ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkos] a beautiful fruit (an esrog), date-[palm] fronds, braided branches (hadassim), and willows of the brook. You shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days; every citizen of Israel shall dwell in Sukkos
It’s Sukkos time. The two main mitzvos associated with the Festival are the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah for seven days, and to take the four species, namely the lulav (palm frond), esrog (citron), aravos (willow), and hadasim (myrtle). What’s surprising is that, although these two mitzvos are adjacent to each other in the Torah, and they coincide on the same festival, they are polar opposites of each other. Jews are so careful about their four species that they are so perfect. Some spend hours making sure they are blemish free and as beautiful as can be.
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Written for life vs. the good life
זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים: מי כמוך אב הרחמים זוכר יצוריו לחיים ברחמים
Remember us for life, the King Who desires life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, the living G-d. Who is like You, Father of Mercy, who remembers His creations for life, with mercy
וכתוב לחיים טובים כל בני בריתך: בספר חיים ברכה ושלום ופרנסה טובה נזכר ונכתב לפניך אנחנו וכל עמך בית ישראל לחיים טובים ולשלום
Write all of those in Your covenant for a good life. Let us be remembered and written before You in the book of life, blessing, peace, and a good livelihood. Us, and all of Your nation of the house of Israel, for a good life and for peace
The days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. As the name sounds, it’s a time of introspection and prayer. Insertions are added to the daily prayer services, and they certainly match the theme of these days. We are constantly praying for life, as the famous prayer says: “Inscribe us in the book of life”. However, a careful analysis of some of these insertions will show a discrepancy. In the first half of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah prayers, we have a couple of insertions asking for life. However, in the second half of the Shemoneh Esrei, our request changes to a good life. Why is there this change? Are we asking for two different things?
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Turning justice into mercy
זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון. כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב
Today is the beginning of Your creation; a remembrance of the first day. For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov
There are a few lines in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that are seemingly confusing. We say that today is the beginning of Your creation, and then we say it’s a commemoration of the first day. Isn’t that redundant? Furthermore, the next sentence, “For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov”, is seemingly incongruous. Now, this happens to be a verse from Psalms. If we look at the previous verse, we do find some relevance to Rosh Hashanah: “Blow [תקעו] in the month of the shofar [שופר], on the covering of the day of our Festival”. How can we make sense of all of this?
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Yeravam’s David Dilemma
ומל יקוק אלקיך את-לבבך ואת-לבב זרעך לאהבה את-יקוק אלקיך בכל-לבבך ובכל-נפשך למען חייך
Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children, to love Hashem, your G-d, with all of your heart and all of your soul, so that you will live
A theme of this week’s parsha is that of repentance. Quite apropos for the time of year that we’re in. Hashem promises that He will circumcise our hearts. The idea being that just like the male organ has a physical barrier that must be removed, so too our heart has a metaphorical barrier that must be removed. The heart being the seat of emotions, Hashem tell us that what gets in the way of us serving Him properly is our uncircumcised hearts.
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Birds, chicks, and bris milah
כי יקרא קן-צפור לפניך בדרך וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-הבנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים
When you chance upon a bird’s nest while on the way…and the mother is perched on her chicks or on her eggs, don’t take the mother upon the children. [Rather] send away the mother bird and take the children for yourself, in order to be good for you and that you’ll lengthen your days’
A popular mitzvah nowadays is the mitzvah to send away the mother bird. Perhaps because of the Torah’s promise of a long life, people yearn for an opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah. The Torah tells us not to take the chicks or eggs when the mother bird is perched upon them. Rather, send away the mother bird, and then take the children for yourself.
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את-הברכה אשר תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום: והקללה אם-לא תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם וגו’
The blessings [you’ll receive] for your listening to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d, that I command you all today. And the curses [you’ll receive] if you don’t listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d
The parsha begins with instructions to the Jewish people which they are to follow upon entering the land. They are to divide onto two mountains, one called Har Gerizim and one called Har Eival, and a series of blessings and curses are to be enunciated. These blessings are to follow upon proper Torah observance, and the curses for the opposite. However, many note an inconsistency in the verses which describe this ceremony. When describing the blessings, it says they are to follow “for listening to the mitzvos”. However, when describing the curses, it says they are to follow “if you don’t listen”. The curses sound conditional, and the blessings more definite. What gives?
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והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר יקוק אלקיך לך את-הברית ואת-החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך
It will be Eikev you listen to these judgments and safeguard and fulfill them, Hashem your G-d will guard you, the covenant, and the lovingkindness that He swore to your forefathers
Our verse uses an unusual expression. “It will be Eikev you listen” to Hashem’s commandments. Eikev usually is translated as heel. Targum Onkelos translates it in this case as “in return for your listening to these judgments”. Meaning, the verse is telling us a reward we’ll receive for our mitzvah observance. However, our Sages were bothered why didn’t the verse use the traditional word בעבור, meaning due to our loyalty, we’ll receive reward. Why use the same word for heel? Furthermore, the verse sounds like it’s encouraging us to serve Hashem to receive reward. The problem is, our Sages adjured us to do just the opposite!
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כה אמר יקוק צבקות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום ההשביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית-יהודה לששון ולשמחה ולמעדים טובים וגו’
Thus says Hashem, Master of Legions, that the fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, will be for the House of Yehudah for joy and celebration, for festivals…
The fast of Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The day that both Temples were destroyed is the ninth of Av. A question that many wonder is during the time of the Second Temple, did they fast on Tisha B’Av? On the one hand, the destruction of the First Temple was devastating, as described in Megillas Eichah. On the other hand, they were in a state of redemption. The Jews were (somewhat) back in their homeland, and they had a Temple again. While this question doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on our own practice, considering we lack a Temple, still, it potentially could shed light on the nature of the fast.
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אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל-כל-ישראל בעבר הירדן בערבה מול סוף בין-פארן ובין-תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב
These are the words that Moshe told all of Israel, across the Jordan River, in Aravah, across from the Reed Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeiros, and Di Zahav
In the beginning of Sefer Devarim we are told that Moshe spoke to the entire Jewish people. The Torah is extremely precise with the location of this speech. Rashi explains that in fact, the Torah is not telling us geographical information. Really, Moshe was rebuking the people. The places that the Torah is telling us are allusions to prior sins that the Jews committed. Focusing on the last one, Di Zahav, we are told that it is a reference to the sin of the Golden Calf. The hint is that the Jews had so much gold from the Egyptians, that they yelled out “Dai”, meaning “Enough!”. They didn’t know what to do with it, so they ended up making a Golden Calf as an idol.
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ויתן להם משה לבני-גד ולבני ראובן ולחצי שבט מנשה בן-יוסף את-ממלכת סיחן מלך האמרי ואת-ממלכת עוג מלך הבשן וגו’
Moshe gave to the children of Gad, the children of Reuven, and to half the tribe of Menashe the son of Yosef the kingdom of Sichon, the King of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, the king of Bashan…
After the defeat of Sichon and Og, the Jewish people had conquered a large amount of land to the east of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuven and Gad requested that instead of acquiring a portion of the land of Israel proper, they wanted this conquered land to be divided amongst them. After swearing that they’d help their brethren conquer the land of Israel, Moshe agreed to their request. The Torah tells us that Moshe gave them the land, as well as some of the tribe of Menashe. Why did Moshe give part of Menashe as well, when we aren’t told that they requested this land?
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