Archive for September 2015

Parashat Nitzavim

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 · Posted in , , ,

Devarim 29:9 - 30:20
Haftarah Yeshayahu 61:10 - 63:9

Parasha Summary

The Covenant Renewed
Repentance and Restoration
The Availability of the Torah
Free Choice

Devarim 29:11 That you be brought into the covenant of Hashem, your G-d, and [accept] the dread oath that He is making with you today.

A covenant was traditionally established by having the contracting partner pass between two halves of a slaughtered animal, as in Bereishit 15:10. In this instance, G-d's covenant with the Jewish people was established through their passage between the mountains of Gerizim and Eival. Alternatively, it was Jew's acceptance of the blessings and the curses uttered there, as explained in Parashat Ki Tavo and Parashat Re'eh, which constituted the establishment of the covenant.

G-d established a covenant with the Jewish people on three different occasions: in Marah, directly after the Exodus from Egypt; at Mount Sinai, when the Torah was given; and, here, before they entered into Eretz Yisrael.

Ten reasons are given for the renewal of the covenant:
  1. The making of the Golden Calf and the declaration, "This, Yisrael, is your god," nullified the previous covenant.
  2. Moshe's breaking of the Tablets appeared to have annulled the previous covanant.
  3. The generation which had established the covenant with G-d on Mount Sinai had already passed away.
  4. To emphasize that their entry into and subsequent conquest of Eretz Yisrael would be possible only through the merit of the Torah.
  5. To lessen the punishment the Jewish people would receive for breaking a covenant with G-d. The covenant at Mount Sinai was made with G-d, directly. In contrast, in this covenant, Moshe acted as His agent. Hence, the punishment for disobedience would not be as severe.
  6. The covenant at Mount Sinai was made with the nation as a whole, while this covenant was established between G-d and each individual. This aspect is emphasized by the fact that the singular form of the word 'you' is used throughout the narrative.
  7. From G-d's perspective, a new covenant was not necessary. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of the Jewish people, a new covenant would encourage them to renewed fervor in their observance of Torah and Mitzvot as they entered Eretz Yisrael. We see a similar concept expressed in the Talmud. Our Sages explain that one may take an oath to fulfill the Mitzvot. Even though every Jew is bound by the oath taken by our ancestors at Mount Sinai, a person becomes more conscious of the seriousness of the matter by taking the oath himself. Similarly, this covenant was carried out to reinforce and renew the impression of the original bond.
  8. With this covenant and display of unity, G-d established ערבות (arevut), mutual responsibility, among the Jewish people. From this time onward, the deeds of each and every Jew would have an effect on the standing of the most righteous. Similarly, the merit of the righteous could protect their entire generation.
  9. As stated in in verse 14, this covenant was established with future generations as well.
  10. This covenant also included "the dread oath." A violation of this oath would bring about all the curses mentioned in the previous portion.
Devarim 29:12 Today, He is establishing you as His nation, so that He will be your G-d, as He promised you and swore unto your ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

This covenant established the Jewish people eternally as a nation. Though we have often suffered exile and persecution, our national identity remains intact. In contrast, many Gentile nations have passed into oblivion, even though they had previously reached heights of power and prestige.

What distinguishes Jews from Gentiles? The ערבות mentioned previously. In times of crisis, nothing binds Gentiles together, while Jews confront adversity as a unified people. 

Although G-d chooses the Jewish people as His nation with or without their approval, each Jew's inner desire is to be a member of G-d's people.

Devarim 29:13, 14 But it is not with you alone that I make this covenant and this dread oath. I am making it with both those who stand here with us before Hashem, our G-d, and with those who are not [yet] here with us today.

The expression "those who are not [yet] here" refers to future generations. One might ask: On what basis can a covenant be established  with those yet unborn?

That question is answered by the following verse: "You know full well that we lived in Egypt." In the Pesach Haggadah, we explain how if G-d had not redeemed us "we, our children, and our children's children would have been enslaved to Pharoah in Egypt." Just as G-d's redemption affected the future of the entire Jewish people for all generations, so too, G-d's covenant also relates to the generations to come.

The Jewish people owe G-d an all-encompassing debt for redeeming them from Egyptian bondage. Therefore, at Mount Sinai, they responded by giving G-d an unbounded commitment, proclaiming (Shemot 24:7) נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע (na'aseh venishma), "we will do and we will listen." 

When a son receives an inheritance, he takes possession of his father's debts as well as his assets. Similarly, the obligation to G-d incurred by our ancestors upon their redemption from Egypt was transferred to their descendants.

Another aspect of the eternal nature of the covenant relates to the preceding discussion about the entry into Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael belongs to G-d. Therefore, the Torah proclaims (VaYikra 25:23): "No land shall be sold permanently, for the land is Mine." By giving Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people as their eternal heritage, G-d has made them indebted to Him forever. The covenant expresses this timeless responsibility.

From a mystical perspective, there is no difficulty comprehending how a covenant can be expressed with future generations. The souls of the Jewish people are undying spiritual entities. They exist before and after life on this material plane. This covenant is a spiritual bond, uniting our souls with G-d. 

Thus, Midrash Tanchumah, Pikudei 8 states: "All the souls which will ever exist were created during the six days of creation... and were present at the giving of the Torah."

The Prophets also described G-d's eternal relationship with Yisrael:

Yirmeyahu 31:34-35 prophesies: "Thus declares Hashem, who provides the sun for light by day and the ordinances of moon and stars by night... 'If those ordinances will be annulled by Me... [only] then, will the seed of Yisrael cease from being a nation...'" 
Yechezkel 20:34, 37 declares: "I will bring you out from among the nations and gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered... and I will bring you through the bond of the covenant."

G-d entered into an eternal covenant with Yisrael. as a result, we have been granted Eretz Yisrael, forced to wander through exile, and will ultimately be redeemed. No physical or spiritual power can break this timeless bond.

- Me'am Lo'ez

Parashat Ki Tavo

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 · Posted in , , , ,

Devarim 26:1 - 29:8
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 60:1 - 22

[Ki Tavo, art by Yoram Raanan] 

Parsha Summary

Law of Bikkurim
Law of Tithes
Reward for Keeping G-d's Commands
Building a Stone Altar for G-d
Jews Become a Nation
Mt. Eval and Mt. Gerizim
The Curse of Idolatry
The Curse of Disrespect for Parents
The Curse of Moving a Boundary
The Curse of Tripping the Blind
The Curse of Perverting Justice
The Curse of Violating a Father's Wife
The Curse of Violating a Sister
The Curse of Striking a Neighbor in Secret
The Curse of the Fatal Bribe
The Curse of Failing to Uphold the Torah
Blessing of Following G-d's Word
The Evil Which Will Befall Us for Sins
The Covenant at Chorev
Forty Years of G-d's Leadership in the Desert

Devarim 26:2 Take from the first of every fruit of the earth that you will bring from the land which Hashem, your G-d, gives you. Place it in a basket and go to the place which Hashem will choose for His Name to dwell.

Let "the first" bring of the first, to the first, to the first place, to the First of all.

The Midrash means: Let the first - the Jewish people, of whom it says, "Holy is Yisrael to Hashem, the first fruits of His produce" (Yirmeyahu 2:3)

bring the first - fruits

to the first - to the Kohanim, who is the first and foremost in the service of the Beit HaMikdash

to the first place - the Beit HaMikdash

to the First of all - G-d, of Whom it says, "I, Hashem, am first and with the last, I am He" (Yeshayahu 31:3).

The Torah calls the Jewish people and the Beit HaMikdash "first," even though they did not exist at the beginning of Creation. However, G-d conceived their existence even before Creation (because the world was created for their sake). According to S'fat Emet, Benei Yisrael are termed "first" because they acknowledge and lead others to believe in the "First," Hashem.

By fulfilling the mitzvah of bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash, we confirm our belief that the Land and its produce belong to G-d, Who is our Master. We express gratitude for the bounty which we enjoy and demonstrate that our livelihood is given to us because of His providence and concern for us.

  [Picture from Midrash Says]

27:11-13 On that day, Moshe gave the following instructions: When you cross the Yarden, the ones who will stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people are Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin. The ones who will stand on Mount Eval for the curse are Re'uven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan, and Naftali.

The command to declare the blessing and the curse to the people on these two mountains is first mentioned in Devarim 11:29-31. Yehoshua 833 explains:

All Yisrael, their elders, officers, and their judges, stood on either side of the Ark before the Levitical priests, who bore the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem.. half of them against Mount Gerizim and half of them against Mount Eval.

The first six Tribes climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim, and the second six, to the top of Mount Eval. The Ark was placed in the valley between the two mountains. The priests stood in a circle surrounding the Ark, while the Leviim made a larger circle encompassing them. They turned to Mount Gerizim to recite the blessing, and to Mount Eval to recite the curse. After each pronouncement, the Tribes answered "Amein" (Sotah 32a)

Sotah 37a offers another interpretation, that the word עַל (al) translated as "on" can also be rendered as "next to." The Tribes did not ascend the mountains. Rather, they stood in the valley close to them.

Ibn Ezra notes that the Tribes who ascended Mount Gerizim were all sons of Rachel and Leah, Yaakov's primary wives. The descendants of his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, stood on Mount Eval. Nevertheless, to balance the number of Tribes on each peak, Reuven and Zevulun, the eldest and youngest of Leah's sons, joined them.

Rabbenu Bachya adds another reason for Re'uven's position on Mount Eval. The sixth curse is, "Cursed be he who lies with his father's wife." Had Reuven, in fact, violated Bilhah, as appears from the narrative in Bereishit 35:22, he would not have answered to that curse.  His positive response served as public testimony to his innocence (see also Yalkut Shimeoni 157).

The Tribe of Shimon stood on Mount Gerizim. In his final blessings to the people, Moshe ignored Shimon entirely (see Devarim 33:7, 8). Had he been placed on the mountain of the curse, his future would have been irrevocably damned (Rabbenu Bachya).

Our verse mention Levi as one of the Tribes standing on Mount Gerizim. The narrative in Yehoshua and in Sotah 32a relates that the Leviim stood in the center, surrounding the Ark, and recited the blessings and curses.

Sotah 37a resolves the difficulty. The younger Leviim, or, alternatively, those unfit for service in the Sanctuary, ascended Mount Gerizim, while the others remained below.

The Torah uses a different phraseology for the blessing and for the curse. The first six Tribes are commanded "to bless the nation," implying eagerness on G-d's part. In contrast, the latter six are commanded to "stand on Mount Eval for the curse," implying a lack of desire (Midrash Tanchumah, Balak 12. See also Keli Yakar).

27:14 The Leviim shall then speak up and say the following to every Yisraeli man in a loud voice.

As mentioned above, the Leviim stood between the two mountains and recited the blessings and the curses.

The word עָנוּ (anu), translated as "speak up," implies that the Leviim statements were made in Hebrew, quoting the following verses exactly (Sotah 33a).

קוֹל רָם (kol ram), "in a loud voice," can be figuratively interpreted as "in the voice of the Most High." G-d joined the Leviim in their pronouncements (Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 7:2)

Alternatively, it can be rendered as "in a refined tone." The Leviim did not shout the blessings and the curses. They pronounced them in a tone which was loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be pleasant (ibid.).

- Midrash Says
- Me'am Lo'ez

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