Devarim 5777

Judging ourselves favorably[1]

ואלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל-כל-ישראל בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה מול סוף בין-פארן ובין-תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב
These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, on the other side of the Jordan River, in the wilderness, in Aravah, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav[2]

The book of Devarim, also known as Deuteronomy, takes place right before Moshe’s death. It’s essentially a goodbye speech to the people. He takes the opportunity to teach them new laws, as well as recount past experiences. The first verse in the book takes great pains to detail the exact geographical location of Moshe’s speech. Rashi explains[3] that some of these aren’t even real names of places, but rather subtle references to past sins of the people. Moshe was rebuking the people, hoping they would catch the hint and learn from their mistakes. The last four cities mentioned, Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeiros and Di Zahav refer to three separate incidents. Tofel and Lavan refer to the sin of the Jews complaining about the munn, the manna that they ate in the wilderness[4]. Tofel implies complaining[5], and Lavan means white, the color of the mun[6]. Chatzeiros refers to the Korach rebellion[7]. Di Zahav, which means “enough gold”, refers to the creation of the Golden Calf from the abundance of gold they had been given[8]. The obvious question on this list of sins, is why was the Golden Calf listed last[9]? It was the first to occur chronologically, and was undoubtedly one of the worst sins the Jews ever committed.

Continue reading “Devarim 5777”

Mattos-Masei 5777

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.

Pinchas 5777

The effects of a bad reputation[1]

ראובן בכור ישראל בני ראובן חנוך משפחת החנכי לפלוא משפחת הפלאי
[Regarding] Reuven, the first born of Israel: The sons of Reuven are Chanoch, [who has] the Chanoch family, Palu, who has the Palu family.[2]

After a terrible plague that badly affected the Jews in the wilderness, Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census of the people[3]. This is similar to a shepherd who counts his sheep after a wolf attacked the flock; he desires to know how many remain[4]. The Torah expends the effort to list every tribe, as well as every family in that tribe, as it tallies up the totals. However, the Torah does this in an unusual way. Every family that is listed has the letter ה preceding it and the letter י following it. For example, one of the sons of Reuven is Chanoch. When the Torah mentions the family of Chanoch[5], it calls them mishpachas HaChanochi. For his other son Palu it says mishpachas HaPalui. Why does the Torah do this, not only for this family, but every family mentioned?

Continue reading “Pinchas 5777”

Balak 5777

The path a person desires to take[1]

ויאמר אלקים אל-בלעם לא תלך עמהם, לא תאר את-העם כי ברוך הוא:…קום לך אתם…
Hashem said to Bilaam: “Don’t go with them, don’t curse the people, for they are blessed.” “Get up and go with them.”[2]

This week’s parsha deals primarily with the plot of Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Jewish people. He is hired by Balak, the King of Moav, and is more than happy to oblige. However, Hashem informs Bilaam that his objective will not end successfully, as the Jewish people are already blessed. Following repeated failures to curse the people, he gives up trying to carry out this ploy, and ends up employing a different tactic. After a careful inspection of the story of Bilaam, his every action seems to contradict common sense. Knowing what kind of a person he was, he did things that on the surface seem ridiculous. What is it that we know about Bilaam?

Continue reading “Balak 5777”

Chukas 5777

The waters of strife[1]

ולא-היה מים לעדה ויקהלו על-משה ועל-אהרן: וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: קח את-המטה והקהל את-העדה אתה ואהרן אחיך ודברתם אל-הסלע לעיניהם ונתן מימיו והוצאת להם מים מן-הסלע והשקית את-העדה ואת-בעירם: ויקהלו משה ואהרן את-הקהל אל-פני הסלע ויאמר להם שמעו-נא המרים המן-הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים: וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה ואל-אהרן יען לא-האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את-הקהל הזה אל-הארץ אשר נתתי להם
There wasn’t water for the congregation, and they assembled against Moshe and Aharon…Hashem [then] told Moshe as follows: “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aharon your brother, and both of you will speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give forth its water, and you will bring forth water from the rock, and you will quench the congregation and their animals.”…Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock and [Moshe] said to them: “Listen now you rebels! Will we bring forth water from this rock?” Moshe raised his arm and hit the rock twice with the staff, and a great amount of water emerged, and the people and their animals drank. Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon: “Since both of you didn’t believe in me, to sanctify my name before the eyes of the Jews, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given to them.”[2]

The episode known as “the waters of strife[3]” is one of the most puzzling in the entire Chumash. The verses say explicitly what happened with Moshe and the rock, yet all the commentators struggle to understand what his sin was[4]. Finding an explanation is particularly hard due to the severity of the punishment: not being allowed to bring the people to the land of Israel and to die in the wilderness. As well, it’s hard to find any justification for why Aharon was punished; it seems like he wasn’t involved at all in what happened. There are many approaches to these questions, and they all have their flaws.

Continue reading “Chukas 5777”

Korach 5777

A self-fulfilling prophecy[1]

ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם וגו’‏
Korach the son of Yitzhar the son of Kehas the son of Levi took (something), and Dasan and Aviram, etc.[2]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The result was that the sages who joined Korach died in a fire, while Korach and his entire family were swallowed up alive into the earth, to live there until the end of days. The parsha starts with the awkward phrase ויקח קרח, Korach took. The verse doesn’t specify what exactly it was though that he took. There are various explanations among the commentators[3]. Reish Lakish in the gemarra says[4] that it means that לקח מקח רע לעצמו, he acquired a bad purchase for himself[5].

Continue reading “Korach 5777”

Shelach 5777

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.

Beha’alosecha 5777

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.

Nasso 5777

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.

Shavuos 5777

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.