There is much discussion in the Talmud and Midrash about identifying the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. One opinion was that it was a fig tree, and it makes sense because figs were mentioned in the story – that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves for themselves to wear. Another opinion is that it was actually a grape vine. A third opinion is that it was wheat stalks. The Midrash further goes on to suggest that it might have been an etrog. All of these have some form of connection to the text itself. One of the interesting aspects of the discussion is the suggestion that it was wheat, because we know that wheat does not grow on trees! Including wheat as a possible identification of the Tree of Knowledge is a comment about life in the Garden itself. Humanity did not have to work the land in order to obtain food. It was divinely provided for them. Prior to the sin of the Garden of Eden, wheat grew on a tree so that it was easily taken by humans and worked into however they decided to ingest it. The tree, in essence, represented a divine gift of the Almighty for us to enjoy with a minimum amount of work, or no work whatsoever. As a result of the sin of the Garden of Eden we were punished by having to work hard for the food that would sustain us. Wheat would no longer grow on a tree but would grow as we know it today in nature. This is a valuable lesson for us as certain aspects of nature would change as a result of Adam and Eve’s interaction with Hashem and with nature itself. The bigger change, of course, we would see after the Flood in the days of Noach. The acts of Creation, those that cannot be taken for granted, do require our involvement. Even in our prayers we say that God renews the acts of Creation each day, for without Hashem’s supervision and involvement the phenomena of Creation would cease and would not offer benefits to the human race. We therefore extend Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden where he is called upon to “work it and to guard it” to be the responsible way that we have to work and preserve the gifts of God and nature in the world today as well.
Avraham was supposed to rectify Adam’s sin. When he asked Hashem, “How will I know that I will inherit the land?” (Genesis 15:8), it showed that he had not rectified his knowledge completely. Therefore, Hashem told him, “Know that your children will be slaves in a land that is not theirs” (Genesis 15:13). Knowledge needs to be improved. All the miracles in Egypt were to increase knowledge. After the Exodus Hashem told the Jews, “You have been shown to know…” (Deut. 4:35), the sentence that begins our Simchat Torah liturgy. If not for the sin of the Golden Calf, the rectification of knowledge would have been complete. Now it would not be complete until the coming of Mashiach when “the earth will be full of knowledge of Hashem…” (Isaiah 11:9).
“Hashem gave Cain a sign.” According to one view of the Midrash, Hashem gave Cain a dog to accompany him. What was the significance of giving Cain specifically a dog? The Chafetz Chaim explained that the Midrash says that Abel was stronger than Cain and in the original altercation Abel was in a position to kill his brother. Cain pleaded with him to have mercy and spare his life. After he was released, Cain attacked Abel when he was unprepared and was thus able to kill him. According to this, Cain came to kill his brother because of his lack of Hakarat HaTov, an ability to show gratitude to someone who had performed a kindness to him. It was for this reason that Hashem gave him a dog to accompany him, since a dog is known for its Hakarat HaTov and total devotion to its master who feeds it. Our Sages say (Horayot 13a): The dog recognizes its master. Its appreciation is so great that it will sacrifice its own life to protect its master. By giving him a dog as a companion, Hashem afforded him the constant reminder of the importance of demonstrating Hakarat HaTov, and hoped in this manner he would correct this most serious deficiency in his character. A real endorsement of having a dog in our lives!
Rabbi David Grossman
Each year on Sukkot, we read these famous words of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet):
“A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven. ...a time for tearing down and a time for building up.” (Kohelet3:1,3)
To speak of building during a holiday dedicated to erecting a temporary structure seems fitting. And yet, the order of the ideas in this verse is at odds with our Sukkot experience. Surely, “a time for building up and a time for tearing down” would align more closely with the sequence of the holiday. So why this order? And what exactly are “we tearing down and building up”?
The Torah portion for ShabbatChol HaMo-eid Sukkot — Exodus 33:12-34:26 — can help us answer these questions. In this Torah portion, we are presented with a slice of a story — a short vignette of a significant moment in the history of the people of Israel that covers several key events. The portion begins with Moses’ request to “behold Your [God’s] Presence,” (Exodus 33:18), continues with the carving of the second set of tablets (Exodus 34:1), and concludes with a short summary of the three Pilgrimage Festivals (Exodus 34:18). At first glance, this somewhat disjointed section seems a strange fit for the Shabbat of Sukkot and appears to offer no answer to our questions about tearing down and building up. As we examine the narrative more closely, however, we realize that the story
enacted in this text is indeed one of rebuilding — not of structures but of relationship.
In their original context, Exodus 33 and 34 occur in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf. God is furious, Moses is distraught, and the people are in peril. Our small section is the coda to the entire episode — the events that transpire after Moses intercedes, God forgives, and the people are
spared complete destruction. Here, God, Moses, and the people all try to move forward — to rebuild their relationship and their eternal covenant.
In just a few short verses, the Torah portion reveals a path to repair:
Reassurance of God’s Presence: Moses asks God to lead the people and reveal God’s Presence (Exodus 33:12-18)
Granting a Second Chance: God commands Moses to write the second set of tablets (Exodus 34:1)
Restating the Terms of Relationship: God restates the conditions of the three Festivals (Exodus 34:18-26)Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Most of the parshah of Ha’azinu is a song. Moses sang this song to the Jewish people on the day he passed away, singing to them about their experiences together, rebuking them for the things they'd done wrong, and reminding them that even though G‑d gets very angry at their sins, He will always come back to His people. Here are some quotes from the song, which is called, like the Parshah itself, by its first word, Ha’azinu, "listen." Remember that because it is a song, the words are sometimes unusual, with many metaphors and figures of speech:
Reminding them of how G‑d took care of them:
"Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob...He found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye. As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them... So God guided them alone... He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the mountain."
Rebuke and criticism:
"You forgot the [Mighty] Rock Who bore you; you forgot the God Who delivered you."
G‑d's anger at their sins:
"And the Lord saw this and became angry, provoked by His sons and daughters. And He said, "I will hide My face from them. I will see what their end will be, for they are a generation of changes; they are not [recognizable] as My children whom I have reared."
In the end, G‑d will come back to his people:
"Sing out praise, O you nations, for His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, inflict revenge upon His adversaries, and appease His land [and] His people."
At the end of the Parshah, G‑d tells Moses to go up the mountain of Nebo. From there, he will see the Land of Israel, but he will not be able to enter. After he sees the land, G‑d tells him, his soul will be gathered to heaven, and he will pass away.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Moses, in one of his last talks to the Jewish people sings a song that is both lyrical and enigmatic. One statement stands out among them all. Moses claims that now that he is aged, one hundred-twenty years old, that he can no longer come or go" (Deut. 31:2). In an admission of his waning strength Moses confesses to his people, in effect, that his bones ache and his joints no longer function as they used to. He is old and tired. Not much later, the Torah informs us that “Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eye was not dim, and his force was not abated" (Deut. 34:7). Based on these two psukim, we have to ask, how can Moses be at once old and ailing and vital and energetic?
There is a powerful lesson here about self-deprecation. We can have no doubt Moses was fatigued, weary from many long struggles. He lived through tumultuous and painful times. Orphaned in a reed basket, Moses knew the courts of Pharaoh. He gave up this position of privilege in order to defend his people. The shepherd was then coerced into becoming the great liberator of his people, only to endure hardship and trial through the next forty years. No wonder he was tired!
But it is not fitting for others to tell how weak the aged leader had become. It serves no good purpose to degrade another human being even if we are just agreeing with them! Lashon ha-ra, is often translated as gossip. But what if the lashon ha-ra is really true? It is no defense to the commission of this sin to rely on the fact that the story being told is true. It’s still Lashon ha-ra. The dictate is that negative statements about another person should not be uttered.
Rashi explains that Moshe is, in speaking about his fatigue, is saying that he could no longer interpret Torah and teach it to the people. The wellsprings of Torah had been closed to him. If that is true, then, despite the fact that his physical constitution was still hearty, he considered himself worn out and unable to function as a leader of B’Nai Yisrael. His barometer was not of the worldly realm, it was of the spiritual. If he could no longer transmit learning and lessons of morality, Moshe felt that his time on earth was done.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman