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Mishnah: Shevuot 2:3-4
Tanach: Divrei Hayamim I 1-2
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Pesachim 65
Halachah: Mishnah Berurah 299:9-300:1
The Midrash Tanchuma comments on the verse in our parashah (26:16), “This day, Hashem, your Elokim, commands you to perform these decrees and the statutes, and you shall observe and perform them with all your heart and with all your soul,” as follows: Thus it is written (Tehilim 95:6), “Come! Let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before G-d, our Maker.” Says the midrash: “Prostrating” is “bowing,” and “bowing” is “prostrating”! Why then does the verse list [three forms of essentially the same act] “prostrating,” “bowing” and “kneeling”? Because Moshe saw through ruach hakodesh that the Bet Hamikdash would be destroyed and bikkurim / the first fruits [the subject of the preceding verses] would no longer be brought; therefore he established that the Jewish People should pray three times a day. Why? Because prayer is more beloved to Hashem than all good deeds and all sacrificial offerings, as it is written (Tehilim 141:2), “Let my prayer stand as incense before You; the lifting of my hands as an afternoon offering.” Therefore, although Moshe Rabbeinu had performed every possible good deed, when he was prohibited from entering the Land, he prayed. Hashem told him (Devarim 3:26), “Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter. Ascend to the top of the summit . . . and see with your eyes.” [Until here from the midrash]
R’ Avraham Meir Rosen z”l (Warsaw; 19th century) explains: The midrash is bothered by the phrase, “This day, Hashem, your Elokim, commands you . . .” Was that the first day that Hashem commanded regarding the mitzvot? Therefore, the midrash understands the Torah to be teaching that even “this day”–i.e., whenever one reads the verse, even after the Temple was destroyed–there is a way to draw Hashem’s blessings into the world, a function once served by the mitzvah of bikkurim. Just as one who brought bikkurim would bow before Hashem (see 26:10), so bowing in prayer three times a day can accomplish this goal. (Beur Ha’amarim)
“Moshe and the kohanim, the levi’m, spoke to all Yisrael, saying, ‘Hasket / Be attentive and hear, O Yisrael - This day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d’.” (27:9)
R’ Moshe David Valle z”l (1697-1776; Italian kabbalist and colleague of R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato z”l) writes: “Be attentive and hear” means “Do not stop paying attention to the curses and warnings that are in this parashah.” This is similar to the verse (Mishlei 3:11), “My child, do not despise Hashem’s discipline and do not despise his reproof.”
In addition, our Sages interpret”Hasket” as two words: “has” and “ket.” The Hebrew letters of “has” (heh-samech) have a gematria of 65, equal to Hashem’s Name which is associated with mercy (aleph-dalet-nun- yud). “Ket” alludes to “katat” / pulverize. This teaches that even when Hashem must strike us harshly because of our sins, He also injects an element of mercy. King David said similarly (Tehilim 23:4), “Your rod and Your staff comfort me.” The rod represents punishment, while the staff represents the Shechinah which supports us. (Mishneh L’melech)
“Accursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image . . . “Accursed is the man who degrades his father and mother . . .” (27:15-16)
The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that Hashem considers His honor and the honor of parents to be equivalent. The reason, R’ Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; Hungary) explains, is that as long as one honors his parents, he will not leave his faith, the faith which his parents have bequeathed to him. This is why our two verses above are juxtaposed to each other: A Jew who worships graven images (idols) degrades his parents as well. (Keren Le’Dovid)
”. . . because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.” (28:47)
Is it really possible that merely because one did not serve Hashem happily that he will be deserving of the terrible curses described in our parashah? After all, such a person did at least serve Hashem.
No! writes R’ Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock z”l (1852-1928; chassidic rebbe in Ostrowiec, Poland). Rather, the verse should be read as follows: “All these curses will come upon you . . . because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d.” Did you feel guilty about this? No, it was “amid gladness and goodness of heart.” You were happy and content over the fact that you were not serving Hashem. (Meir Einei Chachamim III)
The anonymous work Orchot Tzaddikim (possibly dating to the early medieval period) interprets this verse as follows: “Because–amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant–you did not serve Hashem, your G-d.” For example, he writes, drinking wine on Yom Tov is a mitzvah. However, if one focuses on his drink and drinks to excess, and loses sight of the mitzvah, he would be committing the violation described in this verse.
R’ Moshe Zvi Neriah z”l (1913-1995; rosh yeshiva in Kfar Ha’roeh, Israel, and one of the early leaders of the Bnei Akiva youth movement) writes:
The various thoughts of teshuvah which pass through a person’s mind make him think that he has already repaired what needs to be repaired. In reality, however, we all know that there is a wide gulf between thought and deed.
How then can a person know where he stands? How can one know if any change has really occurred within him? If we were dealing with empirical facts, it would be easy enough, but we are not. Our relationship with G-d is necessarily abstract, for He has no body and no form of a body (paraphrasing one of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith).
The answer, R’ Neriah writes, is that the barometer of where one stands in his relationship with Hashem is where he stands in his relationship with his fellows. If one wants to know how he is doing with respect to “I have placed G-d before me always” (Tehilim 16:8), let him look at how he is doing with respect to “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
Why is this so? R’ Neriah explains that all sins come from one of two sources, either because one does not see Hashem, or because he does see himself, i.e., his selfish interests and desires control him. Instead of applying “Ain od milvado” / “There is nothing besides Him” to Hashem, he applies it to himself.
Seeing Hashem is very difficult, but not “seeing” oneself is somewhat easier. One does this by beginning to notice those around him, by thinking of the needs of others and giving in, by understanding, giving of oneself, and feeling love. When a person becomes accustomed to these practices, he gradually ceases to worship his avodah zarah / idolatry, i.e., himself. In turn, when he is faced with a sin against G-d, it is easier to overcome that temptation as well.
Perhaps, R’ Neriah concludes, this is what Rabbi Akiva was referring to when he said, “‘Love your fellow as yourself’ is the major principle in the Torah.” (Me’orot Neriah: Elul V’Tishrei p.23)
R’ Mordechai Golob shlita (Yerushalayim) writes: Our Sages teach that if a person is in the process of becoming a tzaddik, Hashem showers goodness on him even now. In contrast, if a person is becoming wicked, Hashem judges him based on his present condition, not based on his future. If a person is destined to be neither a tzaddik nor a rasha, but just “average,” Hashem does good to him now because of the good that he (the person) is destined to do, but He does not punish him for the bad that he has not yet done.
Therefore, one would be well advised in preparing for the High Holidays to get on the right path, the path that leads in the direction of achieving completeness and perfection. How? R’ Golob offers some suggestions from sages of earlier generations:
(1) Study Torah. The Midrash notes that the study of Torah has the potential to bring back even those who are quite distant from Hashem. Certainly, then, it can bring closer those who are already close. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) quotes Hashem, “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as an antidote to it.”
(2) Study mussar / works on character development. The Chafetz Chaim writes that he spoke to many great sages who were opponents of the mussar movement in its early years [the late 19th century], and even they agreed that the study of mussar is necessary in “our” time [i.e., the early 20th century, and certainly the 21st century]. Without the study of mussar, the Chafetz Chaim writes, we have no assurance that our Torah knowledge or our fear of G-d will be retained. R’ Yaakov Lorberbaum (the “Nesivos”; early 19th century) likewise wrote to his children in his will, “I warn you to set aside time every day to study mussar, for because of our sins, our hearts are hardened like stones, but mussar has the power to soften the stone.” Finally, the Chatam Sofer (also early 19th century) wrote, “Believe me! On a day when I do not study mussar, I feel that my fear of G-d is weakened noticeably.”
(3) Choose a good environment and good friends. Rambam writes (Hil. De’ot 6:1), “It is only natural that a person’s views and ideas are influenced by his friends and comrades . . . Therefore, a person must attach himself to tzaddikim . . .”
(4) Choose a rabbi or spiritual mentor who will guide you. The Gemara says that a person should always live near his mentor. The proof for this is that as long as King Shlomo’s rebbe was alive, King Shlomo did not marry the daughter of Pharaoh.
(5) Pray regarding spiritual matters. If one prays for help in improving his Torah study or in some other spiritual undertaking, Hashem will certainly answer him.
(6) Study the laws of lashon hara. This will help a person improve in all areas of interpersonal relations, not just in the specific area of not speaking evil about others. (Eitzot Le’dina p.28-29)