Post Archive for August 2009

Parashas Ki Savo

Parashas Ki Savo includes a long litany of curses that we will suffer if we do not serve Hashem properly. The very last curse is as follows (Devarim 28:68): “And Hashem will send you back to Egypt in boats, along the way I told you that you should never see again, and you will offer yourselves for sale there to your enemies as slaves and maidservants, but no one will buy.”
In Esther Rabbah Pesichasa 3, the Midrash points out that Hashem warned us in the Torah three times not to return to Egypt. The first two verses the Midrash quotes are as follows:
1.   Shemos 14:13: For as you see Egypt today, you will not see them ever again.
2.   Devarim 17:16: For Hashem has told you that you must not go back that way again.
The third verse the Midrash quotes is the verse from our parashah that we quoted above. But in quoting this verse, the Midrash quotes only the first part – “And Hashem will send you back to Egypt in boats” – omitting the usual “etc.” Thus, in connection with this verse, the Midrash seems to stress the warning that we could be sent back to Egypt, rather than the warning that we must not go back there. The Maggid notes this feature, and draws from it an important message.
The Maggid explains that each land has its own special attributes, and Hashem matched each nation with the land whose attributes accord with that nation’s specific character. The Land of Israel is a land uniquely conducive to spiritual pursuits. And the People of Israel is a nation particularly geared toward spirituality, as reflected in the Torah’s dictates. Thus, the Land of Israel and the People of Israel are perfectly matched to each other. But this is so only when the People of Israel are faithful to their spiritual calling. When they flout the Torah and stray from serving Hashem properly, involving themselves instead in the wayward practices of other nations, they are at odds with the land. Hashem therefore exiles them from the Land of Israel and scatters them all across the world, planting each one in the land most suited to his particular form of deviance.
The Maggid then ties this idea in with the three verses quoted in the Midrash in Esther Rabbah. In the first verse, Hashem promises us that “as you have seen Egypt today, you will not see them ever again.” In the second verse, Hashem attaches a condition to the promise: if “you will not go back on that way again.” That is, if we do not act as they do, then we will not see them again. But if we return to their wayward practices, then we will be treated accordingly: “Hashem will send you back to Egypt in boats.” For then, the land that will most suit us is not the holy Land of Israel, but rather the defiled Land of Egypt, the natural habitat for decadence.
The message for us today – especially for those of us who have the merit of living in the Land of Israel – is that we must adhere steadfastly to the Torah path, and take care to avoid adopting the lowly ways of other cultures.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Seitzei

In this week’s parashah, the Torah states (Devarim 23:10): “When you go out as a camp against your enemies, you must guard yourself from all evil.” The Maggid, in a drash on this verse, interprets it as a piece of advice for facing the judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Maggid develops the point with an analogy. A person who moves into a town where he has no relatives or friends tends to fear most people in town. Usually, though, he does not fear the lowly paupers, for they have no power to do him harm. It is different, however, when he has to defend a charge against him before the assembly of all the townspeople. He then humbles himself before everyone, even the lowliest. Every person counts, no matter how lowly, for perhaps just one vote will make the difference between a judgment against him and a judment in his favor.
Similarly, in Tishrei, the month whose astrological sign is the scale, we must act with added vigilance. Generally speaking, the degree of caution a person exercises to avoid a particular sin is proportionate to the severity of that sin. But in Tishrei, we go out to defend ourselves against our enemies – the heavenly accuser and his retinue – and our good deeds and bad deeds are weighed against each other. Just one minor transgression might tip the balance to the side of guilt. As Tehillim 49:6 hints, if we let our heels trample over “small matters,” we will have cause to feel fear in such a time of danger. At this time, therefore, we must guard ourselves from all evil.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shoftim

The second reading in this week’s parashah involves the laws of the Jewish king. The Maggid discusses the role of the king in Jewish society. He notes that in the respective blessings we recite upon seeing a Jewish king and upon seeing a gentile king (Berachos 58a), there is a key difference in phrasing. On seeing a Jewish king we make the following blessing:
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe, Who has granted a share of His honor (shechalak mi-k’vodo) to those who fear Him.
On seeing a gentile king, however, the blessing we make is as follows:
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has given of His honor (shenasan mi-k’vodo) to mortal men.
The Maggid explains the difference in terms of the difference between the attitude expected of a Jewish king and that assumed by a typical gentile king. A Jewish king is expected to recognize that his position is not a personal asset, but simply an entrustment Hashem has conveyed to him for the purpose of establishing Torah-true law and order within Jewish society. He should make use of his sovereign powers only to promote Hashem’s honor. Hence, in the blessing upon seeing a Jewish king, the phrasing is “granted a share of His honor,” reflecting the fact that the honor a Jewish king enjoys really belongs to Hashem, and that Hashem has merely “granted a share” of this honor to him. A typical gentile king, on the other hand, regards his position as an personal asset given to him to be exploited for his personal honor and benefit – and the blessing upon seeing a gentile king reflects this fact.
In our parashah, the Torah exhorts the Jewish king to maintain the proper attitude. The Torah enjoins the king to write a Torah scroll for himself and read from it every day, “so that he will not become haughty toward his brethren, and will hold back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left.” The king should regard himself as having no superiority over his brethren, except insofar as is necessary to guard the people from evil ways, and to hold them back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left. He should not become haughty, and regard the kingship as given to him for his own honor.
In this vein it is written (Yeshayah 32:1): “Behold, for the sake of righteousness shall the king reign, and for the sake of justice shall the officers govern.” Likewise, David HaMelech declares (Shmuel Beis 23:2): “The spirit of Hashem spoke within me, and His word was upon my tongue. The God of Israel said – the Rock of Israel spoke to me: ‘Be a righteous ruler over man; be a ruler who instills the fear of Hashem.’” Here David HaMelech testifies that his sovereignty over the People of Israel in truth belongs to Hashem, and is not to be used to promote his own honor. Rather, it is to be used to promote Hashem’s honor, by instilling reverence for Hashem in the hearts of the people.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Re’eh

In this week’s parashah it is written (Devarim 12:2-6):
You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whose land you are taking over worshipped their gods: on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall smash their altars, break their pillars, and burn their sacred trees in the fire; you shall cut down their graven images, and you shall obliterate their name from that place.
[And] you shall not do thus to Hashem, your God. Rather, only at the place that Hashem, your God, will choose … to place His Name there shall you seek His Presence and come there. And there you shall bring your [various offerings].
The second part of this passage teaches us two things: first, that we must not erase the Name of Hashem, and, second, that we must not worship Hashem in the way that the idolaters worshipped their gods.
The Maggid elaborates on the second point. The ancient idolaters, the Maggid notes, would offer sacrifices to the heavenly bodies in order to induce them to convey blessing. They were trying to get their gods to direct themselves toward them, and they therefore built their altars on mountains and hills. The purpose of their sacrifices was to get their gods to give them something, and bringing the sacrifices on high places was meant to ease the way to this goal.
The offerings we bring Hashem, however, have a completely different purpose: they are designed to bring us closer to Hashem (as reflected in the term korban for offering, which is related to the word karov, meaning “close”). Thus, we must follow a completely different procedure in bringing offerings. We must destroy all the high places where the idolaters brought their sacrifices, so that we will not bring our offerings there. Instead, Hashem Himself will designate a place – the Beis HaMikdash – in which to concentrate His Presence, and we must go to this designated place to bring our offerings. By bringing ourselves physically into Hashem’s house, we bring ourselves spiritually closer to Him.
In addition, we must destroy the images the idolaters constructed to represent their gods. Hashem cannot be represented by an image, for His true nature is beyond human conceptualization. Moreover, a graven image is a means the idolaters used to bring their gods down to them, and thus is an illegitimate object. We must not try to bring Hashem down to us, but rather we must bring ourselves toward Him.  
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, Moshe continues his review of the Jewish People’s experiences during the forty years in the wilderness. In the course of this review, he states (Devarim 8:3): “He [Hashem] afflicted you and let you hunger, and He fed you the manna ….” The Maggid notes that this statement is odd. We know, as Moshe himself relates, that Hashem showered the wilderness generation with kindness. Why, then, did He let them hunger?
The Maggid explains as follows. As a rule, a person derives pleasure from material blessing only after a period of lack. When he first receives the blessing, he feels great joy, but after a short time the joy dies out. Hashem wanted the Jews of the wilderness to experience constantly the joy of receiving their sustenance from Him, with the joy renewed every day. Hence He fed them the manna day by day, rather than giving them a large allotment at once. He let them undergo the “hunger” of an empty cupboard each day, so that they would always feel joy when receiving their daily portion.
David Zucker, Site Administrator