Re’eh 5783


Preemptive incentives[1]

את-הברכה אשר תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם היום: והקללה אם-לא תשמעו אל-מצות יקוק אלקיכם וגו’‏
The blessings [you’ll receive] for your listening to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d, that I command you all today. And the curses [you’ll receive] if you don’t listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d[2]

The parsha begins with instructions to the Jewish people which they are to follow upon entering the land. They are to divide onto two mountains, one called Har Gerizim and one called Har Eival, and a series of blessings and curses are to be enunciated. These blessings are to follow upon proper Torah observance, and the curses for the opposite. However, many note[3] an inconsistency in the verses which describe this ceremony. When describing the blessings, it says they are to follow “for listening to the mitzvos”. However, when describing the curses, it says they are to follow “if you don’t listen”. The curses sound conditional, and the blessings more definite. What gives?

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Eikev 5783


Prized Heels[1]

והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר יקוק אלקיך לך את-הברית ואת-החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך
It will be Eikev you listen to these judgments and safeguard and fulfill them, Hashem your G-d will guard you, the covenant, and the lovingkindness that He swore to your forefathers[2]

Our verse uses an unusual expression. “It will be Eikev you listen” to Hashem’s commandments. Eikev usually is translated as heel. Targum Onkelos translates[3] it in this case as “in return for your listening to these judgments”. Meaning, the verse is telling us a reward we’ll receive for our mitzvah observance. However, our Sages were bothered[4] why didn’t the verse use the traditional word בעבור, meaning due to our loyalty, we’ll receive reward. Why use the same word for heel? Furthermore, the verse sounds like it’s encouraging us to serve Hashem to receive reward. The problem is, our Sages adjured[5] us to do just the opposite[6]!

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Vaeschanan 5782


Superficial reward[1]

ומשלם לשנאיו אל-פניו להאבידו וגו’‏
He repays His enemies to their face, to destroy them…[2]

The Torah makes a vague statement regarding Hashem and His enemies. This is seemingly referring to wicked individuals who brazenly commit crimes and atrocities against Hashem and His Torah. The Torah says that Hashem repays them to their face, to destroy them. What is this referring to? We are taught[3] that it means that Hashem repays the wicked for their mitzvos in this world, so that they don’t receive any reward in the next world. Consequently, when they die, they’ll be destroyed, as they won’t have access to the World to Come.

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Metzora 5782


Correctional bird manipulation[1]

וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי-צפרים חיות טהרות וגו’‏

The Kohen shall instruct, and two pure, live birds shall be taken for the one seeking purification…[2]

A large segment of the parsha deals with the spiritual contamination of one who spoke wrongly about his fellow, known as a Metzora, and his process of purification. One of the requirements the Torah prescribes is to take two birds, one to be slaughtered, and one to be released into the wild. Why does he need to bring birds? Rashi explains[3] because birds are known to “tweet” all day long, which symbolizes this guy’s constant “tweeting” gossip about his fellow. According to this reasoning then, why is there a need for two birds? Seemingly one should be sufficient. Furthermore, now that there are two birds that are required, why is one slaughtered, and one sent away? Finally, there’s a law that this bird must be sent out specifically in an open field[4]. Why is that?

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VeZos HaBeracha 5781


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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Yom Kippur 5781


The foreseen repentance[1]

והיתה-זאת לכם לחקת עולם לכפר על-בני ישראל מכל-חטאתם אחת בשנה וגו’

This shall be for you an eternal decree, to atone for the Jewish people for all of their sins, once a year…[2]

There is a Midrash which teaches[3] us that on Motzei Yom Kippur, when the Holiest day of the year ends, a Heavenly voice declares: “Go out and eat your bread with joy! Drink your wine with a merry heart! As G-d has already accepted your actions”[4]. This teaches us that we should feel confident after Yom Kippur that our sincere efforts for repentance were accepted. However, the phrasing of this teaching is a little odd. If it said “G-d has accepted your actions”, that would have been fine. What does it mean that “G-d has already accepted your actions”? Seemingly, this only just happened today.

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Beha’alosecha 5780


Turning curses into blessings[1]

׆ ויהי בנסע הארן ויאמר משה קומה יקוק ויפצו איביך וינסו משנאיך מפניך: ובנחו יאמר שובה יקוק רבבות אלפי ישראל: ׆
When the Ark would travel, Moshe would say: “Rise Hashem, may Your enemies scatter, may the ones who hate You flee before You.” When [the Ark] would rest he would say: “Rest Hashem, Israel’s myriads of thousands”[2]

In a standard sefer Torah, and in most standard chumashim, these two verses are surrounded by inverted letter-nuns. What are they doing here? The gemarra notes[3] that Hashem placed signs[4] before and after these verses. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel explains this was to teach us that these two verses don’t belong here[5]. After the final redemption, they will be returned to where they belong, with the descriptions of the travel formations of the tribes[6]. Why then are the verses here?

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