Shoftim 5777

The seeds of potential[1]

כפר לעמך ישראל אשר-פדית יקוק ואל-תתן דם נקי בקרב עמך ישראל ונכפר להם הדם
Hashem, grant atonement for your nation Israel which you have redeemed, and don’t let guilt for innocent blood remain among your nation, Israel; and they shall be absolved of punishment[2]

The beginning of parshas Vayeira involves the story of three Angels who came to visit Avraham. Acting as a generous host, Avraham is described as serving their every need. The verses testify[3] that he offered them water, he prepared dishes of cream and milk in addition to a small calf, and he waited on them hand and foot. The gemarra teaches us[4] that for these three acts of chesed, his descendants merited to three acts of chesed from Hashem. While the Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they were given munn, the manna that fell from heaven, the Clouds of Glory which guided the way and protected them from the elements, and the travelling well of water. However, this teaching doesn’t appear to be consistent with another teaching in the gemarra[5], that the Jews received these three gifts due to the merits of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam[6]. How can these two teachings be reconciled?

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Re’eh 5777

Helping the poor[1]

כי יהיה בך אביון מאחד אחיך…לא תאמץ את-לבבך ולא תקפץ את-ידך מאחיך האביון: כי פתוח תפתח את ידך לו…השמר לך פן-יהיה דבר עם-לבבך בליעל…‏
When there will be amongst you someone destitute from one of your brethren…don’t harden your heart, and don’t clench your hand from your destitute brother. Rather you must open your hand to him…Guard yourself lest there will be a rebellious matter in your hearts…[2]

This week’s parsha introduces a multitude of mitzvos, the third most[3] of any parsha. Many of them are between man and his Creator, and many of them are been man and his fellow. One of the crucial interpersonal mitzvos in this parsha is the mitzvah of tzedakah. It is given more attention than others, with the Torah having devoted to it five verses. This is opposed to the usual one or two for a specific mitzvah. This seems to connote its importance. This isn’t surprising considering how many mitzvos there are related to providing for the poor[4]. Hashem wants us to make sure that no one is lacking what they need.

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Eikev 5777

Order matters[1]

בעת ההוא אמר יקוק אלי פסל-לך שני-לוחת אבנים כראשנים ועלה אלי ההרה ועשית לך ארון עץ: ואעש ארון עצי שטים ואפסל שני-לחת אבנים כראשנים ואעל ההרה ושני הלחת בידי
At that time Hashem said to me: “Carve for yourself two stone tablets, like the first ones [that you broke], and come up to Me to the mountain and make for yourself a wooden Ark. I [then] made an Ark of Shittim-wood, and I carved two stone tablets like the first ones; I went up to the mountain and the two tablets were in my hand[2]

In this week’s parsha, Moshe continues his rebuke of the people. He reminded them of their sin with the Golden Calf[3], and all the events that happened afterwards. In his fury at their betrayal, Moshe broke the stone tablets which had the Ten Commandments engraved on them. Moshe then had to plead with Hashem that He not destroy the people. After receiving forgiveness, Hashem commanded Moshe to make new stone tablets to replace the ones that were smashed. He then told Moshe to create a temporary[4] wooden Ark to store them in, until the golden Ark would be created. However, a careful reading of the verses shows Moshe didn’t exactly follow these instructions.

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Vaeschanan 5777

What are totafos?[1]

וקשרתם לאות על ידך והיו לטטפת בין עיניך
You shall bind [these words] as a sign on your arm, and they shall be totafos between your eyes[2]

The Torah when it describes the mitzvah of tefillin[3] describes them as being a sign on your arm and as totafos between your eyes[4]. The word totafos is hard to translate. Menachem Ibn Seruk, a tenth-century Spanish-Jewish philologist often quoted by Rashi[5], relates it to the verse והטף אל דרום, and speak to the south[6]. This verse tells us that the word totafos connotes speech. Tefillin are meant to be understood as a reminder[7]: that people will see the tefillin on a person’s head, remember the miracles of Egypt and begin to speak about them[8]. This is because two of the parshiyos, paragraphs, written in the tefillin discuss the Exodus from Egypt. In a simpler fashion, Ramban writes[9] that totafos is just the name that the Torah gave to the head tefillin.

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