Ki Seitzei 5782

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The famous Taz and the bread of Ammon and Moav[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 וגו’‏
An Ammonite or a Moabite may not marry into the congregation of Hashem. Even the tenth generation shall not marry into congregation of Hashem, forever. [This is] for the matter in which they didn’t greet you with bread and water as you departed from Egypt…[2]

Although marriage with a non-Jew is forbidden, obviously if someone converted to Judaism they can marry into the fold. However, some nations have restrictions on who or when they can marry. For example, an Egyptian or an Edomite may only marry into the congregation after three generations of being Jewish. In contrast, the Torah forever forbids the nations of Ammon and Moav from marrying into the Jewish people, even if they converted sincerely. Even their descendants are restricted. Why is this? The Torah says it’s because they didn’t greet us with bread and water. The implication is that had they given it to us, we would have been permitted to eat it[3].

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Shoftim 5782

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Refuge from death[1]

ואם-ירחיב יקוק אלקיך את-גבלך כאשר נשבע לאבתיך ונתן לך את-כל-הארץ אשר דבר לתת לאבתיך: …ויספת לך עוד שלש ערים על השלש האלה
If Hashem will expand your borders, as He swore to your forefathers, He will give to you the land that he spoke to give to your forefathers…and He will increase for you three more cities, in addition to these three[2]

The Torah has an interesting concept known as the Arei Milkat, the Cities of Refuge. If someone were to accidentally murder another, the Torah commands this person be exiled to the Arei Miklat. They serve simultaneously as an atonement for the person’s lack of precaution[3], and as a safe refuge from any relatives that may want to avenge their deceased[4]. The Torah mandates three cities on the east side of the Jordan River, and three on the west. However, a verse in our parsha speaks of the future, the Messianic days[5]. In those days, the land of Israel will expand in size. The Torah tells us that with this added territory will come three new cities of refuge. A question that many ask on this is that in the future, no nation shall lift up sword against nation[6]. In fact, death will be abolished[7]. If so, what is the need for three new cities of refuge? The original ones will prove obsolete, as there won’t be any more accidental murders, so why add more?

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Re’eh 5782

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A bloody habit[1]

רק חזק לבלתי אכל הדם כי הדם הוא הנפש ולא-תאכל הנפש עם-הבשר
Be very strong not to eat blood, for blood is the life-source. Don’t eat the life-source with the flesh[2]

The Torah is very redundant when precluding the consumption of blood. It cautions several times against eating it. Our Sages provide different reasons for each of these instances. One interesting occurrence is when the Torah says רק חזק, be very careful and steadfast against its consumption. Rashi brings[3] a dispute what this is teaching us. One opinion says that the Jews were steeped in blood, so the Torah has to be extra stern in its prohibition. It would seem then that the Jews at the time of the giving of the Torah were accustomed to excessive consumption of blood. This isn’t the case anymore[4]. It would seem the Torah was successful at ridding us of a hazardous lifestyle.

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Eikev 5782

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Truthful exaggerations[1]

שמע ישראל אתה עבר היום את-הירדן לבא לרשת גוים גדלים ועצמים ממך ערים גדלת ובצרת בשמים
Hear, O Israel, that you are passing over the Jordan River today[2]. [You are] coming to inherit greater and mightier nations than yourselves, and walled cities that reach[3] the Heavens[4]

Moshe’s goodbye speech includes a call to action to conquer the land of Israel. In this speech, his words aren’t exactly encouraging. He wants them to be fully aware of the threats that they face, and that Hashem is on their side. As part of his description of the foreign nations that they can plan to conquer, he says that they have fortified cities that reach the Heavens. This sounds quite astonishing, and is even hard to swallow. Indeed, our Sages say[5] that this is an example of the Torah exaggerating. Another example is, “the earth shattered from the noise of their commotion”[6]. The Torah does this sometimes, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

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Devarim 5782

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A thousand times over[1]

יקוק אלקי אבותכם יסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם
Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers, should increase you a thousand times over, and He should bless you as He said He would[2]

Moshe, as part of his goodbye speech to the people, blessed them that they should increase a thousand times over. Then, he said that Hashem should bless them as He already said He would. Why did Moshe finish his personal blessing by referring to Hashem’s blessing? Rashi explains[3] that the Jewish people, upon hearing Moshe’s blessing of the thousandfold increase, began to protest. “Moshe our teacher! How can you limit your blessing to just a thousand! Hashem’s blessing knows no limits, and He already promised us that we will be so numerous that we’ll impossible to count[4]!” Moshe’s response was that this blessing was from himself, but for sure Hashem’s blessing is still in effect. However, this doesn’t really answer the question. If the thousandfold increase was Moshe’s personal blessing, why indeed did he limit it to a thousand?

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Vayeilech 5782

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Resurrection of the dead and knowledge of the future[1]

ויאמר יקוק אל-משה הנך שכב עם-אבתיך וקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלהי נכר-הארץ וגו’‏
Hashem said to Moshe: “Behold, you will lie with your ancestors, and this nation will get up and sway after the gods of the inhabitants of the land…”[2]

A non-Jewish matron[3] once asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya a theological question[4]. Two basic tenets of the Jewish faith are that Hashem knows the future, and that in the final redemption there will be a resurrection of the dead. This matron asked for a source to these two beliefs. He responded from a verse in this week’s parsha. Hashem told Moshe הנך שכב עם אבותיך, you will lie with your ancestors. Moshe was told he was about to perish. Then it says וקם העם הזה וזנה אחרי אלהי נכר הארץ, the nation will get up and serve idols. Rabbi Yehoshua said to read the verse as if וקם, “will get up”, as if it was referring to Moshe[5]. Meaning, Moshe will die, but then he will get up. We see the dead will be resurrected. Furthermore, the verse says that the nation will serve idols, which they did. This shows Hashem knows the future.

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Nitzavim 5781

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Angels and repentance[1]

כי המצוה הזאת אשר אנכי מצוך היום לא-נפלאת הוא ממך ולא רחקה הוא
For this mitzvah that I command you is not beyond you, nor is it far from you[2]

The subject of this verse is a matter of dispute. Rashi says[3] that it’s referring to the Torah, its fulfillment and study. Ramban however says[4] it’s referring to something very apropos to the time period we are in. It’s referring to the mitzvah of teshuva, repentance[5]. There’s an interesting Midrash about this verse[6]. It says that “this mitzvah” is not removed from us, but it is removed from the Angels. At first glance[7], this would sound more like Rashi’s interpretation. The Torah was given to humans and not the Angels, so it is in a sense “removed from them”[8]. Is there any way to understand this Midrash according to the Ramban, that “this mitzvah” is referring to teshuva?

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Shoftim 5781

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Matters of doubt[1]

על-פי התורה אשר יורוך ועל-המשפט אשר-יאמרו לך תעשה לא תסור מן-הדבר אשר-יגידו לך ימין ושמאל
You shall do according to the Torah that they rule for you, and the judgement that they tell you. Do not turn left or right from the matter that they tell you[2]

The Rambam, also known as Maimonidies, learns from this verse[3] the obligation to listen to the Rabbis. It comes out then that every Rabbinic mitzvah, obligation, or prohibition, are all included in the commanded not to turn from the matter that they tell you. That should make them all obligatory on a Biblical level in some way. To this asks[4] the Ramban, also known as Nachmanidies, how could it be then that we have a rule in a Biblical matter of doubt that one must be stringent, but in a Rabbinic matter of doubt one may be lenient? If every Rabbinic matter is really Biblical, how could there be this distinction?

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Re’eh 5781

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A committed relationship[1]

לא תשמע אל-דברי הנביא ההוא או אל-חולם החלום ההוא כי מנסה יקוק אלקיכם אתכם לדעת הישכם אהבים את-יקוק אלקיכם בכל-לבבכם ובכל-נפשכם
Do not listen to that prophet, or the one who dreamed a dream, for Hashem your G-d is testing you, to know if you really love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul[2]

The Torah introduces the interesting topic of the false prophet. The Torah declares that after Moshe is gone, there will be new prophets to lead and inspire the people. However, amongst these prophets there will be charlatans who prophesize falsely. Worse of all, some of them will be miracle performers. They will at first appear to be real prophets, accurately predicting real events which will occur. What makes them false is they will command things in the name of Hashem which He never commanded.

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Eikev 5781

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Pearls of gratitude[1]

ובאהרן התאנף יקוק מאד להשמידו ואתפלל גם-בעד אהרן בעת ההוא

Hashem became incredibly enraged towards Aharon, in order to destroy him. I prayed on Aharon’s behalf that that time[2]

Our Sages relate[3] a very unusual interaction between Moshe and Aharon. When Aharon was inaugurated as the Kohen Gadol, he was anointed with special sanctified oil. After doing so, Moshe and Aharon noticed that two pearls of oil remained on Aharon’s beard[4]. Upon realizing this, Moshe was very concerned he had committed מעילה, misappropriated sanctified property[5]. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. Aharon then started worrying that perhaps he himself had committed מעילה, by getting inappropriate pleasure from the remaining oil on his beard, desecrating its sanctity. Immediately, a heavenly voice declared that there was nothing to be concerned over. That’s the entirety of the story. There are many questions here. First and foremost, what’s the significance over these two pearls of oil? Why is this story worth relating?

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