This week, we will be reading Parashat V’Zot Habracha. The fourth Passuk of this Parasha states,
תּוֹרָה צִוָּה לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב:
The Torah that Moses commanded us is a legacy for the congregation of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:4)
The only other time in the Torah that the word Morasha is used, is in reference to Eretz Yisrael.
וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתִי אֶת יָדִי לָתֵת אֹתָהּ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב וְנָתַתִּי אֹתָהּ לָכֶם מוֹרָשָׁה אֲנִי יְ־ה
I will bring you to the land, concerning which I raised My hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord.’ (Exodus 6:8)
The word Morasha does not mean the passive acceptance of an inheritance. It is an eternal inheritance that you must work for. You must toil in it, struggle and fight for it, only then it truly becomes yours. I believe we see this today with both Torah and Eretz Yisrael. It’s hard to keep the Torah and to fulfill all the Mitzvot. It’s not easy, it’s not cool, and it means you have a ton of assignments due at the end of the semester while missing three weeks of uni. But we struggle and try, because of our commitment and love for our heritage.
Similarly, these days it might not be so easy to love Israel when Zionists are characterised as baby killing, evil, occupiers. We have to work hard at our Ahavat Ha’aretz and learn as much as we can in order to defend ourselves and our homeland from the media, the Socialist Alternative, the far right, academics and many more.
May this year be the year we merit to live our Morasha, in our Morasha, fulfilling the Torah in our homeland.
It’s chilling to read the last passuk of this week’s Parasha.
“You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your God – He shall wage war for you”
Despite the stress, the security tensions, the pain and the tragedy, the fact that so few rockets have hit civilians and populated areas, is simply a miracle. When watching footage of the Iron Dome in action on YouTube it’s easy to see God’s Zeroa Netuyah defending us, waging war for us.
This Shabbat in Shule we witness a microcosm of Jewish history. In Kriat Hatorah we once again discuss the conquering of the east bank of the Jordan. We conclude with Moshe reiterating Hashem’s promise that the Jewish people will inherit the other side of the Jordan and settle it with God leading the war.
In the Haftarah, we read about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the deterioration of Eretz Yisrael.
Yisahayahu prophesies, “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, your land before you, strangers consume it; it is desolate as if overturned by strangers”(Isaiah 1:7).
Unfortunately, we have seen Yishayahu’s prophecy come to fruition. It was mournfully recorded by Mark Twain in his famous work, The Innocents Abroad.
He wrote, “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of colour, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective—distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.”
However, in the past century we’ve seen the flip side. We’ve begun to see Nevuot of Nechama that we’ll start reading next Shabbat. We’ve resettled our land, we’ve never surrendered our inheritance. And in the past few weeks, we’ve clearly seen Hashem waging war for us, for His Holy Land.
May we merit to see the Geulah Shleima and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash Bimheirah B’yameinu, AMEN.
Abraham and Noah: A contrast
This week’s Parsha famously begins
אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו את האלוקים התהלך בנוח
These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.
Rashi comments on the words “he was perfect in his generations” that
לפי דורו היה צדיק, ואלו היה בדורו של אברהם לא היה נחשב לכלום
Others interpret it derogatorily: In comparison with his generation he was righteous, but if he had been in Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered of any importance. — [Sanh. 108a, Gen. Rabbah 30:9, Tan. Noach 5]:
The Baal Haturim explains the same idea through gematria. The words תמים היה have a gematria of 20. He contends that for the 20 generations between Adam and Abraham he was considered righteous but within Abraham’s generation, he would not be considered righteous.
Furthermore the Midrash explains
אמר ר’ אבא בר כהנא כי נחמתי כי עשיתים ונח מצא חן אתהמא אלא אפי’ נח שנשתייר מהם לא שהיה כדאי אלא שמצא חן
(בראשית רבה פכ”ח)
Noah really was not worthy of being saved from the flood. The only reason he was saved was because he found some sort of favour in God’s eyes. Essentially, this Midrash places a limit on Noah’s position as a righteous man in his generation.
Moreover, Rashi on the last word of the Parsha discusses the existence of a Nun Hafucha (a upside down nun) on the word חרן. (This nun is no longer seen in our versions of the text).
הנו”ן הפוכה, לומר לך עד אברם היה חרון אף של מקום בעולם:
The “nun” of חָרָן is inverted, to tell you that until Abram [appeared], the wrath of the Omnipresent was kindled (חֲרוֹן). [The inverted “nun” symbolizes the change from Divine anger to Divine mercy.] — [based on Sifrei, Ha’azinu 311]
This Rashi also invalidates Noah’s position as a righteous person as he was not able to help abate God’s anger. Furthermore, as only Abraham was able to do this it once again provides a contrast between the two of them. This one again demonstrates that Noah was not saved because of his value as a “righteous man”, rather just because of his חן.
The fundamental difference between Abraham and Noah is that Abraham was concerned for the welfare of the people in his generation and Noah was not. Throughout the entire story of the Ark, not once does Noah protest and pray for God to save the world. The text simply reads
ויעש נח בבל אשר צוה אתו אלוקים כן עשה
And Noah did everything God commanded him to do, so he did
ויעש נח כל אשר צוהו ה’
And Noah did everything God commaned him
In contrast to this, Abraham continued to pray to God to try and save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
ויגש אברהם ויאמר האף תספה צדיק עם רשע
Abraham came forward and said will You sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
This theme continues until the end of the chapter with Abraham bargaining with God to save the people of Sodom.
The Alshich and the Zohar quoted by Nechama Leibovitz explain that it is this difference in response that creates the chasm between Abraham and Noah, where Abraham is a righteous man and Noah is not. The response of Noah continues to be viewed as a negative thing throughout Tanakh. This is exemplified by a verse in this week’s Haftorah.
כי מי נח זאת לי אשר נשבעתי מעבור מי נח עוד על הארץ כן נשבעתי מקצף עליך ומגער בך
For this to Me is like the waters of Noah as I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore would flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.
Rabbi Nebenzahl questions why the flood waters are called the waters of Noah. God is the one who decided to flood the world, why is Noah being blamed? The flood is called the waters of Noah because Noah did not even try to save the world and the people in his generation. As a result of this, it is as if the flood is his fault.
However, how can a human, even a righteous man like Abraham argue with God? Humans are finite, God is infinite, God has a master plan that humans cannot even begin to comprehend. What right does mere man have to debate God?
Rav Soloveitchik explains,
“The individual who frees himself from the rational principle and who casts off the yoke of objective thought will in the end turn destructive…’out of the depths I have called unto Thee O Lord’ (Psalms 130:1). Out of the straits of inner oppositions and incongruities, spiritual doubts and uncertainties, our of the depths of a psyche rent with antimonies and contradictions, out of the bottomless pit of a soul that struggles with its own torments I have called, I have called unto Thee O Lord”.
(Rav Soloveitchik Notes to P. 4 Halakhic Man)
Everyone has problems, doubts and conflicts within their religious experience. As humans, we cannot understand God’s plan, decisions and actions. However, there is no reason why we cannot discuss this with this God, call out to him and try to search for answer.
Ultimately, like Abraham we should protest respectfully when we think we see injustices in the world. It is this quality that makes Abraham the epitome of a Tzaddik and Noah’s silence that delegitimizes him. May we all have the courage to speak up when we see immorality and injustice and in our prayers receive clear answers from God.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem
A famous Gemara in Masechet Rosh Hashannah describes the process of Yom Hadin and how complete Tzaddikim and Reshaim will be judged and how people will either be signed into the Book of Life or the scarier alternative. The theme concludes
בינונים תלויין מראש השנה עד יום הכיפורים זכו נכתבין לחיים לא זכו נכתבין למיתה
Beinonim, [those in between] are hanging between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. If they are meritorious they are written for life, if they are not meritorious they are written for death.
(Rosh Hashannah 16b)
This theme is echoed in Maimonides Halachic work on Teshuva.
מי שנמצא לצדיק נחתם לחיים ומי שנמצא רשע נחתם למיתה. והבינוני תולין לו עד יום הכיפורים. אם עשה תשובה נחתם לחיים ואם לא נחתם למיתה.
A person who is found to be a Tzaddik is signed for life, and one who is found to be a Rasha is signed for death. The Beinoni is hanging until Yom Kippur. If he does Teshuva, he is signed for life, if he does not, he is signed for death.
(Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 3:3)
Through these sources we can see the importance of Yom Kippur. It is the day of our final sentencing, they day when God decides whether we will live or die and the details of our year to come. Furthermore, the days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are the appropriate days to do Teshuva and Teshuva completed then, is especially appreciated by God.
אף על פי שהתשובה והצעקה יפה לעולם בעשרת הימים שבין ראש השנה ויםהכיפורים היא יפה ביותר
Even though Teshuva and crying out to Hashem is always nice, during the ten days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, it is even nicer
(Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 2:6)
The theme of Teshuva is related to Sefer Hosea and the final verse poses interesting questions about Tzaddkim and Reshaim.
מי חכם ויבין אלה נבון וידעם כי ישרים דרכי ה’ וצדיקים ילכו בם ופושעים יכשלו בם
He who is wise will consider these words; He who is prudent will take not of them. For the paths of the Lord are smooth; the righteous can walk on them, while sinners stumble on them.
It seems strange that Reshaim aren’t able to follow the path of God. Isn’t the path of God for everybody? Isn’t that the way to repent?
Radak explains in the name of his father that the sinners stumble on the path of God because they are not used to it. They are like people who trip on unfamiliar roads. Furthermore, this verse is specifically talking about sinners who on the outside appear to have done Teshuva, but their hearts are still on the path of sin. These people will fail in their repentance, but God will help those who are sincere and they will succeed.
This explanation is not only relevant for this final verse of the Sefer but is related to the theme of the entire book. There is constant repetition of Israel’s false repentance and how they are not sincere in their Avodat Hashem. This is exemplified by
כי חסד חפצתי ולא זבח ודעת אלוקים מעלות
For I desire goodness, not sacrifice; obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings
This verse alludes to an inadequate fulfillment of Temple services. The people may have been bringing sacrifices, but they were not feeling the correct emotions or having the correct Kavannah behind them. In this case, sacrifices are useless. Furthermore, sacrifices are only intended for bedieved situations, one cannot sin and then make up for it just by bringing a sacrifice and then sinning again. This is not true Teshuva. This is confirmed by Maimonides
וכן בעלי חטאות ואשמות בעת שמביאין קרבנותיהם…אין מתכפר להן בקרבנם עד שיעשו תשובה
And so it is with sinners when they bring their sacrifices…their sacrifices do not atone for them until they do Teshuva
(Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 1:1)
ומה היא תשובה? הוא שיעזוב החוטא חטאו
And what is Teshuva? The sinner who completely removes himself from his sin…
(Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 2:1)
Maimonides gives us the guidelines for as to what is considered genuine Teshuva. He describes how even thought of the sin is completely removed from his mind with the ultimate Teshuva being, if he is placed in the exact situation again, he would not sin.
These two quotes from Maimonides provide a direct contrast to what we see in Hosea. Maimonides describes the need for intention behind sacrifices while Israel offered meaningless sacrifices and Teshuva as completely even removing thought of sin from our mind; while the last verse of Hosea describes an insincere Teshuva that is purely external.
During the Ten days of Repentance we aim to do Teshuva for sins Bein Adam L’Makom (between man and God) and for sins Bein Adam L’chaveiro (between man and man). Verse 6:6 in Hosea “for I desire goodness not sacrifice” demonstrates the importance of Bein Adam L’cheveiro to God. It appears that He priorities a positive relationship between man and his peers over an individual’s relationship with Him. However, Yom Kippur does not atone for sings Bein Adam L’chaveiro.
אין תשובה ולא יום הכיפורים מכפרין אלא עבירות שבן אדם למקום
Yom Kippur only atones for sins that are between man and God
(Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 2:9)
God cannot absolve or forgive man for sins committed against another person. It is up to that individual to forgive the sinner. A sin against another human needs a human response, not a Divine one.
This leads to a discussion about the Divine response, what is the best way to complete Teshuva for sins that are Bein Adam L’Makom?
גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כשגגות…איני? והאמר ריש לקיש:גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כזכויות! לא קשיא כאן מאהבה כאן מיראה
Teshuva is so great that intentional sins can be converted into unintentional sins. How is this? Doesn’t Reish Lakish say that Teshuva is so great that intentional sins can be converted into merits! This is not a difficult. The latter is talking about Teshuva from love and the former, Teshuva from fear
(Masechet Yoma 86b)
The most effective way to do Teshuva is through loving God! But is focusing on this aspect of our relationship with God really appropriate for Yom Kippur? Isn’t it more of a Malkeinu, serious and severe sort of a day? The Mishnah in Ta’anit thinks differently.
אמר ר’ שמעון בן גמליאל לא היו ימים טובים לישראל כחמשה עשר באב וכיום הכפורים
R’ Simeon the son of Gamliel said that there were no greater days for Israel than the 15th Av and Yom Kippur
(Mishnah Ta’anit 4:7)
Yom Kippur is often misrepresented as a sad, somber day. While it is serious, we must not forget that it ought to be one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar. It is a day that we strip ourselves of our physicality and focus solely on our relationship with God. Ideally, this should bring us the most joy in our loves – coming closer to God. In fact, this is the truest meaning of the word Teshuva.
Arguably, best way to become close to God is to love God through understanding His Hashgacha. When we can see and understand the impact God has on every minute detail of our life, we become closer to Him, understand His love for us which hopefully reflects into our love for Him. Understanding God’s Hashgacha is even considered a Mitzvah.
וענין המצוה שנחשוב ונתבונן בפקודיו ופעולותיו עד נשיגהו כפי יכלתנו ונתענג בהשגחתו
And the main point of the Mitzvah is to think and understand His actions to the best of our capabilities and to rejoice in His supervision.
(Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 418)
Once again, this connects back to the final verse in Hosea. Radak’s commentary on the words “for the paths of the Lord are smooth, the righteous can walk on them” explains that the reason the righteous can prosper on the path of God is because even when they see bad things happening to good people they realize that everything comes from God. They see that all of God’s actions are just, even if it cannot be seen through our finite eyes.
Similarly, Malbim explains that the righteous will prosper in contrast to those who complain and claim that God abandoned us in exile. The Tzaddikim recognize that we are all under Hashem’s Hashgacha, even in Galut and that His ways are just.
May this Yom Kippur result in deepening our relationship with God, learning from the actions of Israel in the times of Hosea and doing the exact opposite, and seeing revealed Hashgacha in all situations, especially the Geulah Shleimah.
The first Aliyah of this week’s Parsha discusses the consequences of not following the laws of God. The culmination of these numerous consequences is the exile of our people from the Land of Israel. One of the most interesting verses in the Sedra demonstrates the difference between sins committed privately, and those committed publicly.
הנסתרות לה אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת
The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever; that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah
In the Torah, the word ולבנינו is written strangely, with many dots appearing above the word. Rashi explains that if there are sins committed publicly and the community does not discipline the offenders, the entire community will be punished by God.
אבל הנגלות, לנו ולבנינו לבער הרע מקרבנו, ואם לא נעשה דין יענשו את הרבים. נקוד על לנו ולבנינו, לדרוש, שאף על הנגלות לא ענש את הרבים עד שעברו את הירדן משקבלו עליהם את השבועה בהר גרזים ובהר עיבל ונעשו ערבים זה לזה:בהם
However, “the revealed things apply to us and to our children” [that is, we are responsible for detecting the sins committed openly in our community, and] to eradicate any evil among us. And if we do not execute judgment upon these [open transgressions, over which we do have control,], then the whole community will be punished [because they would be remiss in their responsibility]. There is a dot placed over [each letter of] the words לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ here, to teach us homiletically that even for open sins [which were not brought to judgment, God] did not punish the whole community-until Israel crossed the Jordan. For then, they accepted upon themselves the oath at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, and thereby [formally] became responsible for one another (Sanh. 43b). [When dots are placed over letters of the Torah, this denotes an exclusion of some sort. In our context, our Rabbis teach us that the exclusion refers to the period prior to the crossing of the Jordan.]
(Rashi on Deuteronomy 29:28)
Further, he explains that the dots placed above each letter of the word indicate that God did not punish the entire people for open sins until they crossed the Jordan river. It was only at Mt. Grizim and Mt. Abel that the people agreed to all formally be responsible for each other.
Unfortunately, throughout history, these consequences became a reality. We sinned, we were warned to repent, we did not repent, our Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land. This did not happen only once, but twice! This also excludes the number of times we lost our independence in our own land and were forced to live under the rule of foreign nations.
However, in the past one hundred years we have been privileged to see the other side of the coin. Prophecies of the future when the Jewish people will return to Israel are also written in this week’s Parsha.
וְשָׁב יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ מִכָּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר הֱפִיצְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁמָּה :
. אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם מִשָּׁם יְקַבֶּצְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמִשָּׁם יִקָּחֶךָ
וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ:
then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you. Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the Lord, your God, will gather you from there, and He will take you from there. And the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land which your forefathers possessed, and you [too] will take possession of it, and He will do good to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.
In the past generation, we figuratively crossed the Jordan and became responsible for one another. While this may be difficult, we may not agree and our society may seem fractured beyond repair, it is a better alternative than exile. This sentiment is eloquently expressed by A.B Yehoshua.
עלינו לחיות את האינטראקציה בין דתיים לחילוניים במלואה, היות ובמדינת ישראל, איננו משוחררים זה מזה כמו בגולה, בה יכול כל יהודי לבשל את תבשיל היהדות המתאים לו, בלי להתחשב בשני. פה בבית, אנחנו יושבים כולנו, כמו כל עם במין אולפן של פופוליטיקה, קשורים זה בזה, תובעים זה מזה, אחראים זה לזה ומכריעים זה עבור זה. זוהי ריבונות וגם אם יש לה טעם קשה, מסובך ומלא אכזבות, האמינו לי עבור מי שחי אלפיים שנה בגלות, יש לה טעם נפלא ומתוק”. (א.ב. יהושע, מתוך ראיון לכתב עת תואר, האוניברסיטה העברית, נובמבר 1998).
"We should fully live the interaction between religious people and seculars, since in the state of Israel, we’re not separated from each other, as we were in exile, where every Jew could live Judaism the way he sees it, without taking into account what the other thinks. Here, at home, we sit all together, like a whole nation in a talk-show studio, who are tied to each other, demanding from each other, responsible to each other, and making choices one for the other. This is our independence, and even if sometimes it tastes hard, complicated, and full of disappointments, believe me, for a person who lived 2000 years in exile, its taste is sweet and wonderful." (A. B. Yehoshua)
It appears that for better or for worse, for good or for bad we are all responsible for each other.
כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה
All of Israel are responsible for each other
Unfortunately, things that are supposed to unite us as a nation are unfortunately used as an excuse to divide us. Some people eat this Hechsher but not that Hechsher, some people won’t listen to this Rav and anybody who wears this type of Kippah or hat must be an apikoires. While this may all be said and done in the name of the Torah, the discord it brings to the Jewish people is in no way valid.
While Yair Lapid may be a secular Jew a few weeks ago in Knesset he correctly asserted that the Torah is intended to unite us, not divide us. This is especially relevant just before Rosh Hashannah.
All our Rosh Hashannah prayers are written in the plural and we daven as entire community, all together. This is because we have greater power as a united force to create positive decrees in heaven. May this year result in an everlasting unity of Am Yisrael and when we daven on the Yamim Noraim we are all inscribed in the Book of Life.
כתיבה וחתימה טובה
This week’s Parsha begins discussing the bringing of Bikkurim.
והיה כי תבוא אל הארץ…..ולקחת מראשית כל פרי האדמה
And it will be when you come in to the land….you shall take the first of all the fruit.
The Ohr Hachayim explains that the use of the word והיה denotes happiness and that one can only be truly happy when living in Eretz Yisrael.
שאין לשמוח אלא בישיבת ארץ ישראל
In this vein, the specific use of the word שמחה describes a specific type of happiness. Chassidic sources discuss two types of happiness, ששון and שמחה . ששון refers to a more external frivolity that is characterized by its brevity and transience. שמחה is a deep seeded joy that is an expression of an individual’s contentment in life. שמחה is achieved by through living a life committed to values and fulfilling goals. In Judaism, this is accomplished by focusing on תלמוד תורה and קיום מצות, our ultimate objectives while living a Torah lifestyle.
This is exemplified by the Jews in the Megillah after their redemption.
Their joy is described as
ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה
The Jews had light and happiness
In this Passuk, the light and the happiness are intrinsically connected. The light is a metaphor for Torah and their joy was derived from the Torah. The Jews were happy not only because of their physical redemption, but because they were once again committed to living a life of Torah and Mitzvot, and free to live in this manner without oppression from outside forces. True happiness is only achieved through living a life with a higher purpose.
The happiness that the Ohr Hachayim describes when talking about Bikkurim is not a transient ששון nor is it purely the happiness of a nation living independently in its own land after 40 years in the desert. The Ohr Hachayim argues that bringing Bikkurim is a deep contentment. It’s essentially the act of recognizing of Hashem’s work in the physical world. Our life goals of תלמוד תורה and קיום מצות are not reserved for Talmidei Chachamim or only completed in the Beit Midrash. Our Judaism permeates every moment of our lives, even our planting in the fields, our harvesting and our physical and seemingly mundane lives. Only when we recognize the connection between the material and the spiritual in our lives, do we truly fulfill our life goals and achieve a state of שמחה as exemplified by the bringing of Bikkurim.
Moreover, the Ohr Hachayim’s emphasises true happiness can only be achieved while living in Eretz Yisrael. This is because only in Eretz Yisrael can we fulfill all the Mitzvot to the best of our ability; only Eretz Yisrael do we have the opportunity to be קיום the מצות שתלויות בארץ; only in Eretz Yisrael do we have the truest melding of physicality and spirituality; only in Eretz Yisrael can we maximize our potential and fulfill our dual goals to the best of our ability.
May the coming year bring us only שמחות and the opportunity for permanent תלמוד תורה and קיום מצות in Eretz Yisrael with Mashiach.
כתיבה וחתימה טובה
This is a Dvar Torah that originally appeared a booklet full of Divrei Torah that my friend collated. She sends out a weekly Parsha Dvar Torah as well. If you’re interested in joining the email list, let me know.
The themes that stand out in this chapter are power and ambition and the Megillah guides us as to how we should act when wanting to increase and accept power.
Haman approaches King Achashverosh in the middle of the night to talk to him about the gallows he had made for Mordechai. However, Achashverosh asks him
, מַה-לַּעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ;
What should be done to the man who the king wishes to honour
According to the Malbim, Achashversosh is intentionally vague and merely says “the man”, guessing that Haman would assume the King was referring to him. Achashverosh’s instinct was correct as the verse continues with Haman’s inner thoughts
וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, בְּלִבּוֹ, לְמִי יַחְפֹּץ הַמֶּלֶךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת יְקָר, יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנִּי
Now Haman said in his heart: ‘Whom would the king delight to honour besides myself?’—
Haman proceeds to divulge his deepest aspirations and desires. He wishes to wear the king’s clothing, ride the king’s horse, be paraded through the streets and even wear the King’s crown. According to the Targum Sheini, Haman’s proposal proves that Haman hoped that in the future he would become the king and as a result of that, Achashverosh decided to cut him down to size by making him organise Mordechai’s parade of honour.
After Mordeachai’s parade of honour, we are assured that the status quo is now just and fair. Mordechai is honoured and Haman is disgraced. The hero is recognised and the villain discredited.
וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי, אֶל-שַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ; וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ
And Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and having his head covered.
Malbim explains that Mordechai not only returned to the king’s gate, but to the position of honour he deserved, whereas Haman went home in disgrace. Haman’s disgrace is iterated by his wife Zeresh and his advisors who claim
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ חֲכָמָיו וְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ, אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹא-תוּכַל לוֹ—כִּי-נָפוֹל תִּפּוֹל, לְפָנָיו.
‘Since Mordechai is of Jewish descent, once you’re begun to fall before him, you’ll never over come him; but continue falling before him’
Haman’s downfall was not caused just because Mordechai was of Jewish descent, Haman’s pride and arrogant behaviour also contributed his downfall. The idea of arrogance causing destruction is found in Mishlei.
לִפְנֵי שֶׁבֶר גָּאוֹן וְלִפְנֵי כִשָּׁלוֹן גֹּבַהּ רוּחַ,:
Before destruction comes pride, and before stumbling [comes] a haughty spirit.
It was Haman’s haughtiness that caused him to hate the Jews and Mordechai, eventually leading to his own death. Haman could not simply accept that the Jews and Mordechai did not bow to him like all the other people in Shushan did. He could not accept the fact that the Jews looked to God as the ultimate authority, rather than man. Haman was not able to swallow his pride and accept beliefs different to his own. Rather, he was consumed by his hatred and became obsessed with plotting Mordechai’s death and the genocide of the Jews. It must be remembered that Haman was already second in command in Perisa, he had achieved greatness and accumulated power, but it was not enough for him. He wanted more. It was this attitude that led to his downfall.
In contrast to Haman is Mordechai, who is simply described as “Mordechai the Jew”. Not much is said about him in the text, but it appears that his aim in his life is to follow the word God. He does good where he can, saving the King from Bigtan and Teresh’s assassination plot and does not complain that he was not honoured or recognised for his efforts. When he is honoured he does not ask for more or reject it, he simply accepts it. It is Mordechai that eventually becomes the viceroy when Haman is hanged. He accepts the position and performs the job to the best of his ability, advocating his people along the way. In the closing of the Megillah we read
כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי, מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו—דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ, וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכָל-זַרְעוֹ.
For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed.
Mordechai continues to be addressed by the same title “Mordechai the Jew” throughout the entire Megillah. While Mordechai’s position may have changed, he remained the same person. He did not become arrogant as a result of his promotion and he continued to seek and speak peace.
Ambition is not bad. It is important to be motivated and to try and achieve a goal. However, we must ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be consumed by our pride and become arrogant along our path. Furthermore, when we are presented with opportunities we should not reject them, rather accept them with humility and grace. Like Shakespeare wrote in the Twelfth Night “be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em”. Mordechai proves that power is not an inherently corruptive force or something to be afraid of, we must try to emulate him and remain the same person we always were, accept our greatness and do not expect more.
This Parsha discusses the final 3 of the 10 plagues and the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The Parsha also makes numerous references to the Land of Israel.
. וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִאֲךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לְךָ וְלַאֲבֹתֶיךָ וּנְתָנָהּ לָךְ:
And it will come…
Couldn’t include these in the DT, but I thought I’d write them here to share with you.
ט. כִּי מֵרֹאשׁ צֻרִים אֶרְאֶנּוּ וּמִגְּבָעוֹת אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ הֶן עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב:
For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.
Israel has and always will be a nation that is different, separate. We are called a גוי קדוש for a reason. Being Holy, means being distinguished, separate. In fact the word קדוש has those very connotations. We have to stop trying to be like everybody else. We have to stop trying to please everybody. We have to stop being apologetic for our religion and our beliefs. Being separate is what defines us and we MUST be proud of that and start acting thusly.
יז. אֶרְאֶנּוּ וְלֹא עַתָּה אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ וְלֹא קָרוֹב דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקֹב וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל:
17. I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel
Also, this references Mashiach. Thought y’all should know.
We should merit to see the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days - especially as 17 Tammuz is this weekend.
Sorry about the lack of Divrei Torah in recent weeks. School work has piled up, and I’ve actually been doing work on Friday afternoons! This really just a random assortment of ideas that were going through my head as I learnt this week’s Parsha.
In this week’s Parsha, King Balak, the monarch of Moab hires the magician/prophet/sorcerer/owner of a taking donkey to curse the Jews. A running theme throughout this week’s Sidrah is
ג. וַאֲבָרֲכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה:
3. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”
This idea is first found in Genesis, were G-d tells Abraham that his descendants will become a great nation and then that He will bless those that bless Abraham, and curse those that curse him.
The juxtaposition between these two concepts - the greatness and power of the Jews and the curse/blessing - is also found in this week’s Parsha.
King Balak wishes to curse the Jews because of their power and strength.
ה. וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹ לִקְרֹא לוֹ לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמֻּלִי:
5. He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of his people, to call for him, saying, “A people has come out of Egypt, and behold, they have covered the “eye” of the land, and they are stationed opposite me.
ו. וְעַתָּה לְכָה נָּא אָרָה לִּי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה בּוֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ…:
6. So now, please come and curse this people for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will be able to wage war against them and drive them out of the land…
This theme of the Jewish people’s power continues during Bilam’s first attempt at cursing Israel - a blessing instead, is said.
י. מִי מָנָה עֲפַר יַעֲקֹב וּמִסְפָּר אֶת רֹבַע יִשְׂרָאֵל
Who counted the dust of Jacob or the number of a fourth of [or, of the seed of] Israel?
The blessing is reminiscent of G-d’s promise to Abraham.
יז. כִּי בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר אֹיְבָיו:
17. That I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.
Interestingly enough, G-d’s promise to Abraham is accompanied by mentions of blessings and how even the other nations of the world will be blessed through the Jewish people.
יח. וְהִתְבָּרֲכוּ בְזַרְעֲךָ כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקֹלִי:
And through your children shall be blessed all the nations of the world, because you hearkened to My voice.”
Three times Bilam tried to curse the Jewish people and three times he failed. He ended up blessing them.
י. וַיִּחַר אַף בָּלָק אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיִּסְפֹּק אֶת כַּפָּיו וַיֹּאמֶר בָּלָק אֶל בִּלְעָם לָקֹב אֹיְבַי קְרָאתִיךָ וְהִנֵּה בֵּרַכְתָּ בָרֵךְ זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים:
10. Balak’s anger flared against Balaam, and he clapped his hands. Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.
Now, what does this mean for the Jewish people, Israel and international relations today?
This concept has been witnessed time and time again throughout the course of Jewish history. All nations and empires that have attacked and persecuted Jews are gone, vanquished, no longer powerful. Look what happened to the Byzantines, the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Babylonians…?
Let this be a lesson for all who try to curse, attack or persecute Jews or Israel. You won’t be successful. You will be cursed. You will be destroyed. You will be annihilated. You will be vanquished. You will cease to exist.
As an anonymous wise person once said
"Don’t sc**w with Israel ‘cause G-d will sc**w with you"