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The next issue will appear for Parashat Bereishit

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (10:31), “The mouth of a righteous one speaks wisdom, but a duplicitous tongue will be cut off.” Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) explains: King Shlomo is teaching us in this verse that a tzaddik and a rasha are opposites; whereas a tzaddik speaks words of wisdom, a rasha does not.

R’ Bachya elaborates: A tzaddik is compared to a tree, as in the verse (Tehilim 1:3), “He shall be like a tree deeply rooted alongside brooks of water.” Just as a tree produces fruit, and it also has leaves, which, among other things, shade the fruits from the sun and heat, so a tzaddik produces “fruits” and has “leaves.” The “fruits” of a tzaddik are the words of Torah and wisdom that he “produces.” The “leaves” of a tzaddik are his sichot chullin / everyday conversations. Our Sages teach that one should pay close attention to, and learn from, even the everyday conversation of a Torah scholar. In contrast, not only can one not learn anything worthwhile from the everyday conversation of a rasha, even his supposed wisdom should be “cut off,” in the words of our verse.

R’ Bachya continues: It is not surprising that a tzaddik and a rasha are polar opposites because a tzaddik occupies himself with matters of the soul, which comes from the Heavens, while a rasha occupies himself with matters of the body, which comes from the earth. Every person is made up of, and lives with, these competing entities–Heaven and earth. That is why, in our parashah, when Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to designate witnesses to testify against Bnei Yisrael if they fail to keep the Torah, he chose Heaven and earth.

“For they are a generation of reversals . . .” (32:20)

R’ Yisrael Alter z”l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1977) would not permit the shteibels / small prayer and study houses of his followers to expel any member, even if that person seemed to behave in a manner unbecoming a chassid and member of the community. The rebbe explained that so long as the individual continued coming to the shteibel, that alone was reason to hope that he would someday mend his ways.

As support for his position, the rebbe quoted the interpretation of our verse offered by R’ Zusia z”l of Annipol (late 18th century chassidic rebbe): “They are a generation of reversals”–the Jewish People of our time are wont to change their nature suddenly and unpredictably. Thus, someone who was, one day, headed in the wrong spiritual direction may unpredictably change course at any time. (Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim p.622)

“And He will atone for admato / His Land and His people.

“Moshe came and he spoke all the words of this Song . . . He said to them, ‘Apply your hearts to the words that I testify against you today, with which you are to instruct your children, to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah’.” (32:43- 46)

Why, immediately after completing the Song of Ha’azinu, did Moshe warn Bnei Yisrael once again to be careful to perform all of the words of the Torah? R’ Eliyahu Hakohen Ha’Itamari z”l (Izmir, Turkey; died 1729) explains:

The word “admato” / “His Land” has the same Hebrew letters as “dalet amot” / four cubits. Thus, the verse, “He will atone for admato / His Land and His people,” alludes to the gemara’s statement (Ketubot 111a) that when one walks four cubits in Eretz Yisrael, all of his sins are forgiven. The Gemara there likewise states that if one is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as if he is buried under the altar (apparently a good thing).

These statements can lead a person to become complacent. “Why observe the mitzvot? I will live as I see fit, and the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael will guarantee my atonement.” No! says Moshe Rabbeinu. True, “He will atone for His Land and His people.” Nevertheless, “Apply your hearts to the words that I testify against you today,” “instruct your children” regarding them, and “Be careful to perform all the words of this Torah.” Why? Because, says the next verse, “Through this matter shall you prolong your days on the Land to which you cross the Jordan to possess it.” If you sin, you will be expelled from the Land and will not attain the atonement you took for granted. (Semuchin L’ad)

“He said to them, ‘Apply your hearts to all the words that I testify against you today, with which you are to instruct your children, to be careful to perform all the words of this Torah’.” (32:46)

R’ Shmuel Shmelke Guntzler z”l (1834-1911; rabbi of Oyber-Visheve, Hungary) explains: Our Sages teach that one should study Torah and perform mitzvoit even she’lo lishmah / not with the proper intention. Nevertheless, R’ Guntzler writes, there are three differences between actions performed lishmah and those that are not lishmah. Specifically, those who act she’lo lishmah tend to do less, what they do is less complete, and the long-term impact of their actions is less significant. In particular, one who learns Torah and performs mitzvot she’lo lishmah will be less successful in transmitting these practices to the next generation. This is what our verse means: If you “apply your hearts,” then you will successfully “instruct your children.” (Meishiv Nefesh)

“For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life . . .” (32:47)

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 1:1) comments: “And if they are empty words–it is on your account.”

R’ Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z”l (1867-1928; rabbi of, and rosh yeshiva in, Oyber-Visheve, Hungary) asks: How could one entertain the thought that any of Moshe Rabbeinu’s teachings were empty words? He explains:

The last several parashot have been full of rebukes that Moshe gave Bnei Yisrael. Bnei Yisrael might have argued: What is the purpose of all these rebukes? The G-d-fearing among us don’t need them, while those who are not G-d-fearing will not benefit from rebuke in any event!

To address this, Moshe said: If you think these are empty words–it is on your account, i.e., you are misunderstanding. In reality, even a G-d- fearing person can benefit from rebuke, which strengthens his resolve to stay on the proper path. And, even those who you think cannot benefit, may be influenced in the long run. (Keren L’David)


Iyov was complaining about his suffering, but when he saw that the third wall of a sukkah need be only one tefach / handsbreadth wide, he immediately felt better. (Midrash Pli’ah)

R’ Zvi Elimelech Shapira z”l (rabbi of Oleszyce, Galicia and other towns; died 1841) explains: We read in Tehilim (39:6), “Behold like hand breadths You made my days.” This teaches that the dimensions of the sukkah (which are measured in tefachim / hand breadths) allude to the types of activities that man engages in during his life. How so?

Man’s activities can be divided into three categories: tov / that which is good for him; mo’il / that which is helpful to him; and arev / that which is desirable to him. Man may engage in the first two categories as much as he wants, writes R’ Zvi Elimelech, but the third category should be used only as necessary.

This is alluded to by the minimum design criteria for a sukkah: two complete walls, and a third wall which is a tefach wide–hinting that man may engage in a full measure of activities which are tov and mo’il, but he should only engage in a small measure of those activities which are arev.

In order to successfully limit his participation in the third category of activities, man must realize that his life in this world is fleeting. This is alluded to by the sukkah, which must be at least seven tefachim wide by ten tefachim high (approximately 28 inches by 40 inches). After Yom Kippur, when man has repented, he moves into the flimsy sukkah to demonstrate his awareness that during the seventy (7x10) years of his life, he should not feel at home in this world, but should feel like a traveler passing through.

When Iyov learned this lesson, it made his suffering easier to bear. Once one recognizes that this life is only a way station, he does not expect it to always be comfortable or pleasant. (Bnei Yissaschar: Ma’amarei Tishrei 10:19)

Why is it sufficient for a sukkah to have only three walls? After all, the sukkah commemorates the Clouds of Glory which surrounded Bnei Yisrael in the desert, and they made four walls!

One answer is that we need an opening to leave the “Clouds of Glory” in order to earn a living. The generation of the Exodus did not have that need.

When Iyov lost all of his wealth, he was upset with himself. Why had he bothered? Why had he not devoted his whole life to learning Torah instead? But when he saw that the sukkah has only three walls, he realized that Hashem intends for some people to leave the bet midrash and work. This made him feel better. (Binat Nevonim)