Bereishis 5781

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The greatest chessed[1]

ויעש יקוק אלקים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבשם
Hashem, G-d, made special clothes[2] for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them[3]

Chazal note[4] that the Torah begins with an act of chessed, loving kindness. The example given is that Hashem clothed the naked Adam and Eve[5]. After sinning by eating from the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve felt ashamed that they were unclothed[6]. As an act of kindness, Hashem formed for them clothing, to remove their shame. This choice of example is very surprising. This is the first act of chessed in the Torah? Hashem literally created the entire universe. He created Mankind. Why isn’t that considered the first chessed of the Torah?

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VeZos HaBeracha 5781

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Conflicting acts of kindness[1]

וקבר אתו בגי בארץ מואב בית פעור ולא-ידע איש את-קברתו עד היום הזה
[Hashem][2] buried [Moshe] in the valley of the land of Moav, Beis-Peor. No man knows his place of burial until this day[3]

The Torah ends with the death of Moshe. Chazal note[4] that the Torah starts and begins with Hashem’s chessed, acts of loving kindness. After Moshe dies, Hashem Himself buries him. At the beginning of the Torah, we are taught that Hashem adorned Eve as a bride for Adam[5] [6] [7]. With this insight, we can glean a new understanding of a vague verse in Ecclesiastes, read during this time of year: טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו, better is the final word than its beginning[8]. What is this teaching us?

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HaAzinu 5781

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The required rebuke[1]

שובה ישראל עד יקוק אלקיך כי כשלת בעונך
Return, Israel, to Hashem your G-d! For you have stumbled in your sins[2]

The first Midrash in parshas HaAzinu[3] seems to have a completely irrelevant halachic query. What’s the law if someone has some sort of ear ailment on Shabbos? Is it permissible for them to seek medical help? The Midrash answers that our Sages taught us[4] that preservation of life overrides Shabbos[5]. This back and forth sounds like some sort of cryptic riddle. What’s it alluding to? Is there some relevance to the time period that we find ourselves in?

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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5780

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How easy is teshuva?[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא וגו’ כי-קרוב אליך הדבר מאד בפיך ובלבבך לעשתו
This mitzvah which I command you today is not beyond you, nor is it far away…Rather the matter is close to you in your mouth and in your heart to perform[2]

Which mitzvah is our verse telling us is close to our mouth and close to our heart to perform? The Ramban explains[3] that it is referring to what was mentioned a few verses[4] earlier. ושבת עד-יקוק אלקיך, you shall[5] return to Hashem, your G-d. The Torah is telling us that the mitzvah of teshuva, sincere repentance for our sins, is very easy. It’s close to our mouths and to our hearts. Meaning, there are four requirements for complete teshuva: cessation of the sin, committing never to do it again, regretting the sin, and vidui, confessing one’s sin[6]. The Torah is alluding to two of these requirements[7]. Teshuva is close to our mouths, to perform vidui, and our hearts, to accept in our hearts never to do this sin again. Why is the Torah alluding to only these two, and not the other two?

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Ki Savo 5780

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The odd ones out[1]

אלה יעמדו לברך את-העם על-הר גרזים בעברכם את-הירדן שמעון ולוי ויהודה ויששכר ויוסף ובנימן: ואלה יעמדו על-הקללה בהר עיבל ראובן גד ואשר וזבלן דן ונפתלי
These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, as you pass over the Jordan River: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. And these shall stand on Mount Eival for the curse: Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali[2]

One of the commandments[3] the Jewish people were instructed to fulfill as they entered the land of Israel is known as the Blessings and the Curses. The twelve tribes were to divide in two; half would pronounce blessings to the people for those that keep the Torah, and half would pronounce curses for those that didn’t. The Torah tells us who is to stand where: Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin are to stand on Mount Gerizim and pronounce the blessings. If we look closely, we’ll see that they’re all children of Rochel and Leah, Yaakov’s primary wives. Those to stand on Mount Eival and pronounce the curses were Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali. The four children of Bilhah and Zilpah, Yaakov’s other two wives, are in this list. However, Reuven and Zevulun are the children of Leah. Why are they singled out from their brothers on Mount Gereizim, and told to stand on Mount Eival?

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Ki Seitzei 5780

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The price of ingratitude[1]

לא-יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל יקוק גם דור עשירי לא-יבא להם בקהל יקוק עד-עולם: על-דבר אשר לא-קדמו אתכם בלחם ובמים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים ואשר שכר עליך את-בלעם וגו’ לקללך
An Ammonite and a Moavite shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into the congregation of Hashem, for all time. Due to the matter that they didn’t present you with bread or water when you were traveling from Egypt, and for having hired Bilaam…to curse you[2]

The Torah informs us that a convert from the nation of Ammon or Moav cannot marry into the Jewish people. The reason is twofold: they didn’t present us with bread or water when we were traveling from Egypt, and because they[3] hired the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam to curse the Jews[4]. If we were to pick the worse of the two crimes, seemingly the second one is more severe. If Bilaam had successfully cursed the Jews, there would be no remnant left[5]. His goal, as well as those who hired him, was to obliterate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth. Shouldn’t that be enough of a reason not to intermarry with them? Why then does the Torah also need to mention the reason that they didn’t offer us bread and water? That was simply a lack of showing honor and respect, or at the very least of generosity. It’s surely not as severe as wanting to annihilate them. Further, why is the sin of not giving bread and water listed first, implying it’s worse than the second one?

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Shoftim 5780

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False prophets[1]

אשר ידבר הנביא בשם יקוק ולא-יהיה הדבר ולא יבוא הוא הדבר אשר לא-דברו יקוק בזדון דברו הנביא לא תגור ממנו
That which a “prophet” says in the name of Hashem, which doesn’t come true or does not occur, that is something that Hashem did not speak; this “prophet” spoke with iniquity, do not fear him[2]

The Torah tells us that there will come a day when charlatan prophets will come and try to speak in the name of G-d. They will present miracles and wonders and predict the future. It is a capital crime to be a false prophet, and we are not to be swayed by their tricks. How can we tell if they are a charlatan, or the real deal? The Torah gives us the litmus test: if they predict something will occur, and it doesn’t, then we’ll know for sure that they are a false prophet.

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Re’eh 5780

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Life worth living[1]

בנים אתם ליקוק אלקיכם לא תתגודדו ולא-תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת
You are children to Hashem, your G-d; don’t maim yourself, nor remove hairs on your head[2] for the deceased[3]

Parshas Re’eh contains many mitzvos. A couple that are unique are the prohibitions of לא תתגודדו and לא תשימו קרחה. The Torah precedes these mitzvos by telling us that we are children of Hashem. He doesn’t want us deforming our bodies in grief. Many people had the practice, and some even today, to injure themselves or pull out their hair, as a display of grief at the loss of a relative. Hashem doesn’t want that of His children. We are commanded not to maim ourselves, and not to remove hairs for the deceased.

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Eikev 5780

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Who does good and causes others to do good[1]

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את-יקוק אלקיך על-הארץ הטבה אשר נתן-לך
You shall eat and be satiated, and [then] bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you[2]

The often-occurring mitzvah of Birkas HaMazon, known colloquially as bentsching, finds its source in the above verse. We are taught[3] that the first three blessings of the four-part bentsching are of biblical origin: to thank Hashem for the nourishment, to thank Hashem for the land, and to thank Hashem for Jerusalem. This is opposed to the final blessing, known as HaTov VeHaMeitiv, literally “the Good and Who causes others to do good”, which is Rabbinic. Why did the Sages enact this extra blessing? They teach us[4] that the reason is in commemoration of the destruction of the city of Beitar.

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Vaeschanan 5780

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Shabbos: which kind of rejuvenation?[1]

שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך: וזכרת כי-עבד היית בארץ מצרים וגו’‏
Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it, as Hashem your G-d commanded you…[So] you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt…[2]

The Ten Commandments make two appearances in the Torah. The first is parshas Yisro[3], when the Torah relates how the Jews heard Hashem speak at Mount Sinai. The second is this week’s parsha, where Moshe recounts that monumental event. A careful examination of the two listings will yield some slight but significant differences. Some of the most pronounced is with regards to the mitzvah of Shabbos. There are different themes and details that are chosen in the second instance, which don’t appear in the first. We are adjured to safeguard the Shabbos, instead of simply remembering it[4]. There’s also a focus on the fact that we were slaves in Egypt. What is the Torah highlighting with this connection to the Exodus?

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