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Tisha B'Av 5705

Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) note the dual nature of tishah ba'av (ninth in the Hebrew month of Av). On the one hand it is a day of national mourning. We mourn the loss the first and second Beis Hamikdash (temple), galus (exile) and all trouble and suffering that have come in its wake. On the other hand we have a tradition that it is the day Moshiach (Messiah) is born. According to some it is also the day Moshiach will arrive. Indeed, the posuk (verse) calls it a "festival" and for this reason we do not recite the tachanun prayer.

Chazal tell us that in order to merit the consolation of the rebuilding of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) we must properly mourn its loss. For many of us it is difficult to grasp the two extremes of the day. We have never seen the Beis Hamikdash and do not know what life was like with the Divine Presence resting in our midst to appreciate its loss. Furthermore, it is difficult to picture what life will be like with the arrival of Moshiach. Let us attempt to contrast the two extremes with something that we can relate to a little better.

There was once a person who observed the Chasam Sofer enter his study erev (eve of) Tishah Ba'av after midday. Being that some halachik (Jewish law) authorities forbid the study of Torah erev Tishah Ba'av after midday, this person could not be help wonder what the Chasam Sofer was doing inside. He peeked through the keyhole and observed him study Megilas Eichah. He noticed that tears flowed down his cheeks and dripped into a cup that was carefully placed there. Later that day as part of final meal before the onset of the fast the Chasam Sofer drank the cup of tears in fulfillment of the verse. "You fed them bread of tears, you made them drink tears in great measure" (Tehillim 8:6). (see Otzrosayhem shel Tzadikum by Rav Aaron Perlow).

On the other extreme it used to be the custom of Divrei Chaim and other righteous individuals to study Megilas Eichah on Tishah Ba'av. At the conclusion of day they would conduct a siyum (feast of conclusion) and eat meat. Ordinarily it is forbidden to eat meat at the conclusion of Tishah Ba'av being that it shares the laws of the nine days. A siyum is the exception. Many people would join such siyumim and eat meat. Chazal tell us the meal of siyum has a unique place in halacha. It is a meal of great joy. Even mourners who may not participate in other meals of mitzvah (commandment) may attend a siyum.

We see here the paradox of Tishah Ba'av. The same study of Megilas Eichah that produced a cup of tears for the Chasam Sofer to drink as part of his final preparation for the fast of Tishah Ba'av is the source of joy with which one may conduct a siyum and even eat meat at the conclusion of the fast. This paradox highlights that fact that this day which has been a day of mourning for over two thousand years will soon be transformed into a day of great joy for the Jewish people.

Rosh Hashana

A careful study of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah reveals that the Yom Tov is closely associated with women. Let us cite a few examples.

  • When Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory)seek to relate to power of prayer on this day they illustrate this by noting that three women were answered on Rosh Hashanah. They are Sarah, Rachel and Chana (Berachos 29a). All three were answered with children. Indeed the Torah reading of first day of Rosh Hashanah relates how Hashem (G-D) remembered Sarah and the Haftora relates how Hashem remembered Chana.
  • The Torah reading on the second day concludes with the birth of Rivka (Bereishis 22:23). Many commentators wonder why these few posukim (verses) are included when the Torah reading could have easily been arranged to conclude with the end of the akeidah (Torah reading of the near-sacrifice of Yitzchok / Isaac). Obviously, the birth of Rivka has significance in its own right.
  • We derive the nature of the sound of the shofer and the number of sounds we blow from the mother of Sisrah.
  • According to some opinions the wailing sound of the shofer is symbolic of the cries of Sarah as she became aware that her son Yitzchak was almost slaughtered by her husband Avraham (Avudraham).
  • On and leading up to Rosh Hashanah we are deeply concerned about the satan. We do many things to confuse and counteract his powers. For example, we do not bless the new month in advance. We do not blow shofer after davening (praying) on erev Yom Tov (the eve of the holiday). We recite special posukim before the blowing of the Shofer to counteract the powers of the satan. We blow the shofer before the shemonah esrei (prayer) and after in order to confuse the satan (Rosh Hashana 16a), etc... It is a bit odd that on no other holiday are we concerned about the satan.
  • Chazal tell us that the first time the letter samach appears in the Torah is in the posuk vayiskor basar tachtenah (Bereishis 2:21). The posuk here describes how Hashem created Chavah (Eve). The posuk relates how Hashem removed a rib form Adam and fashioned it into Chava. He then closed up the area from where He removed the rib with flesh. The Midrash explains that the letter samach is phonically related to the letter sin and thus represents the satan. The significance of the letter samach appearing together with the creation of the first woman teaches us that the satan was created together or as a byproduct of the first woman. If we are correct that the holiday is closely associated with women this would explain why only on this holiday we go out of our way to be concerned with the satan. The satan is the woman's closest associate.

  • The most significant and undisputable connection between the holiday and women is the fact the Rosh Hashanah occurs on rosh chodesh, the first day of Tishrei. Rosh chodesh is the holiday of women. Chazal teach us that originally the twelve roshei chodashim were full holidays that corresponded to the twelve tribes. As a punishment for worshiping the golden calf the holiday was taken away from the men and given to the women in reward for their refusal to donate their jewelry to the golden calf (Pirkei Di`R`Eliezar Hagadol 45). The holiday was later reinforced in reward for the women coming forth and gladly donating their jewelry for the construction of the mishkan (Avudraham based on a Midrash). Today there are various customs as to exactly how this holiday is observed by women. The fact the Rosh Hashanah occurs on their holiday obviously has much significance. What is this relationship all about?

In our daily morning blessings we find a difference between the blessing of a man and woman. A man thanks Hashem for not making him a woman. The commentators explain that women are exempt from all time related positive mitzvos (commandments). A man thanks Hashem for the opportunity to perform more mitzvos than women. Although women can also perform many of these mitzvos, they lack the advantage of being commanded to do so.

On the other hand, women thank Hashem for having been created according to His Will. The Ye'ho'shuos Yaakov explains the when Hashem created man he first consulted with the angels. He said "Let us make Man" (Bereishis 1:26). Although the word "us" gives the false impression that there is more than one G-D, Hashem preferred to teach mankind a lesson of humility by using this expression despite the possibility that some would use this as a excuse to deny the oneness of Hashem. However, when Hashem created the first woman He said, "I will make him a helper against him" (Bereishis 1:18). Here Hashem did not consult with the angels.

A woman thanks Hashem that He made her according to His Will. This expression highlights the fact that Hashem alone decided to create the first woman. This expression is not appropriate for Man, since Man's creation was according to the will of Hashem and the angels. The next best thing for man to say is that he thanks Hashem for the opportunity to perform more mitzvos than the one who was created according to His Will only.

A central theme of Rosh Hashanah is the concept of malchioes (G-D's being a King). On this day we coronate Hashem as King over the entire world. The text of aleinu serves as our main form of expression in declaring Hashem as King of the world on this day. In addition to accepting Hashem as King we also ask in the aleinu prayer for Hashem to obliterate idolatry form the world. Only with the complete eradication of idolatry can Hashem be truly established as King over the entire world.

It is noteworthy that one of the primary causes of proliferation of idolatry is that Hashem said "let us make Man." This statement provided the heretics with an excuse to mislead others that there is more than one God. However, this is only true concerning Man. With regard to the first women there is no room for error. Hashem said "I will make him a helper against him." With the creation of the first woman there was a clear recognition of Hashem's oneness and sovereignty over the entire world.

Perhaps this is why of Rosh Hashanah is closely associated with women. They are more attuned to Hashem's sovereignty than men. On this day when we crown Hashem as King over the entire world we invoke the merit of the righteous women who have a greater sense of Hashem oneness. The merit of their unique relationship with Hashem is what gets mankind through the Day of Judgment.

One of the major themes of Rosh Hashanah is the concept of malchiyos (G-D's Sovereignty). We blow the Shofer on Rosh Hashanah as a way to symbolically coronate Hashem (G-D) as King of the Universe. In addition Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. It is on this day that our fate for the following year is determined. As we stand before Hashem for Judgment on this day, we seek mercy so that He should inscribe us for a year of life.

The Gemarah tells us that a king is not permitted to forgive a subject for a disgrace to his honor. Any sin we commit is surely considered a disgrace to the honor of Hashem. How then may we seek mercy from Hashem at the same time that we declare Hashem as King? Are these two concepts not contradictory?

Furthermore, throughout the year, through the recital of Shemah we declare Hashem's Kingship over us. What then is unique about the coronation of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah?

In the Commentators' Machzor Companion, Rav Yitzchak Sender notes that many sources in chazal (our sages of blessed memory) indicate that Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) had the status of a king (Midrash Rabah Shemos 2, 48:4, 52:1, Midrash Vayikra Rabah 31:4). This appears to be difficult in light of the fact that chazal record Shaul as the first king (Midrash Rabah Emor 26). Furthermore, in parshas (Torah reading) Yisro we find Moshe serving his father-in-law Yisro (Shemos 18:7). The status of a king would not permit Moshe to serve anyone, even his own father-in-law. How then was Moshe permitted to waive the honor that is due a king?

In answer to these questions, Rav Sender suggests that there are two types of kings. There is a king that is appointed through the authorization of the people and there is a king that is appointed by Hashem. Shaul was appointed by Shmuel at the request of the Jewish people. Moshe on the other hand was appointed as king by Hashem. Chazal refer to Shaul as the first king because they were only counting kings that were appointed by the Jewish people not by Hashem.

Rav Sender further suggests that the reason why a king may not forgive an individual for lack of respect is so that his Kingship be firmly established. The ability to forgive would weaken the prestige and honor that a King needs to rule effectively. This however is only true with regard to a King that is appointed by man. In this case, the source of King's authority is weak due to the fact that it stems from a mere collection of mortals. To compensate for this weakness the law demands that a King not be permitted to waive his honor. However, with regard to a King that was appointed by Hashem whose authority stems from the true source, there is no rule that a King may not waive his honor. In this case, the Kingship is by nature firm and strong. It requires no further strength. Here it is considered a quality of greatness for the king may forgive. Such a king may demonstrate his greatness through restraint and compassion.

We may thus suggest that these two forms of malchus correspond to the two declarations of Kingship that we express. Throughout the year, as we recite Shemah we focus on the fact that we willingly desire to accept Hashem as our King. During the year the nature of Hashem's malchus stems from our awareness and will that He is our King. Indeed it is a well known saying idiom, "There is no King without a people." To some degree this is true with regard to Hashem as well. It is noteworthy that in Kelm during the month of Elul, a sign was placed on the door of the study hall that read "There is no King without a people." However, on Rosh Hashanah we recognize a more powerful form of malchus. On this day we recognize that Hashem's Kingship is truly independent of our acceptance and will. The very fact that He created this world grants him Kingship. This focus it to our advantage for here we apply the rule that a King may forgive and show mercy to his subjects.

Yom Kippur

The Yom Kippur service begins when the Aron Hakodesh is opened, the Sifrei Torah are brought to the bimah and the chazan recites the Kol Nidrei. In the Kol Nidrei service we nullify all vows that the congregation has made in the past year. According to some opinions we also annul in advance all vows that we will make in the current year.

At first glance it would seem odd as to why we begin this holy day by nullifying the vows of the congregation. The commentators offer many reasons for this ancient and sacred custom. Let us review some of the classic reasons and then offer a homiletic approach for this custom.

  1. The Gemara says if a person does not want any vow he will make to take effect he should declare in the beginning of the year that all vows that he will make this year should be nullified in advance. On You Kippur we fulfill this law and thus begin the service by nullifying all vows.
  2. The commentators teach us that at times our sins are so severe that Hashem (G-D) vows to bring punishment upon us. The law is that a person cannot nullify his own vow but must go to another person, express regret and seek nullification. On Yom Kippur we are concerned that perhaps even if we repent, our sins may have been so severe that Hashem has vowed not to forgive us. We therefore perform the nullification of vows not only to nullify our vows but to release Hashem from his vow to punish us and withhold the final redemption.
  3. The posuk (verse) says that "if you will refrain from taking vows there will be no sin" In an attempt to "experience" the concluding words of the posuk "there will be no sin" we fulfill the beginning of the posuk "if you will refrain from taking vows." This is accomplished through the nullification of vows.
  4. Yom Kippur is the day when we seek Hashem's forgiveness. The tool we use is our mouth and power of speech. However if our faculty of speech is tainted by the sin of unfulfilled vows we are at risk that the tools of repentance may have no effect. As Yom Kippur begins we cleanse and sharpen our tools by annulling all vows in preparation for seeking forgiveness.

Let us now suggest a homiletic interpretation as to why we begin Yom Kippur with the nullification of vows.

The Mishna (Chagigah 1:8) says that the ability to nullify a vow "is something that floats in the air and has nothing upon which to find support." The commentators explain this as meaning that there is no solid source in the Torah for the law that one can release oneself from a vow by going to a chacham (scholar) and expressing regret. From the strict interpretation of Torah law it would appear that if someone makes a vow there is no way out. However, we have a tradition handed down from time Moshe (Moses) received the Torah at Har Sinai that it is possible to nullify a vow by expressing regret to a chacham.

We emphasize here the unique expression Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) use to describe the concept of being released from a vow as something "that floats in the air and has nothing upon which to find support." Nowhere do Chazal use these words in describing the source of any other law.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 18a) relates how Rebbi Chanina ben Taradyon was executed by the Romans. They wrapped him in a Torah scroll with bundles of vine shoots and set them on fire. They then placed tufts of wool soaked in water over his heart so that he should not die quickly. When Rebbi Chanina saw his daughter distressed he said to her, "if I were being burned alone I would be upset but now that I am being burned together with the Torah I am not concerned, for the One who will come and seek retribution for the insult of the Torah will come and seek retribution for me."

The Gemara continues to relate that his students said to him "Rebbi what do you see." He replied, "I see blank parchment burning but the letters are floating in the air."

Yom Kippur is not only a day that we pray for ourselves and our family but also for the final redemption of the Jewish people. In the Kol Nidrei service we attempt to reenact the death of Rebbi Chanina ben Taradyon as a way of seeking Hashem mercy to bring our redemption.

The Torah is taken to the bima. The chazan recites the Kol Nidrei. The concept that one can be released from a vow is the only law in the Torah that is described as "Torah that floats in the air and has nothing upon which to find support." When we hold the Torah and recite the Kol Nidrei we attempt to evoke a reminder that our enemies have disgraced us and the Torah, to the point where we can say "Look, the parchment is burning and the letters of the Torah are floating in the air." We continue to say, if it was only we who are being persecuted and tormented then we would worry but now that our enemies have insulted the Torah, we are not concerned, for He who will seek retribution for the insult of the Torah will seek retribution for us.

Let us suggest another approach.

Yom Kippur marks the anniversary of the day when the second tablets were given. It is also the anniversary of the day when Hashem forgave the Jewish people for worshiping the golden calf. When Moshe descended Har Sinai and saw the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf he shattered the luchos (tablets). Chazal tell us that although the tablets were shattered, the letters flew into the air. Rav Gedalia Schor zt"l explains that the letters remained floating in the air until Moshe received the second set of luchos. At that time the floating letters rested upon the second tablets. As Yom Kippur begins the Torah is brought to the bima and the chazan recites the Kol Nidrei. The concept of nullifying a vow is called "Torah that floats in the air and has nothing upon which to find support." This service symbolizes that on this day, the Torah that was floating in the air due to our sins was restored to the Torah in our hands after Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of worshiping the golden calf. We likewise seek from Hashem that he forgive us for our sins and return to us our destined portion of the Torah.


These are the words that Moshe (Moses) spoke to all Israel … (Devarim 1:1).

The Vilna Goan in the sefer (book) Aderes Eliyahu explains that the features and dimensions of the Menorah used in the Beis Hamikdash are hinted to in the first posukim (verses) of each one of the five books of the Torah. The Menorah has seven braches. This corresponds to the first posuk in sefer Bereishis which has seven words. The Menorah has thirteen knobs. This corresponds to the first posuk of sefer Shemos which has thirteen words. The Menorah has nine flowers. This corresponds to first posuk in sefer Vayikrah which has nine words. The Menorah, without its legs was seventeen tefachim (handbreadths) in height. This corresponds to the first posuk in sefer Bamidbar which has seventeen words. Finally, the Menorah has twenty-two goblets. This corresponds to the first posuk of sefer Devarim which has twenty-two words.

We learn from this that sefer Devarim corresponds to the goblets of the Menorah. Perhaps by analyzing the function and nature of the goblets we can gain insight into the nature and purpose of sefer Devarim.

Before we begin let us review how the goblets were shaped and positioned on the Menorah. Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) tell us that the goblets were shaped like long narrow cups. Near the top of each one of the seven braches were a set of three goblets, positioned one on top of the other. There was one more goblet near the bottom of the central stem of the Menorah. In total there were twenty-two.

The Chizkuni and other commentators explain the goblets were not purely decorative but provided an important function. On the very top of the Menorah were lamps. Oil and wicks were placed in the lamps and were lit daily by the kohanim. If oil were to drip or spill from a lamp it would slide down the branch into the uppermost goblet. When this goblet was full, the oil would overflow into the second goblet beneath it. When this goblet was full, it would overflow into the third goblet beneath it. When all three goblets of a single branch were full, the oil would slide down the branch to the center stem of the Menorah and fill the goblet that was positioned near the bottom.

We learn from this that the goblets function was to preserve the holy oil that spilled from the lamps and thereby prevent it from going to waste or being destroyed.

Chazal tell us that Torah is compared to oil. Ideally, the oil of the Menorah should rest in the lamps on the top and produce light. This is symbolic that ideally, Torah should be elevated, cherished and illuminate the entire world. However, sometimes the oil drips or spills from the lamps. This is symbolic that sometimes in our history the Torah will go into galus (exile). On the Menorah there were goblets whose function was to preserve the oil. Thus when the Torah goes into galus care must be taken for its preservation. Furthermore, we note that the Menorah had a four step process of preservation. This is symbolic of the four major exiles of the Jewish people, Bavel, Madai, Yavan and Edom. In each exile the Torah must be preserved.

The Gemara (Menachos 28b) explains that the goblets of the Menorah looked like goblets that were common in Alexandria. Rashi there explains that this refers to the famous large city of Alexandria in Egypt. Why was there a reminder of Egypt in one of the most holy utensils of the Beis Hamikdash? We may suggest that this reminded us of the first preservation of our heritage that occurred in Egyptian exile. Furthermore, Chazal tell us that the all exiles of our past and future were compressed in the Egyptian exile. This serves as a lesson and inspiration that just as we have succeeded in preserving our heritage in Egypt we will succeed in all other exiles.

Sefer Devarim corresponds to the twenty-two goblets of the Menorah. We may derive from this that sefer Devarim is the guide for how to preserve the Torah in galus. Indeed, Chazal tell us that when Moshe realized that he would not be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael he foresaw that there would galus. He proceeded to rebuke the Jewish people in preparation of what would happen. He then reviewed the entire Torah with an emphasis on how to perform and fulfill the Torah even in these difficult times.

These are the words that Moshe (Moses) spoke to all Yisroel (Devarim 1:1).

Rashi explains that Moshe wished to begin his address with words of rebuke. However, due to Moshe's sensitivity for the honor of the Jewish people he did not rebuke them openly but only hinted to their transgressions by mentioning the places were they sinned against Hashem (G-D).

In the sefer (book) Tosefes Berachah, Rav Baruch Epstein takes note that later in chumash Devarim (Deuteronomy) Moshe openly rebukes the Jewish people in great detail for the sins committed in these very places. If Moshe here was concerned for the honor of the Jewish people and chose only to hint to their sins, what then changed later that prompted Moshe to openly rebuke the Jewish people? Further, why was it necessary to rebuke them twice, once here and later again in detail?

Rav Yitzchak Zev Halaivi Soloveitick takes note of what seems to be an unnecessary repetition of the Torah's description of Moshe's address to the Jewish people. First, the posuk (verse) says that "Moshe spoke to the children of Yisroel according to everything that Hashem commanded him to them" (Devarim 1:3). The next posuk continues "On the other side of the Jordan in the land of Moav, Moshe began clarifying this Torah saying." Why this double description of Moshe? Rav Soloveitick explains that the Torah is alluding to the two different roles Moshe served in leading the Jewish people. Moshe was both a prophet and a teacher. When the posuk first says that Moshe spoke to the Jewish people this refers to Moshe's role as prophet for the Jewish people. Here, the Torah records that Moshe faithfully transmitted the word of Hashem to the Jewish people. When the posuk continues to describe Moshe as clarifying the Torah it refers to Moshe in his role as teacher. A teacher is not satisfied with an oral recital of the teaching. A teacher elaborates and clarifies until his teaching is fully absorbed within the students.

With the above idea we may answer Rav Epstein's question. We may suggest that the reason Moshe rebuked the Jewish people twice in sefer Devarim was once for each role that he served, namely, as prophet and teacher. The first rebuke was in his role as a prophet. Here Moshe merely hinted to their sins out of sensitivity for the honor of the Jewish people. The rebuke was nothing personal. Moshe merely relayed Hashem dissatisfaction with the Jewish people. A mere hint was enough to achieve this goal. Later, however, Moshe rebuked them in his role of teacher. The close relationship of teacher and student demands that the teacher elaborate and clarify not just intellectual insights but ethical behavior as well.

Provide yourselves men who are wise and understanding and well known to your tribes and I shall appoint them as your heads. (Devarim 1:13)

The above posuk (verse) states that Moshe attempted to recruit leaders who were chachamim and nevonim, i.e., wise and understanding. Rashi explains that the word navon means one who is meivin davar mi'toch davar, i.e., understands one matter from another matter. What does Rashi mean with this interpretation? Let us say for example we are presented with rule A. We assume that it applies in every given circumstance. We are then presented with rule B that contradicts rule A. In order to reconcile the two we are forced to say that rule A applies in a specific set of circumstances and rule B applies in a different set of circumstances. Thus our understanding of rule A is no longer the same as it was before we compared it to rule B. It is only by comparing rule A to rule B that we derive a true understanding of rule A. Likewise for rule B. We have thus derived "one matter from another matter."

If this is Rashi's true intent of meivin davar mitoch davar we may ask the following questions:

The posuk (Devarim 1:15, see Rashi) informs us that Moshe did not succeed in finding individuals who possessed the quality of navon. Without the quality of navon one may believe that he has true understanding of any given law when in truth he does not know its exact parameters. How then can Moshe appoint to leadership positions men that did not posses the quality of navon?

Rashi further explains that the difference between a chacham and a navon may be compared to the difference between a moneychanger who is independently wealthy and a moneychanger who seeks a livelihood as a businessman. The chacham is compared to a wealthy moneychanger. When merchants present money to the wealthy moneychanger he converts their money to the desired currency. However, when the merchants do not need his service he sits idle. On the other hand, a navon is compared to a moneychanger who is also a businessman. When he lacks customers, he invests the money in his business ventures. It is noteworthy that it is very rare for Rashi to support his explanations with analogies. Why then did Rashi do so here? Also, how does the analogy of the moneychangers fit into the above explanation of chacham and navon ?

Furthermore, why does Rashi add the word mi'toch in his explanation? Seemingly it would have been more accurate for Rashi to simply write "meivin davar mi'davar," i.e., "understand a matter from a matter" instead of "understand a matter from within a matter." How does the word mi'toch i.e., within, fit into Rashi's explanation?

Let us suggest an alternative interpretation of Rashi's words. Lets us presume that a chacham is certainly knowledgeable of the laws after comparing them to all other laws. In other words, a chacham is one who knows how to understand "a matter from another matter." However, the chacham's understanding is limited to the understanding of the law in its simple interpretation and application. This knowledge certainly suffices for positions of leadership, and that is why Moshe did not have a problem in appointing chachamim to such positions. The navon on the other hand has the advantage that he possesses the ability to "understand a matter from within the same matter." The navon possesses a deep insight where he is capable of uncovering the deeper meaning buried within the simple meaning of any given law.

For example, if a law from shulchan aruch is presented to both the chacham and the navon, the chacham can provide a detailed explanation of the law. He can elaborate on all of its details, exceptions and nuances. The navon on the other hand, can in addition provide the symbolic significance of the law. He may be able to derive a homiletic insight and expound upon the Torah perspective of a given issue from the law. The navon does not just understand one matter from another matter but also understands one matter from within the same matter.

Rashi compares the chacham and navon to moneychangers. The primary use of a moneychanger's money is the conversion of a merchant's funds. The chacham is comparable to the wealthy moneychanger. When this moneychanger lacks merchants who seek his service, he has no use for the money. Thus, when the money is not used for its primary intention it remains idle. Likewise the chacham's scope is limited to the simple interpretation and application of the law. However the navon is compared to the moneychanger who is also a businessman. This moneychanger also uses his money for ventures other then its primary use. Likewise, the navon makes use of his knowledge to derive Torah insights in areas that are outside the scope of its simple interpretation and application.

These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisroel (Devarim 1:1)

The Sifri comments that wherever in the Torah or Neviyum (Prophets) we find the phrase "these are the words" it refers to rebuke. Examples include, "The words of Amos" (Amos 1:1), "These are the words that Hashem (G-d) spoke to Yisroel and Yehudah" (Yirmiyaho 30:4), "These were Dovid's last words" (Shmual 2 23:1) and "The words of Koheles the son of Dovid king of Yerushalayim" (Koheles 1:1). In the above examples the phrase "these are the words" are used but from the context it is clear that they are word of rebuke. Likewise, sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy) opens with the phrase "These are the words" since it contains words of rebuke that Moshe gave Klall Yisreol (the Jewish people).

It is noteworthy that the word Devarim also is related to the word divorah, i.e., bee. Indeed, the midrash here comments that the Jewish people are compared to bees.

Perhaps we may suggest that the two aforementioned ideas are not isolated but rather complement one another.

Bees are fascinating creatures. They possess many commendable traits. Examples include their unique sense of mission displayed in their lifelong construction of the beehive. Within the chaos of construction we find an extremely orderly division of labor. Some are involved with the collection of pollen. Other are busy with the purification of honey, other attend the needs of the queen, yet other stand guard. Each bee does not deviate form its task in any way whatsoever. They display unusual respect for the queen, even to the point of never stepping in front of her. Their display of unity is exceptional. They stay together in large swarms not found to the same degree in any other creature. They are meticulous with regard to their cleanliness, as absolutely no waist is permitted within the hive. In summation the bee is a symbol of mission, discipline, respect and unity. However, let us not forget that the bee can inflict a deadly sting with its mouth, symbolic of the stinging words of rebuke that emanate from the mouth.

In conclusion the word devarim has a double interpretation. On the one hand it refers to words of rebuke but on the other hand it is also related to the bee. The conveyed message is that not all are worthy of giving rebuke. Only one who follows in the exemplary character of the bee can sting others with words of rebuke. Only one who first perfects his own character with a sense of mission, discipline, respect and unity can be worthy of having his rebuke received by others.

This is summarized by the dictum of Chazal (our sages of blessed memory), "First beautify yourself and only them attempt to beautify others."

In addition, we find another similarity between the bees and rebuke. Chazal teach us that Yaakov and Moshe waited until the end of their lives to give rebuke. They knew that the tradeoff of strong rebuke is that the recipient would come to dislike them. They waited until the very end when the ill feeing caused by rebuke would be offset with their own demise. This concept is also expressed in the Gemara (Talmud) where it relates that if you find a community were the people love their Rav, it is not because he is good to them but because he does not rebuke them. Had he rebuked them they would not love him the same.

This message is also found with regard to the bee. After a bee stings its victim it immediately dies. The message is that rebuke comes with a price. There is an unavoidable loss of connection between the two parties, just as the bee dies and becomes unknown to its victim. Strong rebuke must be used sparingly. Rebuke has a price and one must weigh the benefits against the loss to evaluate if it is truly called for.


At that time Hashem (G-d) said to me "Carve out for yourself two tablets like the first ones and ascend to Me to the mountain; and make for yourself a wooden Ark. (Devarim 10:1).

The commentators note that we only find a command to build an ark in connection with the second set of loochos (tablets). The posuk (verse) emphasizes this point with the words "at that time," i.e., at the time of the giving of the second set of loochos, to the exclusion of the time of the giving of the first set of loochos. This implies that for the first set of loochos there would have been no need for an ark. The obvious question is why? The Soforno answers that before the shattering of the first set of loochos the Jewish people were on an exalted level of spirituality. At that time it was Hashem's intent that the loochos be visible to all. This would be symbolic of having the holiness of Torah, encapsulated by the loochos, to be visible to everyone rather then be confined within an Aron (ark). However, in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf the spiritual level of Klall Yisroel (the Jewish People) was significantly diminished. They were no longer worthy of having this holiness openly visible and there was a need to contain it with an ark.

Perhaps we can give a similar but alternative interpretation. Before the shattering of the loochos every human being, Jew and non-Jew alike, appreciated the value and beauty of Torah. Indeed when Hashem gave the fist set of loochos the entire world shuddered in silence, not a sound could be heard from all the nations. Even they understood the value of what they had lost out on. This is symbolic of loochos without an ark. However, with the sin of the golden calf the value of Torah was lost to the outsiders. The Torah was now only found within the ark. On a symbolic level it was of it only being appreciated by the insiders. Indeed, this was how the second set of loochos were given, in the middle of the night with a private audience of Moshe alone. At this point the gentile world lost their appreciation for Torah even to point of ridiculing us as we have experienced throughout our history. Going a step further, Even among Jews themselves only those who diligently toil in the study and performance of Torah can truly appreciate the true value of Torah. The Gemara (Pesachim 42b) relates that Rabbi Akiva, the prince of Torah himself, said "When I was an Am Ha'aretz (ignorant person) if I would see a talmud chacham (Torah scholar) I would bite him like a donkey." The hatred of the unlearned individual for a Torah scholar knows no bounds. Unfortunately, this is an outgrowth of the sin of the golden calf. In consequence of this sin the holiness of the Torah captured within the loochos moved from public display to concealment.

The message here is that in our time, for one to truly appreciate his heritage, one must be an insider both qualitatively and quantitatively. Torah is not a spectator sport. Appreciation can only come through participation not observation.

Now let us go a step further. One of the most holy and esoteric appurtenances in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash (Temple) was the kruvim (cherubim). The commentators explain that the divine presence hovered above the kruvim. The posukim (authorities) (Shemos 25:20-21) clearly informs us that the kruvim should be placed above of the Aron. The posukim thus convey that the kruvim are related and associated exclusively with the Aron Hakodesh. This is consistent with the aforementioned idea that the divine presence after the sin was confined to the symbolic inside. But now let us ask: what would have been had Klall Yisroel not sinned with the golden calf? Then, there would only have been the first set of loochos, i.e., the loochos without the Aron. Where then would the kruvim stand?

Perhaps we may answer this with an observation of the first Beis Hamikdash. The posukim in Melachim (Melachim I 6:23) relate that when Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) built the First Beis Hamikdash he added two "stand alone" kruvim. These kruvim were in addition to the kruvim that rested above the Aron. The commentators are deeply perplexed as to exactly why Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, was compelled to do this. Seemingly, there is no hint of this in the Torah.

With the above idea, perhaps we can get a glimpse into his reasoning. The posuk tells us about the time of Shlomo.

And For all the days of Shlomo, Yehudah and Yisroel dwelt with security, each man beneath his grape vine and beneath his fig tree; from Dan to be'ar Sheva (Melachim I 5:5).

The era of Shlomo Hamelech was the best in our history. A taste of what will be in the times of Moshiach (Messiah). It was a time when the Jewish people were role models for the world. All saw and appreciated the beauty of Torah. It was a time that the holiness of Torah and divine presence were no longer confined to the insiders but was readily apparent even to the outsiders. The kruvim no longer had to hover only on the ark but could "stand-alone" and spread their wings across the entire chamber, symbolic of spreading the Divine Presence across the world. Shlomo Hamelech was intimating that the Jewish people had returned to the pristine spiritual state of the first loochos. As explained above, when the shattered first loochos reconstitute then the kruvim are not confined to the Aron but may spread the divine presence throughout the world.

May we merit to see the days of the "stand-alone" kruvim.

You will eat, you will be satisfied and you will bless your G-D for the good land that he gave you (Devarim 8:10).

The Elya Rabba (Orach Chaim 185) takes note that in the birchas hamazon (grace after meals) blessing all the letters of the aleph beis appear with the exception of the "end pei." The Elya Rabbah explains that according to the esoteric teachings of kabala the end pei is associated with demons and harmful spirits. Chazal purposely omitted the end pei to underscore that the intense holiness of this blessing does not allow for a trace of anything harmful or impure.

Let us suggest another homiletic interpretation.

Upon leaving the rest room we are required by halacha (Jewish law) to recite the asher yatzar blessing. In shulchan aruch (6) the mechaber (author) uncharacteristically goes to great lengths to explain the text of this blessing. When discussing the concluding phrase "u'maphli la'asos" he explains that the root of "u'maphli" is the word "pelah" i.e., translated as wonder. In his second explanation of the relation between "wonder" and the theme of asher yatzar the mechaber explains that we thank Hashem (G-D) for the great wonder of the human digestive system, specifically, the ability of the body to extract the nutrients and separate the remaining toxins as waste.

Let us take note that the root of the concluding phrase of asher yatzar is a word that begins with the letter pei, i.e., pelah.

Let us suggest that chazal (our sages of blessed memory) cleverly left out the end pei in the birchas Hamazon blessing to hint that our birchas hamazon is incomplete until we encounter the pei that comes at the end. This alludes to the asher yatzar blessing, which concludes with the pei of "pelah." i.e., wonder. Only after we encounter the asher yatzar blessing and reflect upon the wonder that the body has the ability to separate the good portion of food and remove the poisonous toxins, do we fully appreciate the complete blessing of our sustenance.

Thus, homiletically we may say that the complete birchas hamazon does include all the letter of the aleph beis, after we join it with the asher yatzar blessing.

You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless Hashem (G-D) your G-d for the good land that He gave you. (Devarim 8:10)

In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn about the mitzvah (commandment) of birchas hamazon. The Torah commands up to recite a blessing upon the conclusion of a bread meal in which we have been satisfied. Our birchas hamazon today consists of four blessings.

In the second blessing of the birchas hamazon we come across an unusual word. We express our thanks that "You Hashem have provided us with sustenance." The Hebrew words are "shah'atah zan." The commentators note that the word "sha'atah" is unusual in two respects. First, it is rare to find a Biblical Hebrew word that has a prefix of the letter shin. The use of the letter shin as a prefix became popular in post Biblical Hebrew. In Tanach when a posuk (verse) wants to add to an expression the word "that" it typically uses a complete word like asher. Being that birchas hamazon dates back to Biblical times we would have expected that the text follow the common Biblical Hebrew style and refrain from using a shin as a prefix. Second, the vowel of the letter shin is a kamatz. We would have expected the vowel of the shin to be either a segol or a patach which would read sheh'atah or sha'atah. Why the kamatz?

In the sefer (book) Pardeis Yosef the author quotes Rav Moshe Lifshitz zt"l who notes that the reason this word is used is because it has a precedent once in tanach (Shoftim 6:17). Furthermore, the vowels segol and patach are occasionally used to express a question. If the segol or patach were used here it might mistakenly connote "Is it really true that Hashem provided sustenance?" Such a statement is pure heresy. Therefore a kamatz is used to force us to translate the posuk as a statement only. Thus the expression is translated "You Hashem provide sustenance."

However we may still ask why did chazal (our sages of blessed memory) formulate the text of this blessing using a complex word that appears only once in the entire tanach (Bible) and not select a different collection of words that would not involve these issues?

Let us review the context of what occurred in sefer Shoftim where this word appears. It was during an era where the Jewish people were suffering at the hands of Midyan. An angel suddenly appeared to Gideon and said "Hashem is with you mighty man of valor." After some dialogue Gideon asked for a sign that Hashem was truly with him. We may note that it is here where the word "shah'atah" is found. Gideon asked the angel to show him a sign "shah'atah mi'daber e'me," i.e., that it is You Hashem who is communicating with me. Thereupon Gideon presented a young goat and unleavened cakes of bread and put them on a rock. A fire came out from heaven and consumed the meat and bread. The miraculous consumption of this food was a sign that Hashem was with Gideon.

Chazal tell us that today when we have no Beis Hamikdash (Temple) and no altar upon which to offer sacrifices our dining room table serves as a replacement for the altar. With regard to an offering it is essential that the kohen have the proper thoughts so that the offering is valid and accepted by Hashem. Likewise, when we eat food from upon our table it is essential that we eat with the intent that the food provides us with strength and energy to serve Hashem and not to satisfy our desire for self gratification. Only with the proper intent will our eating be pleasing and acceptable before Hashem and considered as an offering.

We may homiletically suggest that the reason Chazal chose this unusual word in our birchas hamazon was to bring our attention to this event in Shoftim so that we remember the purpose of why we eat. At the moment we thank Hashem for the meal that he has provided we also ask that our intent of eating be accepted before Hashem and that our consumption serve as an offering akin to how Hashem accepted the bread and meat offering of Gideon. We too want our consumption to serve as a sign "sha'atah mi'daber e'me."


You are children to Hashem your G-d. You shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person. For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people from among all the people on the face of the earth (Devarim 14:1-2).

Rashi explains that it was customary for the Amorites to cut themselves and make bald spots when a person died. The Torah here warns us not to follow this practice. It is noteworthy that the posuk (verse) uncharacteristically provides an explanation for this prohibition by explaining that we are a holy people and that Hashem has chosen us from among all the people of the earth. Why did the Torah here specifically elaborate on the uniqueness of the Jewish people? What is the connection between the holiness and uniqueness of the Jewish people to this specific mitzvah (commandment)?

Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) derive from this posuk the halacha (law) that the tefilah of the head must be placed above the hairline. With regard to the tefilah of the head the posuk says that it shall be placed "between your eyes." If we would interpret the posuk literally we would be required to place the tefilah of the head above the nose which is directly between the eyes. Yet chazal derived through a gezairah shaveh that just as the words "between your eyes" that are written in connection to making a bald spot must be interpreted to mean above the hairline because that is the only place where it is possible to make a bald spot, likewise, the words "between your eyes" that are written in connection to the position of the tefilah of the head are to be interpreted above the hairline. We may ask what homiletic message is the Torah conveying by teaching us the laws of tefilin through the prohibition of making a bald spot over the dead?

It is noteworthy that in contrast to the tefilah of the hand which is only described as a "sign," the Torah has two different descriptions of the tefilah of the head. The Torah first says that it shall serve as a "remembrance" (Shemos 13:9). However, the posukim (verses) later describes the tefilah of the head as a totafos (Shemos 13:16, Devarim 6:8, 12:18). This unusual word is interpreted to mean an object that has four separate and distinct compartments. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 4b) explains that the word totafos is a combination of two words, tat and pos. Tat in the Kaspi language means two and pas in the Afriki language means two. When the two are combined into the single word totafos it indicates a total of four compartments. What is the significance of the tefilah of the head being described as both a remembrance and a totafos?

The commentators explain that the tefilin of the head is symbolic of the hidden ways of Hashem. This is seen when Moshe asked to see the face of Hashem (Shemos 33:18). Hashem responded that he would only show His back but not His front. Chazal tell us that Moshe was shown the knot of Hashem's tefillin. This indicates that the front would have been the tefilin themselves. Hashem, by not permitting Moshe to see it conveyed that the ways of Hashem are hidden and cannot be comprehend by man. Indeed, tefillin must be completely black. Black is a color that is symbolic of darkness and what is hidden from us. By wearing tefilin we express our faith that although we do not understand the ways of Hashem we have faith that all His ways are just and true. This is particularly relevant when dealing with death.

The above posuk teaches us that we may not follow in the ways of the Amorites. When an Amorite would lose a relative or friend they would rip out their hair and cut marks in their flesh. The pagan Amorites did not know how to deal with death or any tragedy for that matter. They lacked faith. As an expression of frustration they would rip out their hair and cut themselves. In contrast to the Amorites Hashem has commanded us to be faithful in dealing with death and tragedy that we cannot comprehend. As a symbolic expression of faith he has given us the mitzvah of tefillin. The two concepts of tefilah of the head correspond to the actions performed by the Amorites. In contrast to the making of bald spots Hashem has instructed us to place a remembrance on that same spot. In contrast to the marks the Amorites would make on their flesh Hashem has given commanded us to tie upon us the totafos. The halacha requires that the four compartments be clearly demarcated from the outside of the tefilah. Our symbols of faith stand in contrast to the marks of frustration of the Amorites.

We may now understand why the posuk concludes by mentioning the holiness and uniqueness of the Jewish people. The posuk says "And all the nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem called upon you and will fear you." Chazal teach us that this refers to the tefilah of the head. The theme of this posuk is similar to the reason given for the prohibition of making bald spots and cuts, that being, the holiness and uniqueness of the Jewish people. Both here and in regard to tefilin the posuk conveys that what distinguishes a Jew from the rest of the world is his ability to have faith in Hashem even with regard to things that are beyond human comprehension.

Three times a year all your malehood should appear before Hashem your G-d in the place that He will choose… (Devarim 16:16).

The above posuk (verse) instructs us to ascend to the Beis Hamikdash (Temple) three times a year on the festivals of Pesach Shavuos and Succos.

The commentators note that this same requirement is repeated twice more in the Torah with slight variations. The two other posukim are as follows: 1) Three times during the year all your malehood shall appear before the Master Hashem (Shemos 23:17). 2) Three times in the year all your malehood shall appear before The Master Hashem the G-d of Yisroel. (Shemos 34:23).

It is noteworthy that in the first posuk, Hashem is described simply as "the Master." In the second posuk Hashem is described as "the Master Hashem, the G-d of Yisroel." In our parsha Hashem is described as "Hashem your G-d" with no mention of Master.

We may ask, what significance lay in the fact that the Torah repeated this requirement three times? Further, why does the Torah change the words it uses to describe Hashem?

Let us suggest that the first two references allude to two eras in our history when the Jewish People made pilgrimage trips to the Beis Hamikdash to appear before Hashem. They are the era of the First Beis Hamikdash and the era of the second Beis Hamikdash. The third and final reference of our parsha (Torah reading) alludes to the future period of the third Beis Hamikdash when we will once again ascend to the Beis Hamikdash three times a year.

The first Beis Hamikdash was built by Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon). In his era the world achieved a near perfect state in which all nations of the world recognized the existence of Hashem. The Beis Hamikdash was not just a central location for Jews but for non-Jews as well. Thus, the first posuk describes Hashem in an all-inclusive title as "the Master Hashem."

The Second Beis Hamikdash was built by the Jewish People after galus Bavel (the Babylonian Exile) under the leadership of Ezra. At this time the Jewish People did not command the same respect among the nations of the world as it had during the era of the first Beis Hamikdash. This was manifested in the need to secure permission from the ruling nations for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and again later to receive approval for renovations. Thus, during this era, the Jewish people ascended to the Beis Hamikdash three times a year, a place that was recognized as the home of the Divine Presence for the Master Hashem who was only the "G-D of Israel," and not of the rest of the world.

In order to explain the third posuk and its relation to the era of the third Beis Hamikdash we must give the following introduction.

The Tetragramaton consists of four letters, i.e., yud kay vav kay. Chazal teach us that the Tetragramaton is not to be pronounced as it is spelled but rather with the expression of Master i.e., ad'o' - noy. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) explain that according to the esoteric teachings of Kabala the pronunciation of Hashem's name as it is spelled represents Hashem's attribute of Divine Justice. The pronunciation of the Hashem name with the expression of Master represents Hashem's attribute of mercy. The relation between Master and mercy is seen where Avraham begged mercy on behalf of the wicked people of Sedom using Hashem's name of Master (Bereishis 18:31).

The times we live in are times of imperfection and thus we are in need of Divine Mercy. When we pray with the name of Hashem we pronounce it with the expression of Master in order to invoke the attribute of Divine Mercy. Chazal teach us that with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the coming of Moshiach we will achieve a state of perfection and be ready for the attribute of Divine Justice. At that time we will pronounce the Name of Hashem as it is spelled. This idea is intimated to in the well know posuk that we recite at the end of al'a'nu. The posuk says, "And Hashem will be (at the "end of the day") One and His Name will be One" (Zecharia 14:9). Today it appears that Hashem's has two names, one, the name we write, i.e. yud kei vav kei, and the other the name we pronounce, i.e., ad'o' - noy. However with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem's name will be One. We will then pronounce His Name the same way it is written. We will no longer need to invoke the attribute of Divine Mercy.

The first two references of the Beis Hamikdash describe Hashem with the word Master. This is because during the era of the first and second Beis Hamikdash the Jewish people had not yet reached an exalted spiritual level in which they were able to abandon the need for the attribute of Divine Mercy. They still expressed Hashem's name with the description of Master, which represents the attribute of Divine Mercy. However, the posuk of our parsha makes no mention of the title Master. Thus in the time of the third Beis Hamikdash we will reach the exalted spiritual level of Divine Justice and no longer need to refer to Hashem as Master but rather Hashem our G-D.

But in all the desire of nafshecha (your soul) you may slaughter and eat meat, according to the blessing that Hashem your God, will have given you in your cities, the impure one and the pure one may eat it like the deer and the hart. (Devarim 12:15)

The posukim (verses) here and later (12:20-22) permit us to eat non-sacrificial meat. It also teaches that there is no requirement for the consumer to be ritually pure when partaking of the meat. Just as there is no law of ritual purity with regard to deer or harts since they are never offered as sacrifices, likewise with regard to all non-sacrificial meat.

Rav Yitzchak Shmelkas Tz"l the grandfather of the Reisha Rav offers a homiletic interpretation of this posuk. First, let us lay out some background.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:3) teaches that if three people dine together and do not discuss words of Torah it is as if they have eaten from a sacrifice of idols. The Mishna thus teaches that when one eats his intent must be for the sake of heaven. If one eats solely for his own enjoyment it is as if he is offering a sacrifice to an idol, where his own stomach is the deity. Now, there are two valid forms of eating for the sake of heaven. The first is where one eats in celebration of a spiritual achievement, e.g., siyum a bris. The second is where one eats with intent to physically strengthen oneself to serve Hashem (G-d) better. It is noteworthy that in the former example the eating relates to the past whereas in the latter example the eating relates to his resolve for the future.

The second point of introduction is the word nafshecha. The simple translation of this word is "yourself." The posuk thus states that with all "your" desire you may slaughter and eat. However, this word is also related to the word neshamah i.e., soul. A homiletic translation would render "only with spiritual desires may you slaughter and eat meat," or simply stated, you may eat meat only if your intent is for the sake of heaven.

Next point. Let us suggest that the words tahor and tamei (ritually pure and impure) represent different types of individuals. The pure represents a righteous individual who has many spiritual accomplishments. The word tamei represents the sinner who lacks a glorious righteous past of spiritual accomplishments but still has hope on a redeeming future.

One final point of introduction. Let's focus on the words deer and hart. The commentators (Zohar Shemos 14) note that it is the character of a deer to look backwards while it runs ahead. The hart is just the opposite, it only looks forward. Let us suggest that looking back is symbolic of reflecting on the past, whereas looking ahead is symbolic of planning for the future.

Taking the posuk in its entirety we may explain as follows. If one wishes to eat non-sacrificial meat, the only permitted method is when one eats for the sake of heaven. The posuk continues to relate the two possible methods. For a righteous individual, i.e., the pure one, who has spiritual accomplishments in his past, may eat it like the deer. Just as the deer looks behind itself so may the righteous individual eat, to enhance his enjoyment of his past spiritual accomplishments. On the other hand, the not righteous individual, i.e., the impure one, who does not posses past spiritual accomplishments may eat the meat like the hart. Just as the hart looks forward, likewise this individual should repent and eat the meat for the sake of heaven in order to have the strength to perform mitzvoth in the future.


The officers shall add in speaking to the people and say, "Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his brothers like his heart. (Devarim 20:8)

In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn how the Torah instructs a group of individuals to return from the battlefield. Included in this group is one who is fearful and fainthearted. Rashi explains that there is a dispute as to what exactly this person is afraid of. Rebbi Akivah says he is afraid of war. He cringes when he sees a sword drawn against him. Rebbi Yosi HaGelili says he is afraid because of the sins he has committed. At this time of danger the solider is afraid that his sins may allow Hashem's Attribute of Judgment to cause him to perish in the battle.

According to both opinions we may ask why the Torah expressed the soldier's fear with two separate phrases. The posuk (verse) says the he is both "fearful" and "fainthearted." What exactly do these different expressions convey?

According to Rebbi Akivah we may answer simply that "fearful" refers to fear of an enemy attack. This fear will prevent the solider from properly defending himself. "Fainthearted" may connote a lack of courage to go on the offensive and attack the enemy. Fear and faintheartedness thus refer to two settings in the battlefield, defense and offense. However according to Rebbi Yosi HaGelili what is difference between the two? With regard to sin what is the difference between fearful and faintheartedness?

Chazal (Our sages of blessed memory) tell us that when a person comes to the next world he will give a "din ve-chesbon." This phrase is translated as "judgment and calculation." The Vilna Goan explains this double statement to mean that one will be "judged" for his sins and be required to give a "calculation" for the mitzvos (good deeds) he could have preformed during the time he committed the sins. Furthermore, he will have to give a "calculation" for the mitzvos he lost as a consequence of the sins. When a person commits a sin he loses motivation to perform mitzvos. Punishment is exacted not just for the actual transgression of Hashem's (G-D's) commandments but for the loss of potential mitzvos that are the collateral damage of sin.

Likewise, with regard to the soldier we may suggest that "fearful" refers to the actual fear of the violation of Hashem's commandments. "Faintheartedness" refers to the feeling of despair one has in realizing what merits he has lost by failing to perform more mitzvos as a consequence of sin. The soldier feels fainthearted due the realization of how the merit of many mitzvos will not accompany him and protect him in battle.

Then the officers shall speak to the people saying, "Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it? And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not rendered it profane? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will render it profane. And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will marry her" (Devarim 20:5-7).

In the Sefer Shai LaTorah, Rav Shimon Yosef Miller writes in name of his father Rav Elimelech Miller the following observation: The Gemara (Sotah 2a) says that forty days before a child is formed a heavenly voice declares that the daughter of a specific person is destined to marry this person, a specific home is destined to become the property of this person and a specific field is destined to become the property of this person. It is noteworthy that these three items, wife, home and field are the same as those mentioned here with regard to the exemptions of war. Parenthetically, we must note that we are assuming that the "field" mentioned in the Gemara is a generic term that may refer to the "vineyard" mentioned in the posuk. What is the connection between the two?

Rav Miller explains that these three things define the essence of life. A person is not complete unless he has a wife, home and livelihood. It is for this reason they are mentioned both before the beginning of life and at critical danger periods of life.

It is noteworthy that the aforementioned Gemara is one of the sources for the concept of bashert. This term represents a religious belief that certain things are predestined in life as part of one's mazal. The concept of bashert dictates that a person will attain in the proper time that which is destined for him with little or no extra effort. This is especially true with regard to those three things mentioned in the Gemara, A wife, home and livelihood. The Gemara further teaches that a person may even receive more than what was meant for him through prayer. However, it is not clear if one's actions can cause one to be deprived of his bashert.

From our posuk (verse) we may derive that if one is not careful he may indeed lose that which is destined for him. As the army is about to depart to the battlefield the kohen announces that any man who has begun the process of marriage or who has begun the process of building a house or has begun the process of planting a vineyard shall return home, for perhaps he will die in battle. Why must he be afraid? These three things are precisely those that were predestined and announced forty days before he was formed. The fact that it is bashert for him to attain these goals will guarantee that he return home safely from war. Nevertheless, the posuk does command that he return home immediately, if not, he may perish in battle and that which was bashert for him will go to someone else.

We thus derive that bashert represents a belief only that opportunities will arise in life for one to attain that which is destined for him. If a person follows his instincts and properly exercises his free will, he will succeed in attaining that which is destined for him. However, if one is not careful, acts with negligence and abuses his power of free will, then his opportunities may slip by and his bashert will go to someone else.

And you shall not erect for yourself a pillar, which Hashem your G-D hates. (Devarim 16:22)

Commenting on this posuk (verse) Rashi explains that the topic of discussion is the sacrificial altar. By definition a pillar is a singe stone. The Torah forbids us to erect a singe stone as an altar because such altars were used by the Canaanites in their idolatrous practices and are thus hated by Hashem. Instead we are commanded to erect altars that are fashioned from many stones or earth. Rashi goes further to note that although we find that our forefathers did offer sacrifices on pillars (Breishis 28:18, 31:45, 35:14), that was before the Canaanites adopted this type of altar in their idolatrous worship. During those times Hashem did not hate pillar altars.

In essence, Rashi is telling us that "the times have changed" and therefore we are obligated to adapt with the changing times.

It is noteworthy that the word matzaivah used here in the posuk is translated as pillar. In our common usage it means a gravestone. The purpose of a gravestone is to erect a permanent memorial for a person. Homiletically, we may interpret the posuk as a command that one may not erect for himself a gravestone during his own lifetime. What does such an interpretation mean?

Combining the idea above, we may suggest that the posuk homiletically teaches us that a person should not remain obstinate and inflexible in his conduct and behavior. A person should not formulate permanent rules of conduct and behavior. Rather, one must move with the times. It goes without saying that this is permitted only within the framework of Halachah (Jewish law) and Jewish custom, which are unquestionably permanent, unchanging and enduring. Only within areas of life that one is permitted to express his creativity one should be as the Mishnah in Avos says, "soft like a reed" and adapt to the changing times.

Indeed this idea represents the underpinnings of the philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz according to Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsh writes that Torah Im Derech Eretz "means the realization of the Torah in harmonious unity with all the conditions under which its laws have been observed amidst the development of changing times." (See Collected Writing VII p. 294 and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Ch. 17 by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman, Atrscroll Mesorah.)

Ki Seitzei

Ki Setzeh

Then his sister-in-law shall approach him before the eyes of the elders; she shall remove his shoe from on his foot and spit before him; she shall speak up and say, "So is done to the man who does not build the house of his brother (Devarim 25:9).

In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn about the procedure of chalitza. If a man dies without children the law requires that one of his brothers is obligated to marry his widow. In the event that all the brothers refuse to marry her, the procedure of chalitza is performed. Chalitza is literally translated as, "the removal of the shoe." The procedure consists of two parts. First, the widow removes the shoe from her brother-in-law and then spits in front of him and declares "so is done to the man who does not build the house of his brother."

We may note that the act of removing a shoe represents a great display of honor. Indeed, Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) teach us that one form of a slave serving his master is the untying of his shoes. Furthermore, one of the methods one can use to legally acquire a slave is to have the slave remove his shoes. When the widow removes the shoe of her brother-in-law it is as if she is saying to him that she regards him in such high esteem that she views him as her master and is willing to serve him as a slave.

Yet, the very next moment she spits in front of him. This act represents the ultimate display of disgrace. Indeed, the Torah explicitly states that such an act is an expression of disgrace. When Hashem (G-D) explained to Moshe (Moses) as to why Miriam must be quarantined for seven days because of her tzaraas, He said "And were her father to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days?" (Bamidbar 12:14).

It appears that the procedure of chalitza is contradictory. On the one hand the widow performs an act of honor but immediately thereafter performs an act of disgrace. How do we understand this?

Let us suggest that although chalitza actually consists of two parts, the primary act is the spitting in front of her brother-in-law. From the perspective of the widow, the refusal of her brother-in-law to marry her represents a great defect in his character. How can a person abandon his deceased brother? How can a person refuse to marry the widow of his brother and preserve his name? The Torah agrees with her assessment and requires her to rebuke and disgrace him by spitting before him.

However the Torah teaches us that giving rebuke is not a simple matter. If the recipient of the rebuke does not feel that the rebuke is sincere it will only lead to a cycle of hatred. It is absolutely essential that one convey at the outset that his rebuke is sincere and only meant for the benefit of the recipient. Before the widow gives rebuke by spitting before him, she shows him honor. Only after she conveys her high esteem for him, is she allowed to relate her frustration with his unwillingness to marry her and preserve the name of his brother.

We derive from this law that before we rebuke and chastise we must first show respect and honor. Furthermore, one who is not capable of giving honor to others is in no position to give them mussar (correction). We may also note that although the primary part of chalitza is the rebuke, yet chazal did not choose to refer to this procedure by the term yarka, i.e. the spitting, but by the term chalitza, the removal of the shoe. The primary part of giving mussar is first giving honor.

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he killed among you, all the weakling at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear G-d (Devarim 25:18).

The above posuk (verse) tells us that Amalek happened by chance to come upon the Jewish people in the desert. They took advantage of the Jewish People's weak and tired state and attacked them. The posuk then concludes that Amalek was not G-d fearing.

The commentators take note of two important points. First is the posuk's emphasis that from the perspective of Amalek, their meeting the Jewish people in the desert was nothing more then coincidental. Second, the posuk goes out of its way to mention that Amalek were not G-d fearing. The obvious connection between the two is that a G-d fearing individual sees Divine Providence in what seems to be nothing more than a coincidence. Amalek who is the antithesis of G-d fearing, refused to recognize Divine Providence in the ordinary coincidences of life but rather chose to attribute everything to pure chance including their meeting the Jewish people. This idea recurs when Haman, a descendent of Amalek, planned the date of the annihilation of the Jewish people through a lottery. A lottery is symbolic of pure chance.

We may ask what is the root cause of Amalek's hatred for the Jewish people? Furthermore what is the significance of the Torah telling us that this event took place when they happened by chance to meet the Jewish People in the desert and that they were not G-d fearing?

We may suggest that Amalek's hatred for the Jewish People stems from the fact that Yaakov stole the blessing that was destined for their grandfather Esav.

The commentators explain that originally it was planned that the blessing of Yitzchak be divided into two blessings. The spiritual blessings were to go to Yaakov and the mundane physical blessings were to go to Esav. Yaakov would devote himself entirely to spiritual matters, and Esav, who would be blessed with material good would support him. Had this plan come to fruition, Esav would have fully enjoyed this world and merited a great reward in the next world. Rivka had the foresight to realize that Esav would never support Yaakov, and that Yaakov would not survive if his life depended on his brother Esav. She thus convinced Yaakov to steal Esav blessings and benefit from the spiritual blessings and physical blessings. By doing so Esav has lost the blessings of this world and his potential to gain merit in the world to come. This is why Esav hates Yaakov. This hatred is so deeply rooted that even today's modern day times Esav who is completely ignorant of history and matters of spirituality continues to irrationally hate Yaakov. This is what Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) mean when they say we have a tradition that Esav hates Yaakov.

It is noteworthy that when Yaakov entered before Yitzchak to receive the blessing in the disguise of Esav, Yitzchak immediately asked Yaakov how it was possible for him to make the necessary preparations so quickly. Yaakov responded that Hashem (G-D) had prepared before him (Bereishis 27:20). The Hebrew word the posuk employs for prepare is hikra, which literally means chance. The word chance connotes a mere coincidence. However Yaakov also said that "it was Hashem your G-d who brought this chance about." The combination of the word chance together with the name of Hashem suggest that Yaakov meant to say that although at face values it appears that it was a coincidence that I was able to find the food so quickly yet I recognize that it this was Divined Providence. As mentioned above the ability to recognize Divine Providence in ordinary events represents a very high level of fear of heaven. Indeed Yitzchak immediately became suspicious that that this was not Esav but Yaakov. Nevertheless, Yitzchak gave him the blessings. Homiletically, we may suggest that Yaakov hinted to Yitzchak that he was deserving of the blessings precisely because he had this character of fear of heaven exactly what his brother is lacking and therefore the blessings are necessary for his survival.

We may now understand why the Torah surrounds the hatred of Amalek with the word chance and lack of fear of heaven. The source of Esav's hatred was when Yaakov's stealing his blessing. The blessings were stolen with Yaakov declaring at the outset that he recognizes the Divine Providence of the ordinary happenings of this world. This recognition is exactly the failure of Esav. When Esav expresses his hatred to the Jewish people it is with this character of chance and the lack of fear of heaven.

Remember what Amalek did to you …and he killed among you all the weaklings at the rear when you were faint and exhausted and he did not fear G-D. … you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven - you shall not forget. (Devarim 25:17-19)

The above posuk (verse) instructs us to wipe out any trace of the Amalekie nation. The Torah records how they took advantage of our weak physical condition in the desert and attacked us. The commentators note that although there have been many nations throughout history that have actively attempted to destroy us, Amalek is the only nation that we are commanded to thoroughly obliterate. This is because the Torah adds in its description of them that "he (Amalek) did not fear G-D."

We may ask, is the lack of fear of Heaven enough of a reason to obliterate a whole nation including women and children? In parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbanu (Moses our teacher) instructs the Jewish people "What Does Hashem your G-D ask of you but to [simply] fear Hashem your G-D" (Devarim 10:12). On this posuk the Gemara wonders, is fear of Heaven a simple matter? The Gemara concludes, yes, for Moshe it was a simple matter but for us it is indeed very difficult. From the Gemara's question and answer we learn that the attainment of fear of heaven even for the Jewish people is difficult, all the more so for the Gentiles. Why then are we commanded to destroy the Amalekies just because they do not possess fear of heaven?

The Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month) we recite a blessing for the new month. In this blessing we ask for various things including fear of heaven. If we take a close look at the blessing we will notice that we repeat the request for fear of heaven. The commentators are perplexed as to why this is so. They explain that there are two types of fear of heaven. The first is called "fear of punishment." This refers to the fear an individual has for the consequences and ramifications of violating the commandments of Hashem. The second type of fear is called "fear of exaltedness." This is a higher level of fear. As a person comes to recognize the greatness and grandeur of Hashem he is inspired to fear Hashem, "just for sake of fearing Him." This type of fear is completely unrelated to any fear of punishment.

The first time we request fear of heaven we mention it together with fear of sin. This connection teaches us that we request here "fear of punishment." The second mention of fear of heaven is said in connection with love of Torah. This connection teaches us that we request at this juncture "fear of exaltedness." Such fear is only attainable through recognizing the greatness of Hashem, which can be fully realized through intense Torah study.

It is noteworthy that in our parsha regarding Amalek the posuk says that they were not fearful of "Elokim." Elokim is the name of Hashem that alludes to Hashem's attribute of justice. In parshas Eikev when Moshe tells the Jewish people "What Does Hashem your G-D ask of you but to [simply] to fear Hashem your G-D," here the name of Hashem used is the Tetragramaton, i.e., yud key vav kei, which alludes to Hashem's attribute of mercy.

We may suggest that the basic type of fear necessary for the existence of the world, both for Jew and gentile alike is "fear of punishment." Without this type of fear society will cease to exist. The Mishna in Avos says that if not for fear [of the government] one would swallow his friend alive. If there is no fear of violation of civil laws then human beings cannot interact with each other. Indeed, some commentators interpret this Mishna as referring to the fear of Hashem and not the fear of a secular government.

The posuk says that the nation of Amalek did not posses fear of Elokim. This may be interpreted as they did not posses even a spark of "fear of justice" which is synonymous with "fear of punishment" They represented a threat not just to the Jewish people but also to the entire world. Thus, the Torah says that they must be utterly destroyed without mercy.

However, for the Jewish people Hashem has set higher standards. In addition to the basic fear of Elokim, which we have interpreted as "fear of punishment," Hashem also asks that we fear "Hashem." This name refers to the attribute of mercy. When there is mercy there is no punishment. Hashem is asking that we attain "fear of His exaltedness." It is regarding this lofty type of fear that the Gemara refers to as no simple matter. Yet, through diligence in Torah study we do have the ability to rise above that nations of the world and attain this unique type of fear as well.

Perhaps this may also explain why we refer to fear of Hashem with the expression "fear of heaven." If we would mention Hashem's name directly we would be forced to choose a name that would emphasize either fear of punishment or exaltedness. Because each type of fear complements the other, Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) cleverly alluded to the combination of both by coining the expression "fear of heaven."

May we merit the fulfillment of the posuk "And all the nations of the earth will see that the name of Hashem is upon you and they will fear you."

If a birds nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground; young birds or eggs; and the mother is roosting on the young birds or on the egg, you shall not take the mother on the young. You shall surly send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and you will prolong your days. (Devarim 22:6-7)

One reason given for the requirement of sending away the mother before taking the young or eggs is to have pity on the mother. The mother suffers immensely upon witnessing her young or eggs snatched before her eyes. The Torah commands us to first send away the mother and thus spare her the pain.

The Mishna (Berachos 33b) teaches: If one prays, "Upon the birds nest your mercy extends, so too may you have mercy upon us," he must be silenced. The Gemara (Talmud) offers two reasons as to why he must be silenced. The first is that although it is true that Hashem (G-D) required us to send away the mother out of pity, however such a statement falsely implies that Hashem does not have pity on other creatures other than the bird.

The second reason is that when we perform the commandments our main intent must be because it is a decree of Hashem and not seek to delve into the logic behind the mitzvos (commandments). It is true that we may derive moral lessons from the mitzvos but this may not be our primary reason for their performance. A person who prays with the above expression conveys that the main reason he fulfills this command is out of mercy not because it is a decree of Hashem.

The Gemara continues to relate a story where a Torah scholar led the prayers in the presence of Rava. In the course of the prayers this scholar beseeched Hashem with the words "You Hashem have pity upon the birds nest, so too may you have pity upon us." Upon hearing this supplication Rava commented to Abayai that this scholar knows how to properly beseech Hashem. Abayai retorted, that the Mishna clearly states that one who prays in this manner must be silenced. To this the Gemara concludes that Rava certainly knew this Mishna and only made this statement to test Abayai.

This Gemara begs explanation. First, the Gemara calls the individual who lead the prayers a scholar. But how can he be a scholar and not be aware of the well know Mishna that does not allow for such a prayer? Also, why did Rava test Abayai on a simple Mishna?

In order to answer these questions we must return to the first reason as to why it is forbidden to utter such a prayer. We have explained that this is because this expression implies that only upon the bird does Hashem has pity but not upon other creatures. However, this implication is only true if the subject i.e., the bird, precedes the action i.e., pity, but not vice versa. For example, if one were to say in Hebrew, "Reuven ate bread," this would imply that he ate only the bread and nothing else. However, if one were to say in Hebrew "The bread was eaten by Reuven," then according the rules of Hebrew grammar there would be no grounds to imply that other things were not eaten.

The same is true here with regard to the bird. The Mishna forbids one to say "Upon the bird do you have pity, so too may you have pity upon us." In this Mishna the noun i.e. bird, precedes the verb i.e., pity, it therefore leads us to derive that upon other creatures Hashem does not have pity. This is certainly false and therefore such a prayer is forbidden. However, the scholar who led the prayers reversed the order as said "You have pity upon the bird, so too may you have pity upon us." Such an expression does not imply that upon other creatures Hashem does not have pity. Therefore, if the only reason the Mishna would prohibit a prayer that makes mention of the birds nest is because of the false implication, then in this case it would be permitted as there is no implication at all. This was the intent of the scholar who led the prayers and this was the intent of Rava complementary statement. However, this only removes the first reason as to why such a prayer is not allowed, the second reason though still remains in force. Even with the reversal, such a prayer does imply that the primary reason one fulfils this Mitzvah is out of pity not due to the decree of Hashem. This was the mistake of the scholar who led the prayers. He did not know that there was a second reason for the prohibition to mention the bird's nest in ones prayers. This was also the test of Rava. He wished to see if Abayai knew that there was another reason as to why it is forbidden to say this prayer.

Ki Savo

And you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that Hashem, your G-d gives you and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that Hashem you G-d will choose to make His Name rest there. (Devarim 26:2)

In this week's parsha (Torah reading) we learn about the mitzvah (commandment) of bikurim. The Torah instructs a farmer to bring a basket of his first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash (temple) and to present it to a kohen (priest). He waves the basket, places it before the altar, recites a short history of the Jewish People, recites a prayer and bows down before Hashem.

The Midrash says that when Moshe foresaw that the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed and the Jewish people would not have the ability to bring birkurim he enacted that they pray three times a day in place of this mitzvah. At first glance it seems difficult to understand how prayer is related to the mitzvah of bikurim. Although the recital of a prayer is part of the bikurim service, how do our daily prayers relate to the bringing of the first fruits of Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel)? Furthermore, the commentators note that this Midrash indicates that the reason why we pray three times a day is because of Moshe's enactment. This seems to be contradicted by Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) that teach us that it was our forefathers who enacted the three daily prayers and that our prayers were also enacted to correspond to the daily tamid offerings.

The mitzvah of bikurim requires that one present the kohen with a basket of his first fruits in the Beis Hamikdash. Why is it necessary to bring bikurim at all? The Torah has already commanded us to give some of our first fruits to the kohen as terumah. Furthermore, why must the farmer make a long trip and present the bikurim in the Beis Hamikdash? Why may he not deliver them to a local kohen anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, similar to how one may fulfill the mitzvah of terumah?

Part of the ceremony of bikurim is when the farmer recites the history of the Jewish people dating back to the times of Yaakov (Jacob) and Lavan. Why is this necessary? Furthermore, why on Pesach is a major segment of the hagaddah devoted to the text of bikurim?

The Torah begins with the word "bereishis." (in the beginning) The Midrash comments that this word may be interpreted as meaning "because of reishis." The word reishis is a reference to bikurim which is called reishis in our parsha. The Midrash interprets the first posuk (verse) of the Torah as meaning that in the merit of reishis Hashem created the world. Why is bikurim given such great importance?

Everyday, immediately before the recitation of shemonah esrei we say a short prayer. "Hashem, may you open my lips so that my mouth declare your praise." This prayer is very unique. We pray that we succeed in prayer. We do not ask for anything other than help in prayer itself.

In the sefer Panim Yafos, parshas Va'eschanan, the author explains that it was Moshe (Moses) who initiated this prayer. When Moshe stood at the threshold of entering Eretz Yisroel he fully understood the power of prayer. He also realized that there are great impediments and distractions that prevent us from experiencing an effective prayer. He therefore prayed that he be successful in his prayers. This idea is alluded to in the opening posuk of parshas Va'eschanan, "I prayed to Hashem at that time saying." It would seem that the last word "saying" is redundant. The Panim Yafos explains that Moshe prayed that he succeed in prayer. The posuk is to be interpreted as follows: "I prayed to Hashem at that time that I succeed in expressing to Hashem what I have to say."

After bringing bikurim one brings terumah, maaser and performs a whole array of other mitzvos that are related to the harvest and consumption of one's produce. These mitzvos include leket, shikchah, payah, chalah and the blessings that one recites before and after eating.

We may suggest that the mitzvah of bikurim is related to the mitzvos that follow in the same way that the introductory prayer is related to the main prayer of shemonah esrei that follows.

At times of prayer there may be many distractions that interfere with our concentration. Our prayers may result in nothing more then lip service. Similarly, when one distributes gifts to the kohen, levi and poor there may be many impediments and distractions that prevent us from fulfilling the mitzvah properly. For example, a very important element in every mitzvah is attitude. When one gives terumah to the kohen, maaser to the levi, and gifts to the poor, one may harbor bad feelings as to why he should part with what he has worked hard to attain and give it to someone that may not appreciate it at all.

Before we begin our prayer we pray that we succeed in prayer. Similarly before we begin to fulfill the mitzvos that relate to the produce of the earth we perform the mitzvah of bikurim. It is with this mitzvah that we put everything in proper perspective. One is required to make a long trip to the Beis Hamikdash and review the history of the Jewish people. Thus we will be reminded that the land and produce is all a gift from Hashem. Only after we have put ourselves in a proper frame of mind, can we continue with the fulfillment of the mitzvos that follow. We need to bring bikurim so that we can succeed in fulfilling the mitzvos that follow with the proper intent and sincerity.

The Midrash tell us that when Moshe foresaw that the Beis Hamikdash would be destroyed he enacted that the Jewish people pray in the place of bikurim. We may suggest that Moshe did not enact that they pray daily. This was already established by our forefathers and was also enacted to correspond to the daily tamid offerings. Moshe established that everyone pray to succeed in prayer just as he did in the beginning of parshas Va'eschanan. He understood that this was the theme of bikurim.

With this idea it emerges that bikurim is a very unique mitzvah. It is a mitzvah that precedes the mitzvos that are yet to come. This may explain why we recite the text of bikurim at the seder on pesach. Here we focus on the origin, formation and establishment of the Jewish people. Before beginning something new we must put ourselves in the correct frame of mind. For this we must turn to bikurim. Likewise, we may now understand why in its merit Hashem created the world. Hashem did not just create the world so that we perform mitzvos. He created the world with the intent that we should understand that we need His help in the performance of the mitzvos as well.

And it shall be on that day when you cross the Jordan to the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, you shall set up great stones for yourself and you shall coat them with plaster. You shall inscribe on them all the words of this Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land that Hashem your G-d gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Hashem the G-d of your forefathers spoke about you (Devarim 27:2,3).

In this weeks parsha (weekly Torah reading) we learn how the Jewish people we commanded to erect large stones upon their entrance into Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel). Upon these stones were etched the entire Torah in all seventy languages. The stones were coated with plaster in order to protect and cover the inscription.

The commentators explain that these stones acted as a gigantic mezuzah for Eretz Yisroel. Just as a mezuzah offers protection for the home, likewise these stones offered protection for Eretz Yisroel.

The commentators also take note that the posuk (verse) instructs the Jewish people to coat the stones with plaster. The common Hebrew spelling for the word plaster is sid, spelled with a samach, however, here the posuk uses the letter sin. The commentators explain that this unusual spelling alludes to Shakai, one of Hashem's names. The Hebrew word "sid" spelled with a sin contains the same letters as Hashem's name "Shakai," sin, daled, and yud. We may ask what significance is there between Shakai and the plaster that covered the stones?

The posuk in the beginning of parshas Va'erah (Shemos 6:2-6) begins by Hashem telling Moshe that He appeared to our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov with name of Kel Shakai and the name of Hashem, i.e., the Tetragrammaton (yud, kai vav kai) He did not make know to them. However, go tell the Jewish people that to them I will make know the Tetragrammaton. Rashi explains that Hashem has many names. One name is Shakai. This name represents pure faith in Hashem. Hashem promised our forefathers that they would posses Eretz Yisroel and develop into a great nation. Our forefathers never lived to see the fulfillment of this promise. For them it remained nothing more than a promise. Despite this they remained completely faithful. Because their relationship was in the form of belief in a promise that they would never live to see, their relationship and perception of Hashem was defined with the name Shakai. The name Shakai stems from the root word dai, which means enough or limit. The limitation here was the lack of fulfillment of the promise. Hashem now informed Moshe that the Jewish people will merit to witness the salvation of Hashem. They will receive Hashem's Torah and enter Eretz Yisroel. They will see the fulfillment of Hashem promises and thus their perception of Hashem will differ then that of their forefathers. The relationship and perception of the Jewish people will be defined by the Tetragrammaton.

A mezuzah provides protection. By affixing a mezuzah to out home we remind ourselves of our duty to fulfill the mitzvos (commandments) of Hashem. This reminder serves as a merit that we be protected from any harm that may enter the home. As the Jewish people entered the land of Yisroel they affixed a gigantic mezuzah that contained the entire Torah elucidated in all seventy languages. Certainly, in merit of fulfilling the Torah we would be worthy of Divine protection. However the stones were also covered with plaster. The plaster was spelled with the letter sin, alluding to the name of Shakai. This symbolized that we are also protected through the merit of our forefathers whose relationship was that of Shakai. Although our forefather never formally received the Torah which represents our relationship with Hashem in the form of the Tetragrammaton yet they related to Hashem with pure faith that is defined by the name Shakai. It was to them that Hashem promised Eretz Yisroel and it is in their merit we receive Divine protection within.

It is noteworthy that on the outside of our mezuzos it is written Shakai. Indeed, when the mezuzah is neatly rolled all we see from the outside is the name Shakai. The source for this esoteric custom is a Zohar in parshas Va'eschanan. The commentators simply explain that this name of Hashem is an acronym for shomrei dalsos Yisroel, which is translated as "Hashem protects the doors of Yisroel."

With that above idea we may suggest that our mezuzah is a microcosm of the gigantic mezuzah of Eretz Yisroel. The inside of our mezuzah is a synopsis of the entire Torah. The posukim mention our acceptance of the yoke of heaven and our acceptance of the all the commandments of the Torah. These words represent our personal relationship with Hashem. It is noteworthy that these posukim also elaborate on the reward for observing the Torah. This is consistent with our perception of Hashem which is based on the fulfillment of Hashem's promises. This relationship is symbolic of the Tetragrammaton. It is in this merit that we seek protection within our home. On the outside of our mezuzah we write Shakai. This is symbolic of the plaster spelled with the letters of sin, daled and yud that covered the gigantic mezuzah of Eretz Yisroel. This is symbolic of the relationship our forefathers had with Hashem.

The combinations of the text within the mezuzah and the name shakai written on the back of the mezuzah represents our recognition that at times our fulfillment of the Torah and obligations to Hashem fall short of what is required. This may cause us to be unworthy of the Divine protection that the mezuzah offers. We therefore in addition invoke the back cover of the mezuzah as well. We ask for protection in the merit of our forefathers whose relationship with Hashem was complete and based on pure faith in Hashem.

And you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that Hashem your G-D gives you and you shall put it into a basket and go to the place that Hashem your, G-D will choose to make his name rest there. (Devarim 26:2)

The posuk (verse) here refers to the bikurim (first fruits) as "reishis," the first of your fruits. In the very beginning of the Torah the Midrash notes that the word "Bereishis" may be interpreted as b' reishis. The posuk would then read, "for the sake of reishis did Hashem create the heaven and the earth." The Midrash explains that the word reishis is a reference the mitzvah (commandment) of bikurim, which is also called reishis as mentioned above. The posuk is thus saying that for the sake of bikurim did Hashem create heaven and earth. We may ask, what great significance lie in bikurim that the whole world was created for its sake?

The Baal Haturim notes that that all the letters of the aleph beis appear in the parsha of bikurim with the exception of samach. The Baal Haturim continues to note that although the letter samach does not appear openly it does appear in a hidden way. The word "teneh," translated as basket, has the numerical value of sixty, which also equals to the value of the letter samach. We may ask, what is the significance of this hidden reference to the letter samach.

We are familiar that the Torah is comprised of two parts, the written text and the oral teachings. The oral portion of Torah represents the true explanation and interpretation of the written Torah. According to our tradition the oral portion of Torah is comprised of exactly sixty tractates. A key characteristic of the oral portion of Torah is that ideally it may not to be committed to writing but only transmitted from teacher to student orally.

Let us suggest that the basket of bikurim serves as a symbol for the oral Torah. Just as the Oral Torah is comprised of sixty tractates and is not to be committed to writing, likewise the numerical value of the basket is exactly sixty and stands unique in that it is the only letter that is not written openly in the parsha.

The posuk says that one should take his first fruits and carefully place them in a basket. Homiletically, we may interpret this as meaning that one should take the best of his material blessings and devote them to the teachings of the Torah. By emphasizing the oral traditions the Torah underscores that one should strive for fulfillment in Torah learning and traditional Torah values which are key characteristics of the oral Torah.

Alternatively, we may suggest that the Torah is saying that one can only protect his material blessing by guarding them with the values and teachings of the oral Torah.

We may now understand the Midrash mentioned above. At the very start of the Written Torah the posuk alluded to the mitzvah of bikurim. The Torah at the outset states that this material world was created only so that we take its material blessing and put it into the spiritual basket of the Oral Torah. Only by fulfilling the commandments of the written Torah that are fully captured and elucidated in the delicate basket of the Oral Torah can we merit to benefit from this world and achieve the purpose of Creation. Indeed there are many posukim and teaching of chazal that support this idea that this world was created to elevate the mundane through the holiness of the Oral Torah.

You shall be blessed in the city and you shall be blessed in the field. The fruit of your womb, the fruit of your earth, the fruit of your animals, the offspring of your cattle and the herd of your flock shall be blessed. Your basket and kneading bowl shall be blessed. You shall be blessed when you enter and you shall be blessed when you leave. (Devarim 28:3-6)

There are two types of people who are blessed. The first type is the one who enjoys unusual good fortune in a specific place or field of work. However, in other places or fields of work this individual falls within the average if not below. The second type of individual is the one who enjoys good fortune in all places and in all fields of work.

In truth it can be said that the first type of individual does not enjoy true blessing. Because his blessing is confined to a specific place or field, it can be said that his good fortune is due to mazal. For some mystical reason it was preordained that this person be successful in a given place or field, not necessarily due to his righteousness. This concept is captured in the famous dictum "If one wishes to change his mazal he should change his place." We see from this statement that success in a restricted area is within the realm of mazal. If this individual does not enjoy success here in this location, he should change his place and enter a different mazal and thus bring with it a change of fortune. On the other hand the individual who enjoys success in all places and fields is the one who is truly blessed. Since his blessings are not confined to a specific place or line of work it is certain that his success is not due to mazal but due to the special grace of Hashem (G-D). This type of blessing was the one we find with regard to Yosef (Joseph). The posuk (verse) there states "His master (Potiphar) saw that Hashem was with him and that whatever he did Hashem caused him to be successful." (Bereishis 39:3) We may interpret this posuk as follows: His master saw that his success was due to true blessing not just mazal. His master came to this conclusion because he was successful in everything that he did and was not limited to anything specific.

Likewise, the posukim here come to bless the Jewish people with true blessing not just with mazal. This blessing is underscored with the all-inclusive blessing of location, possession, occupation and direction.


Hashem (G-D) will set him aside for evil from among all the tribes of Israel, like all the oaths of the covenant that is written in this book of the Torah (Devarim 29:20).

Commenting on this posuk,(verse) Rashi notes that the Hebrew word used by the Torah for "this" is the masculine word "zeh." However back in parshas (Torah reading) Ki Savo towards the conclusion of the tochacha (warning) the posuk says, "Even any illness and any blow that is not written in the book of this Torah, Hashem will bring upon you until you are destroyed (Devarim 28:61). There, the Hebrew word used by the Torah for "this" is the feminine "zoes." Rashi explains that in our posuk the masculine zeh refers back to the word book which is also masculine. However, in parshas Ki Savo the word zoes refers back to the "Torah" which is feminine. Thus in each posuk the Torah chose which noun it wished to emphasize, i.e., either Sefer or Torah, and selected the correct gender word for "this."

However, we may still ask why in parshas Ki Savo is the emphasis on the word Torah whereas here the emphasis is on the word Sefer?

We are familiar the concept that the Torah is divided into two parts, the written Torah and the oral Torah. Each of the two complement one another. We may suggest that the posuk's emphasis of the word "Torah" in parshas Ki Savo refers to the oral Torah. Indeed, the posuk there speaks about punishment "that is not written in the book of this Torah" alluding to the oral Torah that was not transmitted in the written form. In our parsha we may suggest that the emphasis of sefer refers to the written Torah which is recorded in a book. In the big picture of things we are being warned that there are two types of punishment that will befall us if we fail the keep the Torah, a punishment of the oral Torah and a punishment of the written Torah.

It is noteworthy that the Hebrew term used to refer to a Torah scroll is "Sefer Torah." We may ask, what is the primary word in this term? Is it the "Torah" or "Sefer?" If we answer Torah, then the term would be translated as "The Torah that is recorded in the book." If we answer sefer then the term would be translated as "the Book which records the words of the Torah." Each expression conveys a different emphasis.

From our discussion above we may derive that the two expressions are equal and prominent in their own right. The above posukim relate that there is a Sefer HaTorah Hazeh and Sefer HaTorha Hazoes. In each posuk the Torah emphasizes one of the two words thus indicating they are both equal. This refers to the dual nature of the Torah, The oral Torah and the written Torah.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 14a) records that all holy books are rolled from their beginning to their end. However a Torah scroll shall be rolled to the middle. This is interpreted to mean that all holy books are put on one pole and rolled in their entirety from beginning to end. However, a Torah scroll is put on two poles. The front of the book is put on one pole and rolled forward and the end of the book is put on the second pole rolled backwards. They meet in the middle. We may ask why is a Sefer Torah different than other books which are rolled on one pole? We may suggest that this is to convey the dual nature of the Sefer Torah. A Sefer Torah is not just a Sefer that records the words of the Torah. It is also not just the Torah that is put in book form. It is both a Sefer and a Torah. It is a Sefer HaTorah Hazeh and a Sefer HaTorha Hazoes. It represents two concepts, The Oral Torah and the written Torah. To convey this concept the Torah is rolled on two poles thus giving it the appearance of two books. Yet, they meet in the center. This conveys that they are inseparable one from one another. The interpretation of the written Torah may only be found in the oral Torah and all the words of the oral Torah are alluded to in the written Torah.

Rosh Hashana

The commentators offer many insights into the nature of the shofer blowing on Rosh Hashanah. Let us introduce a number of points and suggest an additional idea.

Rav Moshe Wolfson the author of Emunas Eitechah notes that Rosh Hashanah is exactly fifty days after the ninth day of Av, the day that the Beis Hamikdash (First and Second Temple) was destroyed. The timeframe of fifty days is significant in that it represents the totality of time needed by the Jewish people to prepare for a spiritual event. For example, after the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt they prepared themselves spiritually for the giving of the Torah for exactly fifty days. The commentators explain that each and every day the Jewish people lifted themselves further from the traces of the idolatry and contamination that they were accustomed to until they succeeded in reaching the spiritual plateau of being worthy to receive the Torah. Every year we are required to relive and reenact this spiritual ascent by also counting forty-nine days from the day we relive redemption of Egyptian bondage to the day we receive the Torah on the fiftieth day.

Similarly, every year on the ninth day of Av we relive the tragedy of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Immediately thereafter we spend forty-nine days rebuilding our spiritual foundations in an attempt to be worthy of the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. The fiftieth day is the first day of Rosh Hashanah and thus a most favorable time for the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

A central theme of Rosh Hashanah is the concept of "Malchus." On this day we focus on the majesty and sovereignty of Hashem (G-D). Every year on this day we re-coronate Hashem as King of the World.

We are aware that the coming of Moshiach (Messiah) will be accompanied by the blowing of the shofer. The posuk says "And it will be on that day a great shofer sound will be sounded …"

The Torah tells us that the first day of the seventh month shall be a day of "teruah" (shofar blowing) (Bamidbar 29:1). Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) teach us that the sound of a teruah is similar to the sound of a human cry. This interpretation is derived from the targum (commentary) on this posuk (verse) which translates the word teruah as ya'ba'vah. The only other reference to the word ya'ba'vah is the cry of the Sisro's mother as she awaited in vain the return of her evil son from battle. In sefer shoftim (the Book of Judges) (5:28) Devorah describes the mother of Sisro as peering out through a window and crying (va'ti'ya'bev) in despair for the return of her son. The posuk's words are "why has his chariot delayed in coming?"

Although the sound of our shofer does not contain words, it is noteworthy that the Biblical source for the sound we produce was accompanied by these words "why has his chariot delayed in coming." Further, it is important to note the word "chariot" in tanach (Bible) is consistently used in connection with majesty and sovereignty. It appears that in the time of tanach only rulers and kings owned chariots.

Thus we see that Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that is to be viewed in connection with the ninth day of Av. It represents the culmination of our spiritual renewal and recovery. It is a day that is opportune and favorable for the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofer in an attempt to awaken the coming of Mashiach that will also be ushered in with the blowing of great shofer. In our plea we sound the teruah. With our teruah we don't just produce a sound of a human cry but also invoke the words that accompany the source of this cry. However, instead of identifying with the cry of the mother of an evil and wicked man we redirect these words to the Majesty of Hashem. We cry out "Why has His (Hashem's) chariot delayed in coming?"


One famous dictum of chazal (our sages of blessed memory) is the expression acharon, acharon chaviv. This is simply understood to mean that the last of sequential collection of items is the most beloved. I was once told by HaChaver Chaim Victor A"H that this dictum should truly be understood as the second to last is the most beloved. If chazal truly intended that the last is the most beloved they would have simply said "acharon chaviv." The extra mention of acharon indicates a step back from the very last.

Indeed, in life we usually find that events that come at the end are swept away with ceremonies, celebrations and all the distractions that accompany them. We may regard the last as the most important and prominent but it often lacks the substance and content that is essential for it being beloved. The second to last is what qualifies as the most beloved.

We may bring a proof to this idea from Rashi in parshas (Torah reading) Vayishlach. The posuk (verse) there describes how Yaakov (Jacob) lined up his wives and children in preparation to meet Esav. The order was first the maidservants and their children then Leah and her children and finally Rachel and her son Yosef (Bereishis 33:2). Rashi comments that the order was based on the principle of acharon acharon chaviv. This would simply seem to imply that Rachel and Yosef were the most beloved in Yaakov's eyes and were thus last. Indeed, the posuk says that Yaakov loved Rachel and does not say this for Leah (Bereishis 29:18). However, Rashi there directs his commentary on the words "Leah and her children." If Rashi meant that Rachel was the most beloved he should have directed his commentary on the words "Rachel and Yosef," or to avoid confusion directed his words at the very beginning of the posuk when mentioning the maidservants and their children. Rashi, by focusing on Leah and her sons seem to indicate that it was Leah and her sons that were the most beloved. Perhaps this was because she was the mother of many shevatim whereas Rachel was only the mother of Yosef. If we accept the idea that acharon acharon chaviv means the second to last then indeed this would be correct place for Rashi to insert his comments, for Leah and her sons were second to last.

Based upon this idea we may note that this week's parsha, being that it is the second to last in the Torah, fits in the category of "acharon acharon chaviv." Certainly, all the parshios of the Torah are beloved. By focusing on one particular parsha and saying it is the most beloved indicates that here lies a chibbah yiseirah, i.e., a greater love.

The Mishna (Amos 3:18) says: He [R' Akivah] used to say: Beloved is man for he was created in Hashem's (G-D's) image. It is indicative of a greater love that it was made know to him that was created in Hashem's image as it says "For in the image of Hashem he made man (Bereishis 3:18). The Mishna presents two degrees of love, beloved and a greater love. What is the significance of these two levels?

The Sfas Emes explains that although man is beloved because he was created in the image of Hashem perhaps this was only true before Man sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. It is fair to suggest that after the sin, the love was removed or diminished. In response to this the mishnah continues that Hashem has granted Man a greater love by letting him know that even after his sin he can still return to the state of being in the image of Hashem through repentance and the performance of mitzvos. Chibbah yiseirah is thus characterized by man's ability to return to Hashem even after sin.

In this weeks parsha we read shiras haazinu (The Song Of Ha'azinu). Regarding the mitzvah (commandment) of writing a Sefer Torah the posuk says, "So now write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel" (Devarim 31:19). Rashi explains that the song here refers to shiras haazinu. The entire Torah is called a shirah because it includes this song. Chazal tell us that the significance of this song is the fact that hidden in it are all the events of history from the beginning of time to the end. The shirah reveals how the Jewish people will sin by abandoning Hashem, suffer greatly as a consequence and eventually return to him and witness the final redemption. The shirah captures the idea of chibbah yiseirah, i.e., the greater love. It relates that although the Jewish people will sin they will eventually return to Hashem. Indeed, the word shirah comes from the word shir which means a circle. The shirah relates how eventually the Jewish people will return back to their roots just as a circle returns to origin.

In conclusion, parshas haazinu is the second to last parsha of the Torah. It is acharon acharon chaviv. This term may homiletically be interpreted to mean that it contains chibah yiseirah. The concept of chibbah yiseirah as mentioned in Avos and as explained by the Sfas Emes refers to man's ability to fully return to Hashem and regain that which was lost as a consequence of sin. Shiras haazinu captures the flavor chibbah yiseirah for it reveals how the Jewish people will eventually return to Hashem.

Vezos Haberachah

Never again has there arisen in Yisroel a prophet like Moshe (Moses) whom Hashem (G-D) had known face to face. (Devarim 34:10)

Beginning with this posuk (verse) the Torah begins its closing remarks. We may ask: What significance lay in the greatness of Moshe that the Torah chose to close with a three-posuk description of his greatness. More specifically, why does the Torah need to tell us that there will never arise another like Moshe?

Let's answer this question by combining two points. First, we must understand that the Torah was given to Moshe in the form of a nevuah i.e., prophetic vision. The nevuah of Moshe was unique in that it was unparalleled in terms of clarity. The Gemara states all the prophets received a "cloudy" nevuah, not so Moshe and Bilam who received a clear nevuah. The second point is the law that a beis din (Jewish court) may not uproot the decrees or laws of another beis din unless it is greater in wisdom and number (Megilah 2a).

Putting the two points together we may explain as follows: Since the Torah was give as a nevuah, albeit a clear one, is was still subject to the interpretation of a human being i.e., Moshe. Now, if there were to rise up at a later time a prophet that was greater than Moshe then the Torah would fit within the framework of the rule that a later beis din that is greater in wisdom and number may uproot the laws and decrees of their predecessors. This later prophet or beis din would then have the ability to change and even nullify the laws of Moshe. The Torah would thus be subject to change and nullification and could not be classified as eternal. In order to dispel such a notion the Torah dedicates its concluding remarks to emphasize that there will never rise up another individual as great as Moshe. Thus, the torah will never fall within the law of a later beis din that is greater in wisdom or number.

To summarize, the significance of concluding with the greatness of the Moshe is to teach us that the Torah is eternal.

With this idea we may gain new insight into a popular song that is sung on Simchas Torah. We sing "Moshe emes v'toraso emes." Translated: Moshe is true and his Torah is true. We may ask: What connection is there between Moshe being true and his Torah being true.

First, let us note the source of this song. The Gemara (Bava Basra 74a) tells of a story where a certain Arab showed Rabba bar bar Chana the site where Korach and his followers were swallowed. Upon witnessing the site they heard from within the ground Korach cry, "Moshe and his torah are true and we are liars."

We may ask here the same question as above. Why was Korach crying about the Torah of Moshe? We only find Korach rebelling against the leadership of Moshe not his Torah.

Let us answer these questions by first defining "truth." Truth is something that survives the test of time. It is something that remains "true" forever and is never subject to change. Something that changes over the course of time cannot be classified as true. Truth, for our purposes is a synonym of eternal.

Next, let us analyze the rebellion of Korach. Korach complained that is was not proper for Moshe to single-handedly lead the Nation. Korach claimed contrary to our posuk that there are others that are just as great, if not even greater than Moshe. He demanded that Moshe share his leadership with others. At first glance it seems that Korach contention was over honor. However, in truth Korach was challenging the eternal nature of the torah. For if it was true that there are others that are greater than Moshe then a later beis din or prophet that is greater than Moshe may uproot or change the mitzvos of the Torah.

Korach's punishment was to admit that Moshe is true, i.e., was and will remain the greatest prophet that will ever be, and thus the Torah that was given through him is true i.e. eternal.

On Simchas Torah we celebrate the eternal nature of the Torah. As we have seen this is dependent on our belief that there will never be an individual as great as Moshe. Moshe is thus part and parcel of the Yom Tov. We therefore celebrate "Moshe is true and his Torah is true."

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
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