As Moshe prepares to die, he remind the Jewish people what is before them- they still have to cross over the Jordan River and conquer Canaan. Moshe reminds the people that we should not worry; Hashem has promised to fight for us against our enemies, so we will be victorious. It is the same message Moshe has given the people throughout his ministry- whenever Moshe talks to the people about war, he reminds them not to fear the enemy because Hashem will be on our side. Why is it necessary for Moshe to repeat this message at the end of his life? Aren’t there more important things to be said (ex. make sure to keep the Torah, don’t worship idols, be kind to each other, etc)?
In order to understand why Moshe repeats this message, I believe it is important that we understand the underlying value of the message. Think about what it means for Moshe to die- the person who has led the Jewish people for the past 4+ decades is dying. Moshe is the only leader that most of the people have ever known- the vast majority of the people were born during the forty years of wandering the wilderness. Someone other than Moshe as the leader is completely foreign to them. Not only that, but Moshe was not just an ordinary leader; whenever the Jewish people sinned, it was Moshe who would beseech G-d to forgive the people. Moshe even went so far as to threaten to disassociate himself from G-d if the people would not be forgiven! If someone like that could sin, if someone like thatcould die, what chance do the rest of us have?
Losing a leader like Moshe could easily cause the people to lose hope. As great as Yehoshua is, he is certainly no Moshe. Doubt and fear would be natural reactions. Therefore, Moshe goes out of his way to refocus the people. They should not dwell upon his leadership- after all, he is a mere mortal. Rather, they should put all their hopes into the promise of Hashem. Moshe may die, but the promises made by Hashem are eternal. Even without Moshe as the leader, He will still be the one to “destroy these nations from before you and you shall possess them”.
All too often, we put our faith in mortal leaders. Politicians promise all sorts of changes and how they will make things better. They tells us that, if we vote for them, they will make a difference and to spark some new utopia in which everything is glorious and wonderful. Perhaps the secret of Moshe’s repeating the Divine promise is his way of redirecting our attention, getting us to put our faith in Hashem instead of in leaders of flesh and blood. May it be G-d’s Will that we all rise to the level of putting our faith in Hashem and that He fulfils all of His promises to us for the good.
“Hashem, your G-d- He will cross before you, He will destroy these nations from before you and you shall possess them; Joshua- He shall cross over before you, as Hashem has spoken.” (Deut. 31:3)
As we learned previously in Parshas Re’eh, the Jews would receive a Blessing and a Curse when they entered the Land of Israel. The Blessing would be given on Mount Gerizim and the Curse would be given on Mount Ebal (Deut. Ch 11:26-11:29). In this Parsha, the Torah describes the exact nature of the Blessings and the Curses. If we follow in the ways of Hashem, we will have a great life (the people will have large families and large numbers of cattle, the ground will give large harvests, enemies will be powerless against us, etc). The Torah also describes how horrible things will be if we do not follow in the ways of Hashem (famine, plagues, enemies that conquer and slaughter us, etc). It is customary for the person reading the Torah to read the verses of blessing in a loud voice and the verses of curses quickly and in a lower voice. Our Sages explain that the reason for this behavior is because we do not want to dwell on the curses, but rather on the blessings; however, if you actually look at the text, you will see that there are more than twice as many verses of curse as there are verses of blessing! This seems rather strange behavior for the G-d of love, mercy and forgiveness. Why does the Torah spend so much more time talking about the punishments that we receive instead of the blessings we receive?
I believe that this is done because of Hashem’s great love for His people. When he blesses the people, it pours out from Heaven in a torrent. However, when he punishes the people, each punishment comes one at a time. First something bad happens, and Hashem will wait to see if the people change their behavior before bringing down the next bad thing. This idea is alluded to in another part of the Torah. When the Torah talks the curses in Parshas Be’Chukosai, it describes the punishment in stages (Hashem will punish you with a curse, and if you do not change your behavior another curse will come). Moshe is reminding the people of all the bad things that will happen if they forsake Hashem, but at the same time is reminding them that there is always the opportunity for sincere repentance. As we approach the Days of Judgment, let us remember that Hashem is the G-d of love and forgiveness…if we return to him with a full heart, He will open up His arms to receive us with His full love.
Shabbat Shalom from Rabbi Leibel and Rebbetzin Anita
“These shall stand to bless the people on Mount Gerizim, when you have crossed the Jordan; Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these shall stand for the curse on Mount Ebal; Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naftali.” (Deut. 27:12-27:13)
In this week’s Parsha, we have the law regarding a woman who is accused by her husband of not being a virgin. The Torah tells us that, if this accusation is made, the parents of the woman shall gather up the bed sheets of their daughter and show them to the Court. If there is blood on the sheets, that is a sign that she was a virgin. The man is required to pay a fine to the woman’s parents for besmirching her good name and is not allowed to file for divorce in the future (however, the woman can file for divorce). However, if the accusation proves to be true, the woman is stoned to death in front of her parents’ house. Rashi explains the stoning should be done in front of her parents’ house (instead of at the gates of the city) as a way of calling attention to her parents. Had they raised her with proper moral values, she would not have done what she did. Another opinion states that what she did besmirches the name of her parents, so they would take a leading role in stoning her. Other commentators explain that her sin is a stain on the house-the mortar and bricks- in which she was raised; stoning her there acts as a ‘cleansing’ for the house.
I would like to suggest another way of reading this verse. Like Rashi, I believe that stoning the woman in front of her parents’ house is meant to draw attention to the parents; however, I believe that the attention is not meant to criticize her parents, but rather to underscore the fact that this behavior her sin. In other words, just because someone in the household does something inappropriate, that does not mean the entire family is no good! All to often, people judge others based on their family. People are judged not on their own merit, but on how the ‘rest of the family’ is. One ‘black sheep’ means that the entire family is no good. On the other hand, if a person comes from a family of righteous people, he/she can do no wrong. Perhaps the Torah is trying to tell us not to make assumptions about a person based on the members of their family; rather, each person should be viewed by their own actions.
“But if the matter was true-signs of virginity were not found on the girl- then they [the Judges] shall take the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and the people of her city shall pelt her with stones and she shall die, for she had committed and outrage in Israel, to commit adultery in her father’s house, and you shall remove the evil from your midst.” (Deut. 22:20-22:21)
In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us that, before going to war, the soldiers would get a ‘pep talk’ from one of the Kohannim. This Kohein, referred to as “the Battle Kohein” would remind the soldiers that they must not fear the enemy; rather, they should have faith that G-d would fight on their side. Since they have the blessing of G-d, the size and skill of the enemy does not matter at all. In order to understand why this message needed to be given by the Kohannim (as opposed to one of the Generals), it is important to understand the concept of Hishtaldus. Hishtaldus means that a person does everything in their power to achieve the result which they want. This, in turn, merits Divine assistance. For example, if I want to pass a test in class, my Hishtaldus would be to study the material to the best of my ability.
According to our Rabbis of Blessed Memory, proper Hishtaldus for the wars of conquest are actually two separate parts: There is a Kohein part, and a Military Leadership part. The job of the Battle Kohein is to make sure the people remember that not being afraid of the enemy is required for Divine help in battle. He is, in essence, saying that G-d will fight for the people; despite being outmanned and ‘outgunned’, a miracle will occur- the Jewish people would win every battle, often without losing a single soldier! However, this message by itself might cause the people to think that they do not have to prepare for the war-they can just show up and G-d will take care of the enemy for us. Therefore, the role of the Military Leadership was to prepare the soldiers as if they were fighting the war without Divine miracles. Battle plans were drawn up, tactical assessments were made, and the soldiers were trained. By combining the Kohein part and the Military Leadership part, and by letting each group do the part which suits them best, true Hishtaldus would be reached. May it be G-d’s Will that we continue to recognize our own Hishtaldus and thus continually merit Divine assistance in all that we do.
“For the Lord your G-d is He that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deut. 20:4)
At the beginning of Parshas Re’eh, Moshe speaks to the people and presents them two directions- the direction of blessing and the direction of curse. However, there is no mention of what the blessing and curse may entail. Additionally, the language used in this section of the Torah seems to be somewhat difficult. The word ‘if’ is only used once (the 3rdverse). Linguistically, the word ‘if’ should either be used twice (2nd and 3rd verses), or not at all.
Two great Jewish commentators, Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270, also known as Nachmanides) and Rabbeinu Bacheya ben Asher (1255-1340) help address these difficulties. Ramban explains that the ‘blessing’ and the ‘curse’ are not tied to anything specific. Moshe is merely telling the people that there is ‘blessing’ for those who follow the commandments and ‘curse’ for those who violate them; the specific blessings and curses are listed later at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval. Rabbeinu Bacheya ben Asher explains that Moshe chose to phrase his message this way on purpose. The message of Moshe is that, as a matter of course, the people would choose to listen to the commandments and obtain the blessing. Rather than imply any likelihood of violating the commands, Moshe added the word ‘if’- as though to imply that such a thing would be abnormal.
I would like to suggest another way to read these verses. Perhaps Moshe is trying to tell us that the ‘foundational blessing’ observe the commandments. In other words, we will reach a point in our spiritual development when we will be able to push aside the worries and problems which interfere with our observance. We will come to understand that observing the Torah and connecting with the Divine Presence is, in and of itself, a blessing-the blessing which leads to all other blessings. The curse would be that we are unable to observe the commandments. We never get the chance to tap into the ‘fountain of blessing’; instead, we are totally consumed by everything else in our lives. Rather than have G-d blessing the work of our hands, we slave away all day with little to show for it. Curse follows fast upon curse- we lose contact with friends, lack quality time with our families, and become estranged from our Creator. May it be G-d’s Will that we always choose the path of blessing and that He continue to allow that blessing to flow into every aspect of our lives.
“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I commanded you. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow g-ds of others, that you do not know” (Deut. 11:26-29)
When reading the verse above, it appears as though there is an extra word. If the word “satiated” were to be removed, the verse would still make sense- maybe it even makes more sense! I mean, let’s look at things logically; even if one piece of pizza does not fill my stomach completely, shouldn’t I thank G-d for it? Am I really only required to thank G-d when I am full?
Obviously are expected to always show gratitude to G0d for what we have. Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory teach us that this commandment is talking about saying the Birchas HaMazon (Grace after a meal). By including the word “satiated”, we learn that the Birchas HaMazon is only required after I eat a meal. Since bread was a “staple food”, eating it was considered a “meal” by the Rabbis. However, if I eat a portion of any food large enough to make me feel satiated (ex. several slices of pizza), Birchas HaMazon would be required. Additionally, the Rabbis created shorter blessings to be said after eating a smaller portion of food.
On another level, I believe that this verse is not merely a commandment; it is really a promise and a blessing. The promise made by the verse is that when we follow the Torah’s teachings, God will take care of us. He will make sure that s we have the things that we need in order to survive. The blessing made by the verse is that we will enjoy it. God decided that it was not enough to just give us food-He wanted it to be tasty as well. The best part about the verse is that it does not only apply to food-it applies to everything that God gives us! May it be G-d’s Will that we always remember to thank Him not only for what we have, but thank Him for the ability to enjoy His gifts as well!
“And you shall eat, and you shall be satiated-and you shall bless the Lord your God on the good land which He has given to you” (Deut. 8:10)
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