... sometimes the word 'keitz' refers to the beginning, and
sometimes it means the end." In Yirmiyahu and with reference to
Shemitta, the meaning is the beginning.
Ibn Ezra gives a similar explanation with respect to canceling
loans on Shemitta, which is also described with the same phrase, "At
the end of seven years" [Devarim 15:1]. Here again he feels that this
refers to the beginning of the year and not the end. Thus, according
to his ruling, we should write a "pruzbul" to avoid cancellation of
debts this week and not wait another year.
The ROSH has an approach which seems somewhat similar.
According to this, the cancellation of debt occurs at the end of the
Shemitta year, but from the beginning of the year it is already
forbidden to make a claim for a debt. However, his source for this is
evidently not "mikeitz," which he interprets as the end of the year, just
as the other sages do. Rather, it is the verse, "Let him not pressure
his colleague ... for it is called Shemitta for G-d" [Devarim 15:2].
When Shemitta has been declared, that is, at the beginning of the
year, it is forbidden to make a claim.
According to the "Knesset Hagedola," Ibn Ezra and the ROSH
both agree. In order to satisfy this opinion, some people write a
"pruzbul" before the beginning of Shemitta, in addition to writing one
at the end of the year. For example, on Friday, Chabad Chassidim
will give a "pruzbul" to the "judges" at the ceremony of annulling their
vows, saying or writing the following: I hereby transfer to you all debts
owed to me, so that I will be able to collect them whenever I want to.
SCIENCE IN THE TORAH: "Sulfur and Salt Burned
all its Land" [Devarim 29:22]
by Idit Gamliel
One of the items mentioned as part of the destruction of the land
is damage done by sulfur. Sulfur is a nonmetallic element which
easily catches fire, and it was thus always known as a flammable
substance. For many generations, sulfur was an important factor in
fire, and the alchemists considered it the only element which burns in
all of its forms. Even in modern times, the simplest way to light a fire
is with a match, which at first were made with sulfuric acid.
However, sulfur is not only a dangerous substance. It has useful
properties in many areas of our life. For example, it is an important
component in the process of sulfurization of rubber. In this process,
sulfur is added to natural rubber, transforming it from a soft and
pliable material to something hard but flexible, which can be used for
making tires. Sulfur is also an important ingredient in sprays used for
protecting trees against insects and molds. In addition, it is a
significant ingredient in the manufacture of blasting powder and is
used in the manufacture of sulfa drugs.
Sulfur is very abundant in nature. It occurs as a compound with
metals, in sulfur salt beds, and in natural gas, and it can be extracted
from petroleum. Deposits which are not in a chemical compound can
be found in volcanic areas, such as Sicily and Texas or Louisiana in
the USA. In Israel, sulfur can be found mostly in the northern Negev
Declare Before Them" [Devarim 31:21]
by the Center for Religious Education in Israel
The Torah is a guide for all walks of life, and it is relevant to the
most advanced areas of science. The Torah-science religious school
"Moria" in Karmiel sees for itself a task to study the connection
between science and the Torah, in an effort to encourage research
and an integrated outlook. The program aims to bring the students in
contact with human, technological, and written sources. This should
enhance their ability to form a complete and balanced result. The
students have been organized into groups of mixed ages, according
to which topics interest them.
The school has joined forces with the "Lehava" Institute in
Jerusalem, headed by Rabbi Mordechai Halperin. The institute
provides halachic authority for the teachers and the students by
pointing out the halachic sources relevant to various scientific
questions. The students can turn for advice to the school rabbi, Rabbi
Ofir Krisfal, to a consultant from Lehava Institute, Rabbi Shmuel
Strauss, and to Hadas Tza'adi, from the Department of Research
Techniques of the Ministry of Education.
For more details, contact the principal of the school, at 049986116.
A TALE TO BE TOLD: "For it Will Not be Forgotten
by their Descendents" [Devarim 31:21]
by Yeshayahu Gantz
"Even the shallowest of them are full of mitzvot like a
pomegranate has seeds" [Sanhedrin 37a]. This is clear from a story
told by the "Grandfather" of Shpoli, a rabbi who was even able to
make contact with the sinners and evildoers in his city.
Yossele, one of the quickest and most experienced of the thieves
in the town, once felt a craving for the treasures of diamonds in the
local church. In the middle of the night, he crept into the church and
filled a sack with all his eyes could see. But when he stood at the
window to jump clear with his loot, he was caught by the police, and
indicted for the very serious crime of stealing "from the sanctity."
At his trial, Yossele pleaded as follows: "Recently, I found myself
in a very serious financial situation, and in my great despair I entered
the church. I stood in front of the cross and I spilled out my heart to
the crucified one, my eyes overflowing with tears. Suddenly, he
turned to me and said, Yossele, why are you crying? Here is a large
pile of precious stones, take all you need for your worthy family. I did
as I was told. How can you possibly punish me for this?"
When the judges heard this plea, they were upset and left the
room for consultation. In the end, they sentenced Yossele to death.
However, they left him one way to escape his fate, if he would
renounce his Jewish faith and convert. When Yossele heard the
verdict, his reply was: "I may be a thief, but you are asking me
to convert! This is something I will never do!"
On the appointed day, a huge crowd gathered in the town square
to see the Jewish thief burn at the stake. Moments before he lost his
life, the priests once again turned to Yossele and offered him the
opportunity to save himself by converting. They promised to give him
great honor and riches. With the last of his remaining energy, he
cried out: "I may be a thief, but I remain a Jew!" And these were the
last words he said.
And the "Grandfather" of Shpoli would end this tale with the
words of Rabbi Zeira in Sanhedrin: "He smelled the fragrance of his
clothing" [Bereishit 27:27].
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner
Question: I was insulted when I read in our sages’ writings that
“women are stingier towards guests than men” (Bava Metzia 87a).
My husband invites guests and I go to a lot of trouble for them and do
not resent them. I also do not understand how our sages derived this
from the verse, “Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour!” (Genesis
18:6). They remark, “‘Finest flour’ is expressed by the words ‘kemach
solet’” [when “kemach” means regular flour and “solet” means fine
flour]. Rashi explains, “Sarah wished to use regular flour but
Abraham said ‘fine flour’.” How do our sages know this? Surely it was
all Abraham’s utterance.
Answer: You are justified in feeling insulted. Obviously, we believe in
the words of our holy sages, but you are still justified.
Let us first deal with your second question. There are several
interpretations to this verse:
1. Abraham said: “Three measures.” Sarah asked, “Regular flour?”
and Abraham responded, “Fine flour” (Shvut Ya’akov).
2. Our sages show that Abraham “said little but did much.” Surely he
was not a stingy person. Yet there is an old manuscript of Rashi with
the opposite wording: “He wished to use regular flour but Sarah said
‘fine flour’” (Haggadat Pesach, Ma’aseh Nissim, by Rabbi Akiva of
3. Some explain that if the Talmud is emphasizing that Sarah
suggested fine flour, it shows that women generally did not use it and
that most women are stingy (Ba’al Shem Tov).
4. We learn in Avot 1:5, “Let your home be open wide. Let the poor
be members of your household. Engage not in much talk with your
wife.” What connection is there between these three
pronouncements? If one listens to one’s wife, she will restrict one’s
hospitality. Thus, Sarah used the expression “fine flour” to hint to
Abraham that guests are expensive (Maharam Alshech).
5. The expression “kemach” includes all types of flour, even the least
fine. Therefore, since Sarah was stingy, Abraham stressed “fine flour”
(Torah Temimah).
The basic question is asked: Why are women accused of
resenting guests when it is they who do all the work for them? The
Maharal from Prague explains that the wife is jealous of guests. She
asks herself, “Why shouldn’t I be treated like a guest as well? Why
shouldn’t my husband relate to me nicely, as to a guest?” Moreover,
a guest eats for free and then leaves, and she works so hard!
Therefore, when she sees how much her husband honors guests,
she grieves and she envies the guest, and rightly so (Chidushei
Agadot, Bava Metzia).
Unfortunately, in fact, the husband sometimes honors the whole
world except for his wife. She devotes herself body and soul to her
family’s well-being, and suffers insults in silence, and her husband
takes advantage of this.
Consider how much the Patriarch Jacob was punished for
insulting Rachel, as is mentioned in Mesilat Yesharim:
“Jacob was punished for getting angry at Rachel when she said
to him, ‘Give me children!’ (Genesis 30:1). The Midrash taught: ‘G-d
asked Jacob: Is that the way we respond to the downtrodden?’” (Ch.
If the Patriarch Jacob was punished for this, where does that
leave us?
Very often the husband has a false sense of superiority.
According to psychologists, male arrogance stems from an inferiority
complex. It is therefore better that husbands should take hold of the
trait of modesty and recite the blessing thanking G-d “for not making
me a woman” in a quiet voice. In fact, such advice is given by one of
our medieval sages from Provence, born seven hundred years ago,
Rabbi Klonimus ben Klonimus ben Rabbi Meir HaNasi, at the end of
his poem, “He who finds a wife, finds goodness”:
Father in Heaven, who performed miracles for our ancestors with
fire and water / who transformed the heat of Kasdim, lest Abraham be
burnt by it / who transformed Dina [from male to female] in her
mother’s womb / You turned the staff into a serpent before the eyes
of millions / You turned the pure hand [of Moses] white / You dried
the Sea of Reeds / and made the soil under the Jordan dry and hard /
You turned a boulder into a pool of water / and a flint into a fountain /
Would that You would turn me from male to female! / If I merited this,
what a gift it would be! To be the woman of the house! / But what can
I say? / Why should I cry and be bitter if my Father in Heaven has so
decreed upon me a permanent blemish that I cannot remove? /
Fretting over that which cannot be brings great pain and is a waste /
Vain consolation will not help me / I said that I should just suffer and
forebear / until I pass away / Later on I learned from the Talmud /
“We bless G-d over both good and bad” / Hence I will bless G-d with
a low voice / “Blessed are You O L-rd, who has not made me a
30:15). At the end of this choice comes a divine recommendation as
well: “Choose life!” (v. 19). At first glance, however, the reason
provided for this recommendation does not stand the test of logic:
Why must we choose life? “In order that we should live!” (Ibid.). This
seems illogical. If G-d desires to convince us to choose life, He must
present us with other reasons that will explain why life is something
good and death is something bad. How can He suggest to us to
choose life only in order to live? The commentaries focused on this
difficulty, and I shall trace their remarks.
Targum Yonatan distinguishes between two levels of life:
“Choose life” -- preserving the way of the Tree of Life, the Torah -- in
This World, here and now. “In order that you should live” (Ibid.) -- in
the World-to-Come, in the future.
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, and other commentaries in his wake,
read the last two verses, 19 and 20, as a contiguous unit. The first
verse directs us to choose life: “Choose life, in order that you should
live.” And what is the content of that life which G-d recommends? The
second verse answers this, stating that the recommended life indeed
has rich and varied content -- “to love the L-rd your G-d, heed His
voice and cling to Him.” The verse goes on to explain why loving G-d,
heeding His voice and clinging to Him constitute the content that
make life worth living: “For they are your life and your length of days.”
Following this same approach, Ohr HaChaim explains the end of
the verse, which ascends from the life of the individual to the life of
the nation. The word of G-d does not just afford profound content to
the life of the individual, but also to the life of the nation that sets out
“to dwell in the land that the L-rd swore to your ancestors.”
A still deeper message emerges from the words of Rabbi
Abraham Isaac Kook (Orot HaTorah, Ch. 6, letter 7):
“A healthy person desires life, and he does not seek reasons and
proofs for this. The mentally ill, suicidal individual, by contrast, is
full of doubts about the purpose of life.”
Thus, the true, profound reason for the recommendation to
“choose life” is indeed “in order that you should live.” You must
choose life because life has value. That value does not derive from
anything outside of life itself, but only from that which life itself
contains. The proof of this is those values that exist in life. Human life
stems from the divine. “For it is your life and your length of days.” The
life of the individual is one small spark out of the divine vitality that
envelops all of Creation. As a direct result of this, there is no real life
save that which gives expression to the fact that life comes from G-d.
It is this which requires us “to love the L-rd our G-d, to heed His voice
and to cling to Him.” Therefore, Rabbi Kook writes regarding that
same healthy individual who desires life:
“By the same token, the person with the healthy spirit loves the
Torah... and one teaching from the Torah... is worth more to him than
any wealth.”
It is the same regarding our national lives. A nation that desires
life naturally wishes “to dwell in the land that the L-rd swore He would
give to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” As Ohr HaChaim
wrote, “The mitzvah to settle the Land is one that encompasses the
whole Torah.”
It is on this background that we stand in the Ten Days of
Repentance and ask: “Remember us for life, King who desires life.
Inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, O Living G-d.”
Dov Bigon
“Let the old year and its curses be done! Let the new year and its
blessings begin!”
“The couriers went out in haste by the king’s command, and the
decree was given in Shushan the capital... The city of Shushan was
perplexed” (Esther 3:15). When the harsh decrees awaiting the
Jewish People became known, it was a rough moment. The Jews
were worried and perplexed.
Today, there is talk of separating religion from state, the
equivalent of tearing the soul out of our national body. Moreover,
“surgeons” from within and without are placing Jerusalem, the
nation’s heart, on the operating table and deliberating amongst
themselves about how best to tear it apart and to divide it up with
foreign nations and religions. At this time, such plans and such talk,
and such deeds, cause many many Jews from the whole spectrum of
society to be worried and perplexed. Throughout two thousand years
of exile, we prayed and looked forward to returning to Eretz Yisrael
and to Jerusalem, to renewing our days as of old, to living as a free
people in our land, not just politically but spiritually and Jewishly as
And just now, when we are succeeding in realizing our dream,
harsh voices are being heard that we have to blot out the Jewish
fabric of the State -- G-d forbid -- and to divide up Eretz Yisrael and
Jerusalem and hand them over to a foreign people. Such words and
such actions tear up our hearts and bring us to sorrowful tears.
Yet the Jewish People are believers and the sons of believers.
We, who in the past suffered so much for thousands of years,
remaining loyal to our religion and our land, will with G-d’s help
overcome. We know for certain that the words we are hearing are just
the peel concealing sweet fruit, a descent for the sake of an ascent.
The day is not far off when the whole nation and its leaders will
understand that the glue that has united the Jewish People
throughout the generations and that gives it its might and strength is
Jewish tradition. They will see that it is impossible to separate
between the religion and State of Israel, and certainly, between the
Jewish People and Jerusalem, heart of the nation.
May we all merit through this together to a good and sweet year.
“Let the old year and its curses be done! Let the new year and its
blessings begin!”
Rabbi Azriel Ariel
Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber
The Master of the Universe sets a choice before us: “Before you I
In his book, “Tales of the Hassidim” (Moadim, page 43),
have placed life and death, good and evil” (Deuteronomy
Rabbi Zevin writes:
“On the Sabbath following Rosh Hashanah, the Maggid from
Metzerich expounded on the verse, ‘You shall return unto the L-rd
[Hashem] your G-d [Elokecha],’ commenting that one must repent
until one makes Hashem his G-d [Elokim]. Hashem represents G-d’s
ineffable name and carries the idea that G-d transcends all worlds.
By contrast, the word for G-d ‘Elokim,’ whose Hebrew letters have a
numerical value of 86, corresponds to nature, ‘teva,’ which has the
same numerical value.
“The entire holy convocation that was present were stirred up
greatly by this teaching, and the saintly Reb Zusia from Anapol who
was also present said, ‘I cannot reach this level of repentance
described by our master. Therefore, I will divide up repentance into
five parts, according to verses beginning with the five letters of the
Hebrew word for repentance, ‘teshuvah’:
(Tav) ‘Remain totally faithful to the L-rd your G-d’ (Deuteronomy
(Shin) ‘I set the L-rd before me always’ (Psalm 16:8).
(Vav) ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).
(Bet) ‘In all your ways acknowledge him’ (Proverbs 3:6).
(Hei) ‘Walk humbly with your G-d’ (Micah 6:8).”
Seemingly there are two distinct understandings here of
repentance: The Maggid from Metzerich views repentance as relating
to the whole span of the universe. The repentance that preceded the
universe (Pesachim 54a) operated until the universe was created.
Henceforth, repentance addresses not just the personal sin of the
individual, committed of his own free will, but also sets out to rectify
the world’s fall at the time of Creation and mankind’s fall when Adam
sinned. Thus, every infant that comes into the world, even before it
has committed any sin, is already in the midst of two cycles of falling - that of the universe at the time of Creation, and that of mankind
through Adam’s sin. According to the Maggid, therefore, repentance
does not serve only to rectify man’s free-will sins. Rather, it serves
also to restore mankind to its status prior to Adam’s sin, and to
restore Creation to its original state that existed when Creation was a
divine idea that had not yet been fulfilled. It was to this that the
Maggid was referring when he said that our repentance must be “to
Hashem your G-d” -- until the divine source and His revelation to man
reunite -- as it says, “On that day will the L-rd be one and His name
One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Is Reb Zusia suggesting an alternative to the repentance of the
Maggid, or just a supplement? Truth be told, their opinions not only
do not contradict each other but actually supplement each other.
Rebbe Zusia would concur that repentance in its fullest sense has to
relate to the whole universe. Such is the repentance that will be
revealed in the end of days when the earth is filled with knowledge of
G-d the way that water fills the seas. When that day arrives, every
creature will know that G-d made him.
Yet this idea is lofty and it is impossible to reach such a high level
unless we first start climbing up to it by mundane steps. What is
special about the five examples from which Reb Zusia builds his
redemption foundation? Apart from their being general mitzvot that
encompass the whole Torah, what characterizes them is that when a
Jew fulfills them, he nullifies his independent being. When a person
“remains totally faithful to G-d,” then all of his actions are exclusively
for G-d, rather than serving to benefit him or to advance his own
interests or those of his family.
Likewise, when someone “sets G-d before him always,” he, too,
is not looking at what benefits will derive to him from his actions. For
example, if he heads a yeshiva, and nearby are other yeshivot, it will
make no difference to him whether students study in his Torah
institution or in another (such a person was Rabbi Moshe Tzvi
Neriah). For him the main thing will be that G-d’s name be publicized
on earth.
If someone loves his neighbor as himself, it will be all the same to
him whether good things happen to him or to his fellow man. The
same will be true if someone “acknowledges G-d in all his ways” or
“walks humbly with G-d.”
This the way Reb Zusia viewed the foundation of repentance.
When human society achieves this, they will then be prepared to be
exalted and to climb to the pinnacle of repentance. Then through us
will be fulfilled, “You shall return to the L-rd your G-d,” as in the words
of the Maggid.
ourselves is never beyond our grasp. The gathering in of the exiles,
national unity and the return to our homeland are all predicated on
one movement - tshuva. Repentance is the only elixir for our spiritual
and physical woes.
But before Moshe concludes his farewell address, he reinforces
the accessibility of one mitzva.
"For this mitzva that I command you today-it is not hidden...and it
is not distant. It is not in the heaven, for you to say 'Who can ascend
... and take it for us?' Nor is it across the sea for you to say 'Who can
cross to the other that we can listen to it...?' Rather, the
matter is very near to you - in your mouth and your heart- to perform
it." (30:11-14). Famous last words. The Gemara in Masechet Eruvin
(55a) does not take them as mere hyperbole. "Rav Avdimi bar
Chama said: What is the implication of 'this mitzva is not in
heavens?' For if it were indeed in heaven we would have to ascend
there to bring it back."
The mystery remains which mitzva is Moshe Rabbeinu referring
to? A mitzva so invaluable that no excuses could possibly justify its
absence from our lives.
Not surprisingly, Rashi understands the reference to be that of
Torah itself. Its study and observance will always serve as the
beacon light in the darkness of galut. Without it we have no chance
at survival. This is why the Jewish people would never be absolved
from finding it. Desperate situations call for desperate actions- even
if it literally means traveling to the heavens. The Ramban however
explains that the mitzva is directly related to Moshe's immediate
remarks. The mitzva which is so close to us - in our mouths and
hearts- is none other than tshuva. And it therefore follows that even if
"repentance" would be perched in the heavens, we would have to
find a way to bring it back to earth.
If we entertain the Ramban's approach, a quandary begins to
take hold. In this hypothesis, when tshuva is almost beyond our
reach in the heavens, then where is the Torah? It is undoubtedly with
us in its totality, safe and sound on firm ground. If that's the case,
then why bother rocketing to heaven to bring back tshuva? Surely
the Torah in all its Divine perfection could offer us the remedy for our
mistakes. When the life source of the Jewish soul is here, why
bother looking elsewhere for answers? Perhaps the following Midrash
can shed some light. "They asked 'Wisdom': What is the fate of the
sinner? It answered: 'Sinners pursue evil'. They asked 'Prophecy'
the same question. She responded in kind: 'There is no hope but
death itself'. They asked of the Torah: What remedy is there for the
sinner? It answered: 'Bring a sacrifice for atonement.' Finally the
question was posed to G-d Himself. And the answer was none other
than tshuva. 'Let the sinner find atonement through repentance."
(Yalkut Shimoni, Psalms 22)
Evidently, the true power of tshuva is locked away with HaShem.
Somehow, tshuva can work miracles that even defies the logic of the
Torah itself. " Last night this sinner was separated from G-d; his
prayers were ignored, his mitzvot were thrown back in his face. And
today, he is clinging to the Shchina; his tfilot are answered
immediately. There is a craving for his mitzvot... (Rambam, Hilchot
Tshuva 7:7)
A perfect cure for all our mistakes can be achieved overnight. It
all sounds too good to be true ; but make no mistake - it can be done.
This is the magical power of tshuva. It does more than just cleanse
away the stains left from poor choices. tshuva, if done properly, can
instantly transform us into brand new beings; erasing the past and
opening up new horizons all in a moment's time. Just as the case
with Torah, nothing would have stopped us from climbing to the
heavens and bringing it back. We could not exist without it.
The important message to remember is that it is not beyond our
grasp. Every Jew in earnest really wants to come back. Intuitively
we understand that "enough is enough". It is high time for some
changes. K'lal Yisrael needs to return home - home to our Creatorhome to a life of Torah- home to our homeland. The decision is up to
us. As we prepare for the last week of 5760- let us hold on to the
eternal words of our teacher, Moshe: "Rather, the matter is very near
to you- in your mouth and in your heart- to perform it."
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:
3 - NYCI (Block)
NCYI Weekly Divrei Torah, From:Kenneth Block ([email protected])
Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg Young Israel of Colombus / Ahavas
Sholom, Ohio
No one other than Moshe Rabbeinu could so eloquently put into
perspective the meandering course Jewish history would take as K'lal
Yisrael struggles to come to terms with its true identity as the Chosen
Nation. As is the case with much of the Book of Dvarim, Parshat
Nitzavim is a moving homily that forewarns of the pain and suffering
that comes along with poor choices. Galut- exile, assimilation,
hemorrhaging statistics of intermarriage are all the results of sin. On
the last day of his life, Moshe reminds us that just as the observance
of mitzvot yields unprecedented blessing and superior quality of life,
conversely, a lifestyle which ignores the primacy of Torah produces
the exact opposite. Sometimes the most effective messages are
simplest in form.
It is by no means a coincidence that on the last Shabbat of the
year we find ourselves reading from Moshe's last words in Parshat
Nitzavim. (see Tosafot to Megilla 31b). The predominant concept
that has occupied our collective hearts and minds since the shofar
was sounded three weeks ago is that of tshuva- our return to
HaShem. However the Jewish People decide to chart their course,
the option of coming back will always be available. This is the
emotional crescendo of Moshe's words. No matter how bleak the
national situation may seem, the possibility to redeem
Efrat, Israel -- "It's my nature to be jealous; it's part of my make-up to
become angry and shout invectives; no matter what I do, I'll never be
able to go on a diet and keep the weight off."
How often do we hear such statements from others - and even
from ourselves! Such plaints are understandable enough, and
certainly fit very well with a deterministic or Calvinist philosophy of life
and religion. But Judaism, especially during this Elul period of
Repentance leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with their
message of freedom of choice and ability to change, seems to be
imparting a very different expectation of human nature. Is it really fair
to ask individuals to do what may very well be beyond their ability to
achieve? Do we really have the power to overcome our weaknesses?
My Rebbe and mentor, Rav Yosef Soloveitchik ztz"l, suggests a
fascinating interpretation of the following verse (as well as of the
entire contextual passage) in this week's Torah portion: " I bear
witness against you this day the heavens and the earth: life and
death do I set before you, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, in
order that you and your seed may live." (Deuteronomy 30:29). After
all, argues the Rav, we have already received the charge to choose
commandment and blessing rather than transgression and curse
some twenty chapters earlier (in the portion Re'eh), the Torah has
already declared: "Behold, I give you this day a blessing and a curse:
the blessing, when you shall obey the commandments of the Lord
your G-d... and the curse if you do not obey the commandments.
.."(Deuteronomy 11:26-28) Why does G-d present us with this choice
again in the portion Nitzavim?
The Rav suggests that there are in actuality two separate
experiences of choice, two different expressions of free will: one is
the ability of the individual to choose the correct path before he/she
has sinned, and this is the interpretation of the first passage Re'eh;
the other is the ability of the individual to accomplish that which is
almost impossible, to go against his/her basic nature and choose the
correct path even after he/she has succumbed to a character
weakness and has already sinned - and this is the interpretation of
the second passage in Nitzavim (see Doresh Tzion, Jerusalem 5760,
pages 344, 345).
I would however go one step further in order to take into account
the human difficulty in overcoming one's weakness. Indeed, our
Torah portion in Nitzavim still presents the choice - and insists on the
individual's power of freedom of choice -after he/she has already
transgressed, "saying it will fare well with me even when I follow the
(evil) stirrings of my heart" (Deuteronomy 29:18). But our Torah
portion also adds one more dimension to the choice, which does not
appear previously in Re'eh. While the individual is expected to begin
the process of repentance, to start to re-direct his passions even after
he has transgressed ("And you shall return to your heart among all
the nations where the Lord your G-d has scattered you there, and
you shall return to the Lord your G-d and obey His voice"
Deuteronomy 30:1,2), G-d Himself -as if aware of the almost
insuperable difficulty of changing one's nature and overcoming one's
inherent weakness - will step in and complete the process on behalf
of the penitent ("And the Lord your G-d will circumcise your heart and
the heart of your seed to love the Lord your G-d with all your heart
and with all your soul in order that you may live." Deuteronomy 30:6)
>From the perspective of the Sacred Zohar, the mystical
interpretation of the Bible, this is precisely the higher meaning - and
the difference between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh
Hashanah falls on the first day of the month of Tishrei, when the
moon - symbol of G-d's light and grace - is hidden and barely visible
(alma d' it kasia); the individual approaches the Synagogue with
trembling anticipation, aware, when the moon is evolving and is
glowing brightly in order to imbue the darkened skies with light and
hope (alma d'it galia); the individual is then ecstatically reborn,
cleansed, transformed and purified by the grace of Divine love and
Indeed, we repent again and again throughout the penitential
prayers of the Day of Forgiveness the words of the Prophet Ezekiel:
"And I shall sprinkle upon you the purifying waters and you shall be
purified... and I shall give you a new heart, and a new spirit shall I
place in your midst .. "(Ezekiel 36:25,26)
With this understanding we can appreciate anew the enormous
power of the Day of Forgiveness, the one time during the year when
the Almighty grants us not only forgiveness, but also the renewed
inner strength to overcome our inborn weaknesses and foibles. And
so we may better understand the terse interpretation of Rav
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk on the verse immediately following the
command - as well as our ability - to repent after one has
transgressed: "This commandment which I have commanded you
today is not ... faraway from you." (Deuteronomy 30:11) Says the
Kotzker, "It requires only one small turn" (Yiddish: nur ein klein drei).
What he apparently meant was that the penitent is only expected to
make a change in direction, to turn his back on his temptations and
begin to face G-d and His Torah. The penitent must merely take the
first step; the Almighty will then give Him a hand to help him/her
complete the journey. As we recite during the Closing Prayer: "Your
right hand is extended to accept the penitent."
An individual once came to a Rebbe, bitterly complaining that he
beat his breast each Yom Kippur for a litany of transgressions, only to
continue to repeat the same sins all over again once the new year got
underway. The Rebbe smiled sympathetically and walked the
petitioner over to a window. "Do you see the baby playing in the
yard? He is my grandson, just learning
to walk; he continually attempts to get up only to fall on his face.
Eventually, however, he will stand by himself. And if he will only cry
out to his father, and turn to him for a helping hand, he can shorten
the process considerably!"
Copyright 1999 United Synagogue Publications Ltd.
Torah Le'am - The Root of Jewish Continuity
Rabbi Lawrence Littlestone
The apogee of Moses' valedictory address to the Jewish people
is reached in Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy (11:14):
The classical commentators are divided as to what the words this
commandment refers. Ramban suggests that it refers back to the
obligation of repentance, the subject matter of the preceding verses.
His approach may be summarised as: wherever you find yourself,
under whatever circumstances, the road to returning to a relationship
with G-d is never far away. R'Yosef Albo in Sefer Haikarim shares the
view that the passage is dealing with the mitzvah of teshuvah.
However, all other commentators are of the opinion that this
assessment is not viable. From the Talmud on, they maintain that this
commandment refers to the entirety of Torah law. Rav Avdimi bar
Hama, in the context of a discussion on the need for set Torah study,
suggests that even were the Torah to be in heaven or over the seas
we would still be obliged to strive to grasp it (Eruvin 55a). Rashi's
comments echo this sentiment and go further by saying that the
phrase 'this Word is very close to you' (verse 14) 'refers to the Torah
which has been given to you in writing and orally.'
R.Chaim ben Attar, author of Ohr HaChaim, asks a number of
pertinent questions. Once we have been told that the Torah 'is not
hidden from you', is it not clear that it is not very distant? Why did the
Torah have to remind us that it is not beyond the seas, after all, even
if it were, could we not send ships to retrieve it? The Ohr HaChaim
suggests that perhaps the Torah refers to two factors contributing to
the failure of Torah observance: 1) ignorance of what is
written in the Torah and 2) the difficulty of keeping the mitzvot. Moses
told the people that, although prior to the Revelation at Sinai, the
Torah had indeed been in the Heavens, since that seminal event it
was no longer in heaven but accessible to all.
Moses' comment that the Torah is not in some distant land or
over the sea obliquely refers to his inability to enter the Land of Israel
to fulfil the mitzvot hatiuyot ba'aretz (those mitzvot that pertain to the
Land). It is as if he were saying: 'I, who have been privileged to
ascend to heaven to receive the Torah am nevertheless not
privileged to cross the river into the Land. By contrast, you, who have
not ascended as far, will be privileged to enter the Land and fulfil all
mitzvot.' Do not let this opportunity pass you by.
There is nothing in the Torah that is not attainable by the
Common Man. The Torah is not the preserve of the clergy or the
closeted scholar, it is available and close to every single Jew. It is
yours for the taking. There is no need for an enlightened intermediary
to bring new instalments or a new covenant.
R.Samson Raphael Hirsch pointedly tells us that the teachings
and actions which the Torah has in mind to not 'move in the sphere of
the supernatural or the heavens and nothing that was necessary for
its being understood and accomplished remains in heaven.' You do
not need to find 'a mind superhumanly enlightened' to reveal its
hidden secrets.
'Rather is it in your mouth and your heart to do it.' The pursuit of
Torah is no mere intellectual study for the cerebrally minded. It is to
be spoken about, exchanged, debated and internalised. It is to
become part of the very fabric of our being. In truth, Moses did more
than bequeath us Torat Moshe, he handed us something of
inestimably greater value - Torah Le'am - Torah for the People.
Shouldn't we - the People - reach out, take it, and make it our
* On the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, we commence saying
Selichot early in the morning.
* Selichot should be recited calmly and with devotion according to the
order in the editions of the Selichot and according to local custom.
Some stand throughout the Selichot.
* Whilst an Avel must daven at home, he may go to Shul on Erev
Rosh Hashanah because of the many Selichot which are said.
* Before Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to visit the graves of the
righteous, a custom based on the visit of Caleb, one of the twelve
spies sent by Moses, to the graves of the Patriarchs at Hebron. We
also visit the graves of parents and other relatives to pray and give
* On Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should occupy oneself with the study
of Torah, the Mitzvot and Teshuvah. The latter especially in
connection with sins between one person and another, and not wait
until Erev Yom Kippur to seek forgiveness from other people.
* It is customary to say Hatarat Nedarim (Annulment of Vows) that a
person made in the heart, awake or in a dream, and then through
forgetfulness did not keep them. The purpose of this is to enter the
new year 'clear of debts'. (SY Agnon)
Rev Bernd Koschland
At the end of the first day of Succot i.e. Chol Hamoed - there
being only one day in Eretz Yisrael - the people were to assemble to
hear the Torah being read to them. This ceremony was called
Hakhel, after the first word in Devarim 31:12.
Who was to read?
According to Abarbanel (15th century), it was the most important
person of the people, a Judge, prior to the first king, Saul, and then
the kings thereafter, or much later Ezra (Nehemiah 8). The reading
was taken from sections of Devarim, as detailed in the Mishnah.
Why only read once in seven years?
Whilst the Torah was taught all the time, it was thought that a
splendid ceremonial occasion would impress the Torah on the
people, but this had to be at regular longer intervals or else it would
lose its impact. Hence it was carried out immediately after the end of
the Shemittah year, and at the beginning of the new seven year
cycle, when the people would not yet be pre-occupied with work on
the land. Some commentaries observe that in fact the process of
teaching the Torah began with the Shemittah and the public reading
at the end was a type of Siyyum, conclusion.
The Talmud describes the ceremony. Trumpets would be
sounded in Jerusalem to assemble everyone. A platform was set up
from which the king, seated, read the Torah. The Chazzan (Beadle or
Shammash) of the Temple Synagogue handed the Torah to the
'President' of the Synagogue, he to the deputy High Priest, to the
High Priest and on to the king, who stood to receive it. After the
reading, seven extra brachot were recited.
The Mishnah mentions a King Agrippa as shedding tears when
he came to 'a foreigner may not rule ...' The people comforted him
with: 'you are our brother'. The king was probably Agrippa I (37-44
CE), grandson of Herod and a descendant of the Hasmoneans on his
mother's side. The Temple was not destroyed in his time, as
mentioned by the commentaries e.g. Rashi, but in the time of his son
Agrippa II, whose rule was little concerned with the Jews of Judea; if
it is the latter, the last Hakhel would have been in the year 70 CE, as
the previous Jewish year was a Shemittah.
Simon Goulden - Director, Community Services Group of the
United Synagogue
No-one is quite sure exactly when the first Jews arrived in
England. Some historians believe the Phoenician traders regularly
plied between the Eastern Mediterranean coast and Cornwall, where
there was tin mining and the crews of their ships may have contained
Jewish sailors. They claim that the Cornish town of Marazion, near
Penzance, gets its name from the Hebrew words 'the bitterness of
Zion', given to it by refugees from the destruction of the Second
Temple. Others note that the small number of Roman coins, minted
in occupied Judea and found in Britain, might have been left by
Jewish merchants now living in this northern outpost of the Roman
To date, insufficient evidence has been found to prove a Jewish
presence in Roman Britain, but it is perhaps interesting to imagine a
small community of traders and merchants and their families, living in
London, St Albans or other important civic centres. By the same
token, some historians feel that there were probably small Jewish
settlements in Dark Ages Colchester, York, Cambridge and Exeter as
well. We know that Viking travellers and traders arrived in
Constantinople, having made their way from Scandinavia via
Muscovy, the river systems of Russia and the Ukraine and through
the Black Sea. Why, they argue, could Jewish traders not have made
their way through North Western mainland Europe to arrive on
English shores?
After 1066, a much clearer picture began to emerge. The main
Jewish settlement came about because Jews from Rouen in
Normandy and from Northern France appear to have come to
England in the period after the Conquest. We know this because
Jews are mentioned in William of Malmesbury's chronicle, which was
written in the eleventh century. In a relatively short time, communities
were established in such places as London, Oxford, Cambridge,
Lincoln, Norwich and York.
It is said that William the Conqueror invited the Jews to come to
England. This is unlikely, but he did encourage them to come to
England, because he needed their services to help him impose
Norman rule on the Anglo-Saxons. To the Jewish settlers, the
Norman conquest of England gave them the chance to live in a
country which must have seemed like a haven and a land of
Adapted from 'From Arrival to Expulsion' by Marilyn Nathan; AJE
Publications 1999
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"And it will be, when he hears the words of this curse, that he will
bless himself in his heart, saying, 'I will have peace, for I am ruled by
my own heart,' in order to satisfy his thirsts." [29:18]
These are frightening words. Anyone, as my teacher Rabbi Asher
Rubenstein pointed out, can fall into the trap of complacency. One
who decides to follow his own heart, rather than attempting to
improve and better fulfill his obligations, falls under a curse!
But of course, we must examine the opposite side as well simply admitting our defects, recognizing that our actions have been
inadequate, is a major step forward. Maimonides and the Sha'arei
Teshuvah, outlining the necessary steps for return to G-d, both begin
with admitting error. This is the prerequisite for the entire process.
I first told the following story several years ago -- and I think it
provides a good illustration of the value of admitting error as the first
step in return.
One evening, I started home from the office unusually late - and
my lateness was foremost in my mind. I took a shortcut down a rural
road in Owings Mills (where our office was located at the time), which
at one point is just the sort of road "intended" to be driven at 50 mph
(that's about 80 kph), but which the powers that be have posted at 30
mph instead. Baltimore County' Finest are well-aware of both the
posted speed, and the speed which the road seems to encourage in
most drivers.
As soon as I saw the brake lights go red on the large car parked
off to the side, I knew those lights were meant for me. By the time the
flashers began rotating, I was already pulling off just ahead of him.
Why make him follow me down the road? And when he walked over,
leaned down, and said, "I pulled you over because you were doing 50
mph in a 30 mph zone," I looked down at my speedometer and said
"I'm sure that's exactly what I was doing." I mean, what else was I
going to say? I told him that I had come out of work late, just around
the corner (this was maybe 300 yards (meters) from my office), and
had not been paying attention.
Some three (extremely long) minutes later, the officer returned with a warning. After receiving it, I had the chutzpah to ask why he
had given me that rather than a well-deserved, $85, four-point,
insurance-raising ticket.
His answer? "You were polite, and you admitted you were wrong.
The guys who argue with me will get a ticket every time."
It's such an obvious lesson! The first thing we must do is: admit
we were wrong! How can we correct our actions if we don't recognize
first that... they aren't correct already? Now, admittedly, not every
police officer works this way. But he was right - I have been more
careful since. Maybe I learned my lesson without the punishment.
And here in the parsha, G-d is telling us that He created the world
this way, and made this part of human nature. Admit you are wrong,
He tells us, and you are already on the road to recovery.
Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm a good Jew?" This
expression bothers me no end. If one is ready to say publicly, "I'm
good," it means "I am good as I am. I don't need to improve." It has
been my pleasure to meet some extremely "good Jews," models of
kindness, consideration, charity, and prayer and learning as well. And
I've never heard one of them ever using this expression on him- or
herself. "I'm trying" they say, which sends an entirely different
Our very first obligation is to realize that sometimes we aren't so
good, after all. This isn't negative, it's a huge step in the right
direction. Because now that we realize something is broken... we
know something needs to be fixed!
Children play a major role in this week's double portion.
In Nitzavim, Moshe tells the nation, "You are standing today, all of
you, before Hashem." He enumerates the different categories of
people, from elders to water-carriers, and he makes sure to include
everyone, even the small children (cf. Deuteronomy 28:9-10).
In Vayeilech as well, the Torah is cognizant of the youth. Moshe
commands that every seven years "the men, the women, and the
small children, and your stranger who is in your cities shall gather in
Jerusalem to hear the king read the Book of Devorim" (ibid 31:12).
Commentaries expound that the aforementioned children are those
who are too young to understand. But Moshe also talks about
youngsters who have a basic grasp as well: "And their children …
they shall hear and they shall learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the
days that you live on the land to which you are crossing the Jordan,
to possess it." The Ohr HaChaim explains that this verse refers not
to toddlers, but rather to children who are old enough to learn the fear
of Hashem. What troubles me is the end of the posuk, " they shall
learn to fear Hashem, your G-d, all the days that you live on the land
to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess it."
Shouldn't the Torah say "all the days that they live on the land to
which they are crossing the Jordan"? After all, we are teaching them,
not the adults! Why does the Torah tell us to teach the children, for all
the days that their parents live on the land to which you are crossing
the Jordan, to possess it?
Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum was one of the only Orthodox US
army officers commissioned during World War II. Last year, he
spoke at our yeshiva, and though I was enraptured by the harrowing
tales of his war-time activities, one small incident that occurred to him
as a young boy growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn
during the Depression did not escape me.
In those days, few young men attended yeshiva or were
committed to vigorous Torah observance. Meyer went to public
school as well, but his parents wanted to raise him as an observant
Jew. His friends would often make fun of his yarmulka, and few
attended his bar-mitzvah. But that did not deter him. In fact, from the
time he was old enough his mother would make sure that he
attended the mincha service.
Imagine the sight. A young boy coming to pray together with a
group of elderly men who were hanging on to their tradition while
their inheritors looked for newfound freedoms outside the decaying
walls of the synagogue. Even the men who came to pray were only
there to say kaddish for a dearly departed. So when young Meyer
entered the portals of the shul for the very first time their eyes
widened in amazement. Their shock turned to pity as they assumed
the young boy came to shul for the same reason that most of them
came, and for the very reason that they prayed their children would
one day come the sole purpose of saying kaddish.
The moment came when the kaddish yossum, the mourner's
kaddish, was to be recited, and the congregation began in a
cacophonous unison the hallowed words, "Yisgadal V'Yiskadash."
Meyer just stared up into space, waiting to answer the first
responsive Amen.
He was startled by the jab in the ribs by a crooked finger, which
left his searing side and began pointing to the correct place in the
prayer book.
"Nu!" shouted the man, "They are saying kaddish!”
"I know that they are saying kaddish!" answered Meyer.
"So, what are you waiting for? Say along!"
Meyer did not understand where the conversation was heading.
But he had no time to think when another old man looked his way,
motioning for him to join the mourners in the kaddish recitation!
"But I don't have to say kaddish!" answered Meyer tearfully, "my
parents are alive!"
"Your parents are alive?" asked the old-timer incredulously.
"Yes, thank G-d, they are both alive! Why do you think that they
are dead and that I should say kaddish?"
They gathered around him as the final Amen was said and
explained their actions. "We could not imagine someone your age
coming to shul for any other reason!"
The Torah tells us that children must be trained and taught not for
post-parental existence, but rather it tells the parents "all the days
that you live on the land to which you are crossing the Jordan." You
must teach them to practice while you can enjoy the nachas as well!
Torah is a living entity, not only to pass from dying embers to rekindle
new flames, but rather to pass a vibrant torch with leaping flames
onto the youth whose boundless energy will inspire new generations,
when even you live on the land that Hashem has given you!
C). PARSHA PARABLES (Rabbi M Kamenetzky)
This week's parsha contains the mitzvah of 'Hakhel'. Once every
seven years, following the end of the Shmita year, the King gathered
all of Israel (who were already in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival
of Succos) and read to them portions from the book of Devorim.
The Sefer HaChinuch writes, concerning any person who
neglects this mitzvah (for example a Jew who fails to attend or a King
who fails to read the Torah) "...their punishment is very great, for this
command is a fundamental pillar of the religion..."
One would probably not have assumed that Hakhel is such an
important mitzvah. Hakhel is a positive command (mitzvas aseh) that
is only performed once every seven years. We might have assumed
that Lulav or Matzah or Tefillin or Krias Shma are more important
mitzvos. Yet, regarding those mitzvos, the Sefer HaChinuch does not
write "and their punishment is very great..."
What significance does the Chinuch see in this mitzvah? Rav
Hutner, zt"l, in a lengthy introduction to a reprint of a sefer of the
Ram"o (Darkei Moshe HaAruch) gives us an insight into what the
mitzvah of Hakhel is really all about and why it is so important. Rav
Hutner bases his thesis on two separate inferences from the
The Rambam [Hilchos Chagiga 3:3] lists the sequence of
the chapters in Devorim that were read at Hakhel: Read "From
the beginning of the book of Devorim until the end of the parsha of
'Shma' [Hear Oh Israel]. Then read 'V-haya im Shamoa' [And it will be
if you will listen], followed by 'aser t- aser' [You shall surely tithe].
Then, continue in sequence until the end of the 'Blessings and
Curses' until the words 'besides the Covenant which He entered into
with them at Chorev' and then stop (u'posek).
Rav Hutner asks, why does the Rambam need to write the word
"u'posek"? If the Rambam writes that we must read from here to
there, specifying the last words, then obviously, that is where we
stop. Why does the Rambam make a point of telling us "and that is
where he stops"? [Rav Hutner's answer to this question will be
explained together with his explanation of the second inference from
the Rambam.]
Rav Hutner's second inference from the Rambam is as follows:
The Rambam in Hilchos Chagiga [3:7] refers to Hakhel as "Yom
Hakhel" [The Day of Hakhel]. This is a strange expression that is not
mentioned in the Talmud. What is the Rambam trying to tell us?
Rav Hutner says that the essence of the ceremony of Hakhel is
supposed to be the reenactment of ma'mad Har Sinai [the standing at
Mt. Sinai]. It is the reenactment of the Kabalas HaTorah [receiving
the Torah]. The Accepting of the Torah is THE seminal event in
Jewish History. We are to reenact Kabalas HaTorah every seven
years in order to impress upon the people the importance of what
Torah means to the Jewish People. We want the people to feel as
though they have experienced another Kabalas HaTorah.
A few weeks ago, Baltimoreans celebrated the reenactment of
the Battle of Baltimore, a seminal event in American history -- the
composition of the Star Spangled Banner. For Baltimoreans, and for
all Americans, that was a very important event. How does one
commemorate that event? How does one make it live? How does one
make future generations feel how important it was "that the flag was
still there"? The answer is by reenacting it.
L'Havdil, we have something that is unbelievably important to us.
That something is Kabalas HaTorah. We want everyone to relive that
'Standing At Har Sinai'. How do we do that? We gather everyone
together and read the Torah.
That is why the Rambam says the word "u'posek" (the first
inference). The words immediately prior to "u'posek" are "besides the
Covenant He entered into with them at Horeb [Mt. Sinai]". We want
those words to remain ringing in the people's ears! We want to
conjure up lasting memories of Chorev, of Har Sinai. Therefore, the
King must dramatically stop his reading right there. To read one more
word beyond 'Chorev' would have diluted the impact, destroying the
whole point of Hakhel.
That is also why the Rambam refers to Hakhel as 'Yom Hakhel'
(the second inference). Rav Hutner points out that if we take away
the vowels of 'Yom Hakhel' it is precisely the same letters as 'Yom
HaKahal' [the Day of the Congregation] which the Torah repeatedly
uses [Devorim 9:10, 10:4, 18:16] to refer to the ma'mad Har Sinai.
This is Hakhel -- the living and the reenactment of Kabalas
HaTorah. Why? Because as Rav Sadyah Gaon tells us, "Our Nation
is not a Nation except through Torah". For some, the idea that 'We
Are A Nation Because of Torah' is a great novelty (chiddush gadol).
There have been thousands and millions of Jews who have not
always believed that. There have been Jews who have believed that
we are a Nation by virtue of a land -- that without a land we are not a
Nation. Says Rav Sadyah Gaon, "No; We are a Nation only through
There are some people who believe that we are a nation through
our language. There were some people that believed that the key to
the Jewish people was Yiddish -- Yiddish plays and Yiddish songs
and Yiddish events. They are no longer around. The only people who
still, in fact, read or speak Yiddish are the people that they thought
would never make it.
There are a people who have thought that we are a Nation
through our culture. No! Our Nation is not a nation except through
Torah. That is what makes us a people. That is what binds us
together. The Standing Together at Sinai; Accepting Torah; Learning
Torah. The Torah, the mitzvos, nothing else. Not culture, not
language, not history, nothing -- except Torah. This is what Hakhel
tries to accomplish.
The Centrality of Torah
Now we must wonder... If the point of this mitzvah is to
emphasize the centrality of Torah to the Jews, when would we expect
to schedule this event which occurs once in seven years?
I'll tell you the year in which I would not schedule Hakhel. I would
not schedule Hakhel immediately following the Shmita year. That is
seemingly when we need Hakhel the least.
What did Jews do during the Shmita year? What happened to an
agrarian society in a year when one could not plant or sow or
harvest? Jews spent the entire year learning. That is what the Shmita
year was all about. The Jews recharged their spiritual batteries,
learning most of the day. There was nothing else to do.
So, after Jews have just finished an entire year of learning and
they now recall the importantance of learning -- is this the time when
they need a Hakhel? Is this the time when we need to read the Torah
to them? Is it not enough that they have been learning Torah for this
entire year? Is now the time when they need to learn more?
There is a lesson in this. The lesson is that a person, who really
loves something, can never get enough of it. One may have learned
the entire year, but this -- G-d says -- is when I want you to learn
more Torah; it is precisely now that you can learn the lesson that
there is never such a thing as getting enough of Torah, or getting
tired of Torah.
I hate to give this example, but come and see. "We toil and they
We know what happens in America on December 31 and
January 1. People sit down and watch the first football game. They
go to sleep, having just finished one game. Then they get up the next
morning and they watch the first Bowl game of the day. Then
by 12 o'clock they watch another game and by 4 o'clock another
game. And then that night of January 1 -- there is another game! One
has seen the Cotton Bowl, one has seen the Sugar Bowl, and one
has seen the Rose Bowl. Who really needs the Fiesta Bowl?
And yet millions and millions of people, after having watched
football for an entire day, want one more game. And people pay
millions of dollars to advertise on that last game because they know
that people will watch it! Why? The reason is because if one loves
football, one can never get enough of football. If one really loves
something, he can never get enough of it.
That is what Hakhel is all about. Hakhel says "Yidden! Torah is
central to being a Jew. Our Nation is not a Nation without Torah. And
we need to love it, to almost be addicted to it. Even if we have had a
solid year of Torah, still we want another vort [Torah thought],
another shiur, another kashe [question] and teretz [answer], we want
more -- because Torah is so central to our lives."
At the time of the year when we think, "How can we make next
year better?" there is always one area that is open to everybody: One
can always find more time for learning. That is what the message of
Hakhel is -- there can never be enough of Torah Learning; because it
is so central, so vital, because Our Nation is not a Nation except
through Torah.
Virtual Beit Midrash, Alon Shevut, Gush Etzion 90433 e-mail: [email protected],
Home Page:
By Rabbi Michael Hattin
As Rosh HaShana fast approaches, and the Book of Devarim
winds down, we read the double portion of Nitzavim- Vayelekh.
Having concluded his review of the mitzvot, Moshe now exhorts the
people to follow them, and then proceeds to renew the Sinaitic
covenant. Warnings of doom are followed by the promise of
redemption, and in language that ranks among the most poetic and
moving of the Hebrew Bible, Moshe then goes on to offer the
people the precious gift of Teshuva.
understanding of this term, the repentance described in Moshe's
address transcends the failures of the individual and instead
embraces the mandate of the nation of Israel. With prophetic
insight, Moshe foretells the tribulations that will befall the people of
Israel during the dark night of their exile, but also sees the dawn of
reconciliation, when Bnei Yisrael shall reflect on their checkered
history and commence the process of Return. This 'return,'
initially nothing more than an undefined ethereal awakening stirred
by a subconscious awareness of God's patient beckon, will find its
subsequent tangible expression in the physical restoration of the
people of Israel to their land. The dynamic process will steadily
intensify, culminating in the complete and
irrevocable spiritual rapprochement between God and His people
Israel, who will finally achieve security and peace.
Moshe concludes the section by emphasizing the central role of
man in the unfolding of the events, for freedom of choice, the ability
to discriminate and to select between 'life and good, and death
and evil,' is the exclusive preserve of the human being.
"This day, I call heaven and earth as witnesses. I have placed
life and death before you, the blessing and the curse. Choose
life, so that you and your descendents shall live. Love God
your Lord, hearken to His words and hold fast to Him, so that
you will have life and length of days upon the land that God
swore to give to your ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak, and
Yaacov" (Devarim 30:19-20).
The Approaching End
Finally, the day of Moshe's demise draws near. For a final time,
he speaks to the people, offering words of encouragement as the
sun of his selfless leadership begins to sink. Yehoshua is formally
installed as his successor, and charged by his mentor with mission
and purpose.
Moshe completes the writing of the Torah and
surrenders the scroll to the care of the Kohanim, to be safeguarded
with the Tablets housed in the Ark of the Covenant. Intensely
conscious of the moment's national dimension, Moshe further
commands the people to once in seven years fulfill the mitzva of
'Hakhel' or 'Assembly,' at the time of the Sukkot festival. At that time,
the people of Israel are to gather as one at the national shrine and,
in a scene reminiscent of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, are to
hear the words of the Torah's instruction.
"Their children, who do not know, will thus listen and learn to fear
and revere God your Lord, as long as you live upon the land
that you are crossing the River Jordan to possess" (Devarim
At last, God informs Moshe that his end has come. By His
command, Yehoshua is summoned to the Tent of Meeting and there,
in Moshe's presence, he is invested with the onerous responsibility of
leadership. God describes to Moshe the people's imminent
infidelity, and spells out the harsh consequences of their
attachment to idolatry.
"On that day, I will surely hide My face from them, because of
the evil that they have done by turning to alien gods" (Devarim
The text continues:
"Now, write for yourselves this Song and teach it to Bnei
Yisrael that they might recite it, so that this Song will serve as
My witness for Bnei Yisrael. For when I bring them into the land
that I swore to their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and
honey, and they shall eat and be satisfied and wax fat, they shall
then turn to alien gods and serve them. They will despise Me
and violate My covenant. When many great troubles come
upon them in consequence, this Song shall serve as a
witness before them, for it shall never be forgotten by their
descendents...Moshe wrote this Song on that day and taught it
to Bnei Yisrael..." (Devarim 31:19- 22).
The 'Song' – a Reference to 'Shirat Ha'azinu'
According to the straightforward rendition of the above verses,
the 'Song' is none other than a reference to the 'Song
Ha'azinu,' or 'Hearken.' This elegy that constitutes next week's
parasha (Devarim 32) is a succinct but charged depiction of the
history and destiny of Bnei Yisrael, and is in fact written in poetic
form. It begins with a description of God's perfect justice, and goes
on to outline His providential care of the Jewish people,
notwithstanding their unfaithfulness. Mirroring themes of our
parasha, the Song of Ha'azinu lyrically traces the tragic
consequences of abrogation of God's covenant, but concludes with
the promise of redemption and national renewal.
Among the classical commentaries, the Ramban (13th century,
Spain) adopted this explanation, remarking that:
"'write for yourselves' (in the plural) refers to Moshe and
Yehoshua, for both of them were commanded to write it. This is
because God wanted Yehoshua to already function as His
prophet while Moshe was yet alive. Moshe wrote the Song
while Yehoshua stood by his side and read it...The expression
'this Song' refers to the Song that I (God) will now tell you,
namely Ha'azinu. The verse refers to it as 'Song' for Bnei Yisrael
shall always recite it as a musical composition. Also, it is
composed with the structure of a Song, for the textual divisions
parallel the musical breaks" (commentary to 31:19).
The 'Song' – A Reference to the Entire Torah
In contrast to this reading, the Talmud offers an interpretation
that appears to be at odds with the plain sense of the text, for it
maintains that 'this Song' refers not to the 'Song of Ha'azinu,' but
rather to the entire Torah:
"Rabbah said: even though a person may have inherited a scroll
of the Torah from his ancestors, it is nevertheless a
commandment for one to write his own, as the verse states:
'Now, write for yourselves this Song.'" (Sanhedrin 21b). This
opinion is further amplified by another Talmudic passage that
relates: "Rav Yehoshua bar Abba said in the name of Rav
Giddel, who reported in the name of Rav: a person who
purchases a Sefer Torah in the marketplace has snared a
mitzva for himself, but one who writes his own scroll, it is as if
he has received the Torah from Mount Sinai. Rav Sheshet
added: one who corrects even a single letter in a defective scroll,
is likened to one who has written the entire scroll" (Menachot
The foregoing Talmudic excerpts are not mere homilies, for
according to Jewish tradition, they in fact serve as the source for the
final positive commandment recorded
the Torah,
commandment to write a Torah scroll. Rambam (12th century,
Egypt), in his Book of the Commandments, where he painstakingly
records the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah,
"The Torah commanded that each person should write a Sefer
Torah for himself. If he writes it by his own hand, it is if he has
received it from Mount Sinai. But if he is unable to write his
own, he may purchase one or hire a scribe to compose it for
him. This mitzva is derived from the verse 'Now, write for
yourselves this Song.' Since one is not permitted to write a
scroll of the Torah that is composed of only some sections, the
term 'Song' must therefore refer to 'the entire Torah that
contains this Song'
of Commandments, Positive
Commandment #18).
In his Laws of the Sefer Torah from the Mishneh Torah, Rambam
records the remainder of the Talmudic ruling: "...although one
may have inherited a Torah from his ancestors, it is nonetheless
a mitzva to write one's own." He concludes: "If one writes it by his
own hand, it is as if one received it from Mount Sinai. If he is not
able to write it, others may write it for him. One who corrects even
a single letter of a scroll, it is as if they have written the entire
scroll" (Laws of Sefer Torah, 7:1).
Rambam's Reading
Clearly, Rambam was confronted with the difficulty of reconciling
the reading of the verse that spoke of writing a 'Song,' with the
received Oral Tradition maintaining that 'Song' meant 'the entire
Torah.' Rambam offered an interpretive solution predicated upon a
Halakhic principle: since we know from other traditional sources
that it is forbidden to write a scroll composed of an anthology of
Torah passages, it is inconceivable that the Torah would command
us to write a scroll containing ONLY the Song of Ha'azinu. The
meaning of the text must therefore be 'write an entire scroll of the
Torah that will of necessity include this Song.'
On the one hand, Rambam succeeds in preserving the plain
meaning of 'Song' as a reference to 'Ha'azinu,' for that parasha is
certainly poetic, rhythmic, and lyrical. On the other hand, his
interpretation is somewhat forced, for it is based upon assumptions
that are not at all stated in the passage.
The Interpretation of the Netziv
In more recent times, the Netziv (Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin,
19th century, Lithuania) addressed the same textual issue, but offers
a different explanation that is compelling as well as profound. The
problematic word is, as we have seen, 'Song.' In the third section of
the introduction to his commentary to the Torah, the Netziv
considers the meaning of 'Song,' and contrasts it with its natural
analogue, prose. Typically, he suggests we tend to distinguish
the two according to strict linguistic criteria, by describing prose as
factual narrative, and poetry as metrical verse. This is, of course,
true, but there is an interpretive distinction as well.
Thus, prose writing relates events in straightforward terms that
in and of themselves contain no allegorical or hidden explications.
Prose writing attempts to convey facts or observations without
embellishment. Poetry, on the other hand, is more allusive, for its
rendition of events is concisely couched in emotive language that
has as its purpose the communication of numerous messages of
import. Additionally, poetry tends to have more pronounced
structural constraints that paradoxically result in a larger number of
possible interpretations. By employing rhyme, rhythm, alliteration,
acrostic and other literary devices, clarity of expression is often
sacrificed for the sake of artifice, and shades of ambiguity are
thereby introduced.
The final result of these differences is that a poetic rendition
conveys subtleties of thought and various layers of meaning that a
prose rendition is not able to communicate. However, only one
who is well-versed in poetry can be truly appreciative of these
The uninitiated, in contrast, failing to grasp the power
and profundity of the poetic expression, will take the words at their
face value and thereby misconstrue and misinterpret them.
In a similar vein, says the Netziv, the entire Torah is a form of
poetry. Even the narrative passages that appear to be 'prose' in
terms of their structural form are actually 'poetry' in disguise. They
therefore contain in their concise and condensed words penetrating
insights of singular import. To return to our text, the command of
'Now, write for yourselves this Song' really is a reference to the
entire Torah, just as the Talmud maintains. As the Netziv explains,
all of the Torah from beginning to end, is actually composed as
a 'Song,' and it is therefore our precious mission to uncover and
to unravel those deeper dimensions of the text.
Text and Context
We have thus far analyzed two attempts to explain the
connection between an Oral Tradition and a passage that appears
to be at odds with it. Let us consider the matter from a wider
perspective in an attempt to pinpoint the inspiration for the
Talmudic assertion that cryptically embedded in a verse of our
parasha is the Torah's final command.
Let us recall that the parasha began with an exhortation,
and a renewal of the covenant. The passage of Teshuva and the
hope of redemption followed. Moshe then appointed Yehoshua,
the writing of the Torah was completed and the commandment of
'Assembly' was introduced. God spoke to Moshe and Yehoshua,
foretold the people's abandonment of Him and their consequent
downfall, and bid them to write 'this Song.' It will immediately be
noticed that every one of the above incidents revolves around the
pivot point of national continuity.
Thus, as the old generation finally expires and the new one rises
to take its place, there is a need to renew the Covenant between
God and the people of Israel, to impress upon them the eternal
relevance of their mission. Though they may stray mightily from
their objective, the national Teshuva that the next passage outlines
is a reflection of God's faith that indeed the people of Israel will one
day return to Him. The tenets of the Torah will never be forsaken
forever, and the desolate and barren land that once had flowed with
milk and honey will someday come back to life. In other words,
though the special task that God had entrusted to His people may
appear to be in danger of dissipation, it will never perish
Rather, it will remain alive in the hearts of their
descendents as a glowing ember, passively waiting to be fanned by
the Divine Spirit into a conflagration of commitment.
The appointment of Yehoshua was about the transfer of
leadership, with the new generation now ready to take its rightful
place as the bearers of the tradition. The commandment of
Assembly followed, and stressed the initiation of the children into
the covenant of the Torah, much as their ancestors had stood at
Sinai to hear God's word. It is at this juncture that God brings
Moshe and Yehoshua together, and enjoins upon them the writing of
the 'Song.'
Moshe and Yehoshua as Paradigms
What is the significance of the relationship between Moshe and
Yehoshua? More than simply signifying leader and successor or
even selfless mentor and devoted student, Moshe and Yehoshua
symbolize the idea of TRANSMISSION. Moshe speaks to God
and Yehoshua learns from Moshe, but taken together they create a
dynamic that is greater even than the sum of its parts. That
dynamic is the mechanism of transmission, the critical notion
that no matter how veritable and transformative a tenet may be,
unless it can be faithfully preserved and propagated across
the generations, it will die. The transfer of leadership that seems to
preoccupy our parasha can now be restated as the embodiment of
this ideal, and the rest of the parasha's episodes are nothing but
variations of this theme.
Considering God's directive to Moshe and Yehoshua to record
the words of the 'Song,' we now appreciate that
this is a
commandment about continuation, for the perpetuation of God's
word is the vehicle for ensuring the survival of the people of Israel.
Moshe and Yehoshua are the microcosm of that people, for they
represent in the most evocative terms the ideal of encountering God
and preserving the account of that encounter, so that its effects can
live forever in the hearts of sensitive people. The 'Song' that they
are told to record can therefore only mean the entire Torah, for that
is the most logical extension of the complementary themes of
continuity and transmission of which our parasha so eloquently
By Rav Elchanan Samet
Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the last Shabbat of the
year, and the ten verses with which chapter 30 opens – generally
called "parashat ha-teshuva," the section on repentance – thus
serve to prepare us for the days of judgment and atonement that
await us. Let us examine this parasha more closely.
Parashat ha-teshuva depicts Israel's future return to God
and God's return to them. This parasha is a continuation and
conclusion of the lengthy section of "the blessing and the curse"
enumerated previously in parashat Ki-Tavo, as is easily
demonstrated by a linguistic comparison between them. Together,
they form "the covenant of Sefer Devarim."
On the basis of a close analysis of the differences between the
"blessings and curses" in Sefer Vayikra (parashat Bechukkotai)
and in Sefer Devarim, the Ramban (Vayikra 26:16) concludes that
the curses in parashat Bechukkotai refer to the first exile (to
Babylonia), while "the covenant in Mishneh Torah (Sefer Devarim)
hints at our present exile and the redemption from it." Regarding
the covenant in our Sefer, he continues as follows:
"At first glance, it seems that there is no hint at an end or
conclusion, and that no redemption is promised; it is
dependent solely on teshuva... The redemption in this second
covenant is a more complete and elevated redemption than the
others... and the things promised for the future redemption are
a more complete promise than all the visions of Daniel."
Let us now closely analyze the first three verses of chapter 30.
These contain a clause of precondition and a clause of result, but
the distinction between them is unclear.
The syntax of the Torah gives rise to certain instances where
only exegetical considerations, based on the content of the verses,
can aid us in deciding whether a certain clause is to be understood
as the condition or as the result. A sentence beginning with the letter
"vav" can be interpreted either way. Such is the case in our
instance. Let us examine the various interpretive possibilities
and their ramifications.
I.CONDITION: "And it shall happen when all these things have
come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have given
before you,
RESULT: You shall recall them to your heart among all the nations
where God has driven you... And you shall return to Hashem your
God and listen to His voice, and God will return your captivity and
have mercy on you..."
According to this analysis, the condition defines the timeframe for the consequence. But the consequence itself can
be understood in two different ways:
i."And you shall recall them to your heart," "and you shall
return to God" – this is a prophetical promise as to what will
occur at that time. The Rambam (Hil. Teshuva 7:5) seems to
adopt this understanding.
ii. "And you shall recall them," "and you shall return" – this is
a commandment, and it becomes obligatory in exile, when the
and curses have been realized. This is the
Ramban's understanding.
CONDITION: "And it shall be when all of these things have
come upon you, the blessing and the curse... and you recall them
to your heart... and you shall return to Hashem your God and
listen to His voice...
CONSEQUENCE: Then Hashem your God will return your captivity
and have mercy on you, and come back and gather you from
among all the nations..."
According to this analysis, the condition defines both the timeframe and the circumstances for the consequence: only if in
exile you engage in soul- searching and then return to God and
listen to Him, THEN you will merit redemption from that exile.
This would seem to reflect the understanding of the Ibn Ezra
(beginning of chapter 30).
The variety of interpretive possibilities for these verses, and their
ramifications concerning the teshuva of Am Yisrael in exile – whether
it be a promise or a mitzva – are quite confusing. It seems that this
characteristic of biblical style, which sometimes blurs the distinction
between a conditional clause and a consequent one, is employed
intentionally in order to create different exegetical possibilities and
intentional equivocations. (This applies in particular in places where
a string of verbs, some of which represent the
consequences of preceding ones, while simultaneously serving
as preconditions for subsequent ones.)
There is no qualitative contradiction between these two readings:
it may be that the teshuva of Israel in exile is a mitzva, and at
the same time that the fulfillment of this mitzva represents a
precondition for their redemption. It may even be that the teshuva
of Israel in exile is a promise, but only after this promise is fulfilled
can the process of redemption and the ingathering of the exiles
begin, and therefore this promise is a precondition for the
fulfillment of the other promise.
It appears, therefore, that all the possibilities raised by the
various commentators quoted above are indeed included in these
verses, and that the verses are intentionally formulated in such a
way as to allow for different readings among which some
compromise should be sought.
This stylistic feature continues to characterize parashat hateshuva up until just before the end. The parasha contains a
series of verbs beginning with the letter "vav" which is
simultaneously both conversive (changing the tense of the verb
from past into future) and also conjunctive (adding each new verb
onto those that precede it). Thus each action described in this
parasha is both the consequence of its preceding one and the
condition for the subsequent one. In this way the Torah describes
two processes which promote one another and are interdependent:
a human act – the teshuva of Israel, and a Divine act – their
Let us present parashat ha-teshuva in such a way as to highlight
the distinction between the human act of teshuva and the Divine act
of redemption, and at the same time to highlight the alternating order
of verbs and the order of their connection with one another. We
will assign a capital letter to each section (section A,
section B, etc.), and will denote human action by (i) and divine action
by (ii).
"And it will be when all these things come upon you, the
blessing and the curse which I give before you,
(i) A. And you RECALL them to your hearts among all the
nations where Hashem your God has driven you, And you
RETURN to Hashem your God and listen to His voice in all
that I command you this day, you and your children, with all
your hearts and with all your souls,
(ii) B. Then God will RETURN your captivity and have mercy on
you, and HE WILL COME BACK and gather you from all the
nations where Hashem your God has dispersed you. Even if
your outcasts are at the ends of the heavens, from there
Hashem your God will gather you and from there He will take
you, and Hashem your God will bring you to the land which
your forefathers possessed, and you shall possess it, and He
will perform good for you and multiply you more than your
(i) C.And Hashem your God will circumcise your hearts and the
hearts of your descendants to love Hashem your God with all
your hearts and with all your souls, in order that you may live.
(ii) D. And Hashem your God will place all these curses upon
your enemies and upon those who hate you, who have
persecuted you.
(i) E. And you will RETURN and obey the voice of God and
perform all His mitzvot which I command you today.
(ii) F. And Hashem your God will make plentiful all your
endeavors; the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your animals
and the fruit of the land – for the good, for God WILL AGAIN
(lit., return to) rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over
your fathers."
(i) G. If you will listen to the voice of Hashem your God, to
observe His mitzvot and statutes written in this book of the
Torah, (and) if you will return to Hashem your God with all your
hearts and with all your souls."
Let us now try to understand the development of this dual
process described in parashat ha-teshuva, stage by stage, with the
assistance of the above table. Firstly, let us look at the general
structure of the parasha. It begins with a sort of introduction,
containing the only clause which we can say with certainty is a
conditional one: "And it will be when all these things come upon you,
the blessing and the curse..." This lays the groundwork for all that
follows: the realization of the blessing and – more importantly – the
curse will give rise to the process of Israel's teshuva in exile, while
the process of their redemption is aimed at nullifying the curse and
bringing back the blessing.
parashat ha-teshuva
continually alternates
between Israel's teshuva towards God and their redemption by God's
hand, because these two processes are interdependent. Note that
the process described in the parasha begins and ends with Israel's
teshuva, denoted by (i).
The root "sh-u-v" (return) is repeated seven times in the
parasha and serves as a leading word. Four of these seven
appearances are to be found in the "teshuva" section ('i'), while
three occur in the "redemption" section ('ii'). Nevertheless, the use
of a common root for the description of these two processes
indicates their reciprocity: Israel returns to God, and God returns to
Israel and returns them to His land – as summarized by the prophet
Malakhi: "RETURN to Me and I SHALL RETURN to you."
Another leading word in the parasha is God's name, which
appears 14 times (of which 12 are in the form of "Hashem your
God"). Here, interestingly, there
is equality between the two
Let us now look at each stage of the process independently
as well as in context:
SECTION A: The starting point for the process is Israel's teshuva in
exile. Whether this teshuva is defined as a mitzva or as a divine
promise, it
nevertheless simultaneously serves as the
precondition for the beginning of the process of redemption in
stage B.
The root "sh-u-v" appears twice here, but with different
meanings. We first encounter it in the causative case – "And
you shall recall it to your hearts," meaning that "You shall take it
to heart, to observe with attention." But the object of the sentence
is absent: what is it that we are to recall to our hearts? The
answer is to be found in the "introduction" to the parasha: you shall
take to hearts that all the things concerning which you were
forewarned, the blessing and the curse, have come upon you. This
observation of the historical fate of Israel gives rise to the
conclusion that, as we say in our prayers, "Because of our sins we
were exiled from our country." This national soul-searching then
brings about the second appearance of the root "sh-u-v," namely,
Israel's teshuva: "And YOU SHALL RETURN to Hashem your
God and listen to His voice... YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN, with
all your hearts and with all your souls."
SECTION B: Although section A and section B each contain two
appearances of the root "sh-u-v," seeming to set up an equivalence,
in truth God's movement towards Israel exceeds their movement
towards Him. "Open for Me one opening of teshuva as small as the
eye of a needle, and I will open for you openings through which
entire wagons will enter" (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba 5:3). While only
the second verb in section A expresses a movement of Israel
towards God, in section B both verbs express a movement of God
towards Israel. There are several additional verbs which express
this even more strongly: "He will have mercy on you... He will
gather you up... He will take you... He will bring you... He will
perform good for you and multiply you." The Divine action for the
benefit of Israel in section B is comprised of many stages,
encompassing a vast scope of time and space. This action
includes the ingathering of ALL the exiles - from every place to
which they have been dispersed, bringing them to Eretz Yisrael,
causing them to possess the land and multiplying them there for
the good.
The superiority of B. over A. is expressed quantitatively in
the number of verses and the number of words (38 vs. 27), as well
as in the number of times that God's name is repeated (4 vs. 2).
SECTION C: The inclusion of part C in section 'i' of the parasha at
first seems incorrect: it appears to be a direct continuation of the
Divine action towards Israel that was described in part B. But the
content of this part justifies its placement here: God's action
towards Israel here is not in the sphere of their physical
redemption (as it was in part B), but rather in the spiritual realm.
"Circumcision of the heart" means removal of the covering that
seals it; it is a metaphor for spiritual freedom to open the heart to
positive spiritual action. This action is "to love Hashem your God with
all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." Clearly, love
of God is an action undertaken by Israel of their own free will, and
therefore this part properly belongs in the half of the parasha
that describes Israel's teshuva. The vocabulary of this part likewise
indicates this: "Your hearts and the hearts of your children"
corresponds to what was said in part A – "you and your children;"
"with all your hearts and with all your souls" is an expression that is
repeated in A. and in F. Thus, all three of its appearances occur in
section 'i' of the parasha.
Why, then, is Israel's teshuva at this stage attributed to God
Who has "circumcised their hearts?" The answer to this is
connected with the fact that part C follows part B: the spiritual
change that occurs in Israel in C. is the result of the same bold
Divine action on behalf of Israel and their redemption. The
ingathering of the exiles and the good that God brings to Israel in
their own land are what lead to the "circumcision of their hearts."
Israel, in returning to the land of their forefathers, "recall to their
hearts" (as in A.) all the good that God has bestowed upon them,
and their hearts are opened to LOVE God. Here we notice the
difference between the teshuva that took place in exile (in A.) and
that that takes place later in Eretz Yisrael (in C.): in exile,
observation of Israel's historical fate – the troubles and suffering
that God brought upon them – brought about teshuva towards
God and listening
His voice. Although this teshuva is
wholehearted and sincere, it is born of fear. But in Eretz Yisrael the
observation of the great good that God has bestowed upon Israel –
in bringing them to their land and granting them great favor – brings
about an opening of the hearts, and renewed love on the part of
Israel: love of God with all their heart and soul.
SECTION D: Parallel to the "circumcision of the hearts" in the
sphere of Israel's teshuva, referring to a sort of surgical procedure,
as it were, to remove that which is redundant and harmful, there is
a similar action that takes place in the sphere of redemption: "And
Hashem your God will place all these curses upon your enemies
and those that hate you, and have persecuted you."
Israel's return to the land and their dwelling in it surrounded with
good and comfort does not erase the injustices shown towards
them by their enemies while in exi The process of teshuva and
redemption described here rests on the basis of continuous
contemplation of the past. Not only Israel are required to do this,
but God too, in coming to redeem His people, remembers the hatred
and persecution suffered by Israel in exile, and He transfers
"these curses" suffered by Israel to their enemies and those who
hate them. God's revenge on the enemies of Israel who have
spilled their blood is a central foundation of the descriptions of
redemption in the Torah, starting with our parasha, continuing
through the song of Ha'azinu (32:40-43) and up until the visions of
redemption in the Prophets.
The root "sh-u-v" does not appear in part D, nor in the preceding
part C. The reason for this may be that what is described in these
parts is not a RETURN to what happened in the past, but rather new
levels of teshuva and redemption, unique to the process described
in our parasha.
SECTION E: The similarity between part E and part A is confusing.
Where is the progress here in the teshuva process? In A. we read,
"And you WILL RETURN TO GOD," and in E. we are told, "You will
AGAIN (lit. "come back and") obey God's voice." Here the use of
the word "come back" means a return to a previous stage. When in
the past were Israel in a situation of obeying God's voice and
performing His mitzvot? The answer is that this previous time refers
to A., when Israel were still in exile!
F: Israel's RETURN to the situation of
generations – obeying God and performing His mitzvot – causes
God in turn to AGAIN relate to Israel as He related to their
forefathers in the early generations, before they sinned and were
punished: "For God will AGAIN rejoice over you for good as He
rejoiced over your forefathers." The practical significance of this
attitude on the part of God towards Israel is described in the first
part of verse 9: "And God will make you plentiful in all your
endeavors; in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your animals
and in the fruit of your land, for the good." At this stage there are two
developments – a promise of the good that God will perform for
Israel, and a specification of the areas in which it will be
expressed. But more important than these is the relationship
revealed here between God and Israel: "to rejoice over you for the
good." An expression of a "psychological" relationship with Israel is
to be found at the beginning of the description of the redemption
(C.): "And He will have mercy on you," and at its conclusion – "to
rejoice over you." Thus all the actions that God performs for His
nation in coming to redeem them are surrounded by prior mercy and
subsequent rejoicing over them.
SECTION G: The final part of the parasha is comprised of two
sentences that start with the word "if" (ki): "If you listen" and "if your
return." The true meaning of this word here seems to be
"since," and if this is so then this part contains a reason for God's
actions towards Israel as described in the previous part, and perhaps
in all the preceding parts (B., D., F.). This reason is set out in
chiastic order in contrast with the description with which the process
opens, in A.:
OBEY HIS VOICE in all that I command you...
G: "Since YOU SHALL OBEY Hashem your God, to observe His
The return to the same idea with which the parasha opened
(although in reverse order) is a common biblical technique for the
conclusion of a literary unit. Nevertheless, a careful reading shows
that the conclusion describes a stage higher than that depicted at the
start: teshuva TOWARDS ('el') God expresses a greater degree of
closeness to God than teshuva TO ('ad') God. This greater closeness
of Israel to God is obviously the result of God's closeness to Israel
in the previous stages.
Harav Yehuda Amital Shlit"A
The laws of Rosh Ha-shana in the Shulchan Arukh begin with a
custom: We rise, during the final stages of night, and beg God for
forgiveness. Sha'arei Teshuva, after criticizing people who recite
the evening selichot before chatzot (midnight), adds an intriguing
comment: "...on Motzaei Shabbat, the recital of selichot is
FORBIDDEN until after chatzot, because of the holiness of Shabbat."
A puzzling statement. Havdala has been recited, all work is
permitted - why then is the recital of "viddui" (confession) still
Perhaps we can divine the answer through the message of the
"'I am black and comely, daughters of Jerusalem' (Shir Hashirim 1:5). 'I am black' - on the weekdays. 'And comely' on the Shabbat. 'I am black' - all year long. 'And comely' on Yom Kippur. 'I am black' - in this world. 'And comely' - in
the world to come."
Our personalities contain elements of Shabbat, of Yom Kippur,
of the world to come. All is not dark. Bright spots within us
abound: morality, spirituality, purity, "me'ein olam ha-ba." However,
Chazal remind us, materialism, envy, hatred, lust and selfishness
have their share in us as well. Elements of darkness and shadow
exist in us alongside the bright glow of Shabbat. We are forbidden to
confess our sins on Shabbat, because on Shabbat we are meant to
develop and express our own Shabbat-like qualities.
The problem is that we tend to emphasize our bright spots, and
to neglect our darker sides. The essence of viddui involves
highlighting those deeds which require confession. While still
immersed in the holiness of Shabbat, with the songs of praise still
echoing in our ears, while the taste of Shabbat lingers on, we
might fail to notice and consider those thoughts and deeds that we
must confess.
Therefore, Sha'arei Teshuva maintains viddui may be recited
only after chatzot on Saturday night, for fear that earlier we may
yet be steeped in the aspect of "comeliness" of Shabbat, and blind
to the element of "blackness" of the weekdays.
Our self-perception during viddui constitutes a central motif of
the selichot. "Needy and destitute, we knock at your doors." Needy
and destitute!
The Chassidim tell the story of a beggar who came to complain to
his rebbe: "Master, how is this possible? When I come before you,
you see me for only a few short moments, and yet so-and-so, the
rich landowner, remains with you for over two hours!" The rabbi
responded, "My precious son, when you come before me, I can
immediately discern that you are a beggar. That rich landowner
remained in my presence for two hours until I realized that he, too,
was a beggar!"
There are times when man views himself as needy and destitute,
and other times when he must search and examine himself for
hours until he discovers that he is indeed needy and destitute.
Outwardly, we have performed numerous mitzvot over the course of
the year. Why then do we call ourselves "needy and destitute?"
The actions have been accomplished; however, the spiritual worth
of those actions is ultimately measured by the degree of awe and
love of God which inspired their performance. This is the soul, the
essence, of every mitzva.
If we examine all our actions based on their inner spiritual
intensity, the results are often strikingly meager. Our state is
comparable to that of a man who possesses a tremendous sum
of money, however, the currency has become valueless. He is left
with a pile of worthless papernotes. We are "needy and destitute" in
a similar manner. We have performed mitzvot, but their ultimate
worth is meager indeed.
In the Mussaf prayer of the high holidays, we say, "For the
remembrance of all actions come before you, ma'aseh ish UPEKUDATO." What does "u-pekudato" mean? The word should
shake us to our foundations! It means one's role, his mission. Each
person's mission in life comes before God. We must honestly
examine whether we have fulfilled our God-given task.
One hundred thousand Jews have joined us in Israel this year,
Jews who are Jewishly needy and destitute. Are God's demands of
them equal to his demands of us?
According to the Rambam, God alone is versed in the act of
weighing virtue against vice. For the most part, we
students have been fortunate enough to experience Torah and
fear of heaven, belief in God and mitzvot, from infancy. We learned
to keep mitzvot from our surroundings. Torah was presented
to us on a silver platter. We must discover the true worth of this
tremendous investment!
This week, the yearly budget of one of the largest factories in
Israel was published. The incoming revenue was twelve million
dollars, and yet the overall balance concluded with a loss of nineteen
million dollars. Why? The explanation is quite simple: the factory
had debts to pay. So it is with us. Yes, we keep the mitzvot, but
how much of the investment do we owe to others? How much is
actually the fruit of our own labor? Moshe Rabbenu, the humblest of
men, wrestled with this dilemma. Perhaps that simple Jew, crying out
for his portion of meat, was on a higher spiritual plane than himself.
He was not granted the life of luxury which Moshe took for granted
in Pharaoh's palace. Perhaps, if this same Jew had grown up in
Moshe's surroundings, he would also have reached the spiritual
status of Moshe Rabbenu!
With all of our good deeds, are we not still needy and destitute?
"Ma'aseh ish u-pekudato:" who can be sure what mission God has
chosen for him, having been privileged to be raised here in
Israel, and not in Russia? What are God's demands of you
Thus, without doubts or illusions, we open the book of selichot
and proclaim: "Needy and destitute, we knock at your doors. You,
God, are righteous, and we are ashamed."
And yet - this very neediness and poverty of spirit can also serve
as a source for God's mercy, if we are indeed aware of our spiritual
emptiness, and reach the appropriate conclusions.
The midrash (Shemot Rabba 45:6) states:
"'I will spread all my goodness before you...' At that moment,
God showed him all the treasures reserved for the righteous.
He asked: Lord of the Universe, to whom does this treasure
belong? To raisers of orphans. To whom does this treasure
belong? To the masters of Torah. And to whom does this
treasure belong? To those who honor the masters of Torah.
And so on, for each treasure. He saw a treasure larger than all
the others, and asked: To whom does this great treasure
belong? He responded: He who has good deeds is paid
accordingly; and to he who has none - I give treasures for free."
When a person approaches God with a sense of poverty, and
says, "Lord of the universe, I have nothing. I come before you emptyhanded" - this is a mainspring of mercy. However, our recognition of
our spiritual poverty must be sincere. If we are indeed destitute of
mitzvot, we must act. What are the conclusions and ramifications of
this sense of emptiness? If the emotion is sincere, it can become
the source of bounty.
Let me give you a word of advice for the days of judgment: We
have said that mitzvot are measured by the degree of fear of heaven
involved. The spiritual content and motivation are the essence of the
mitzva. However, some mitzvot have intrinsic worth regardless of
the doer's intentions. These are mitzvot between man and his fellow
man. This is true to such an extent, that if a person gives charity "in
order that [his] son will live," he is considered a totally righteous
The Talmud (Sota 46b) deals with the ceremony of "egla arufa"
and the elders who declare: "Our hands have not spilled this blood
and our eyes have not seen [tmurder]:"
"Could we possibly imagine that the elders have spilled
blood? [The meaning of the verse therefore is that the elders
declare:] 'It is not the case that [the victim] came to us and we
sent him away without food; it is not the case that we saw him
but did not accompany him on his way.' R. Meir said, We
coerce accompaniment, for there is no limit to the merit of
accompanying someone, as it is written (Shoftim 1:24- 25):
'And the watchmen saw a man leaving the city, and said to him,
show us the city gate and we will be kind to you... and he
showed them the city gate.' What was the kindness? That
they slew the entire city, and sent this man and his family to
That selfsame man, who showed them the gate, merited the
building of the city of Luz, which was never destroyed
thereafter, and to which the very angel of death was denied
admittance. The Talmud concludes:
"This Canaanite, who did not speak with his mouth or walk with
his legs, saved himself and his family for generations. How
much more worthy is the man who exerts himself to
accompany another!"
And the Talmud adds:
"How did he show them [the gate]? Chizkya said, He signaled
with his mouth. Rabbi Yochanan said, He showed them with
his finger... Because this Canaanite pointed with his finger, he
saved himself and his family for generations."
Chazal are trying to teach us something. When a person finds
himself in strange surroundings, and someone helps him, even with
the smallest thing, by simply pointing his finger - there is no
greater mitzva than this.
Ours is a time with many strangers in our midst, who find
themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. Often, all the help they need
is a finger to point them in the right direction.
According to Chazal, smiling at someone is equivalent to
giving him a glass of milk to drink. This is true both in the yeshiva
and outside. There are so many new students who are in unfamiliar
surroundings, who have not yet made the yeshiva their home.
Chazal tell us: There is no limit to the obligation to help these
newcomers find their way, with practical advice and personal
None of us can be certain of his God-given mission in this world.
We all must continue to search. However, one thing is clear: It is part
of our role and obligation to help the newcomers in our midst.
If we are looking for points of merit to gather before the day of
judgment, this is the easiest type to acquire. There is no need for
lofty spiritual intentions - only for positive actions.
Needy and destitute, we approach God. We must make every
effort to bring some merit with us. Each one of us must come with
the sense of spiritual poverty, and accept upon himself to be better.
"God is close to all who call him, to all who call Him sincerely."
With this firm belief, with confidence that God comes close to all
who call Him with sincerity, we prepare to stand before Him. We
approach the selichot to ask for mercy for ourselves, for all the
Jewish people all over the world and especially for our holy land.
May God grant us a year of life and peace, in both material and
spiritual spheres. May we be blessed with peace from our enemies
without and tranquillity within, for ourselves and all of Israel, Amen.
A project of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene hulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the
Office of the Campus Rabbi. Sponsored by Dr. Ruth Borchard of the Shoresh Charitable Fund (SCF). Published with
assistance of the President's Fund for
Torah and Science.Web Site:
Dr. Alexander Klein Department of Mathematics
"Editor's Note: For additional views on this subject, see Prof. Eric
Zimmer, Parashat Vayelekh 1998."
The last commandment in the Torah is to write a Torah scroll.
Maimonides, following the gemara, ruled on this commandment as
It is positive precept for each and every Jewish man to write
himself a Torah scroll, as it is said: "Therefore, write down this
poem" (Deut. 31:19), in other words, write yourselves a copy of
the Torah containing this poem, since one does not write
excerpted passages of the Torah. Even though his fathers may
have left him a Torah scroll, it is a commandment to write a scroll
of his own; and if he writes it with his own hand it is as if he
received it at Mount Sinai. If he does not know to write, others
write it for him. Anyone who proofreads a Torah scroll, even a
single letter, is considered to have written one in its entirety.
Sefer ha-Hinukh (commandment 613) cites Maimonides and
further explains this commandment:
The Lord commanded each and every Jew to have a Torah scroll
ready at hand so that he can read it at any time and will not need
to go to a neighbor for one, so that he learn to fear the Lord... and
even if his fathers left him a scroll, [one should write a new scroll]
so that there will be many scrolls, making it possible to lend a
scroll to those who cannot afford to buy one, and also in order to
read from a new scroll lest people tire of reading from the old
scrolls left by previous generations.
Maimonides and, following him, the author of Sefer ha-Hinukh
both are of the opinion that one is commanded to write a Torah scroll,
and that this commandment applies to every male Jew. According to
Sefer ha-Hinukh, the rationale for this commandment is to increase
the number of Torah scrolls in order to encourage and make it easier
for people to study the Torah.
I would like to address two questions that arise in this regard:
1) How can one deduce from the verse, "Therefore, write down this
poem" that it applies to the entire Torah and not simply to Ha’azinu
(Deut.32), as Rashi actually interprets the verse, which is in fact
entirely (save the last four verses) a poem?
2) How should this commandment actually be performed in our day,
when the rationale given for it by Sefer ha-Hinukh--to encourage the
production of Bibles-- is no longer relevant?
Maimonides argues that the verse "write down this poem" does
not relate to Ha’azinu alone on the grounds that "one does not write
excerpted passages of the Torah." This prohibition is elucidated by
him further on (halakhah 14), where he explains that every passage
must be given due respect. From this he concludes that the verse is
not to be taken at face value, but rather as pertaining to the entire
The author of Torah Temimah (Deut. 31:19, par. 26) challenges
this view of Maimonides:
In my opinion this [argument] is insufficient; for if it had been the
intention of the Holy One, blessed be He, that every Jew have a
written copy of Ha’azinu, it would not fall under the prohibition
against writing excerpts of the Torah, since it is a special
commandment, just as the excerpted passages in tefillin and
mezuzot are written by themselves.
According to the argument in Torah Temimah, if it were a specific
commandment to write out the poem Ha’azinu, the prohibition against
writing excerpted passages of the Torah would not apply in this case,
just as there is no such prohibition when it comes to writing the
passages that are in tefillin and mezuzot. Therefore, he suggests
another rationale for this commandment, alongside explanations
offered by earlier and later rabbinic authorities.[2]
The objection raised by Torah Temimah can be removed if we
understand Maimonides' rationale differently: we are not dealing here
with a commandment pertaining to a specific ritual, such as that of
tefillin or mezuzah, but with a commandment whose purpose,
according to the continuation of the verse, is to preserve the Torah
from generation to generation, so that it never be forgotten by the
people of Israel. Accordingly, the prohibition against writing a single
excerpted passage of the Torah is understandable, since there is the
danger that doing so would detract from the wholeness of the Torah.
In other words, if preservation of the Torah is precisely what the
commandment is about, clearly one should refrain from writing
individual excerpts.
The Tur cites the opinion of his father, the Rosh (R. Asher), who
has reservations about taking this commandment in its plain and
literal sense, in view of the changes that have taken place in the way
of life of the Jews over the centuries (Yoreh De’ah 270):
My master and father, the Rosh, wrote that this applied only to
early generations, when it was the practice to write a Torah scroll
and study from it; but in our day, when Torah scrolls are written
and left in the synagogue for reading at public worship, it is a
positive commandment for every Jew who can afford it to
write Pentateuchs [humashim], Mishnahs and Gemaras and their
commentaries, and to study them, he and his sons. The
commandment to write the Torah is for the purpose of studying it,
as it is written, "teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their
mouths." Through the gemara and its commentaries one learns
to interpret the commandments and laws properly, therefore
these are the books that one is commanded to write.
Thus the Rosh believes that in the light of circumstances in his
day, and all the more so in our times, the commandment to write a
Torah should not be interpreted literally, but should be viewed in
accordance with the times. Since scrolls were no longer used for
studying the Torah, other books that are used by those who study
Torah should be written, and thus the commandment would be
properly fulfilled.
Beit Yosef (commentary on the Tur written by R. Yosef Karo)
expressed surprise at the approach of the Rosh:
One wonders how the Rosh could exempt one from the
commandment of writing a Torah scroll and substitute writing
Pentateuchs and Mishnahs, etc. Therefore, it seems to me that
he did not intend to introduce a new requirement, namely to write
Pentateuchs and Mishnahs... for this is also part of the
commandment to write a Torah.
Indeed, Sefer ha-Hinukh writes as follows:
Even though the main requirement is not only a Torah scroll,
there can be no doubt that also with respect to other books
written on the Torah each person should do his best ... and this
was the way of all eminent persons who preceded us: to
establish a House of Study in their homes for scribes to write
many books.
Both Beit Yosef and Sefer ha-Hinukh understand from the
remarks of the Rosh that he had no intention of abrogating the
command to write a Torah scroll, rather of adding to it, including the
writing of other books that could serve for Torah study. However the
Derisha maintains that this was not what Rosh had in mind, and that
it clearly follows from his words that today there is no longer any
requirement to write a Torah scroll: "Follow the reason that the Holy
One, blessed be He, commanded us to write a Torah scroll: to learn
from it. Since in these times no one studies from the scroll, it is no
longer a positive commandment."
Possibly, the controversy between Beit Yosef and the Derisha
whether one must write a Torah scroll can be better understood in the
light of the question over "whether or not one should try to explain
ta’ama de-kera, the rationale behind Scriptures." The Encyclopedia
Talmudit[3] defines the concept of ta’ama de-kera as follows:
"Commandments or laws learned from the reasons given in the
scriptural text; sometimes the reason is explicitly stated in them,
sometimes the reason is midrashically explicated by the Talmud -- in
order to make fine distinctions within the laws or to add greater
strictures (humrot) to them." Here too the controversy revolves
around whether we are to explicate the reason for writing a Torah as
given in the verse itself to include writing the Oral Law in place of
actual Torah Scrolls.
Essentially it is ruled that one is not to delve into the reasons for
scriptural commandments, so that in principle we are not to derive
any additional laws from the rationales that are given for a specific
commandment. From this it would seem to follow that we are to
accept the commandment of writing a Torah scroll literally as an edict
of Scriptures, and are not to change this commandment or restrict it
according to the circumstances.
Nevertheless the Hatam Sofer is of the opinion that there is room
to introduce additional elements to the commandment of writing a
Torah scroll which are also considered part of the commandment, for
even though the halakhah follows those who hold that one must not
delve into the rationale of the commandments, nevertheless one may
consider the reason behind a commandment in order to interpret it
more strictly.[4] Opposing him, the author of Imrei Shefer believes
that if the reason for writing a Torah scroll is clearly in order to study it
-- and this is the straightforward sense of the text -- all would agree
that one can explain the reasons behind scriptural commands.[5]
Thus, according to Imrei Shefer the Rosh was correct in ruling
that today the commandment is not necessarily to write a Torah
scroll. The author of Hayyei Adam, who lived after the invention of
printing, sums up the discussion as follows (rule 31.50):
Some say that in this era the commandment is to acquire a Bible,
Mishnah, Gemara, and works of posekim, and that this takes
precedence over writing a Torah scroll; for in those days it was
actually the custom to learn by heart from the Torah scroll, but in
our times it is better to learn from printed books. Some say that
all the same there is still a positive command to write oneself a
Torah scroll, and G-d--fearing Jews fulfill all these obligations if it
is within their reach. If it is beyond their reach and striving for it
would lead to abandoning Torah studies -- for a person might not
have books of Gemara and posekim -- it seems patently clear to
me that these works take precedence over a Torah scroll, for
surely studying the Torah is more important than writing a Torah,
insofar as one may sell a Torah scroll in order to afford to study
Torah. It also seems to me that providing [books] to those who
study the Torah takes precedence over writing a Torah, contrary
to the masses who believe that writing a Torah scroll is the very
most elevated of commandments and that through this alone can
one assure oneself of the world to come, and who do not
contribute to equipping those who wish to study the Torah.
Therefore they walk in darkness, and what is more, when the
scroll is given to the synagogue they squander money on feasts
and candles and many expenses, and if they only listened to the
words of the Sages they would realize that it is better to spread
around their money to the poor and to those who study Torah.
The author of Hayyei Adam says in no uncertain terms that it is
better to support those who study Torah than to spend considerable
sums of money on writing a Torah. If the object of the
commandment is to encourage study of the Torah and to have more
people study, then in every era one must find the most appropriate
ways to fulfill the intention of the commandment, even at the cost of
putting aside the literal sense of the commandment. This example
shows how the halakhah has evolved in the case of one of the 613
commandments -- commandment 613.
[1] Hilkhot Tefillin u-Mezuzah ve-Sefer Torah, ch. 7., halakhah 1. [2] Cf. Yehudah Nahshoni, Hagut be-Parshiyot haTorah, Bnai Brak 1989, pp. 829-832. [3] See under Ta’amah de-Kera. [4] Resp. Hatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 254. [5] Imrei
Shefer 34.5, in accord with Tosafot Ha- Rosh, Bava. Metzia 90a.
(C) 1999 Aish HaTorah International - All rights reserved. Email: [email protected] Home Page:
MI-ORAY-HA-AISH (Rabbi Ari Kahn)
email: [email protected] or [email protected] URL:.
You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your
captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the
men of Israel. Your little ones, your wives, and your stranger who
is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of
your water. That you should enter into covenant with the Lord
your God, and into his oath, which the Lord your God makes with
you this day. That he may establish you today for a people to
himself, and that he may be to you a God, as he has said to you,
and as he has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to
Jacob. And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this
oath. But with him who stands here with us this day before the
Lord our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day.
(Deut. 29:9-14)
Thus Moses addresses the people on the banks of the River
Jordan. The context and time of the talk is obviously of great
importance as is evidenced by the amount of times the term "this
day" is used.
Rashi makes note of this peculiarity, explaining that this was
indeed a day of monumental importance:
We learn that Moses gathered them in front of God on the day of
his death, in order to have them enter the covenant. (Rashi)
Moses who had been the leader from the very beginning of the
Exodus was now to leave his charges, on the threshold of the
Promised Land. This day was, therefore, a day of epic significance,
for it would mark the day when the reins of leadership would be
passed on to Joshua.
Rashi, when noting the significance of the day, adds that with
Moses gone, a new covenant will need to be established. This
second point is not immediately clear. Why would the demise of
Moses, tragic as it may be, require a new covenant? Leaders come
and go, why would it be necessary to reestablish a covenant at this
juncture? Rashi comments on this first verse, explaining it according
to the Aggada:
Because Israel was leaving from one leader to the next leader,
from Moses to Joshua, therefore he made them as a monument
in order to inspire them. (Rashi 29:12)
Note that the opening “you stand”, in Hebrew atem nitzavim, is
interpreted by Rashi according to its more literal meaning as
“monument” from the Hebrew matzeva. The Shem Mishmuel, offers
a intricate explanation of this Rashi, assuming the term refers to a
“monument” and we will follow that assumption, (although we must
note that Rashi could be understood as simply referring to the idea
of a “gathering”).
But what is this monument? Furthermore, we recall that earlier
on in the Torah we are told of a prohibition against building a
matzeva, for it is "hated by God." (See Deut. 16:22.) Why would
Moses' parting gift contain either a prohibited action, or even a
literary reference to one?
Rashi complicates matters for us by adding another explanation
for the term "today":
As this day is here, and is cloudy and light, so too, will (the day)
enlighten you (now), and in the future it will enlighten you …
(Rashi 29:12)
This comment of Rashi is somewhat obscure, but, from what we
can gather so far, on this day: Moses dies, Joshua takes over, a new
covenant is forged, some type of monument is established, and, it is
bright yet cloudy.
Let us consider the reaction that the people must have had to the
death of Moses. It was Moses who had given them hope, it was
Moses who led the valiant march out of Egypt, it was Moses who
taught them Torah.
Losing a leader and teacher like Moses was certainly traumatic.
This day, despite the coronation of Joshua, was not a happy day.
“The king is dead, long live the king” is at best a bittersweet cry.
Perhaps this is what Rashi is referring to when he speaks of the light
and clouds.
Perhaps also, the light and relative light refer to Moses and
Joshua, respectively. Elsewhere, Rashi uses the metaphor of light,
when referring to Moses and Joshua. The context is when Moses is
told of his impending death, and he responds a replacement must be
found. God then directs:
‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is spirit, and lay
your hand upon him. And set him before Eliezer the priest, and
before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And
you shall put some of your honor upon him, that all the congregation
of the people of Israel may be obedient.’ (Numbers 27:17-19)
As Rashi explains, this is the formal coronation of Joshua; and
"some of your honor" means:
This is the ray of light on his face. (Rashi Bamidbar 27:20)
We, of course, recall the light which permeated the countenance
of Moses when he came down from Sinai with the tablets the second
time. Moses was instructed to give a part of this glory to Joshua, as
a symbol of the leadership which he would soon assume.
Rashi continues:
Of your honor but not all of your honor; we find it taught that the
face of Moses was like the sun while the face of Joshua was like
the moon. (Rashi Bamidbar 27:20)
We see how different degrees of light are an appropriate
description of the personalities of Joshua and Moses. Rashi’s
comments about the sun and the moon is a paraphrase from the
Talmud. The passage reads as follows:
The elders of that generation said: “The countenance of Moses
was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua was like that
of the moon. Alas, for such shame! Alas for such reproach!”
(Shavuot 39a)
Here, the fact that Joshua was compared to the moon is not seen
as something great, rather it is a lament of the people of that
generation who had been privileged to see the glory, the sun, of
Moses. The light which emanated from Joshua was surely bright, but
it did not shine like the light of Moses.
For those people an era had ended, the generation of Moses had
come to an end. The death of any great leader creates a vacuum.
Moses, the greatest leader and prophet whom the Jewish people
ever had, was the defining factor of his generation -- a dor daayah, a
“generation of knowledge.” (See Zohar Shmot 62b.) Now the people
have become the flock of Joshua, a great leader in his own right, the
closest student of Moses, but nonetheless less than Moses.
This caused the people to lament the ascension of Joshua to
leadership -- he was great but he was not Moses. What they may or
may not have realized was that the death of Moses marked the end
of this glorious generation -- a generation which had witnessed the
plagues, the parting of the sea, the encounter with God at Sinai and
countless other events.
The new generation led by Joshua, the one who would soon
cross the Jordan, had undergone a subtle change with philosophical
and legal implications.
There is a principle in Jewish law that all Jews are responsible for
one another. This is not simply an expression of mutual concern and
care, but includes such things as blessings as well. The implication
is clear, the spiritual state of one Jew is interdependent with the
spiritual state of the second Jew.
This spiritual reciprocity began as the Jews crossed the Jordan. It
is part of the definition of the new generation which will capture and
live in the Land of Israel. It is an expression of common destinies of
a people. It is a characteristic of Joshua's generation.
The Ritva, when explaining this idea, writes:
All Jews are mutually responsible … all of Israel constitutes one
body. (Ritva commentary Rosh Hashana 29a)
The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains the new covenant formed at
this point, along the same lines:
The objective of Moses in this covenant was to create mutual
Now, as the Jews take leave of Moses, a new chapter will begin,
one which includes the implementation of a new ideal. According to
the Or Hachaim Hakadosh, this idea of mutual responsibility, also
explains the words at the conclusion of the covenant: The secret
things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are
revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all
the words of this Torah. (Deut. 29:28)
The Or HaChaim Hakadosh notes that mutual responsibility
clearly includes that which is known -- in the open. The secret acts
on the other hand, are of God's concern.
This idea of mutual responsibility can explain the reference to the
matzeva, which Rashi alluded to. In Parshat Shoftim, where Rashi
explains the difference between a matzeva, “a monument,” and a
mizbayach, “an altar,” he states that a monument is made of one
stone, while an altar is made of many stones or components. During
the time of the forefathers, a matzeva was acceptable, now in the
Torah, in the times of the children it has become unacceptable.
The explanation is as follows: a monument signifies one, an
individual approaching God, while an altar signifies the totality of the
Jewish people, all sorts of individuals gathered together, to form a
beautiful mosaic.
During the time of the forefathers, individuals reflected the totality
of Jewish life -- the generation of Abraham was Abraham. Spiritual
giants who were individuals were able to approach God as
individuals. But once the Jewish people become a nation, a
matzeva became inappropriate.
Arguably Moses was the last individual, who represented the
entire nation, as the Talmud teaches:
As a rabbi was once expounding the Scripture, the congregation
became drowsy. In order to rouse them he said: “One woman in
Egypt brought forth six hundred thousand at a birth.” There was
a certain disciple there named Rabbi Ishmael son of Rabbi Jose,
who said to him: “Who can that have been?” He replied: “This
was Yocheved who bore Moses who was counted as equal to
six hundred thousand of Israel, for so it says, Then sang Moses
and the children of Israel (Exodus 15:1); And the children of
Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses
(Numbers 1:54); And there hath not arisen a prophet since in
Israel like unto Moses (Deut. 34:10).” (Midrash Rabbah, The
Song of Songs 1:65)
Moses represents the entire nation, but once he dies, the entire
nation becomes responsible for one another spiritually. It is true that
the nation is still made up of many individuals, who will need to
coalesce in order to form a cohesive whole, but one of the last
lessons which Moses teaches is that ultimately we are one people,
gathered together, to reflect the unity and interdependency.
The one body described by the Ritva is mirrored by the matzeva
described by Rashi (and the Shem MiShmuel).
With Moses gone, perhaps the light does not shine as brightly,
and this is what depresses the people. On the other hand, Rashi
points out:
As this day is here, and is cloudy and light, so too, will (the day)
enlighten you (now), and in the future it will enlighten you…
(Rashi 29:12)
On the day of Moses' death, the light of Moses shining like the
sun could be seen, and the light of Joshua shining like the moon
could be seen as well. Perhaps this is what Rashi meant by the
clouded light. But the people were told that now the light will be on
them, and in the future it will be on them.
The light of Moses was diffused, surely much of the discernible
light now was to be seen on the face of Joshua. But the light of
Moses -- the greatness of Moses -- was his status as representative
of God. With his death that light would be spread out among the
people. The only way to get the light to shine forth, was for the
people to gather and form a whole. The light had now become the
domain of the entire nation. This is represented by the mutual
responsibility, and the spiritual reciprocity which it implies.
In the future, the light of Moses will once again dazzle us with its
splendor. To bring this light forth, we must fulfill the commandments.
Each and every Jew is involved in this process, for bits of light are
spread about among all our people. (See the introduction of the
Kitzot Hachoshen, for a similar concept). If we look around and it
seems cloudy, or dark, it is simply because we have not as of yet
succeeded in making the light shine.
Indeed: "Let there be light"!
MAYANOT (by Rabbi Noson Weisz)
Some of the most powerful verses in the entire Five Books of
Moses are in this week’s Torah portion. The way the Jewish
calendar is set up, in most years we always read this section right
before Rosh Hashana. Consequently, we generally go into Rosh
Hashana and face the Day of Judgment with these inspiring words
still ringing in our ears.
For this commandment that I command you today -- it is not
hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, to say,
‘Who can ascend to heaven for us and take it for us, so that we
can listen to it and perform it?’ Nor is it across the sea, to say,
‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea and take it for us, so
that we can listen to it and perform it?’ Rather the matter is very
near to you -- in your mouth and in your heart to perform it.
(Deut. 30, 11-14)
According to Nachmanides the commandment referred to here is
the commandment of teshuva, “return to God” or “repentance,” which
is stated immediately prior to this passage.
Thus the Torah is telling us that teshuva is very near and
accessible. But is it really? If so, then why haven’t we all done it?
Why are we facing Rosh Hashana desperately attempting to make
ourselves feel something uplifting?
God goes on to explain:
See -- I have placed before you today the life and the good, and
the death and the evil, that which I command you today, to love
the Lord, your God, to walk in His ways, to observe His
commandments, His decrees, and His ordinances … But if your
heart will stray and you will not listen, and you prostrate yourself
to strange gods and serve them … (Deut. 30:15-20)
In other words, the reason that teshuva is so near is that
observance is tantamount to “life and the good,” whereas nonobservance is equal to “death and evil.” Surely, anyone faced with
having to choose between such clear alternatives as life and death,
or good and evil will be able to make his selection without having to
experience much inner torment. Thus repentance should be very
near and accessible.
If it is not, that is because the correlation between observance
and life is itself not obvious and clear.
Why is Torah observance equivalent to life and good, and how is
a life of non-observance congruent with evil and death?
Without understanding these correlations, we are not able to take
much inspiration from these powerful verses.
Nor will it suffice if we unearth these correlations in some
obscure, esoteric manner. In order to take advantage of the
inspiration offered by God’s words, as He clearly intended for us to
do, we must also demonstrate how these correlations are glaringly
obvious for all human beings to see, given only the information that
everyone already possesses. After all, that is what God is saying
here: “You yourself know the correlation between Torah observance
and life, and therefore it is obvious that you should choose life!”
When we look around our world we are faced with an amazing
phenomenon that surely requires analysis. What would happen to our
world if only those people whose old car broke down would purchase
a new one? If no one who had a good suit in his closet would see the
need to buy a new suit even if the fashions have changed? What if
people would choose to live in houses that only contained rooms that
they actually needed to use? In short what if we would only purchase
items that were a true necessity?
The answer is that if we behaved this way the inevitable result
would be instant world-wide economic collapse and deflation. All
companies would have to cut their production and downsize,
throwing millions out of work. The people who lost their jobs could no
longer keep up their mortgage payments and would also lose their
homes. Everyone would have to withdraw his savings causing the
collapse of the banking system.
The snowball effect would reach into all areas of the economy in
ways that are totally obvious to anyone who ever took an elementary
economics course, and even farther. The lack of extra money would
mean that we could no longer subsidize pure scholarship and
research. The advances in science and technology that stretch the
frontiers of human knowledge and allow us to constantly increase
productivity would also come to a halt.
Indeed, the world has actually experienced precisely such a
catastrophe. When the Roman Empire collapsed it took 500 years
for mankind to work itself out of the Dark Ages. And yet, does it
make sense for us to be so dependant on people leading lives of
such conspicuous consumption? Why aren’t we worried that they will
come to their senses and bring our entire world crashing down?
The answer is simple and we all know it from within ourselves.
We know people will keep consuming because they need to find
pleasure. After all, what else is there to life except to work and to
spend one’s money? Why do we live? To work? Surely not! Work is
something we must do to survive, not something we want to do. Of
course there is the odd person who lives for his work, or is driven by
great idealistic zeal, but there aren’t enough of those kinds of people
around to be able to upset the economy. So if not work, what else is
there to live for?
The answer is to fill our lives with pleasure and sensation, to
experience the thrill of being alive. The thrill of a new car, a new
house, a trip to an exotic place, the thrill of shopping. This also
solves the problem of staving off boredom for long periods of time,
as all these activities require intensive research, preparation and
We know in advance how transitory the thrill that is produced by
these activities really is. We know how quickly it evaporates and how
rapidly the problem of contending with boredom sets in again. But, of
course, there is nothing else worth living for. And the thrills are not
illusory, they are really there.
Do we think they are important? Do we think that any of them
make a difference in the long run? Not really. Indeed do we think our
lives themselves are important except to ourselves? Not really. We
are born to die, just as all those before us have died and just as all
those after us will die. As we only live for such a short time, all we
can do is to keep ourselves stimulated with new experiences and
adventures, to experience the thrill of being alive while it lasts. This
is the human condition.
The real quest of our lives is avoidance. We are busy avoiding
starvation, failure, boredom, and awareness of approaching death.
We are fully cognizant of the lack of significance and importance of
our pleasures and our thrills, but it is only through them that we can
avoid all the negatives that constantly threaten to encroach and
engulf us in their embrace.
God is saying, “I an offering you something better than a life
whose significance is avoidance. Life is important! Don’t settle for a
negative life. If life is given meaning only by what you are avoiding
you are really living for death. Live positively. Live to be alive!”
Let us look at the purpose of observing the commandments.
They offer no thrills. Some of them are quite boring. Even as one is
busily engaged in them, one is often fighting off boredom and
distraction. They are not in themselves absorbing; it takes a great
deal of work to become absorbed in them. They are clearly not
designed to deliver thrills.
On the other hand, they aren’t exactly like work either. Work is
obviously necessary for physical survival, whereas the observance
of the commandments is not. There is no obvious connection
between their performance and one’s state of well-being in the
natural world. In short, the only reason to carry them out is because
it is worthwhile to observe them for their own sake. They must be
But why are they important?
Suppose I woke up one morning and decided that I would like to
be a soul instead of just a body. I would like to get out of thinking of
myself as a transitory being stretching its wings for a brief period like
some glorified Monarch butterfly before disappearing for good. I want
to live forever.
What would I do as a soul? How would I live? What would I do
with my time?
Some things are fairly obvious. I would dedicate myself to be
helpful to my fellow man, to bring cheer and happiness to the world.
But how would I buy my suits as a soul? What kind of car would I
drive? What kind of house would I live in, and what kind of vacation if
any would I plan? How would I eat and drink and educate my
children or fill my empty hours? To all these questions I would have
no answer. For I do not know myself as a soul.
For this I need the Torah’s commandments. There is nothing
surprising in this. Even to live successfully as a body I need much
education. I need to go to school to learn how to read, to high school
and even to university to truly open all of life’s possibilities, even as a
body. It is certainly no less complicated to be a soul and should
surely require at least as much instruction.
This is what God offers us in the Torah. If we learn to observe the
commandments, we learn to be self conscious as souls. We learn to
think, speak, and behave as souls. We learn to conduct all of life’s
activities in a spiritual way.
Souls live forever. That is a long time indeed. Let us imagine that
we could live forever as we are. Does any of us seriously think that it
would be possible to satisfy ourselves through eternity with a life
based on the pursuit of bodily satisfactions? If we have such a
difficult time keeping ourselves stimulated and feeling alive during
the brief span of years that we spend here on earth, how much more
difficult would this become if we lived longer, much less forever.
The life we live without the Torah is only suitable for someone
who is going to die. If life isn’t too long then we are creative enough
to just barely fill it with enough interesting experiences to keep
ourselves feeling alive and appreciating life. But if you stretched this
life much further it would surely run out of steam.
Theoretically, it could be possible to put off worrying about this
problem until after death. We could be taught to live as souls after
we die. Let each life take care of itself. Why is all this important now,
At last we can understand God’s full message. To live forever we
need to know how to live as souls -- an education that is only
available through the observance of the commandments of the
Torah. The life we can learn how to live without the commandments
is only suitable for someone who plans to live for only a relatively
short time and then die. This is what God is saying exactly.
The message is not obscure and esoteric. All the ideas contained
in this essay are obvious and clear to all human beings of average
intelligence without exception. There is nothing profound or hidden
here. It is truly not up in the heavens or over the oceans.
But there is a sharp, painful jab to the heart contained in these
words. God tells us that He has placed all this before us “today.” We
cannot wait until we are born again as souls. We are souls already.
We have to make this choice now, today. Whatever we choose is
final. We can fit into the life of souls right here by living like people
who plan to live forever, or we can choose to live our lives in a
fashion that is only sustainable for people who will die after their brief
moment of glory in the sun.
So why is this such a difficult choice?
The natural life of the body is brief but chock full of sensation. It
may not be very important but it is certainly quite stimulating while it
lasts. The other life, that of the soul is important but boring. It is
based on giving up sensation. It requires a person to live according
to the dictates of pure reason and often suppress and ignore his
feelings and emotions. The contest may be between the important
and everlasting, and the insignificant and transitory, but it is also
between sensation and stimulation and discipline and thought.
In our day and age, this is even more complicated. When these
words were first spoken to the Jewish people by our teacher Moses,
they were addressed to those who had experience in both lifestyles
as insiders. The people to whom Moses was speaking had stood at
Mount Sinai. In all of human history, there were never again people
who had such a clear taste of life as a soul as the people in Moses’
original audience.
But all of us are born non-observant. The first taste of life in our
mouths is always the taste of the life of sensation. Many of us alive
today have never had a taste of the Torah life from the inside. When
such Jews look at observance they can only see what they would be
giving up, but they have no clear idea of what they would be gaining.
The solution to this dilemma is provided by the need to face
The reason this Torah portion is read before Rosh Hashana is
that the solution to the moral dilemma presented by this fateful
choice is the easiest to make when life comes up for renewal.
The Torah was given to all Jews -- observant and non-observant.
God promised to place this choice between life and death and good
and evil in front of us all, and He promised to do it “today” when we
are still alive to be able to make it. Those of us who manage to
confront this choice through the vehicle provided by Rosh Hashana
are the fortunate ones. Alternative ways of facing judgment are
bound to be more painful.
Real life has a lot to offer -- from the beauty of nature (even in our
own back yard) to the warm feelings of being part of a family and a
community. The simple pleasures of our daily encounters with the
people around us can make our lives feel happy and rich.
Yet nowadays with so many types of entertainment to choose
from, and all the exciting new gadgets that seem to be springing up
everyday, we can get lost in fantasy and almost forget about our real
The Torah portion this week reminds us to “choose life” -- to
choose to fully live and appreciate the specialness of the real lives
that God had given us; to realize that there is a lot to enjoy for each
of us everyday.
In our story, a boy helps his brother to choose life and realize it
has a lot to offer.
“Smoke Screen”
by Nesanel Safran
"DO NOT DISTURB -- DEFENDER AT WORK!" read the sign in
bold black letters hanging on the door to Eitan's room.
Eitan would lock himself alone in there for hours at a time and
submerge himself in what he liked to call his "control center."
His “control center” included a surround-sound audio system and
a state of the art large screen computer/video hook-up complete with
the latest interactive game software. His grandparents had given it to
him for his birthday and lately it seemed to be all he was interested
One afternoon his older brother Doron knocked on the door.
There was no answer. He knocked again, harder, causing the do not
disturb sign to swing back and forth on its hook.
"Go away earthling," barked out an annoyed sounding voice from
with the room.
"Hey, come on out, Eitan," Doron shouted. "I need to talk to you."
Finally the door opened a crack and Doron could make out his
younger brother's silhouette from behind it. He was wearing his new
silver and day- glow wireless virtual space helmet.
"Eitan, I could use your help. I'm putting up screens on the
windows. It's getting to be bee season and they're coming in. One
even stung Rachel," he added, referring to their kid sister who could
be heard crying in the background.
"Forget it!" answered the younger boy. "First of all I told you my
name's not Eitan anymore, its 8-N. And secondly I'm busy with
something much more important right now -- saving the world!"
"What do you mean?" asked Doron, incredulous.
"I mean," said Eitan, "That the Zilgons have practically entered
our atmosphere. If I don't monitor the situation there will be a total
Doron rolled his eyes. "That's just a video game," he said. "It isn't
really happening. Come on out and help me, or at least help Avi rake
the leaves, you know how mom's allergic. Besides," he added, "It's
beautiful outside. The fresh air will do you good."
"Rake the leaves!" gasped Eitan. "How can you worry about such
trivia while the future of the galaxy is at stake?!"
"Listen, brother," said Doron in an understanding tone. "I know
you're really into your video games. I like to play too sometimes. But
there's more to life. You live in a real family, with real people who
care about you and expect you to be part of us. If you care about
invasions, come help me with the real-life bee invasion that's going
to happen soon if we don't get these screens up."
Eitan was quiet. He opened the door, took off his space helmet,
looking a little embarrassed. "I guess I am getting a bit carried
away," he said. "It's just that the games are so … exciting. Real life is
boring," he sighed.
"Only if you let it be," countered Doron. "Believe me it was pretty
exciting when that bee was chasing me a few minutes ago. And
when I finally managed to trap it and looked at it up close, it really
looked like something from out of this world. God created an
amazing world -- right here, right now. And you don't need any
special helmets to enjoy it. So what do you say, 8-N?"
The younger boy chuckled. "You can call me Eitan," he said. "My
real name is exciting enough too, I suppose. Hand me a force-field
… er, a screen, and let's get going!"
Age 3-5
Q. How did Eitan feel when his brother first asked him to stop playing
the video game and help out in the house?
A. He was upset because he felt that what he was doing was more
Q. Was Eitan really helping more people by pretending to “save the
world” on his video game or helping his family in the house?
A. By helping his family.
Q. Why?
A. Because even though his game was fun and exciting for him, it
wasn’t real. But helping out his family was something real he could
do to actually help people.
Age 6-9
Q. Would it really make any difference in the lives of Eitan and his
family if the “Zilgons” in his video game invaded the Earth or not?
A. No.
Q. So why do you suppose Eitan was so caught up as to sit for hours
in front of the screen in order to “defend the world?”
A. Things like video games, TV, etc., are designed to get a person
excited.. They simulate situations that, if they really happened in our
lives, would be terrifying. (Imagine if aliens really had invaded!) But
since in the end, these games aren’t really a part of our real lives, a
person ends up getting all excited about nothing. These games can
be fun for a while. But sooner or later, we all want more. We find
that we want to put our energy into things with real meaning, and
that when we do, it’s much more interesting than any video game.
This is called “choosing life.”
Q. Would you say that it’s necessary to be exposed constantly to new
and different people and things for life to be interesting and exciting?
Or can a person still feel that way around the same people and
places everyday?
A. When we see the same people and places everyday it’s easy to
get used to them. But in reality we only have to look deeper and we
can see the wonders that God has put into the everyday. Next
chance you get, pick up a flower or even a leaf and look at. Really
look at it. You might be amazed at the awesome detail and incredible
design that you see. Poets and artists are able to see this way and
find the spectacular within the everyday things. Scientists teach us
that the inner workings of the most simple flower or insect contain
wonders that boggle the mind. Each person you meet is like a world
waiting to be discovered. Life around us is amazing once we open
our eyes.
Ages 10-13
Q. Unfortunately we often hear of people who become caught up in
dangerous habits and self-destructive behavior. They claim that they
engage in this behavior in order to “escape.” From what do you think
they’re trying to escape? Do you think they succeed?
A. Life can be challenging. God put us in the world and designed our
lives to include many challenges. When we face these challenges
and try our best to meet them, we grow as people. This is spiritual
growth and while at times it can be uncomfortable or even painful, it
can be the most valuable and meaningful part of life. Of course,
there is always the temptation to try to escape or sidestep these
challenges by blurring our minds and numbing ourselves to what is
uncomfortable in reality. But ultimately this technique is about as
effective as the ostrich who buries its head in the sand when it sees
a lion. Sooner or later all challenges must be faced in order to grow..
How much better to face them with our eyes open.
Q. In your opinion, who do you think is doing a more important job: a
teacher who spends long days helping physically challenged
(handicapped) kids learn how to walk and talk to live happier and
fuller lives, or a big movie star, who spends his free time on the
A. The teacher.
Q. Which one do you think receives more money and fame? A. The
Q. How do you explain this?
A. It can happen that those who are the real heroes of our society
can be overlooked and at the same time somebody else doing
something that in a real sense is not very important is considered a
“star.” One of the reasons is that the work that the real
heroes are doing, although more important, doesn’t always seem as
glamorous as the movies. Also, people who are genuinely interested
in helping others and helping to make the world a better place often
aren’t so concerned about their own fame and fortune. They know
that what they are doing has real meaning in their eyes and in the
eyes of God. This is enough of a reward for them. People like this,
even if nobody ever hears of them, really make the world go around.
10- HALACHA (Gross)
Selected Halachos Relating To Parshat HaShevua By Rabbi Doniel NeustadtDustributed by The Harbotzas Torah Division
of Congregation Shomre Shabbos
QUESTION: May the Selichos prayer be recited at night before going
to sleep or must it be recited only upon awakening in the morning?
ANSWER: Ideally, Selichos should be said at the end of the night,
since that is an eis ratzon, a "time of appeasement1." But it is
permitted to recite Selichos anytime from midnight on. Before
midnight it is prohibited to recite Selichos(2). Under extenuating
circumstances ??if one cannot recite Selichos at any other time
??Selichos may be recited once a third of the night has passed(3).
But this leniency should not be relied upon on a regular basis.
QUESTION: Must Birchos ha-shachar be recited before Selichos?
ANSWER: Birchos ha-Torah should be recited before Selichos(4).
The other blessings need not be recited before Selichos, but may be
recited then even though it is before alos ha-shachar(5). [If Al netilas
yadayim is recited before Selichos ??as recommended by some
poskim(6) ??one should be sure not to repeat it after Selichos from
force of habit.]
QUESTION: Are women obligated to recite Selichos?
ANSWER: Since the recitation of Selichos ??even for men ??is not
an obligation but an ancient custom which has been practiced for
many centuries, we are not obligated to do more than what custom
dictates. Customarily, women did not go to shul to recite Selichos. If
they wish to do so, however, women may go to shul to recite
Selichos, or they may recite Selichos at home. But the following rules
apply when reciting Selichos without a minyan [for both men and
women]: 1) When reciting E-l melech, some poskim hold that the
words Zechor lanu ha-yom bris shelosh esrei are omitted(7). 2) The
13 midos are omitted(8). 3) Machei u'masei (recited towards the end
of the Selichos) and any other segment which is in Aramaic is
QUESTION: Must a person who fasted [half a day] on erev Rosh
Hashanah in the past, continue to do so every year(10)?
ANSWER: The Shulchan Aruch(11) writes that it has become
customary(12) to fast on erev Rosh Hashanah(13). Many people,
especially during their younger years, adopt this custom but find it
difficult to maintain as they get older. The process for giving up
fasting on erev Rosh Hashanah depends on how the custom was
adopted originally. There are three possible cases: If the custom was
accepted initially as a lifelong commitment, one must annul his vow.
If the custom was accepted initially on a year-by-year basis, no
hataras nedarim (annulment of vows) is required.
If the custom was accepted initially without specifying the length
of the commitment, then one follows the general principle that any
proper custom which was accepted without a b'li neder stipulation,
automatically becomes a neder and may not be dropped without
hataras nedarim.
[Note that this halachic problem is not unique to the custom of
fasting on erev Rosh Hashanah. Any proper custom, once accepted
and followed, may not be dropped without undergoing hataras
nedarim. People who adopt even "simple" customs which they are
not really obligated to practice, like reciting Tehilim daily or studying
the daf yomi(14), without making the b'li neder stipulation, require
hataras nedarim should they decide to discontinue their practice.
An exception to this rule is when one undertakes a practice which
he thinks is obligatory, but later finds out that it is not. In that case, he
may drop his practice without hataras nedarim(15). For instance, a
person who ate chalav Yisrael butter only because he thought it was
absolutely required, but later found out that this is not the case, may
discontinue his practice without being matir neder.]
A possible solution to the problem of discontinuing a custom may
be found in the concluding declaration that is recited after the hataras
nedarim ceremony that takes place every year on erev Rosh
Hashanah. The declaration states that "I cancel from this time onward
all vows and oaths that I will accept upon myself... and that all of
them are totally null and void, without effect and without validity."
Harav S.Z. Auerbach rules that this declaration can also cover any
proper custom that was undertaken without a b'li neder(16).
QUESTION: Can anyone be a member of the court for the purpose of
annulment of vows (hataras nedarim)?
ANSWER: Any male adult(17) can be a member of the court, even if
he is related to the other members or to the petitioner(18).
Three judges suffice for hataras nedarim. Some poskim prefer
ten judges(19) and some insist on eleven(20), but it has become
customary to have only three.
QUESTION: Must women officially annul their vows on erev Rosh
ANSWER: Hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah(21), even for
men, is a custom, not an obligation. It was never customary for
women to annul their vows on erev Rosh Hashanah, and there is no
compelling reason to begin such a custom now.
Many men are accustomed to include their wife's vows at the
time that they annul their own(22). L'chatchilah, a wife should appoint
her husband to be her emissary for annulling her vows. If, however,
she forgot to do so, her husband may annul her vows for her without
being expressly appointed as her emissary, as long as he is
absolutely certain sure that she wants him to annul her vows for
A woman who has a specific vow that she must annul should do
so in front of a court of three judges. Although her father and brother
[or any other relative] may be members of that court, her husband
may not(24).
A daughter cannot appoint her father [or anyone else] to petition
the court on her behalf (25).
For the annulment to be valid, the petitioner and the members of
the court must understand exactly what is being said. A woman [or a
man] who does not understand the published Hebrew text, should
annul her vows in English(26).
Minors, even a boy over the age of 12 and a girl over 11, need
not perform hataras nedarim(27).
1 O.C. 581:1 and Mishnah Berurah.
2 Mishnah Berurah 565:12. One who finds himself in a shul where Selichos are
being recited before midnight should not recite the Thirteen Attributes along with the congregation; Sha'arei Teshuvah
581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef. 3 Igros Moshe O.C. 2:105. See Yechaveh Da'as 1:46, who advises reciting Selichos before
Minchah as the better alternative. 4 Mishnah Berurah 46:27. 5 Rama O.C. 47:13. See Mishnah Berurah 31 who writes
that asher nassan la-sechvi binah should l'chatchilah not be recited before alos ha-shachar. 6 Sha'arei Teshuvah 6:5;
Aruch ha-Shulchan 4:5; 6:10. Chayei Adam 7:6 and Mishnah Berurah 4:4 and 6:9, however, recommend that it be recited
right before davening, after using the bathroom. 7 Be'er Heitev 565:6; Mateh Efrayim 581:21; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
128:9. 8 O.C. 565:5. It is permitted, however, to read them as if reading from the Torah, with the proper cantillation
marks. See also Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:21 who allows them to be chanted to any melody, as long as it is different from the
melody used in davening. 9 Based on O.C. 101:4, quoted by Mateh Efrayim 581:21. Even when reciting Selichos with a
minyan, the Aramaic segments should not be recited unless there are ten men present in the shul and at least six of them
reciting this segment; Harav S. Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Nitei Gavriel, pg. 27). 10 If one is not feeling well, he is exempt
from fasting on erev Rosh Ha-shanah. It is proper to mention this problem to the members of the court who are going to
annul his vows on erev Rosh Hashanah after Shacharis. 11 O.C. 581:2.
12 Although Mishnah Berurah 16 writes
that women also fast, this is not widespread today.
13 In most communities the fast is only for half a day, or until
after Minchah Gedolah.
14 See Teshuvos Ohr ha-Meir 75 (Harav M. Shapiro), who remains undecided as to whether
one may switch his study schedule from the study of daf yomi. See also Yechaveh Da'as 6:52, who rules that one who
switches from studying the daf yomi to studying practical halachah does not need any hataras nedarim, since he is raising
his level of learning. 15 Y.D. 214:1. See Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:47.
16 Minchas Shelomo 91 based on Teshuvos
Salmas Chayim 2:38. See also Yabia Omer 2:30 and 4:11-9 who relies on this as well. [Although women do not
customarily petition for hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah, as discussed later, it would be advisable for any woman
to recite this declaration, even to herself, thus preventing questionable situations in the future.]
17 An adult is defined
as being over thirteen if he has visible beard growth, and at least over eighteen if no beard growth is noticeable; see Magen
Avraham, Shulchan Aruch Harav and Pri Megadim 39:1, and Chayei Adam 14:1. See also Beiur Halachah 39:1, who is
even more stringent. See also Shevet ha-Levi 4:54-4.
18 Y.D. 228:3.
19 Since vows which were undertaken
during a dream can be annulled only by ten judges; see Mateh Efrayim and Elef ha-Magen 581:49. 20 Since a court
should not be made up of an even number of judges; see Mishnas Ya'avetz O.C. 53. 21 If not done on erev Rosh
Hashanah, it may be done anytime during the week, even at night (Y.D. 228:3), until Yom Kippur; see Mateh Efrayim
22 This is the custom in Israel and other places. Harav S. Wosner is quoted (mi-Beis Levi, Tishrei, pg. 18)
as dismissing this custom. 23 See Hebrew Notes, pg. 576-581, for an explanation of this halachah.
25 Y.D. 228:16.
26 Chayei Adam 138:8; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:16. 27 She'arim Metzuyanim
b'Halachah 128:24. See Shevet ha-Levi 5:129-3. See Hebrew Notes, pg. 580.
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mitzvot on which the world is based. (4) In his "free time", the Torah
permits each man to devote himself to any of these - or other mitzvot, as he chooses.
Alternatively, he may choose to devote himself to tend to his own
needs - physical, mental, or spiritual - in preparation for doing his
duty. Each man's choice at any one moment will be dictated by his
understanding of what is more urgently needed just then and where
he is more likely to succeed. In a beautiful parable our sages
explained why there is no way of knowing which is the most valuable
mitzvah: because each one is dear to G-d and He does not wish any
of them to be neglected. This situation is compared to a king who
wishes to have an orchard planted. Each worker is to be paid for
what he plants. When asked to provide a detailed pay scale, the king
refuses. The publication of such a pay scale would result in an
orchard of just one type of tree - the one carrying the highest reward.
A beautiful orchard must have variety, and the value of a tree
depends on its situation and its surroundings. (5) Rabbenu Yonah
comments on this: "Our sages said: He who occupies himself with
Torah alone is like one who has no G-d, even though they also said
[concerning a number of mitzvot] that the study of Torah equals all of
them." (6)
When a man has fulfilled all his legal and halakhic obligations
and provided for his essential needs, he must continue serving G-d;
but the manner in which he is to serve G-d is his own decision. (7)
The better he knows the Torah, his own capabilities, and the world
around him, the better is his choice likely to be. If he wants to provide
for his own further development, and is intellectually inclined, he may
choose Torah study; if he is emotionally sensitive and wants to serve
G-d directly, he may choose avodah; and if he is of a practical bent
and wants to help his fellow man, he may occupy himself with gemilut
chasadim. He may not neglect any of these completely, but the
emphasis is his choice. In any event, he will be serving his Maker and
never, never need he be bored or feel that he is worthless, his life
without meaning.
"For [the Torah] is your life and the length of your days." (8)
1. Proverbs 3:6 2. Tractate Berakhoth 63a 3. Mishnah Peah 1:1 4. Mishnah Avoth 1:2 5. MR V 6:2 6. Rabbenu Yonah,
Sha'arey Teshuvah III 10 7. Individual differences in personality as determinants of the time to be spent on Torah study -
see the following: Ge"RA on Proverbs 14:2; Ne"TzYV, Ha'amek Davar, on Numbers 15:41; Rabbi Meir Simchah, Or
Sameach on MT Talmud Torah 1:2. For a general review see Ref. 26 in Chap. 2 above, Pt. 3, Sec. 2.1 8. Deut. 30:20. CF.
By Professor Yehuda Levi
Ibn Ezra's commentary and daily evening prayer
As science and technology develop more and better means of
producing our necessities, man is more and more freed from the
burden of providing a livelihood. The six-day week becomes a fiveday week, and eventually a four-day week, with the daily working
hours decreasing simultaneously. Indeed, in today's affluent Western
society, it is possible to survive quite well without working altogether,
a situation giving rise to such "luxuries" as the hippie-movement and
socially-oriented terrorist organizations. Man needs challenges, and if
the need to survive or a moral code do not provide them, he has to
invent new ones. Leisure activities: enjoying theatre, television,
spectator sports, belles lettres, music, and art; travel and hobbies - all
these are attempts to fill spare time with more or less harmless
activities. Unfortunately passive participation in such activities
deadens the creative powers in man, as it tends to become boring; as
time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to put on a show of
Let us take just one "small" example - the microprocessor and its
long-term social implications. Fantastic pocket-computers do not
exhaust its potential. In the supermarket it is beginning to automate
billing and even collection, keeping track of inventory: ordering,
storing and retrieving it. In the form of "word-processors" it
streamlines office work, including the composing and typing of letters
and agreements and, by means of radio-communication systems,
their instantaneous transmittal to any spot on earth. In the form of
computer-assisted instruction, it replaces teachers even at the
elementary school level - outdoes them in giving individual "attention"
and letting each pupil progress at his own pace, to a degree
impossible for the classroom teacher. In news and pressrooms, it
replaces the majority of the employees. In the factory, the
microprocessor automates production, measuring components as
they tumble off the production lines, detecting incipient inaccuracies
and making the required adjustment in the machine tool. On the farm,
the robot-tractor works the fields. Even in the hospital, computerguided examinations lead to computerized diagnosis - not to speak of
the record keeping and updating.
On surveying this scene, it is hard to avoid the impression that
soon the world population will be divided between computer
programmers and consumers -- and what will happen when
computers start doing the programming as well? People are
beginning to worry about the psychological and sociological
implications of such a state of society and the tremendous increase in
leisure time it implies.
What to do with leisure time is becoming a progressively more
serious problem. The reactions of its victims vary. Some become
addicted to TV, others turn to mind numbing drugs or antisocial
behavior, and still others become depressed or suffer from other
emotional disturbances. This is another of the serious problems
caused by technological advancement.
Here, too, the Torah provides guidance. It teaches man that he
was created to do a job. The Sages teach us that the verse: "in all
your ways you shall know Him" (1) is the foundation of all essentials
of Torah. (2) Man is not privileged to squander any of his time or
energy. On the other hand, the detailed execution of this fundamental
obligation is, to a great extent, left to the discretion of the individual.
The Torah does prescribe certain rigidly defined obligatory mitzvot;
however these normally require but little time - the rest is "free time."
But, in addition to these mitzvot, the Talmud lists a number of mitzvot
which "have no prescribed measure." (3) Concerning these, each
man must use his judgement in deciding how he can best serve his
Creator. Among these mitzvot are the study of Torah, service of G-d
(Avodah), and doing kindness (Gemilut Chasadim), the three