The opening verse in today’s Parsha deals with the subject of making choices in life. In this case the choices will have serious ramifications: obeying the will of God will earn us Hashem’s blessings, while disobeying God’s commandments will earn us Hashem’s curses. It would seem simple to understand that making this type of a choice is obvious. Who would want to earn God’s curse? Conscientious and intentional disobedience would indicate a lack of belief in Hashem. Most of our sins might not be in that category. That is not to say that all sins are unintentional. Even intentional ones might not be as a result of our lack of belief, or a result of the fact that we feel that we can get away with it. As the Talmud would indicate, sins usually accompany a lack of rational thinking. Most situations of sinning indicate that we lack the strength and fortitude of a committed dedication to Hashem’s word. We realize that the temptation of sin is there and standing in front of us, just as the satanic angel in the road confronted Bilaam. Bilaam doesn’t see the satanic angel; his donkey does. We are like Bilaam in the sense that we realize that there is temptation and do not recognize it, yet we are able to rationalize doing something that is obviously incorrect.
Throughout the Torah, the city of Yerushalayim is not mentioned anywhere with its full name. The first time that it is mentioned by name is …. This is a good trivia question: Where in TaNaCH is Yerushalayim mentioned the first time? A follow up question for extra credit: Where in TaNaCH is the expression Eretz Yisrael mentioned for the first time? Neither of these words is in the Torah. The Rambam in Guide for the Perplexed III:45 writes, “the fact that the Torah does not make specific mention of Yerushalayim, but rather hints at it and says: ….[the place] which God will choose, etc. appears to me to have three explanations. The first: so that the nations would not seize the place and wage power struggles over it, knowing that this place – out of the entire Land – represents the ultimate purpose of the Torah; secondly – lest whoever possessed it at the time destroy it and devastate it to the limit of their power; and thirdly – the strongest reason of all – that a situation would not arise in which every tribe would want it included in its inheritance, so as to be able to rule over it, and it would fall to [whichever tribe would emerge victorious] as a result of controversy and strife, as did the quest for the priesthood. For this reason, we are commanded that the Temple not be built until after the coronation of a king so that there is one single ruler and all strife falls away…” The Rambam is trying to explain our question. All three points that he makes are valid, not just in history, but even in our time. The first two are more applicable than the latter one, but when you think about it, it will not be the tribes arguing but segments of the Jewish population who certainly do argue over who has the authority and dominion over the Temple Mount and Yerushalayim as a whole.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Hashem tested Bnei Yisrael in the desert. The tests went both ways. Hashem was testing B’nei Yisrael to develop their sense of faith and trust in Him. The people tested Hashem as a child would test a parent. The beginning of the story of the Exodus produced the initial test of the mannah. Moshe told them that every day (except Shabbat) there will be mannah descending like dew from heaven which will sustain the people. Rav Ovadiah Bartenura wrote that the initial test that Hashem gave the people was in telling them “don’t go out” and yet they did go out. They were further told “do not leave over to the next day” and they did that as well. The only way they could pass the test of the mannah was for Hashem to extend the test. As it turned out, that is exactly what did occur and over the forty year period there were no problems. The people got used to the test of the mannah. The entire forty year period could be understood in this fashion. It is not only that they were being punished for the sin of the spies; it was also that by being under Hashem’s protection in every physical way they learned to trust Hashem. On the eve of their entry into the Promised Land Moshe understood that the conditions under which this new generation was raised would change drastically, and unfortunately the people would fail the future tests. Moshe knew this and spoke about it in today’s Parsha and throughout the Chumash of Devarim.
The Torah gives us the list of the seven fruits with which Eretz Yisrael is blessed (8:8) “a land of wheat and barley… a land of olives that produce oil, and honey.” It is interesting to note that the Torah says that olive oil is one of the blessed fruits of Eretz Yisrael. Why not state that it is the olive? Why mention olive oil? The Talmud posits that olives are not to be considered as beneficial to the human being as olive oil is. The Talmud even suggests that eating olives is detrimental to one’s memory. When praising the land of Israel, the Torah used the most useful forms of the produce of the land. It is of note that for many years Israel was an exporter of olives. This was true in the Roman period 2,000 year ago. Rome was actually importing olives from Israel and they could be found sold in the marketplaces in Rome. This is bizarre considering that Italy is a major producer of olive oil in the modern period. But in ancient times this was obviously not so. As it turned out, this was not always a major blessing as it was economically. Because of the trade agreement the Romans had, ships were coming to Israel for economic trade as in olive oil and olives, and became knowledgeable of the geography and topography of the land of Israel, which proved helpful when the Romans invaded and conquered the land in the 1st century C.E.
Moshe says that the people will be blessed with a great amount of gold and silver (8:13). A wealthy Jew once boasted to the Chofetz Chaim that Hashem had granted him all his desires and he lacked no worldly pleasures. The Chofetz Chaim said that if that was the case, he should devote a number of hours every day to Torah study. The man replied that he had no time. Said the Chofetz Chaim, “If that is the case then you are like the poorest of the poor. If you have no time, then what have you? There is no poorer man than one who is lacking time…” It is recorded that a man came to the Vilna Gaon and said to him, “Rebbe, I have only ten minutes free. Should I learn Talmud or should I learn Mussar (moral instruction)?” The Vilna Gaon responded that he should learn Mussar because after ten minutes of Mussar he would realize that he did have a lot more than ten minutes of his time. Whenever God blesses us there is always an ability that we should have to improve upon it and not be enslaved to it.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום
Rabbi David Grossman
The opening of today’s Parsha marks the last time that Moshe requests entry into the Promised Land. Rashi explains that Moshe’s request now is as a result of the conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og. These lands were now given to two and a half tribes of Israel, which means that the land upon which Moshe is walking right now is part of Eretz Yisrael. Moshe
could therefore surmise that God has cancelled the harsh decree. Hashem tells Moshe it is not going to happen.
Rashi comments later that not only will Moshe be denied entry into
the Promised Land but also be denied burial in Eretz Yisrael. Not only were the children of Israel carrying the bones of Yosef, but according to Midrash they were also carrying the remains of all of Yosef’s brothers. All the tribal brothers were being buried in Eretz Yisrael. Moshe was denied this. The Midrash says this was because when Moshe arrived in Midian and saved the daughters of Yitro at the well, the daughters told their father that an
“Egyptian man” saved them. Moshe never corrected the daughters to say that he was a Hebrew and not Egyptian. According to the Midrash, Moshe was being punished by not even being permitted to be buried in Eretz Yisrael.
The question should be directed to us: Is this a model for us? Are we permitted to deny our Jewish identity in a circumstance where it does not seem to be a perilous situation for us to be identified as Jewish?
The Ten Commandments are repeated in this week’s reading. One of the distinctions between the previous reading and today’s is the headline for the mitzvah of Shabbat. The difference between Zachor and Shamor, between Remembering Shabbat and Guarding Shabbat, is the distinction between the positive and negative commandments relating to Shabbat.
The great challenge of Shabbat is not only observing the prohibitions, but also finding ways to create the spiritual, positive energy that Shabbat is supposed to engender. Visiting friends, attending shul, communing with nature, having a lovely meal—these are all examples of ways we might enhance the day and achieve a feeling of Shabbat.
The influence of Torah is readily seen among the nations of the world. When John Adams was asked to compose the curriculum for the school system in the Boston area of Massachusetts in the Colonial period,
he felt that Hebrew should be a required subject since the entire western civilization owes a tremendous debt to the Jewish people for the Jewish literature that has given great knowledge and wisdom to the peoples of the world.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום
Rabbi David Grossman
The book of Deuteronomy has been called the “Mishneh Torah” in later Jewish literature. The name Mishneh Torah, a second Torah, refers to the fact that Devarim restates many of the most essential teachings and principles of Jewish life. Rather than being repetitive, however, Deuteronomy gives new depth and meaning to many of the teachings that have already been stated in the first four books of the Torah. As the book opens, Moses summarizes the forty-year history of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness.
For 38 years, God did not communicate with Moshe in a loving manner because of the strained relationship that Hashem had with B’nei Yisrael. After the sin of the spies, God felt it necessary to allow the natural death of the generation that left Egypt. Now that they died, He would resume speaking to Moshe in a loving fashion. Moshe felt the need to admonish the people in the final 5 weeks of his life, which is the timespan of the Chumash of Devarim.
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel…” (1:1) Rashi comments that Moshe admonished all of Israel but decided not to identify all the places and sins Bnei Yisrael committed during their travels through the desert. Specifically, Moshe did not mention the places by their actual names. He hinted at them so as not to embarrass the people; instead he chose to honor the people by not specifically mentioning each sin (and in that manner) each sinner. Moshe was teaching us the better way to rebuke sinners: in a softer tone. Only with a sweet and softer tone will anyone succeed in influencing another Jew to better appreciate Torah and its Mitzvot. We see that in our own interactions with others: the more we can relate compassionately, the better our chances for a true dialogue and real change.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman