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Torah Dialogue : Va'etchanan

07/30/2020 12:52:46 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 11 Av 5780, Shabbat Nachamu. We can say Kiddush Levanah tonight, moon-willing. The special Haftorah is the beginning of the seven special Haftorahs leading up to Rosh HaShanah.

VA'ETCHANAN  Deuteronomy 3:23
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis 

1.    The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 2) describes a revealing dialogue between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe: Master of the Universe, Yosef’s remains are entering the Land, and I am not allowed to? Hashem responded: One who acknowledges the Land is buried in the Land. One who does not acknowledge the Land is not buried in the Land. Yosef acknowledged his Land. When Mrs. Potiphar said, see, he brought us a Hebrew lad, Yosef did not deny it. Yosef said that he was stolen from the Land of the Hebrews... but you did not acknowledge your Land. When Yitro’s daughters said (to their father) that an Egyptian man saved us (from the shepherds), you heard and were quiet. (You did not correct them) [end of Midrash]. From Moshe’s perspective, he thought that with the victory over Sichon and Og, and the Jews settling in those lands, Moshe was already standing on Jewish soil. Therefore maybe Hashem would allow Moshe to enter and see the Promised Land.

2.    You will seek Hashem from there (from our Exile), and you shall find Him (4:29). One Chassidic Rebbe interpreted this line as a promise from Hashem, namely that from wherever we seek Hashem, we will find Him. But I find that a difficult interpretation from this verse. That is mainly because the verb “to seek” is in plural, while the verb “find” is in singular form. Hashem is saying that many Jews will seek Hashem, but only certain individuals will actually find Him. Furthermore, the Text is telling something more: wherever we are in our Exile, we will be successfully seeking Hashem. Once Meira and I were in Santiago, Chile, and I had the opportunity to talk with some of the older Jews there. I asked them how did they get there. They said that they were refugees from Hitler, and they wanted to get as far as possible from Hitler, and their money took them to Chile. And even from there, they were able to build a Jewish community. (RED)

3.    The highlights of this Parshah are the Ten Commandments and the first paragraph of the Shema. The Ten Commandments begin with the line I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt... The Kuzari asks the question: why does Hashem not identify Himself as the One Who created the world? The answer the Kuzari gives is that these people who heard Hashem’s voice did not see Him create the world, but they did see Him take us out of Egypt. The Ralbag gives a different and much more telling answer. Hashem created the world for all mankind, but He took only the Jewish people out of Egypt. These Ten Commandments, in fact all 613 Biblical commandments, are given only to the Jewish people, and not to the non-Jews. The non-Jewish world are obligated only to the Seven Noachide Laws which are derived elsewhere. These Torah laws are given only to us Jews. (RED)

4.    Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once said that it is possible to create idolatry out of the Ten Commandments. We are familiar with the expression that you see the trees but not see the forest. It is possible to see each Halachah, each Mitzvah, but lose sight of the Torah. For example, we see that we should not desire something that does not belong to us. And we should not steal something that does not belong to us. In other words, just concentrate on what does belong to us and not see what others possess. But that is not right. We should see what others have, so that we can help them. Give to them from what is ours, if need be. Help them protect what they possess. The bigger picture is to create a Torah society that is based on these commandments and see how these Mitzvot combine and work as a unit for us to live by. Every Mitzvah is ordained by Hashem and imbued with His sanctity. We have to investigate each Mitzvah in order to discover its Kedushah. (RED)

5.    Don’t steal (5:7). When the sons of Yaakov went down to Egypt to buy food, the Viceroy accused them of being spies. He imprisoned Shimon and planted in each brother’s bag the money they had used to buy the food. When the brothers discovered the money, they were agitated. What was Hashem doing to us? Seemingly Yosef was making sure that they would return to Egypt to return the money. But wait a minute. Yosef had Shimon in his jail. Wasn’t that his guarantee that they would return! (The Brisker Rav in Yerushalayim, the Rav’s uncle). Yosef knew his brothers. The prohibition against stealing was much stronger than the love between the brothers. After all, they sold him (down the river!) [In today’s world, neither Mitzvah is held in the strongest light. I have seen in my career that family relationships are very often strained, and the temptation to steal is often too great to combat. ] (RED)

6.    “And you shall stand with Me...” (5:28). After giving the Ten Commandments, Hashem has  Moshe stand with Hashem to  perhaps review certain Mitzvot. Actually the Midrash states that Hashem was revealing to Moshe the detailed plans of the Holy Temple, and for this Moshe had to stand. The Talmud says that when we learn Torah, we are required to stand. After time, it became too difficult to remain standing for so long. And our Sages relinquished this precept and allowed us to sit while learning. Upon closer analysis, we see that we really should be standing. Why? Because when we are learning, we should envision ourselves as being at Mt. Sinai and accepting these words of Torah from Hashem. It is similarly advisable to stand when the Torah is being read publicly in Shul. The public reading is actually an exercise in accepting the Torah and learning the Torah. When the Torah is read, we should not be reading anything else; we should be listening and absorbing what is being presented to us. (RED)

7.    “You shall teach them (the words of Torah) thoroughly to your children...” (5:7) [from the Shema]. Rashi says that the verb for “teach” means to sharpen! When someone asks a question of you, you shouldn’t stutter or be unsure in your answer. You should be able to answer immediately and explicitly. If this is what the Torah message is here, the directive is addressed to us, the adults, so why is it recorded here as teaching our children. The answer is quickly documented in the Talmud (Taanit 7a) when our Sages state that we learn most from our students. Our children are our most precious students, and they will make sure that we are quick to answer their questions. And we need to be able to answer them precisely and explicitly.

ISAIAH 40:1-26
    "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people saith your God"  (Isaiah 40).  The Midrash (Yalkut Shemoni) on this verse proclaims:  "May it be a comfort for those above and for those below, for the living and for the dead, for this world and the world to come."  This Midrash seems to be conveying an important message.  Unless comforting or consolation is total, there is no real comfort at all.  To comfort an individual or a people half-heartedly is no consolation.  In fact, the Midrash elsewhere states that when Yeshayahu first mouthed the words "Nachamu, Nachamu," the Jews wanted to kill him.  It is only when he completed his message with "says your God" that they were assuaged.  The Jews at the time were so distraught and in such despair that nothing short of a direct message of comfort from Hashem would do.  Anything less would ring empty of meaning and speak poorly of the messenger.  When we as individuals are put to the challenge of having to offer comfort such as on the occasion of comforting mourners, we must be aware of the same hazards of offering incomplete Nechamah.  In essence, saying "the right thing" at the right time is an art.  Unfortunately, all too often, we are all called upon to be artists.

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781