The rejected gift
ויאמר יקוק מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן וגו’
He said: “Hashem came from Sinai, shined forth from [Mount] Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran…”
In the last parsha in the Torah, Moshe gave each of the tribes a final blessing. Before these blessings, he describes the Torah itself and how the Jews accepted it. It says that Hashem “came” from Mount Sinai, having “shined forth” from Mount Seir and “appearing” from Mount Paran. We’ve all heard of Mount Sinai. That is where the Torah was given to the Jews, who gladly accepted it. What is Mount Seir and Mount Paran referring to? Mount Seir is usually associated with the descendants of Eisav, and Mount Paran is usually associated with the descendants Yishmael. Picking up on this, the Midrash explains the verse to be describing a historical backdrop to the accepting of the Torah.
Continue reading “VeZos HaBeracha 5780”
The gift of forgetting
צור ילדך תשי ותשכח קל מחללך
You forgot the Rock that formed you; you forgot the G-d that brought you forth
This week’s parsha contains Moshe’s prophetic goodbye song to the Jewish people. It describes scenes from their past, as well as hints to their future. In a poetic sense, each verse is very terse, and contains many layers of depth and meaning. The commentaries offer many different approaches to each word and phrase. One verse focuses on the fact that the Jewish people forget their G-d. This isn’t just a fact, explaining how the Jewish people could have ever sinned. It’s in fact a very deep rebuke, which can be brought out very eloquently in a parable.
Continue reading “HaAzinu 5780”
הקהל את-העם ואנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את-יקוק אלקיכם ושמרו את-כל-דברי הורה הזאת: ובניהם אשר לא-ידעו ישמעו ולמדו ליראה את-יקוק אלקיכם כל-הימים אשר אתה חיים על-האדמה וגו’
Gather the nation, the men, the women, the taf, and the stranger in your gates. [This is] in order that you listen and in order that you learn and fear Hashem your G-d, and that you observe all the words of this Torah. And your children that don’t understand, they will hear and learn to fear Hashem your G-d, all the days that you are alive on the earth…
One of the last mitzvos described in the Torah is the mitzvah known as Hakhel. On the Sukkos following the Shemittah year, all Jews are commanded to come to the Temple and hear the King read from the book of Deuteronomy. The Torah says that this is so the people will learn to fear Hashem, and follow His commandments. The Torah stresses that all Jews are meant to be there, men, women, and children. The second verse clearly mentions children, and says they’re of an age where they don’t understand. The first verse, after mentioning men and women, says the “taf” are also meant to come. Who is this referring to?
Continue reading “Vayeilech 5780”
הנסתרת ליקוק אלקינו והנגלות ל̇נ̇ו̇ ו̇ל̇ב̇נ̇י̇נ̇ו̇ ע̇ד-עולם לעשות את-כל-דברי התורה הזאת
The hidden [deeds] are for Hashem our G-d, and the revealed [deeds] are for us, our children, forever, to fulfill all the words of this Torah
This week’s parsha contains one of Moshe’s last major speeches to the Jewish people. He starts by pointing out that the entire people were present during this speech. The leaders, the commoners, the women, the children, the converts. No one was missing. Moshe was bringing everyone into a covenant with G-d, for all generations. Part of this covenant involved a shared responsibility for one another. If some people sin, all could be punished. We should all ensure that our fellow is on their best behavior, and not turn a blind eye.
Continue reading “Nitzavim 5779”
The unique G-d; the unique nation
את-יקוק האמרת היום להיות לך לאלקים וגו’ ויקוק האמירך היום להיות לו לעם סגלה וגו’
Today you have he’emarta Hashem to be for you a G-d…Today Hashem he’emircha you to be for Him a cherished nation
This week’s parsha uses two unusual words to describe the relationship between Hashem and His nation, the Jewish people. These words seemingly don’t occur anywhere else in scripture. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah expounded these words as follows: Hashem said to the Jewish people: “You have made me one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One’. [Therefore], I will make for you one חטיבה in this world, as the verse says: ‘ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ, Who is like Your nation, O Israel, one nation in the land’”. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah seemingly didn’t help us identify the meaning of he’emarta and he’emircha in this week’s parsha. He used the similarly uncommon word chativa to define them. What does this word mean?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5779”
The two types of yirah
ועתה ישראל מה יקוק אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם-ליראה את-יקוק אלקיך וגו’
And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, just to fear Hashem your G-d…
This weeks parsha tells us the main thing that Hashem asks from us: to be ירא him. There are various ways to translate this word, usually “fear” or “awe”. We are commanded to have fear and awe of Hashem. However, there are two types of יראה. There’s יראת העונש, fear of punishment, and יראת הרוממות, awe of Hashem’s loftiness. The former is easy to obtain, and the latter is considered a high level in the service of Hashem. We can then ask, when the Torah tell us the main thing Hashem wants from us is to fear and have awe of Him, which יראה is this referring to? Fear of punishment, or awe of Hashem’s loftiness?
Continue reading “Eikev 5779”
The retractable flame
אם שנותי ברק חרבי ותאחז במפשט ידי וגו’
If I’ll whet My flashing blade and My hand will grasp judgement…
This week’s parsha contains Moshe’s parting song to the people. It contains prophetic insights into the Jewish people’s past, present, and future. Verses that seem merely poetic often convey deep concepts. One verse uses the word ברק to describe Hashem’s “blade”. Some2 explain it to connote “flashing”, but it literally means a bolt of lightning. Consequently, the Sages understand the verse homiletically to be teaching us a unique aspect of Hashem’s power. Normally, when a person shoots an arrow, they are unable to retrieve it. Not so the Holy One, blessed is He. When He shoots an arrow, He is able to retrieve it. We see this because the verse describes His arrow as being a bolt of lightning, which is in His grasp. Besides the homiletical teaching, the verse also provides a resolution to a seeming contradiction apparent in one of the Sages’ opinions.
Continue reading “HaAzinu 5779”
לא-אכלתי באני ממנו ולא-בערתי ממנו בטמא ולא-נתתי ממנו למת וגו’
I did not eat of it during my intense mourning period, and I did not consume it in impurity, nor did I give of it to the deceased…
The Torah obligates the separation and distribution of various types of tithes. Fruits and vegetables grown in the land of Israel are forbidden to be eaten until their various tithes are separated. Some tithes are given to the Kohanim for consumption, some to the Leviim, and some to the poor. One type of tithe is known as ma’aser sheni, the second tithe. It is for personal consumption, but only in Jerusalem. Instead of transporting the heavy fruits to Jerusalem, a person can transfer the tithe status onto coins. These coins are brought instead to Jerusalem, and used to purchase food and drink. These purchases are then consumed in Jerusalem. After the third year of the seven-year agricultural cycle, everyone must remove all their remaining tithes which they have failed to donate or consume. There is subsequently a mitzvah to come to the Temple and perform vidui, confession. The person proclaims that they have followed all the laws pertaining to tithes. They declare that they didn’t eat it at forbidden times. They state that neither they nor the food was impure when it was consumed. Finally, they say that they did not give of it to the deceased. What does this last confession mean?
Continue reading “Ki Savo 5778”
A mitzvah drags another mitzvah with it
כי יקרא קן-צפור וגו’ והאם רבצת על-האפרחים או על-הביצים לא-תקח האם על-בנים: שלח תשלח את-האם ואת-הבנים תקח-לך למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים: כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא-תשים דמים בביתך כי-יפל הנפל ממנו: לא-תזרע כרמך כלאים וגו’ לא-תחרש בשור-ובחמר יחדו: לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו
When you chance upon a bird’s nest…and the mother bird is crouched on the chicks or on the eggs, don’t take the mother bird [with]2 the children. [Rather], send away the mother bird, and take the children for yourself. This is so it will be good for you and it will lengthen your days. When you build a new house, make a fence for your roof. Don’t place blood in your house, since a person will fall from [the roof without one]. Don’t sow your vineyard with mixed crops…don’t plow [your field] with an ox and donkey together. Don’t wear sha’atnez, [which is] wool and linen together
This week’s parsha contains within it more mitzvos than any other, totaling seventy-three. Sometimes it’s easy to understand why the Torah grouped certain mitzvos together, and other times not as much. There are a series of mitzvos that describe forbidden mixtures in this week’s parsha, and they are understandably grouped together. There is a prohibition on sowing mixed crops together in the same vineyard. There is a prohibition against doing field work with two different animals together. There is a prohibition for our garments to be made of a mixture of wool and linen. However, the mitzvos that precede these mixture-mitzvos seemingly have no connection to what follows them. First, the Torah describes how to interact with a mother bird and her children. If the passerby wants the chicks, they have to first send away the mother bird. Subsequently, the Torah commands building a fence on our roof when we get a new house. This will prevent any mishaps from occurring. Afterwards is the above-mentioned mixture-mitzvos. What can we learn from this confusing juxtaposition?
Continue reading “Ki Seitzei 5778”
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 email@example.com.