Threats of Destruction
…הרף ממני ואשמידם ואמחה את שמם מתחת השמים
“Release Me, and I shall destroy them and erase their name from under the heavens…” (Devarim 9:14)
It’s not often that G-d tells someone to leave Him alone. But then again, Moses isn’t everybody. In the Torah portion this week, Moses recounted the sad tale of the Golden Calf, when the Jews miscalculated Moses’ expected return date from Mount Sinai and made themselves a Golden Calf to worship while proclaiming, “This is our god that took us out of Egypt.”
In the aftermath of this calamity, G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish nation and rebuild a new nation with Moses as its patriarchal leader. “Release me,” said G-d, “and I will destroy them and build a new nation from you” (Devarim 9:14). Immediately after the words “release me,” Moses sprang into action. He pleaded, cajoled, and reasoned with G-d using a multitude of persuasive arguments that calmed His wrath. The Jews were spared.
What is troubling is Moses’ chutzpah. Didn’t G-d specifically tell him, “Leave me alone”? What prompted him to defy G-d’s direct command?
Herbert Tenzer served as a distinguished congressman from New York in the 1960’s. He was an observant Jew who was a proud activist and was instrumental in providing relief for many Holocaust survivors. A few months before his passing, some years ago, he related to me the following story:
The energetic and often outspoken Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a prominent force in the Vaad Hatzalah Rescue Committee. He worked tirelessly throughout the terrible war years and their aftermath to save and relocate the victims of Nazi depravity. In addition to his prominence in the Jewish world, Rabbi Silver enjoyed a personal relationship with the very powerful Senator Robert Taft of Ohio.
Rabbi Silver had a very difficult request that needed much political pressure and persuasion to accomplish. He asked Mr. Tenzer to accompany him to the Senator.
“Shenator Taft!” he exclaimed, mixing his distinct accent in which the s would sound as sh, with a high-pitched intoning of emotions. I have a very important and difficult requesht!”
Rabbi Silver pleaded his case to obtain visas for refugees who may not have met all the criteria. Senator Taft looked nonchalant and noncommittal. “It would be arduous and burdensome,” he began slowly. “But technically,” he continued, implying all the while that he was not the least bit anxious to get his hands dirty, “it can be done.”
Rabbi Silver did not hear anything except the last three words. “It can be done?” He shouted with joy. “So do it!” Needless to say the stunned senator got to work immediately and obtained the visas for the beleaguered Jews.
Moses heard one line from G-d: “Leave me alone, and I will destroy them.” That was his cue. The Talmud (Brachot) explains that upon hearing those words, Moses knew that now it all depended on him. The only way G-d would destroy His people was if Moses left him alone. So he didn’t. Moses badgered, cajoled, and pleaded with the Almighty and we were spared.
In life there are many cues. Moses taught his nation that when you get your cue, don’t miss it. Even if it takes a little chutzpah.
Start with the Small Stuff
ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלקיך שאל מעמך כי אם ליראה את ה’ אלקיך ללכת בכל דרכיו ולאהבה אתו ולעבד את ה’ אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך
“And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d request from you except to fear Hashem your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul.” (Devarim 10:12)
It seems almost impossible to figure out just what G-d wants from us. The verse at first indicates some small and manageable request – and then piles on a long list of the greatest of expectations. Is that all that is requested of us, to reach the heights of human achievement? It’s like if someone asked you to give him a ride to the corner, and then he gave you directions to take him cross country.
One of the more famous stories told by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov may help to illustrate the intention of the verse. There was a prince who was so thoroughly convinced that he was a turkey that he behaved just like a turkey. Naked he clucked around on the floor all day, picking up minute kernels of grain with his mouth and making turkey-like noises all the while. The poor king was beside himself with grief and frustration. All the king’s advisers could not convince the prince that he was something other than a turkey.
One day, one of the king’s wisest men appeared on the floor next to the prince, and he too had shed his clothing. The prince looked at him with skepticism as both of them hunted and pecked for grain on the floor. Then the wise man put on his socks, and the prince told him, “Aha, so you’re not really a turkey!” The wise man told him, “Of course I am a turkey, but a turkey can still wear socks.” Soon the prince was also wearing socks. The next day, the wise man put on a shirt, and the prince accused him once more of only pretending to be a turkey, to which the wise man replied, “A turkey can wear a shirt and still be a turkey.” The prince too put on a shirt.
The next day, it happened again with pants. Then the wise man sat at the table and reminded the prince that a turkey can sit at a table. In the end, the prince was eating, drinking, and conversing with princely manners, because a turkey can also behave like a prince. We can only assume that eventually the prince began to feel more aristocratic than fowl-like.
The Ohr HaChaim explains that our verse is speaking about a progression of steps. One level is called “fear of Hashem your G-d” and the other is “love of G-d.” He explains that first a person does actions animated by fear, compelled by duty or principle, and then he is a candidate to walk in the ways of G-d. Eventually, one can come to love G-d and to serve Him with heart and soul. One starts out doing things only because he must and ultimately it metamorphoses into more. The Ohr HaChaim points out that this is why the verse starts, “And now what does G-d ask from you except to fear Hashem your G-d….” From the moment the prince put on those socks, he was already no longer a turkey, but rather royalty in training.
את ה’ אלקיך תירא אתו תעבד ובו תדבק
“Your G-d you shall fear, Him you shall serve, and to Him you shall cleave.” (Devarim 10:20)
Parshat Eikev includes three commandments that deal with different ways in which a person should approach a relationship with G-d: to fear Him, to serve Him, and to “cleave” to Him.
The first two are easily understood. In the case of a mortal king, for example, it is obvious that the subjects are required to maintain a healthy fear of the monarchy, as well as to serve the realm with devotion. This is all the more true with G-d, the King of all Kings. The commandment to “cleave” to Him however, is perplexing. How is it possible to for human beings – with all our limitations – to cleave to an infinite G-d?
In his Path of Ethics, Rabbi Yaakov Neiman suggests a practical way to incorporate the ability to cleave to G-d in our everyday lives. Looking at the story of creation, the Torah states, “G-d created man in His image” (Bereishit 1:27). This means that within every human being there is a spark of divinity and a likeness of G-d. According to Rabbi Neiman, when our relationships with other people are based on respect and mutual concern, we are, in essence, attaching ourselves to their inherent G-dliness. By attaching ourselves to the image of G-d found in our fellow human beings, we simultaneously enter the realm of cleaving to G-d Himself.
This concept casts light on an episode in the Talmud, which recounts a discussion between a potential convert and the great sage Hillel. The man requested that Hillel teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) Hillel responded with the following precept: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” The generally accepted understanding of Hillel’s answer is that respecting other people is the basis for all the commandments in the Torah.
This, however, cannot be completely accurate. What, for example, does observing Shabbat or putting on tefillin have to do with respecting other people? Indeed, many commandments seem to be solely in the realm of creating a relationship between man and G-d.
Based on Rabbi Neiman’s explanation of how we cleave to G-d, Hillel’s statement is more deeply understood. Closeness to people is the conduit through which we cleave to G-d. The next step is to create an even closer relationship with G-d by striving for perfection in all areas of Jewish life.
The following story, as related by Mrs. Tziporah Heller, a well-known and respected lecturer in Jerusalem, illustrates this point:
The Grand Rabbi of Bobov, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam (1907 – 2000) was known for his tireless dedication to reestablishing the Bobov Chassidic dynasty in America after the Holocaust. By all accounts, he was tremendously successful. His devotion to G-d and to people was legendary.
Thousands of mourners attended his funeral. Amid a sea of religious Jews, the brother of a family friend noticed a black man, who was obviously not Jewish, but who was crying and weeping terribly. What was he doing there? Why was he so moved by the Rabbi’s death? After the funeral the family friend approached this man.
“Are you a Bobover?” he asked, knowing there was obviously more to the story.
“No,” said the man. “But let me tell you something about your Rabbi.”
The man went on to recount an incident that occurred twenty-five years earlier. He was a young house painter, just getting started in his career. He put up ads, and eventually someone asked him to paint the Rabbi’s house.
“I got there early in the morning,” the man recalled. “The first thing the Rabbi asked me was whether I had eaten breakfast yet. I had not.”
The Rabbi immediately went to the fridge and took out food to serve him before he started working.
The next day, after the man had prepared the house for painting, the Rabbi called him over.
“Wait a minute,” the Rabbi said. “I want to tell you something.”
The man expected the Rabbi to warn him to do a good job or not to ruin any furniture.
Instead, the Rabbi said, “Before you begin, let me tell you: It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
“I was young at the time and just starting out,” the man said. “I told him, I do a good job! What do you mean it doesn’t have to be perfect?!”
The Rabbi reassured him that nothing in this world is perfect, and that he should not worry.
“Over my career,” the man said, “I’ve painted a lot of houses. No one has ever treated me with that much respect.”
He then took out a “Rabbi card” with the Rabbi Halberstam’s picture on it and said, “That’s my man.”
It is not a coincidence that great Rabbis are remembered for their deep piety in service of G-d as well as for their exceeding consideration for their fellow human beings. Indeed, the two go hand-in-hand. As we interact with other people, let us strive to remember that each person we meet is created in the image of G-d. Using this knowledge as the basis of our relationships will strengthen our connection to others, and bring us one step closer to having a more intimate relationship with G-d.
From Poor To Rich In Just One Year
ארץ אשר ה’ אלקיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ה אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה
“[Israel is] a land that the L-rd your G-d seeks out. The eyes of the L-rd your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12).
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) homiletically derives from our verse that any year which is “poor” at the beginning will be rich and full of blessing at the end. As Rosh Hashanah grows ever closer, how can we use this valuable message to ensure that the coming year will be a prosperous one for us and our loved ones?
Commenting on this Talmudic statement, Rashi explains that a “poor” year refers to one in which a person makes himself poor on Rosh Hashanah to beg and supplicate for his needs. In order to follow this advice, we must first understand what it means to make oneself like a poor person.
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, mashgiach (spiritual leader) of the Ponovezh Yeshivah in Bnei Brak, explains that it isn’t sufficient to merely view oneself “as if” he is poor for the day. Rather, a person must honestly believe and internalize that his entire lot for the upcoming year — his health, happiness, family, and financial situations — will be determined on this day. In other words, at the present moment, he has absolutely nothing to his name and must earn it all from scratch. This may be a difficult task for a person who is fortunate enough to have a beautiful family, a good source of income, and no history of major medical problems. How can such a person honestly stand before G-d and view himself as a poor person with nothing to his name?
Rabbi Friedlander explains that if a person understands that all that he has is only because G-d willed it to be so until now, he will recognize that at the moment G-d wills the situation to change, it will immediately do so. Although we often assume that this couldn’t happen to us, we all personally know of such stories which might help us better relate to this concept.
Last year, I was excited to travel to Israel. Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, I took a taxi to the Kotel (Western Wall). My enthusiasm quickly turned to shocked disbelief when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my wallet in the back seat of the cab. After numerous frantic calls to the taxi company bore no fruit, instead of proceeding to pray at the Kotel, I had to first stop to call my bank to cancel my credit cards. Looking back a year later, I realize that I learned an important lesson; just because I have something and assume it to be firmly in my possession, I cannot rely on this belief and take it for granted.
On Rosh Hashanah, G-d decrees what will happen to every person at every moment of the upcoming year, including what they will have and to what extent they will be able to enjoy it. Therefore, each person must begin the year with a clean slate and merit to receive anew everything that he had until now.
If we view ourselves standing before G-d like a poor person with no truly secure assets, we will realize that our entire existence in the year to come is completely dependent on His kindness. A person who honestly feels this way can’t help but beg and plead for Divine mercy, and the Talmud promises that G-d’s mercy will indeed be aroused to give him a decree of a wonderful year.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
“And you shall remember the entire way on which your G-d led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what is in your hearts, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of G-d does man live.” (Devarim 8:2-3)
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminded the Jewish people that G-d miraculously provided all of their physical needs for the entire 40 years they were in the desert. The manna fell every morning, and their clothes did not wear out. (Additionally, they were provided with quail meat every evening and water from the Well of Miriam.) Nevertheless, Moses described this as both an “affliction” and as a “test” from G-d.
Having all of one’s needs taken care of for 40 years seems like a pretty good deal. In what way(s) could the experience of having the manna fall every day be seen as an affliction?
G-d provided the manna as a test to know “what is in the hearts” of the Jewish people and whether they would observe His commandments or not. As the manna fell without fail, there was little room for the Jewish people not to believe G-d. How then could the manna have served to clarify their commitment to G-d and His commandments?
Moses told the Jewish people (Devarim 8:5) that just as a father chastises his son, so too does G-d rebuke them. What could we learn from this comparison about the way a parent should punish his child? (Ramban)
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, more commonly-known as the Baal HaTurim (1270- 1340), writes (Devarim 8:8) that the verse extolling the land of Israel for its seven unique species contains 10 words, which correspond to the 10 fingers with which one is to hold bread when reciting the blessing over it and to the 10 mitzvot which were involved in the production of the bread. How many of these mitzvot can you name?
The Torah states, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd thy G-d for the good land which He has given you” (Devarim 8:10). This commandment requires us to recite a blessing after eating, in the form of “Grace After Meals.” We are also required to make a blessing before eating; otherwise, it is a form of stealing (Berachot 35b).
- Since the obligation to recite a blessing prior to eating is rabbinical, the implication is that it is less significant than the blessing recited afterwards. Why might blessings said after eating be more important than those said before?
- The Talmud states that eating without reciting the appropriate blessing is considered a form of stealing. Why aren’t non-Jews, who are also forbidden to steal, obligated to recite blessings before and after eating?
Q: In discussing the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses tells the people (Devarim 9:21) that “your sin which you committed, I took and burned it in fire.” While Moses indeed took the physical calf and burned it, what did Moses mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation?
A: Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, more commonly referred to as the Shelah HaKadosh, explains that every act which a person performs mystically creates a corresponding angel. Mitzvot create good angels, while sins bring about bad ones. Moses recognized that simply burning the calf itself, while necessary, wouldn’t suffice to erase the spiritual effect of their actions. He therefore additionally took the destructive angel which was created through their sin and burned it as well. Moses related this to the people to teach us that when repenting our misdeeds, we must sincerely regret our actions and accept upon ourselves not to repeat them, in order to uproot not only the physical consequences of the sin but the spiritual ones as well. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: Moses told the Jewish people (Devarim 10:12), “And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you but to fear Him.” Moses seems to emphasize that fearing G-d is so critical that this is all that G-d requests of us. Although it is clearly important, why is this selected as the most essential quality for a person to work on?
A: The wisest man to ever live, King Solomon, concluded his words of wisdom (Kohelet 12:13) with the following thought: the sum of the matter when everything has been considered: fear G-d and observe His commandments, for this is the entire person. Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman explains Solomon’s intent by noting that a person who isn’t wise, kind, strong, wealthy, or attractive may be missing a very important quality, but he is still considered a person. On the other hand, King Solomon teaches us that one’s entire “personhood” is defined by his level of fear of G-d. A person who is completely lacking in fear of Heaven isn’t considered a deficient person. He isn’t even considered a person!
One may possess all the characteristics which are valued by the society around us. He may be handsome, successful, outgoing, and even kind, but if he is lacking in fear of Heaven, he hasn’t even entered the realm of humanity. In the Torah’s eyes, a simple and unassuming person who lives honestly and fears G-d is infinitely superior. It is for this reason that Moses emphasized that the most important trait which G-d asks from a person is his fear of Heaven. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: Moses stressed (Devarim 11:10-12) that the land of Israel would be different than the land of Egypt from which the Jews were coming. Whereas the fields of the land of Egypt were watered by irrigation from the Nile river, those in Israel received their water from the rain supply. Although Rashi notes that a natural water supply is advantageous in that it requires substantially less exertion, what deeper message was Moses trying to impart?
A: Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that Moses wasn’t merely relating an agricultural fact, but was teaching that the Egyptians were a totally “natural” people. It never rained in their country as it did in Israel, so they never had to look skyward to see when the clouds were changing. As a result, their hearts also never gazed toward the Heavens, thus effectively cutting them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically, appearing to be totally “natural.” In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt to Israel wasn’t merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement. It also allowed the fledgling Jewish nation to exchange a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that G-d runs every aspect of the universe and that we are dependent on Him for every detail of our daily lives. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
The second paragraph of Shema found in the Torah portion this week begins with, “And it will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today, to love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I shall provide…” (Devarim 11:13-21). There is an obvious cause and effect link: In return for being devoted adherents to G-d’s commandments, we are promised an abundance of material good.
- This cause and effect link may encourage us to try to live up the standards of Torah, but if one performs the mitzvot with these rewards in mind, can he or she really be serving G-d with his or her whole heart and soul?
- In Ethics of our Fathers, we are taught, “Be not like servants who serve their master in anticipation of a reward. Rather, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward” (1:3). Do the two ideas found in Shema and in Ethics of our Fathers contradict each other?
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
A WELL-HEELED PEOPLE
“If only [i.e. because] you shall hearken to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then Hashem your G-d will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.” (Devarim 7:12)
If only you shall hearken to these laws – The Hebrew word is “Eikev” which can mean “if only” or “because.” Understood as such, the Torah is saying that because we are careful to obey G-d’s commandments, we will merit that He will carefully safeguard the covenant He forged with our ancestors. However, the word “Eikev” can also be translated as “heel.” Its use in this verse alludes to the idea that G-d desires that we observe not only the “big” mitzvot that are well-known and popular, such as eating only kosher, observing Shabbat, and donning Tefillin. He equally desires that we fastidiously observe every facet of the Law, even those mitzvot that people traditionally trample on with their heel. – Rashi
“Rebbi said…‘be as careful to observe a minor mitzvah as you are to observe a major mitzvah, for you do not know the reward of each mitzvah’” – Mishnah, Avos 2:1
Although some mitzvot get all the attention, don’t take that to mean that they’re necessarily more important than others. In G-d’s eyes, all mitzvot are integral to the development of our relationship with Him, and all deserve our attention and dedication. Of course, when starting out, one cannot possibly observe all of them at once, but our goal must always be to steadily grow and add to the number of mitzvot that we practice.
MINORITY STATUS IS NOTHING TO FEAR
“Perhaps you may say to yourself, ‘These nations are far more numerous than I, how can I inherit them?’ Do not fear them. Remember well what Hashem, your G-d, did to Pharaoh and to all the Egyptians.” (Devarim 7:17, 18)
Perhaps You May Say To Yourself – When you reflect on how numerous they are in comparison to the Jewish people, let it not inspire fear. Rather, recognize that indeed, the only way we could possibly be victorious, is via Divine assistance. Furthermore, this special assistance is something that we can feel comfortable relying upon, as we’ve seen how reliable and effective it is, during the events in Egypt where G-d destroyed the mighty Pharaoh and his army. – Sforno- Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, 1475-155
Sforno admonishes us to feel not fear, but confidence, when confronting our numerous enemies, because we know that we can rely upon Divine assistance. Although this verse speaks specifically of times past, the lesson is as pertinent today as it was then. If our goal is to live in the Land of Israel and abide by His Torah, we can feel safe and secure regardless of how many of our enemies openly express their desire to “drive us into the sea.”
CALLING EVIL BY ANOTHER NAME
“Do not bring abomination into your house [lest] you become cheirem [banned] like it; thoroughly revile and abominate it, for it is cheirem [off-limits].” Devarim 7:26
Do Not Bring Abomination Into Your House – In it’s most literal sense, this verse contains a prohibition against allowing idols to be present in ones home [even if he will not worship them]. Our sages explain that this also includes even renting one’s home to one who will practice idolatry within it. – Talmud
Do Not Bring Abomination Into Your House – The word “Cheirem” contains letters that spell Rama”ch and have a numerical equivalent of 248, which corresponds to the number of limbs in a person’s body. This teaches us that for the sin of allowing idolatry into ones home, he will be punished through his entire body. If one repents however, then he can count on Divine mercy to erase his offense and this is symbolized by the word Racheim [mercy], which is what emerges from these letters when they are rearranged. – Baal Haturim – Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher
Thoroughly Revile And Abominate It – Idolatry is so vile, offensive, and harmful, that we must not tolerate it in any form whatsoever. It should not even be referred to by its proper name. Rather, a pejorative term that pokes fun at its name is more appropriate for such an unwelcome presence in our midst.
It is rather difficult for us to imagine just how offensive idolatry is given that we don’t often encounter it in modern times. Yet, given the Torah expends so much effort decrying its worship, even according it prestigious mention in the Ten Commandments, we can surmise that it was not only a false approach to life, but also highly dangerous and unproductive. In order to ensure that we would never be ensnared by it, the Torah bids us to mock and thoroughly reject it in any form whatsoever. What this approach lacks in political correctness, it more than makes up for with its strict insistence on moral
BARE YOUR SOLES
“Your garment[s] did not wear out upon you and your feet did not swell, these forty years.” Devarim 8:4
Your garments did not wear out…feet did not swell – The Clouds of Glory would rub against their clothing and iron them out, and their children’s clothing would grow along with them. Your feet did not swell like dough in the manner of those who walk barefoot and suffer from swollen feet. – Rashi
Your garments did not wear out – This was a marvelous deviation from the laws of nature, because the clothing of travelers always wears out. – Rabbeinu Bachya
The reason this miracle occurred was in order to allow the nation to remain focused exclusively on the study of Torah, without having to worry about basic needs such as laundry and discomfort. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
Chizkuni (Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach) adds that inherent in this miracle was an important lesson for the people that if G-d could take care of them so completely in the desert, where one’s physical needs are usually impossible to attend to, how much more so could He do so when they would settle in the Land of Israel.
WHAT A LAND
For Hashem, your L-rd, is bringing you to a good land. A land with flowing streams and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain. It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and honey. It is a land where you will eat bread in abundance, and you will lack for nothing; a land whose stones are iron, and from whose mountains you will mine copper.” Devarim 8:7-10
A good land – This land has a stunning array of positive attributes unlike any other land. The verse then enumerates five of these positive attributes, separating each of them with the word, “land.” – Sforno
- A land with flowing streams– There will be abundant fresh water sources like streams and springs, instead of the lesser quality seas and swamps.
- A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates – These are basic foodstuffs required for any functioning civilization.
- A land of oil-olives, and honey– These are delicacies fit for royalty.
- A land in which bread will be eaten in abundance– Money will be abundant and will enable you to purchase food in profusion.
- A land whose stones are iron– Construction will be easy as the land will abound in stones which are hard, attractive, and in all ways ideal for building.
The verse only enumerates seven species of food, but Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor points out that these species include many others that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the verse as well. For example, the verse mentions only two forms of grain when in reality there are five primary species of grain. Honey, as well, should not be understood to include only honey, but all forms of sweet food such as that obtained from a bee, dates, figs, and more. Understood thusly, the blessings of the Land of Israel are truly without a peer
“When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He has given you.” Devarim 8:10
When you eat and are satisfied – This verse obligates us to recite Birchat HaMazon [Grace after Meals] upon the conclusion of a substantial meal. – Talmud, Tractate Berachot 21a
When you eat and are satisfied – When you are sated by an abundance of hearty food, you will remember the hardships you experienced in Egypt where you lacked even your basic needs, and you will recall the difficulty entailed in obtaining edible food in the desert. That will spur you to express your appreciation to the Almighty for the gift of the Land and its munificent bounty. – Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachya
When you eat and are satisfied – The reason the Almighty has forced you to undergo the hardships of the desert is so that you will never fail to appreciate the incredible blessings of the Land of Israel which you are about to enter. – Malbim
When you eat and are satisfied – One who is careful never to allow food to enter his mouth without reciting a blessing prior and after will not be consumed by worms after his death. – Sifsei Kohen
The Maggid of Dubno offered a wonderful parable to help us appreciate the importance of reciting Birchat HaMazon. A woman once passed away, leaving her husband to care for their only son by himself. The father devoted himself fully to raising this child, whom he loved so dearly, and spared no effort to help him in every way imaginable. After some time, the father married a widow who too had been left with an only daughter after the passing of her husband, to whose well-being she was fully dedicated. Their marriage took off, but there was one serious point of contention between them. He was certain that she only cared about her daughter, and she was convinced that his primary interest was his son. In truth, they were both correct, and this caused much friction between them that seemed irreconcilable. As the children matured, however, they realized that they were a perfect match, and soon they married and began to build their family. Suddenly, all the earlier tension in the relationship of their parents evaporated as each dedicated all their efforts to helping the young couple. Now, through this marriage, the primary source of their friction simply disappeared. The body and soul are also engaged in a similar tug-of-war, each looking primarily after its own interests. The body seeks only its welfare and greater indulgence in material matters. The soul, on the other hand, cares not a whit about the physical, seeking only greater access to spirituality. These two disparate interests are almost impossible to reconcile except through food and blessings. So long as one eats, primarily an exercise in satisfying the physical, and utilizes the opportunity to give thanks and appreciation to the Almighty, he has elevated the act of eating to a realm where both the body and soul can experience mutual satisfaction.
FOR HOW LONG OUR LAND?
“Do not think in your heart, when Hashem, your G-d, crushes them before you, saying: ‘Because of my righteousness G-d brought me to inherit this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations G-d is expelling them before you. Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to inherit their land. Rather, because of the wickedness of these nations is Hashem, your G-d, expelling them before you, and in order to fulfill the promise that G-d swore to your forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Devarim 9:4, 5
Do Not Think In Your Heart – When you see how unusually successful you are in the wars against them and recognize G-d’s involvement in the matter, do not delude yourself into thinking that it’s all in your own merit… – Sforno
Even before we ever entered the land for the first time, the Torah already cautioned us against thinking that our entitlement to the Land of Israel is an inalienable right. It isn’t, and never was. We’re there owing to a combination of factors, some out of our control, but others very much within our jurisdiction. The biggest mistake a Jew can make is to think that regardless of how we act, the Land is ours simply because we were born to a Jewish mother.
A WEIGHTY ISSUE
“I turned and descended the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire; and the two covenant Tablets were on my two hands. I beheld that you had just sinned to your G-d, you had made yourselves a molten calf… I grasped the two Tablets and threw them from upon my two hands, and smashed them before your eyes.” Devarim 9:15-17
And smashed them before your eyes – For I did not wish to present them to a people who violates their precepts. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
I grasped them – Why did he need to grasp them if they were already in his hands? The verse earlier does not say that they were in his hands, but on his hands, for owing to their great sanctity, they actually bore their own weight and only rested upon his hands. Once Moses beheld the Golden Calf, they lost their earlier sanctity and now needed to be carried lest they fall to the ground. Made of stone, they weighed an enormous amount, and Moses was forced to grasp them before they would drop. – Ohr HaChaim
I grasped them – Moses did not want them to simply drop, but he wanted to smash them to deliver a strong message to the nation. To do this, he had to grasp with his hands that which was already on his arms – a substantial feat. He accomplished this only with Divine Assistance, for even the Almighty agreed with his decision to smash the Tablets regardless of their immense value. – He’emek Davar
Sifsei Kohen points out that in describing the creation of the second Tablets, the Torah writes, “So I made a case of shittim wood, and I hewed two stone Tablets like the originals, and I ascended the mountain with the two Tablets in my hand.” Unlike the first set, these were not on, but in his hands. This is because the first Tablets carried themselves, whereas this second set, prior to being inscribed, were not yet able to do so. Once inscribed, they left the realm of the physical and entered the realm of the spiritual and attained a weightless quality.
TAKE TWO TABLETS…
“At that time, G-d said to me, ‘Carve out two stone Tablets like the first ones, and then come up to Me on the mountain, and make for yourself a wooden ark.’” Devarim 10:1
Make for yourself a wooden ark – This ark would hold the new Tablets, as well as the shards of the broken Tablets. Once the Tabernacle was built and Betzalel fashioned a new ark that was gold plated, the second set of Tablets were placed in that one, and the remains of the first Tablets were stored in this wooden ark. When the Jewish people went out to battle, the wooden ark with the shards of the first Tablets accompanied them except when they went to war against the Philistines during the days of Eli HaKohen, when they took the gold-plated ark which was subsequently captured by the Philistines. – Rashi
Make for yourself a wooden ark – Although Rashi based his opinion on the words of the Talmud Yerushalmi [Shekalim 6:1], he was quoting a minority opinion. The majority of our sages however, agree that this ark was only used temporarily until Betzalel constructed a permanent ark. At that time, the second Tablets were placed in that ark along with the remains of the first Tablets and the wooden ark was buried in the ground. – Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides)
Retaining of the remnants of the first Tablets was not intended for the purpose of nostalgia. Instead, it was a stark reminder of the exalted spiritual level the people had occupied prior to the sin of the Golden Calf, and an implicit message that we could not satisfy ourselves with our new lowered spiritual plane. In order to enjoy the full benefits of our relationship with G-d, we would have to strive to reconnect with Him on the level that we had known during the short life of the first Tablets.
THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE, SON
“At that time, G-d separated the tribe of Levites to carry the Ark of G-d’s covenant, to stand before G-d to serve Him, and to bless in His name until this day.” Devarim 10:8
At that time – During the first year of your departure from Egypt, when you transgressed with the [Golden] Calf and the Levites did not transgress, the Omnipresent separated them from you. – Rashi
Although initially the Almighty had designated the firstborn of each family to serve Him, this arrangement could not endure, because Divine service consists of more than following a prescribed set of rules. Instead, it requires a tradition that is passed down from father to son in an unending chain. This would not be possible if the responsibility lay with the firstborn of each family. Thus, it had to be transferred to a specific tribe, and when the Levites demonstrated their outstanding devotion to the Almighty in the episode of the Golden Calf, they earned this distinction.
AT YOUR SERVICE
“And it will be that if you thoroughly abide by My commandments that I am commanding you today – to love Hashem, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your hearts and with your entire souls.” Devarim 11:13
With all your hearts – With the service of the heart, and this refers to prayer, for prayer is entitled “service.” – Rashi
You should know that the power of prayer is so great that it can even override the laws of nature. Our sages tell us that the reason the Matriarchs were originally barren was because G-d very much desired their prayers, and it was through those prayers that they were healed from their barren state; an act that contravened the rules of natures. – Rabbeinu Bachya
Terming prayer a “service of the heart” indicates that it’s no easy feat to deliver a proper prayer and requires serious effort. This is because it is not sufficient to merely recite the words at breakneck speed. Rather, one must also concentrate on the meaning of the words and emotionally engage himself in the prayer. A young man once complained to the Rebbe of Kotzk that his head hurt him too much to allow him to pray. The Rebbe gazed at him unimpressed, and said, “My good friend, our Sages taught us that prayer is a service of the heart, not the head. Your heart feels fine, so there’s no reason not to pray.”
BABY EINSTEIN OR BABY MOSES?
“And you shall teach them to your sons to speak in them when you sit at home, and when you journey on the road, and when you go to sleep, and when you arise.” Devarim 11:19
To speak in them – From the time that the son is able to speak, teach him the verse, “Moses instructed us in the Torah…” so that this develops his speech. From here it is said that when an infant begins speaking, his father should converse with him in the Holy Tongue, and teach him Torah. – Rashi
Alternatively, one may teach the child to recite one of the verses of the Shema – Rabbeinu Bachya
You shall teach them to your sons – Although a young child is exempt from the obligation to study Torah, his father is obligated to teach him Torah as it is written, “And you shall teach them to your sons to speak in them.” He is obligated to hire a teacher to teach him Torah. One whose father did not teach him, is obligated to teach himself. The obligation to teach one’s son begins from the time that the child learns how to speak. – Maimonides, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:1-6
There are many aspects to the obligation to teach Torah to one’s children, but one that is especially prominent is the importance of starting when the child is very young. It appears that this is due to more than just the fact that the Torah is too vast to acquire in a mere few years of study. Rather, the Torah is acutely aware of the fact that once a child grows up, if he has not already established a firm foundation of Torah, it will be very difficult to establish one later. Only by dedicatedly inculcating it in a child from a very early age can one reasonably expect the child to conform with its dictates in adulthood. It is no small wonder that Jewish parents have sacrificed so much over the ages to ensure that their children merit a proper Jewish education long before their secular training gets underway.
Hey, I Never Knew That
Maimonides states, “Loving a convert who has come to nestle under the wings of the Divine Presence [fulfills] two positive commandments: one for he is [also] included among the “neighbors” [whom we are commanded to love] and one because he is a convert and the Torah states, “and you shall love the converts” (Devarim 10:19). G-d has commanded us concerning the love of a convert just as He has commanded us concerning loving Himself, as the verse states, “And you shall love G-d, your L-rd” Devarim 11:1). The Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, loves converts as the verse states, “And He loves converts” (Devarim 10:18). Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Pesach 8) explains that according to Maimonides one must love the convert specifically because he is a convert, just as G-d loves him because he is a convert. If, however, he loves him “merely” because he is Jewish, or for other reasons, or he is not aware that the person is a convert, he has not fulfilled this commandment.
The Torah commands us to “love the stranger” (Devarim 10:19) and this is understood by the sages to mean loving a convert to Judaism (Bamidbar Rabbah 8:2). So, aside from the mitzvah to love a fellow Jew, one is obligated by a separate mitzvah to love a convert. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner notes that just as one is obligated to love a fellow Jew because he or she is Jewish, one is obligated to love a convert because he or she is a convert. This love is not something that the other has to earn or deserve, but is rather a love that is expected of us toward each other because of we are part of one family, either through our common descent or through our common commitment.
Word of the Week
The word ברך — barech — bless appears in the Torah portion this week in various forms a number of times, most famously in the verse, “And you shall eat, and be satisfied, and you shall bless — וברכת —uverachta the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 8:10). Some understand this word as an expression of praise and admiration (Rabbi David Kimchi). Others relate it to the word בריכה — breichah — the pool at the opening of a spring. According to this, “blessed” is a description of G-d as the ultimate source (pool) from which everything flows (Responsa Rashba 5:50, 51, 52, Rabeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach). Similarly, the word indicates a flow of prosperity and goodness, as if from a spring or an unimpeded reservoir (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).
“…He loves the stranger to give him bread and שמלה —simlah” (Devarim 10:18). Targum Onkelos translates simlah as “clothing” and Targum Yonatan ben Uziel translates it as אסטלא, meaning “robe or garment.” Interestingly, Rabbi David Kimchi relates simlah to the word שמאל —smol, which means “left” through the root שמל—semel, but he does not explain the connection of the meanings. Rabbi Hirsch suggests that the word is related to שלם —shalem—complete, albeit with an inversion of the order of two letters, and explains it as meaning “completely cover.” In Modern Hebrew, simlah refers to a woman’s dress.
The Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loew) was asked to explain how the Chosen People could be described by the Torah as “a stiff-necked people” (Devarim 9:6), implying that the Jews do not accept rebuke and are very stubborn. The Maharal explained that the essence of the Jewish people is very close to the spiritual, and more distant from the material. Matter is easily manipulated; the material aspect of the human is easily influenced and will bend to outside forces, because it is physical and not more powerful than those forces. The spiritual aspect of the human, which is on a higher level than the material, is not easily manipulated and is very difficult to influence. So this “negative” feature of the Jewish people is actually a product of a positive quality that they possess (Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, ch. 14).
“Any place that your feet will tread I have given to you…” (Devarim 11:24) According to the Sages this verse tells us that even places outside “Israel proper” that are conquered by the Jewish people will become holy (not equal to, but similar to, the land of Israel) and the agricultural laws of the land of Israel will apply to those areas (Nachmanides ad loc). Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg was asked if areas conquered by the IDF in our times would now have the sanctity of Israel with all its accompanying laws. In a lengthy responsa, Rabbi Waldenberg replies that indeed places like the Golan Heights, once they are conquered by the Jewish people, now have a measure of the sanctity of the Land of Israel “proper” and one must treat the produce with the same laws as the produce of the Land of Israel (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 10:1).
Parsha at a Glance
This week’s parsha, Eikev, opens with Moses continuing to encourage the Jewish people to trust G-d that the conquest of the Land will be successful, that they will have nothing to fear, and that their lives will be full of abundant blessing. All of this would come to pass – if the Jewish people would follow G-d’s commandments with a full and pure heart, and would be zealous in destroying all idol worship from the Land of Israel. This devotion to G-d’s word must be in all areas, even what may be perceived as “minor” commandments. Rashi points out that the word “eikev” is related to the word “heel” in Hebrew. The implicit lesson is that the Jewish people must be careful even with seemingly “lighter commandments,” on which a person may be inclined to tread with his “heel.” (Rashi, Devarim 7:12)
Moses then related that G-d would provide miraculous assistance in driving out the people of the land, similar to the miracles witnessed against Pharaoh. However, the conquest and expulsion of the people would not happen all at once. Rather it would take place gradually, so that a sudden depopulation would not leave the nation vulnerable to attacks from wild animals.
Moses reminded the Jewish people of the lesson of the manna, which fell every day and nourished them for forty years. This is the source of the famous statement, “Man does not live by bread alone,” but rather by “everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d” (Devarim 8:3). Despite Moses’ promise that the people would enjoy abundance of all kinds in the Land of Israel, he warned against falling prey to the lures of materialism. Too much prosperity would cause the nation to forget G-d, grow lax in following His commandments, and assume that “my strength, the might of my hand, made me all this wealth!” (Devarim 8:17) Doing so, Moses cautioned, is a recipe for destruction.
Moses also warned the people not to assume that their own righteousness was what had caused G-d to drive the other nations from the land. Rather, G-d was doing this because of the wickedness of those nations, and His personal promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their children would inherit the land. Indeed, Moses pointed out, the Jews are a “stiff necked people,” who provoked G-d from the day they left Egypt until their arrival at the border of the land of Israel.
The episode of the Golden Calf is recalled, as well as the smashing of the first Tablets, as an event that will forever remain a stain on the reputation of the Jewish people. The incident put the Jewish people in grave danger, and forced Moses’ return to the mountain for another forty days of fasting and prayer in order to assuage G-d’s anger. And it would be another forty days before G-d would fully forgive the Jewish people with a second set of tablets.
Moses then exhorted the people that G-d asks only that they fear Him, go in all His ways, love Him, and serve Him with all their heart and soul (Devarim 10:12). This is a famous verse, which many commentators discuss. Moses described this level of service as a small thing, which to ordinary people is the result of a lifetime of work. The commentators point out that Moses teaches us that it is possible for people to have control over their spiritual growth – that G-d will not hold a person back from succeeding in the spiritual realm, as long as there is proper effort and reverence for G-d’s commandments.
The parsha then states that the Land of Israel will be good for the Jewish people. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, abundant rainwater, good produce, and is watched by G-d at all times, from the beginning to the end of the year. But, there, is a contingency, Moses pointed out. If the Jewish people follow the commandments, love G-d and serve Him with all of their heart and all of their soul, G-d will bless the land with great abundance. However, if they turn to other gods, there will be no rain, the ground will not yield produce and they will be quickly banished from the land. This warning is found in the second paragraph of Shema (Devarim 11:13-21), which is recited at morning and evening prayers.
The parsha concludes with a promise that if the Jewish people walk in G-d’s ways, G-d will cause the Jewish people to be feared by all the nations of the earth. He will drive out the nations from the land and greatly expand the borders of the Land of Israel.