Archive for August 2015

Parashat Ki Tetze

Friday, August 28, 2015 · Posted in , , , , ,

Devarim 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 54:1-10

Parsha Summary

Law of the Captive Woman
Law of a Man with Two Wives
Law of the Rebellous Son
A Body Should Not Hang Overnight
Return of Lost Object
Raising a Fallen Animal
Not Wearing Clothes of the Opposite Sex
The Mother Bird and Her Young
Protecting a Roof & Uniform Vineyard Planting
Forbidden Mixtures
False Charges of Infidelity
Immoral Wife
Violated Betrothed
Assaulted Betrothed in a Field
Assaulted Maiden in a Field
Father's Wife
Castrated Man
Not Marrying a Mamzer
Not Marrying an Ammoni or Moavi
Law of Edomi and Egyptians
Rules of Hygiene in an Army Camp
Slave Seeking Refuge
Sin of Prostitution
Not Charging Interest
Pledges Made to G-d
Eating While Working Your Neighbor's Vineyard
Laws of Security
Paying a Wageman Promptly
Visiting Sins of Parents on Children
Protecting the Downtrodden
The Forgotton Sheaf
Leaving the Last Fruit Unpicked
Laws of Lashes
Yibbum and Chalitzah
Law of the Rodef
Honest Weights
Obliterating the Memory of Amalek

Devarim 22:11 Do not wear forbidden mixture of wool and linen [in a single garment].

VaYikra 19:19 mentions the prohibition against mixing certain fabrics in one garment. Our verse defines the scope of that prohibition as applying to a mixture of linen and wool.

The "forbidden mixture," שעטנז (sha'atnez) is an abbreviated form of שוע טווי נוז which means "combed, spun, or woven." If wool and linen are combined in any of these ways, the garment is forbidden. (Niddah 61b, Sifri, Rashi).

The entire garment need not be made of this combination of fabrics. The prohibition applies even if the two materials are sewn together by only two threads (Yevamot 5b).

Linen is frequently used in lining garments. This is also forbidden. Unfortunately, some people wear such garments without giving it any thought and thus, inadvertently violate the prohibition. For these reasons, any garment made by a Gentile should be inspected for a combination of these fabrics.

Nevertheless, there is no prohibition if the fabrics are not sewn together. One may wear a wool garment over a linen one (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kilayim 10:11. See also Rabbenu Bachya). Similarly, sha'atnez may be used in the fabric cloth which is not worn, such as a tent. Sha'atnez is also a חוק (chok), a decree which transcends human intellect. Nevertheless, the Rabbis have offered some explanations for this prohibition:

Hevel brought G-d an offering of sheep, and Kayin brought one of flax (Bereishit 4:3-4). Noticing the difference in the quality of their offerings, G-d declared: "It is not fitting for the sacrifice of the sinner to join the offering of the meritorious." Therefore, sha'atnez became forbidden (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishit 9).

A mixture of wool and linen was used in the curtains of the Sanctuary and the priestly garments. Therefore, such a combination was forbidden for mundane use (Baalei Hatosafot). In addition, pagan priests wore these garments (Guide of the Perplexed. III:37).

Zohar interprets שעטנז (sha'atnez) as שטן עז, meaning "satan is strong." Violation of this commandment strengthens the forces of evil.

- Me'am Lo'ez

Parashat Shoftim

Thursday, August 20, 2015 · Posted in , , , , , , ,

Devarim 16:18-21:9
Haftarah Yeshayahu 51:12-52:12


  • Judicial System
  • Prohibition of an Asherah
  • Prohibition of a Blemished Sacrifice
  • Idolatry
  • The Rebellious Elder
  • The Laws of Monarchy
  • Priestly Gifts
  • System of Priestly and Levitical Service
  • Prophecy
  • Cities of Refuge
  • Barring an Intentional Murderer from a City of Refuge
  • Prohibition against Tampering with One's Neighbor's Property
  • Laws of Witnesses
  • Laws of Warfare
  • Laws of Siege
  • Respect for Nature During a Siege
  • Laws of Eglah Arufah (The Calf Whose Neck is Broken)

Mishlei 3:17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

Shlomo informs us in the verse just quoted that the foundation of the Torah and its ongoing concern is peace. We find this demonstrated already at the very beginning of the creation and this is why the Sages in Chulin 60 have taught that all phenomena were created as completed, matured phenomena at the very onset. They base this on Bereishit 2:1 "complete with all their accessories."

It is well known that the heavens were created first and that unless peace reigned in the universe this could not have succeeded seeing heaven is made of two opposite elements, "fire and water." They could not coexist unless G-d had seen to it that peace reigned in the universe. This is why we read in Iyov 25:2 "He makes peace in His lofty heights." One of G-d's Names is שלום (Shalom), Peace, as we know from Shoftim 6:24 "he [Gide'on] called the altar "G-d Who is peace." We have a verse in Shir HaShirum 1:1 in which the Talmud interprets the words "Song of Sons by Shlomo" to mean that the poem is dedicated to Hashem Who personifies "peace," שלמה. (Shevuot 35). G-d chose the Jewish nation from among more than 70 nations all of which are His, and called us שולמית, (compare Shir HaShirim 7:1) where the author calls on the Jewish people to return to G-d, addressing it as שולמית, the nation representing peace. It is the nation that harbors within it the concept of universal peace. G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people seeing that the Torah personifies the ideal of peace. This is the gist of our opening verse above, that "all its paths are peace."

All the commandments in the Torah are aimed at ensuring peace for the body as well as for the soul. We know that the commandments are designed to provide peace for the body fromm Shemot 15:26, "if you will heed Hashem your G-d diligently, doing what He says and what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I Hashem am your healer." Proof that Torah also provides peace for the soul is derived from Tehillim 19:8, "Hashem's Torah is perfect, restores the soul." Performance of the commandments of the Torah enables the soul at the end of its sojourn in a body to return to its roots in a state of purity. The Attribute of peace constantly yearns for the return of these souls to its domain. This concept enables us to understand the meaning of Ketuvot 104, that when the wicked die the angels of destruction "welcome" them by saying, "there is no peace for the wicked, says Hashem" (Yeshayahu 48:22) other words, there is no room for you in My domain.

The attribute of peace is the greatest of all the attributes in that it is used as a "seal" on all requests and documents. It is the final benediction in our principal prayers, a thought inspired by the sacrificial offerings which the prayers try to emulate, the daily communal prayers known as תמידים. When you observe the list of sacrificial offerings whose rituals are prescribed at the beginning of the Book of VaYikra you will find the שלמים (shelamim - peace offerings) mentioned last (Vayikra 7:18). Our Sages in Torat Kohanim comment: "Why were these offerings called "peace-offerings?" They answer that the reason is that these offerings re-establish peace in the universe. We find that Shlomo "signed" (concluded) his Shir HaShirim  with "peace," seeing he wrote in 8:10: "I was in his eyes like someone who had found peace." In Kohelet Shlomo also refers to peace in the "times" he describes in chapter 3, concluding with "a time for peace." Our Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 9:6) commented on this that peace is a requirement even in time of war as we know from Devarim 20:10: that "when you approach a town (during war with a view to conquering it) you must first offer it "peace." There is no need to emphasise that our terrestrial world is sorely in need of peace if even the celestial regions are in need of it as we know from Iyov 25:2: "Dominion and Dread are His; He imposes peace in His heights." Our Sages interpret the word המשל (hameshel) as a reference to the archangel Micha'el, whereas the word פחד (fachad) refers to the archangel Gavri'el. G-d Himself must make peace between these two angels. This is something which is easy to understand seeing that if there is a need to establish (and maintain) peace in regions and domains which are not subject to competition and natural mutual animosity, this holds true even more so in regions and domains where such competitive forces are at work all the time.

When G-d is described as "making peace in the heavens," this includes not only peace between forces at work in the celestial regions but the celestial regions themselves, seeing they are composed of raw materials which clash, such as fire and water. Seeing that Micha'el is the presiding angel in the celestial spheres he is referred to in Iyov as "the Dominion," he is the one who asks Mercy for Yisra'el. There is no need to mention that the living are in need of peace seeing that even the dead are in need of it (Sifri Shoftim 199). We know this already from when G-d said to Avraham (Bereishit 15:15) "as for you, you will come to your fathers in peace." The attribute of peace was granted especially to Aharon (Sanhedrin 6:2) and by means of this attribute his descendants merited to be priests for all generations and to bless the people wishing them that g-d grant them peace (BaMidbar 6:26). Aharon himself exploited this attribute to keep people alive and to restore peace and harmony between feuding parties.

You have learned that it is the attribute peace which ensures the continued existence of the world. Not only peace but also justice is an important factor in ensuring the continued existence of the universe. Where it not for the meting out of justice people would steal from each other, rob each other, and kill each other. As a result the world would perish. This is what the Sages meant in Avot 1:12 that "the world endures owing to three things: judgment (justice), truth, and peace. We learn this from Zecharya 8:16 "truth, justice and peace you shall judge within your gates." The word שעריכם (sha'areichem)  refers to the judges, seeing it is they who ensure that a "formal" kind of peace reigns in civilized society, the lowest level of peace which the existence of mankind depends on. This is why the Torah commanded us to appoint courts in every "gate," i.e. in every city.

Devarim 16:20 Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue.

According to the plain meaning of the text the Torah warns (by repeating) that one must strive to be righteous both in word and in deed. These are the two ways in which one may potentially inflict harm upon both oneself and upon others. Everyone who speaks righteously reflects the fact that his deeds are most likely righteous also; this is why it behooves every Jew to be both righteous in his speech and in his deeds.this sentiment is reflected in Tzefanya 3:13 when he said of the remnant of the people of Yisrael that "they shall do not wrong or speak falsehood; a deceitful tongue shall not be in their mouths."

Alternatively, our verse addresses the people who are subject to litigation and exhorts them to strive for righteousness regardless of whether this will be financially beneficial or harmful to them. This is why the Torah repeats the exhortation.

A kabbalistic approach, based on Nachmanides: the reason for repeating the word צדק (tzedek) is that the Torah reminds you that righteousness emanates from the emanation צדק. It promises the judge that if he strives to dispense the kind of justice which reflects righteousness, he in turn will be the recipient of input from that emanation. It is something like Shemot 15:16 where Moshe prayed (in the song) "may fear and trepidation fall upon them" (the Gentile nations). The letter ה (heh) at the end of the word אימתה (eimatah) which is not really necessary, is an allusion to the final letter ה in the tetragram, the source of this fear in the part of the tetragram which represent the attribute of Justice. Being imbued with such fear of the attribute צדק is not a threat but a promise in this instance. It is as if judges who practice righteousness will be rewarded with יראת שמים (yirat shamayim - awe of heaven) as a result. You will find this approach echoed in the Sefer HaBahir items 74 - 75 where the author, in commenting on the sequence of צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת, explains that the repetition of the word צדק reflects what is written in Tehillim 18:13 מנגה נגדו (minoga negdo), i.e. that the first time the word appears it refers to true righteousness, whereas the second time it is like an echo of the original righteousness practiced. He who strives to perform righteousness will find that it echoes all around him.  The reason we call a proselyte who has sought to place himself under the protective wings of G-d's presence a ger tzedek is that he has acquired the trepidation for this Attribute of Justice which we normally refer to as "awe of heaven." By submitting to that Attribute one has embraced Judaism in the full meaning of the word.

- Bachya

Parashat Re'eh

Devarim 11;26 - 16:17
Haftarah Yeshayahu 54:11 - 55:5


  • Blessing and Curse
  • Worship in the Beit HaMikdash
  • Laws Regarding Meat Consumption
  • Prohibition of B'al Tosif
  • True and False Prophets
  • Laws of the Inciter to Idolatry
  • Ir HaNidachat
  • Prohibition Against Excessive Mourning
  • Kosher and Non-Kosher Animals
  • Kosher and Non-Kosher Fish and Fowl
  • Tithes
  • Laws of Shemittah
  • Laws of Charity
  • Laws of a Hebrew Servant
  • Laws of a First-Born Animal
  • Pesach
  • Counting the Omer and Shavuot
  • Sukkot

Devarim 11:26 See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.

A traveler is face with two diverging roads; one appears smooth and trouble-free, but this appearance is deceptive for distally the road turns treacherous. The other route does not look promising judging by the condition of its origin. But again, this initial impression is false for in reality the remainder of the road is in excellent shape making it the far superior choice. Now, without proper guidance all would err and would select the incorrect course.

This is the function of the Torah, reminding us not to be deceived by the initial successes of the wicked, "for the evil have no future" (Mishlei / Prov. 24:20). So we are instructed by the subsequent verses Devarim / Deut. 11:27 - 28, "Blessing if you obey the commandments... and curse if you do not obey..." If you obey, there is only blessing despite what initial appearances may demonstrate: if you disobey, there is only curse no matter that first impressions may impart otherwise. (Or HaChaim)

Deciding between a life of righteousness or a life of evil-doing is not dependent on chance, or a matter of luck. G-d Himself instructs and encourages us to make the correct decision. "G-d supports my lot," we are told in Tehillim / Ps. 16:5. There is also no accommodation among these options, no middle ground between these antipodes. Only two paths are open, one leads to utmost and everlasting blessing while the other condemns one to perdition and curse. Therefore the Torah uses the term "see" (re'eh); discern well so that you may choose correctly.

Turning towards the future leader, Yehoshua, Moshe instructed him: "After leaading the Benei Yisrael across the Yarden, station half the nation on Mt. Gerizim and the other half on Mt. Aival. I shall soon reveal to you the blessings and curses to be pronounced there.

Then Moshe offered to the entire people the following advice: "In each aspect of daily life you are faced with the choice whether or not to obey Hashem. Know that this actually involves the choice of whether to bring blessing or curse, life or death, upon yourselves. Even though each person has free choice of action, G-d is not indifferent to the path he chooses. As it were, He entreats and counsels us, 'Contemplate the options: doing good and reaping a blessing, or doing evil and incurring a curse - and choose life!'"

Hashem warns: "While the road of Torah and mitzvot may at times seem troublesome, it will assuredly lead to your destination. Moreover, it seems bumpy and winding only before yu embark on it; once on the road, you will see that it is scenic and comfortable. The path of sin may look smoother at the beginning, but will ultimately be obstructed.  Therefore choose wisely!

*All roads lead to acknowledging Hashem. A person can either "take the direct road" - that is, acknowledge Haashem with his free will while he is alive - or else his soul will be compelled to admit the truth through punishments after death. Our Sages warn: "Do not let your evil inclination convince you that the grave is your refuge" (Pirke Avot 4:29)  It is better for a person to spend his life in obedience of Hashem.

Moshe explains that a Jew brings blessing upon himself by fulfilling a mitzvah and incurs a curse for a transgression.

12:2-3 You must utterly destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. You must tear down their altars, break up their sacred pillars, burn their Asherah trees, and chop down the statues of their gods, obliterating their names from that place.
This command serves as a prelude to the Mitzvah of bringing sacrifices to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) which appears in verse 5. Otherwise, the Jewish People might have desired to utilize the impressive temples of the pagan Kenaani as sites to offer sacrifices in honor of Hashem. We are, therefore, taught not to spare the pagan places of worship since only evil was practiced there. G-d Himself, in due time, would choose a location suitable for His Temple, a site untainted by idolatry. (Abarbanel)

A parable can be applied to this thought. A king decided to construct his residence at a particular location, but first he ordered his subjects to cleanse the area of all previous pollution. This too, was Hashem's intention.

The phrase "utterly destroy" consists of two Hebrew words, אבד תאבדון (abbed te'abbedun). The seeming redundancy is to instruct us that a tree sacred to the Kenaani must be cut down as often as it grows back, regardless of how may times this happens.

In the Land of Yisrael it is a mitzvah to actively seek out and destroy all places of idol worship. Outside the Land, however, Jews are not required to search for pagan temples. Only if one comes across them, is there an obligation to destroy.

The need to destroy even inanimate, completely passive objects such as idols, altars etc., stems from their having served as agents of sin. Therefore, people who actively cause others to sin and turn away from G-d are certainly much more morally reprehensible and more deserving of destruction.

12:4 You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-d.

This verse forbids us to destroy any object which has been sanctified by G-d. This includes any item from the Beit HaMikdash, any of the sacred writings, or any forms of G-d's Name. We deduce these prohibitions because the previous verses commanded us to completely blot out all traces of idolatry. We are now warned that this behavior is, of course, strictly forbidden with regard to Hashem. Although this teaching would appear to be obvious, it is necessary for we do find one instance where it is permissible, in fact, a Mitzvah to erase the Name of G-d. This is in the case of a Sotah - a faithless wife. As part of that ceremony, which took place only in the Beit HaMikdash, it was necessary to write the Name of G-d on a special document and then rub it off into the waters of bitterness which the Sotah had to drink. Since there is this exception, the Torah must inform us that this practice is generally strictly forbidden. The allusion to Sotah can be found in the juxtaposition of this verse with the next one: "You shall not do so to Hashem your G-d.. Only in the place which Hashem your G-d will choose from among your tribes to establish His Name there...," i.e., only in the Beit HaMikdash may this be done.

Seven Names of G-d are included in this prohibition of erasure. These are:
  1. the Tetragrammaton (the name of Four Letters Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh)
  2. Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yud
  3. Alef-Lamed
  4. Alef-Lamed-Vav-Heh
  5. Alef-Lamed-Heh-Yud-Mem
  6. Shin-Dalet-Yud
  7. Tz-va-'o-t
Not only the Names are forbidden to be erased, but all suffixes attached to these Names are inclulded in the prohibition since these are sanctified by the preceding letters. Prefixes to these Names (which usually are the prepositions "to," "from" etc.) are, however, permitted to be erased. (Yoreh De'ah 276)

This prohibition extends to printed materials as well, and therefore when sacred books are worn out they need to be placed in a specially designated Genizah or storage locations, rather than be discarded.

12:5 Only in the place which Hashem your G-d will choose from among all your tribes to establilsh His Name; there you shall go to seek His Presence.

The site of the Beit HaMikdash must be chosen by G-d. But Benei Yisrael must expend the effort to search for the Temple site by diligent inquiry: לשכנו תדרשו (leshichno tidreshu), i.e., for His dwelling place search. The correct site must, however, be confirmed by a prophet, both to ensure the precise location as well as to ascertain that no idol-worship defiled the holy ground. (Sifri)

Our verse indicates that the Temple be built in a location held by all the tribes in common since the verse states, "from among all your tribes"; while verse 14 reads "the place with Hashem will choose in one of your tribal territories." This contradiction is resolved by realizing that although the Temple was physically within the territory of the tribe of Binyamin, all the tribes were considered owners, since David collected money from all tribes to purchase this tract of land from the Yevusi. (Zevachim 54).

Similarly, three prophets were involved in building the Second Temple - Chaggai, Zecharya, and Malachi. They were needed to ascertain the exact site of the altar. (ibid. 62)

G-d chose not to establish the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim immediately, but set up the Mishkan in temporary quarters in Shiloh, Nov and Gov'on. The reason for this interruption in G-d's ultimate purpose is traced back to the sin of Adam, whose actions caused the Divine Presence to leave the world. It was only through the merit of the Patriarchs, Moshe and other righteous people in the generations which followed, that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) gradually began to descend into this world. Before the time could arrive for the Shechinah to find its permanent home, and for the Benei Yisrael to be worthy of the event, the Divine Presence resided in temporary locations.

Prior to the first Beit HaMikdash, when the Mishkan was the central sanctuary, personal altars (Bamot) were permitted for non-obligatory sacrifices. However, while the Mishkan was in Shiloh, all sacrifices where required to be brought there and personal altars were outlawed.

12:18 These you must consume before Hashem your G-d in the place that Hashem your G-d will choose - you and your son and your daughter, your male and female slaves, and the Levi in your settlements - happy before Hashem your G-d in all your undertakings. 

With the words "before Hashem your G-d," the Torah stresses the importance of being aware, while one is eating, of G-d's presence. Whatever one consumes should be for the sake of Heaven and not to satisfy one's basest instincts. Moreover, the place and company where and with whom one eats are also of great importance. One must be certain that these contribute to an atmosphere of sanctity and purity. It was the custom of the spiritually refined people of Yerushalayim to dine only with individuals who shared their stringent ethical and spiritual beliefs. This ideal form of behavior is alluded to in the words, "the place that Hashem your G-d will choose." The "place" must be fitting and proper, and only then will one be worthy of being "happy before Hashem your G-d..."

In discussing the ideal mode of behavior where eating and drinking are involved, it may be useful to study the attitude of Jewish law to eating and drinking.

The table is compared to an altar, and one who eats with Heaven in mind, merits the special blessings the presence of the Shechinah brings.

Devarim 12:28 Observe and heed all these commandments which I enjoin upon you; thus it will go well with you and with your descendants after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of Hashem.

The word "observe" refers to the Mishnah, the study of the Mitzvot. One must study them thoroughly and diligently so they may not be forgotten. A passage in Mishlei / Prov. reflects this ideal, "They are pleasant if you keep them within you." (22:8) Only when one studies the Torah properly, can one "heed" its words and perform its Mitzvot.

Our Rabbis have emphasized in numerous places the importance of constant review in the study of Torah. The Talmud states (Chagigah 9b) that one who has reviewed his studies one hundred times cannot be compared to one who has dones so one hundred-one times. The number 101 has special significance because the angel given dominion over the Torah and over memory is Micha'el (מיכאל), and the numerical value of his name equals the number 101. If one reviews his study of the Torah 101 times, Micha'el endows him with the ability to retain all that he has learned.

A similar use of numerology again reveals the significance of the number 101. In the verse "When Moshe charged us with the Teachings as the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4) the word "charged" - צוה (tzivah) has a numerical value of 101. The lesson implied here is that if Benei Yisrael  (the "congregation of Yaakov") study and review the Torah 101 times, it will remain a permanent legacy for them.

Another verse, found in Divrei HaYamim (I Chron. 16;15), contains the same allusion to the number 101. The passage refers to the Torah as having been "commanded for a thousand generations." Again, the word tzivah (commanded) signifies that if one reviews one's study of Torah 101 times, the reward will include retaining it for a thousand generations.

The numerical value of the Hebrew word זכור (zachor - remember) is 227, while the value of the word שכוח (shacho'ach - forget) equals 328. The difference between these sums is 101. Again, the number 101 suggests that reviewing the Torah 101 times makes the difference between remembering and forgetting it.

- Me'am Lo'ez

Parashat Ekev

Friday, August 7, 2015 · Posted in , , , , ,

Devarim 7:12 - 11:25
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 49:14 - 51:3


  • Reward and punishment
  • Laws of idolarty
  • The purpose of human suffering. 
  • Laws relating to the meal. 
  • The virtue of humility. 
  • Idol worship. 
  • Sin of the Golden Calf. 
  • Tablets of the Law. 
  • Aharon's death. 
  • Fear of G-d. 
  • Superiority of the Land of Yisrael. 
  • Laws of prayer and mezuzah. 
  • Future conquests.

Devarim 7:12 If only you listen to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then Hashem your G-d will keep in mind the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers.

The Hebrew text of "If only" is the word Ekev (עֵקֶב - literally "on the heel of," i.e., in consequence of). This Hebrew word has the additional meaning: "heel of the foot." We can thus see the verse as alluding to those Mitzvot which are trodden upon, i.e., treated lightly or disrespected fully. It is as a consequence of obeying those commandments which are conventionally neglected that the Benei Yisrael will merit G-d's favor. A similar thought is expressed by King David in Tehillim 49:6, making use of this same root Ekev, "'avon 'akevai yessubeni" (עֲו‍ֹן עֲקֵבַי יְסוּבֵּנִי - the sin of those things which I tread upon, now surrounds me). What he meant is this: "I do not fear because of the sins which I regard as serious, since I am careful to avoid these; but I do fear on account of those mitzvot which I treated lightly." The lesson behind these two verse is clear: we must learn to treat all mitzvot with the same degree of esteem.

The use of the word Ekev can also be seen as an allusion to those mitzvot which are associated with the heel or foot - that is, walking to the Beit HaMidrash for prayer or Torah study; walking to visit the sick; escorting the dead to their last resting place; travelling to console mourners; etc.

A further lesson from this verse is that the reward one reaps in this world for observance of the mitzvot is very small and of little value, as is the heel of man, which is the lowest part of the body. The major portion of the recompense for observance is stored up for the hereafter. Non-Jews, on the other hand, are rewarded immediately for good behavior - thus depriving them of reward in the future. The material benefits that Jews enjoy in this world are not due to mitzvah observance, but rather are in return for the pain and suffering Jews endure on account of their religion.

The Midrash Rabbah on this verse recounts the story of an orphaned girl, reared as a maid servant in the house of a good man, who attributed the decent treatment accorded her to the work she did for him. Her master and benefactor told her, "You are wrong, my child. All the good I do for you is compensation for the indignities you suffer as a servant. But the reward for your work is stored up with me - to your account." The analogy is made to G-d's relationship with Yisrael. G-d tells His Chosen People: "All that you enjoy in this world is compensation for the pain and suffering you endure because of your attachment to Judaism, but the real reward for all the mitzvot and good deeds you perform is stored in your account in the World to Come.

Moshe instructs Benei Yisrael not to fulfill the mitzvot in order to receive immediate rewrad, but to strive to observe them because of a wholehearted love for G-d. Only then will the idea of reward be regarded as a small and insignificant matter, since Yisrael will understand that the real reward awaits the righteous in the next world.

7:13 He will love you, bless you and make you numerous. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your land, your grain, your wine, your oil, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks, in the land that He promised your fathers that He would give to you.

In this verse Moshe describes to Yisrael the temporal reward for observing G-d's commandments out of love and not because of any expected compensation. In addition to fulfilling the covenant, G-d will also bless Yisrael's material possession enabling them to fulfill the mitzvot in comfort, lacking nothing.

The promise of this verse, "He will... make you numerous" is understood as numerous in importance. Even if Yisrael is few in numbers, they will be greatly esteemed in G-d's eyes. Their prayers will be accepted as if they were the entreaties of a multitude, since G-d does not reject the supplications of the many.

This verse can also be seen as a direct continuation of the one preceding it. In verse 7:12, Yisrael is told that G-d would keep the covenant promised to the Patriarchs. G-d will love Yisrael because of the merits of Avraham. He will bless them because of Yitzchak and will multiply their numbers because of Yaakov.

7:26 You must not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be proscribed like it; you must reject it as abominable and abhorrent, for it is proscribed.

The Torah states that "you will be proscribed like it," to emphasize to Yisrael that it is forbidden to derive any benefit from idolatry. Benei Yisrael are to "reject it as abominable" - they are to treat these images the way they do an unclean animal. Moreover, they should refer to these idols disrespectfully - if it bears a pleasant-sounding name, one should alter it in order to demean it.

The Laws of Idolatry

What follows is an explanation of the laws regarding the prohibition against idolatry.

Deriving Benefit:  From the very moment that the idolater has designated any object as part of his worship, a Jew is forbidden to use it, even though it has as yet been actually employed in pagan worship. The same prohibition applies to any object used to adorn or cover the image. Similarly, candles lit or incense burned in its honor are forbidden.

Anyone who benefits or derives any pleasure from these objects has transgressed two prohibitions:

  1. the prohibition against bringing "an abhorrent thing into [one's] house"
  2. the prohibition against allowing anything relating to the worship of idolatry to remain within our midst. Even if one burns an idol, it is forbidden to use the ashes or to warm oneself by that fire. Any derivative is proscribed, even if it has been mingled and annulled by a thousand times its volume.
Effigies: All images set up in towns and villages are included in the ban, since we are to assume that they have been installed for idolatrous purposes. Those placed in large cities are not included because their purpose is purely decorative. Exceptions to this last rule are those images placed at the gate of a city holding a bird or sword, or wearing a crown since these are usually erected for the purpose of idol worship. A crucifix is constructed for worship and so must be treated as a forbidden object. It is forbidden to keep any Christian symbols in one's house.

Invalidating Idolatrous Figures: One is permitted to benefit fro the handling or use of an object originally designated for idolatrous worship only after a pagan annuls it by breaking one of its features or one of its limbs or if he batters it completely out of shape even without diminishing it in size.

A Jew may benefit from an annulled object of idol worship even if the pagan who had done the damage did not actually worship that particular object or use it in his practices. However, an object of this sort that is disfigured by a Moslem is forbidden for Jewish use because Islam also forbids idol worship. Similarly, Jews may not benefit from an object of idol worship marred by any other gentile who does not practice idolatry at all.

The annulment of these objects should take place before a Jew acquires them. For example, a Jew who buys silver coins from a pagan and discovers the image of an idol engraved on one of them may keep the coins only under the following conditions: If he had paid for them but had not actually take physical possession of them or if he has them in hand but had nnot yet paid the pagan for them. In either case, he must return the engraved coin to the pagan to be disfigured before he can become its owner. If, however, the coins were paid for and were already in the Jew's possession when the discovery was made, then the new owner has no recourse but to throw the offending coin into the sea, because a Jew may not annul the object nor can he derive benefit from any form of idol worship.

Ornaments, incense or other accessories of idol worship may be returned to their previous pagan owners for nullification been if they had been paid for and were already in their new Jewish owner's possession. The rule outlined in the preceding paragraph that once a Jew pays for and takes possession of an item, he can neither nullify nor benefit from it, applies only to an object of idolatry itself, not to any of its accouterments.

If a Jew acquires an idol that had been properly annulled by a pagan, all its ornaments and accessories are immediately nullified as well and are dissociated from their original purpose. The reverse, however, is not true: Annulling the accessories does not automatically nullify the idol, which must itself be disfigured in the manner described above.

Any idol or object designated for idol worship which breaks spontaneously is still forbidden, until a pagan pronounces its annulment. If one finds fragments of these broken objects, they may not be used unless there is sufficient evidence that they had been formally annulled. If an idol is composed of many separate sections which are easily joinable, then each part must be annulled separately. If, however, it would be impossible for an ordinary person to unite the sections of an idol of thissort, then a pagan may mar only one section to annul the entire idol.

Trees that had been planted in front of an idol as decoration may not be used by Jews for any purpose. Even sitting in their shade is forbidden. One should not pass beneath them if there is an alternate route. If none is accessible, then a Jew may pass beneath the tree quickly, but not at a leisurely pace.

One is forbidden to listen to music played as accompaniment of idol worship, or to gaze at its decorations or to smell the fragrant spices or flowers used as adornment. If one happens to pass a temple or idol without the intention of deriving any pleasure from the music, the sights or the fragrances; he is not obligated to stop his ears, close his eyes, or attempt to avoid smelling the incense, since he transgresses the law only if he had intentionally passed that way to enjoy the sights, smells or sounds. Even if there was another path that could have been taken, the passerby is not culpable unless he expressly wishes to derive pleasure from idolatry.

Facial Figures: These are figures which were often placed at water pipes or taps where water flows for drinking purposes. Often it is the mouth of a figure of this sort that serves as the opening for the outpouring of water. These figures were placed in the positions described for decorative rather than religious purposes. Yet a Jew should endeavor to avoid placing his mouth near the figure, since it would appear as if he is paying homage to it. However, if one feels an urgent need to drink, then he is permitted to do so.

One should never come closer than four cubits (approximately seven feet) to an idol. It is also forbidden to greet pagans on one of their festivals using the term "Shalom," since this is one of the appellations of G-d, and the pagan may take this as an acknowledgment of his deity. A neutral term like "good morning" is, however, permissible.

Human Figures: It is forbidden to make a likeness of a man even if its creation is for decorative purposes only and not with idolatrous intent. If a gentile makes an image of this sort and sends it to a Jew, the latter is forbidden to keep it in his home in order to avoid raising the suspicion of his worshiping idols. It is also forbidden to commission a gentile to make such an object even if one does not intend to keep in his own home. This prohibition extends to creating likenesses of any of the creatures seen in the Merkavah vision of Yechezkel - i.e., angels, man, lions, oxen or eagles. Even if likenesses of these creatures belong to gentiles, it is forbidden to keep them in a Jewish home. Some authorities include likenesses of all other animals in this prohibition.

These prohibitions apply in cases where the image projects, but if it is impressed or embroidered on a garment or painted on a wall, it is permitted. The image of a man, however, is always prohibited in any form.

Some ketubot (marriage contracts) have pictures of a bride and groom or the sun and moon painted upon them. Although this practice is wrong, if the images have already been painted and the ketubah is complete, it may be used. 

Pictures of birds, fish or animals may not be painted or hung on synagogue walls for two reasons:
  1. when one bows during prayer, it might seem as if he is bowing to these images.
  2. they distract the worshiper and prevent proper concentration and devotion to prayer. 
For this second reason, the installation of a mirror in a synagogue is also forbidden - since seeing one's own reflection is a distraction during prayer.

Any vessel that has a functio in idolatrous practice may not be used in a synagogue. The rugs upon which Moslems prostrate themselves during their prayers, should not be found in a synagogue or any other place where a Jew prays.

A Jew must not wear a ring with a projecting image, but if the image is engraved, the ring may be worn. In the later case, however, it is forbidden to use the engraved ring as a seal, because once it is impressed on paper or wax it forms a raised or projecting image. A ring which contains the image of an idol is forbidden in all instances and in all forms. A ring of this sort belonging to a gentile, must not be kept in a Jewish home. One is not to instruct a gentile to use such a seal on his behalf, since whatever is forbidden for a Jew to do is likewise forbidden to be accomplished for the Jew by a gentile.

Pottery vessels containing images of idolatrous figures or crucifixes may not be used until the images are erased. Pictures of the sun, moon and stars are similarly forbidden whether they are engraved or embossed.

One is forbidden to entertain gentile priests with song, as well as to sing, dance, or play musical instruments before their idols.

The Oath of a Pagan: It is forbidden for a Jew to cause a pagan to swear in the name of his faith. For example, before contracting a loan, a Jew must not ask a gentile to swear by his god that he will repay it. This prohibition is based on the verse in Yechezkel 23:13 which states: "Make no mention of the names of other gods; they shall not be heard on your lips."

A Jew may not say "Meet me at that place of idolatry," thereby invoking the name of the god or shrine. One is, however, permitted to repeat the names of idols that are listed in the Torah.

One is permitted to bless a pagan with the words, "May G-d bless you," for we do not assume that the pagan will interpret this as a salutation in his deity's honor. However, if a pagan blesses a Jew in the name of his god, the recipient is forbidden to answer amein.

Monetary Gain: To gain monetarily from idolatry is considered a very grave sin. A Jew cannot benefit even indirectly from pagan worship.

While all forms of idolatry are forbidden to Jews under any circumstances, this prohibition does not include mountains, valleys, springs, rivers or anything else in nature that had been designated by a pagan as an object of worship. The Torah specifically states: "You must destroy all the sites at which the nations... worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills etc." (Devarim 12;2). The mountains and hills themselves are not part of the prohibition, only the temples, altars and idols erected upon them are.

Any vegetation that had grown in these areas before they were designated as pagan deities is permitted for Jewish use. Whatever had grown after their designation is prohibited. If a tree is specified for idol worship, it may not be used in any capacity by a Jew, even as fuel. Trees, not designated for idol worship, that nevertheless have objects of idolatry placed beneath them, are forbidden until the objects are removed.

Many pagans worship animals as well, and one is forbidden to benefit from their use. According to various Halachic authorities, this prohibition extends to include even ordinary animals that had been traded for these "deified" animals.

Martyrdom: One is not permitted to sacrifice his life in order to avoid transgressing the law. If one is confronted with the choice of transgression or death, he must always abrogate the law. There are three exceptions - laws that are never to be abrogate and one is obligated to choose death rather than transgress them. They are:
  1. idolatry
  2. forbidden sexual relations
  3. murder
One may escape to a place of pagan worship in order to hide from gentiles who seek his life because of his religion. A Jew may disguise himself as a gentile to save himself, but he may not claim openly to be one. If a Jew hears himself described by pagans as one of them, he must proclaim his Jewish identity.

One fulfills a positive commandment in destroying any idol one finds. Yisrael was instructed by Moshe to "destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods..." (Devarim 12:2). Other laws regarding idolatry have been detailed in Parashat Yitro and Ki Tisa.

The Mitzvah of Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals)

8:10 When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to Hashem your G-d for the good land which He has given you.

This verse contains one of the positive commandments of the Torah - to recite the Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals. The mitzvah of reciting a blessing before eating is also implied in this verse, since if one is required to bless G-d after having eaten to satiety, it is certainly incumbent to bless G-d while yet hungry, over the food He has provided. The same requirement applies to drinking as well as enjoying a fragrance. The principle is not to derive any material pleasure in this world without first thanking G-d for having provided for us. the verse in Tehillim 24:1 states, "The earth is G-d's and the fullness thereof." One who does not thak G-d for food implies that it grows merely by the habit of nature, and so denies Providence. The response to this attitude is in Shmuel Alef 2:30, "Those who treat me lightly will themselves be held in contempt." Reciting a blessing is a statement of admission that the world and its riches are actually G-d's, and that G-d graciously allows us to share it. Deriving pleasure from this world without the necessary bracha is, therefore, tantamount to stealing goods from the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), which all recognize as belonging to G-d.

Similarly, our Sages have instituted blessings for all mitzvot, as well as for various occasions in a person's life - recovery from an illness, release from prison, and safe passage through a perilous journey.

In all, there are three types of blessings:

  1. before deriving pleasure from eating, drinking or fragrances
  2. before mitzvot
  3. for thanksgiving

The Laws of Birkat HaMazon (brief overview - see Me'am Lo'ez, Vol. 17 for more)

If one has eaten a piece of bread that is the size of an olive (or half an egg), he should recite the Birkat HaMazon. Although the verse in this Parsha states, "When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to Hashem your G-d..." (8:10), implying that this blessing should be recited only after one is completely sated, the Halachah rules that Birkat HaMazon need be said even after eating this minimum amount. The Talmud (Berachot 20b) tells us that the angels asked G-d why He favored Yisrael as it states, "Hashem bestow His favor upon you..." (BaMidbar 6:26), when the Torah specifically states "the awesome G-d, who shows no favor" (Devarim 10:17)? G-d replied that a people who go beyond the original requirements and praise G-d even after such a small amount - a mere taste - of food, surely deserve to be favored.

One is to recite the Birkat HaMazon in the same place where he had eaten. If he willfully moves and then says the blessings, he is to return to the original site of his meal and repeat them.

How long after the completion of a meal may a person still recite the blessings? The maximum time allowed is when one feels that he is no longer satiated, that is, when the food is in the process of being digested. This time has been computed to equal seventy-two minutes. Even if a meal takes several hours to complete, the interval of seventy-two minutes does not occur, because the diners are constantly consuming various types of food during this period and the food has not been completely digested.

Women must also say Birkat HaMazon. A minor (below the age of thirteen) must recite these blessings in order to become accustomed to performing mitzvot.

Now the question must be asked, "How can we bless G-d Who is Himself the Giver of all blessings?"
In actuality, the "blessings" we make are really a form of praise and thanks to G-d for His Goodness to us.

- Me'am Lo'ez

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