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Torah Dialogue : Re'eh

08/13/2020 02:30:13 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 25 Av, 5780. We bensch Rosh Chodesh Elul which will be this Thursday and Friday. The Molad (reappearance of the moon) will be this Wednesday, early morning at 1:54am and 16 chalakim (about 53 seconds). We omit Av HaRachamim.

RE'EH  Deuteronomy 11:26
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis (RED)

1.    It is a Mitzvah for Bnei Yisrael to support the Leviyim (see 12:19). When the Torah tells us not to forsake the Leviyim... on your land, the Sifri states that this does not apply to outside of Eretz Yisrael. This is understandable. According to the Torah plan, Bnei Yisrael enters the Promised Land, conquers and divides the Land. The Leviyim do not receive a tribal portion of heritage in Eretz Yisrael because they are the religious leaders and are required to work at the Holy Temple. Outside of Israel, no one receives land or is obligated to serve in the Temple. All Jews are equal, living outside of Israel. The Torah Temimah points out that this Torah law is involved with the physical sustenance. But in the area of Kedushah, sanctity, the Kohen and Levi retain their higher religious status. The Kohen is called for the first Aliyah and his offered to lead the Bensching. The Levi is right behind the Kohen in a status of honor, respect, and sanctity. (One can debate the status of the Levi, but I believe that one should honor the Levi in our day.) (RED)

2.    When the Torah describes the animals we are permitted to eat, Rav Saadia Gaon (10th century Babylonia) is the only one who lists eating meat as one of the 613 Biblical commandments. Maybe we need to adjust this slightly. When Hashem expands Israel’s borders, then we are mandated to eat meat. In other words, as Rashi states, we eat meat only when we can afford it. At the end of Tractate Kiddushin in the Yerushalmi, it states that Rabbi Elazar saved up money to eat every single item once a year. (If this is Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a commentary in Pirkei Avot, chapter three, stated that Rabbi Elazar was one of the richest people of his generation. He could afford to eat one of everything over the course of the year!) This would conform to the fact that a Nazir had to bring a sin offering — for abstaining from drinking wine. He was denying himself from enjoying Hashem’s gift to mankind. Wine and meat, after all, are viewed as means to physical happiness. (Even though this Talmudic statement was really talking about sacrificial meat, rabbis throughout time have applied this statement to our festival table.) (RED)

3.    Contrary to this perspective, there definitely is room to endorse a vegetarian lifestyle. Great rabbis like the Abravanel, Rav Kook, and Rav Goren, have written favorably on vegetarianism. According to the Abravanel, Adam was forbidden to eat meat because he was at such a high spiritual level. After man fell, Noach was specifically permitted to eat meat, answering his desire for materialism. Accordingly, man was created to subsist only on plants. Later, when Bnei Yisrael stood at Sinai, the Torah allowed them to eat some meat. In this Parshah, the Torah lists only ten animals which we are permitted to eat, and we do not eat all of them. We are not on the high level of Adam, nor are we on the low level that Noach was. Hashem gives us permission to eat some meat, allowing us to answer our physical desires but within limits. The Ramban defines Kedoshim, be holy, (in Kedoshim, Vayikra) as a directive to seek moderation in everything that is permitted to us in the Torah. (RED)

4.    When the Torah prohibits one Jew to charge another Jew interest on a loan, it further adds that a Jew should charge a non-Jew interest (15:3). The Sifri records this as a positive Mitzvah in the Torah. And the Rambam codifies this as a Halachah. The Raavad and Ramban disagree. According to them, the Torah was balancing the prohibition of charging a Jew interest with the permissibility to charge a Goy interest. The Torah Temimah records that this is similar to when the Torah prohibits non-kosher animals for Jewish consumption, the Torah states “This you should eat,” and then describes kosher animals. But this is not a positive Mitzvah to eat meat. It is just recording the permissibility for us to eat the kosher meat. We need to recognize the Rabbinical traditional interpretation and determine which positive statement is a commandment. At the beginning of Ki Teitzei, the Torah records that when a Jewish soldier is in battle and meets a non-Jewish captive woman, “You shall desire her and take her for a wife.” No one says that this is a Mitzvah or even good advice! (RED)

5.    When it comes to the mandate to give Tzedakah, the Torah uses a double form of the verb “to give,” Pato’ach Tiftach, which is usually loosely translated into English as “Surely you will give” (15:11). As difficult as it is to grasp the Torah’s meaning in doubling the verb “to open” in English, it is equally difficult to comprehend the Hebrew construction. I suggest that perhaps the Biblical mandate is to remind the giver that when he gives, he should display a pleasant attitude. This sounds easy, but frequently it is not. Beggars can be quite obnoxious. I would have to remind myself: which one would I prefer to be, the giver or the recipient. But that doesn’t always do the trick. My wife always offers the person a drink and/or a fruit, and this is helpful, but she isn’t involved in the monetary transaction. When there were children in the house, I would appoint one of them as my Shaliach, my messenger, and introduce them to the person. You can teach Tzedakah only by example, not by book learning! (RED)

6.    “Guard the month of the spring,” (16:1) in which Pesach occurs. The Jewish calendar is primarily a lunar calendar, but this verse instructs us to base our calendar year on the sun. Pesach must come out in the spring, every year. So, seven times in nineteen years we add a second month of Adar, thereby enabling our calendar to be both lunar and solar linked. A lunar year is about 354 days. A solar year is about 365 days. So an adjustment is necessary to get it organized. Because the Torah stipulates that Pesach be in spring, this forces us to add the month (of Adar II) before the month of Pesach, Nissan. When the calendar was not fixed, there was more flexibility that our Sages exercised in determining whether to make that year into a leap year. For example, if the winter rains were abundant at the end of the winter and the roads were not passable (to allow the people to go to Yerushalayim for Pesach), the Rabbis could decide to extend the year and allow the land to dry and become more passable. (RED)

7.    On Pesach we are told not to eat bread, but to eat instead Matzah, the bread of affliction (16:3). What is the real meaning of the Hebrew word “Oni,” affliction? It could mean a poor man’s bread, unadorned, not fancy, less tasty - reminding us what it was like to be poor, oppressed slaves in Egypt. Rashi suggests that it was a reminder of the haste in which we left Egypt, that our bread did not have enough time to rise. (I really doubt that because Bnei Yisrael were instructed to eat Matzah prior to the Exodus. They must have eaten Matzah as a staple in their diet as slaves.) Our Sages took liberty with the word “Oni” and suggested that it might mean to “speak up.” We were commanded to make a ritual over the eating of the Matzah, to explain orally its meaning during the Seder. (In jest, I can add a further note. At $30 a pound for hand baked Matzah, you can become poor by buying Matzah. Then it truly becomes “bread of affliction.”)


    The prophet admonishes the people to act righteously (v.14).  "Keep far away from wrong, for you have nothing to fear."  What is the implication – that if there were something to fear then you would be permitted to do wrong?  Hirsch comments that this is exactly what occurs.  When the strong oppress the weak, the weak feel justified in resorting to the ways of cunning and trickery.  In fact, says Hirsch, Israel in Exile found itself almost constantly in such a position.  The cruel persecution, plundering and expulsions, the savage outbreaks of fanaticism and terrorism, "Jew-laws," those disgraceful codified mockeries of law and justice, did indeed force the persecuted and oppressed Jews to be cunning and deceitful in order to survive.  The resulting danger in this course of action makes what is forbidden appear permissible through dire necessity.  This presents a great danger to Israel, pulling us away from the righteousness that is supposed to be our national character.

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781