Friday, August 11, 2006

Parshas Eikev

ועתה ישראל מה ד' אלקיך שאל מעמך כי אם ליראה את ד' אלקיך (10:12)

The wisest man to ever live, Shlomo HaMelech, concluded his words of wisdom (Koheles 12:13) with the following thought: סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלקים ירא ואת מצותיו שמור כי זה כל האדם – the sum of the matter when everything has been considered: fear Hashem and observe His commandments, for this is the entire person. Rav Elchanon Wasserman explains Shlomo’s intent by noting that a person who isn’t wise, kind, strong, wealthy, or attractive may be missing a very important quality, but he is still considered to be a person. On the other hand, Shlomo comes to teach us that one’s entire “personhood” is defined by his level of fear of Hashem. Somebody who is completely lacking in fear of Heaven isn’t considered to be a deficient person, but rather isn’t even considered a person!

Similarly, the greatness of a person corresponds to this trait; to the degree to which somebody fears Hashem, he is a greater or lesser person. One may possess all of the characteristics which are valued by the society around us. He may be handsome, successful, outgoing, and even kind, but if he is lacking in fear of Heaven, he hasn’t even entered the realm of humanity, while in the Torah’s eyes, a humble, simple, and unassuming man who lives honestly and fears Hashem is infinitely superior and in an entirely different category. It is for this reason that Moshe Rabbeinu emphasized that the most important trait which Hashem asks from a person is his fear of Heaven.


ארץ אשר ד' אלהיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ד' אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה (11:12)

The Torah refers to Israel as the land which Hashem seeks out and upon which His eyes are always focused, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. However, there is a glaring lack of grammatical parallelism in the verse, as it mentions the beginning of the year (מרשית השנה) and the end of year (אחרית שנה).

The Satmar Rebbe beautifully notes that Parshas Eikev is traditionally read toward the end of the summer, as the free days of vacation slowly come to an end and the solemnity of Elul quickly approaches. The realization that Shabbos M’vorchim Elul is only one week away serves as a wake-up call that the time for examining our ways and repenting our actions is just around the corner.

Every year, a person gets excited about this opportunity for growth and spiritual rebirth, eager to change and improve his deficiencies. He proudly convinces himself that this will be “the” year of all years, the year in which he is finally able to successfully address the issues which have been haunting him throughout his life. He even makes a list of all of the areas he plans to rectify, and upon its completion, becomes filled with enthusiasm for his new project, convinced that he is already on the home stretch to becoming the new person he always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that his evil inclination is only too happy to let him repeat the process he has engaged in for countless years, as it knows that with the putting away of his sukkah, his dreams and aspirations will be placed on the back burner for yet another year as he becomes distracted by the mundane chores of everyday life. As the year draws to a close, he will look back with disappointment and realize that the year which he was sure would be “the” year was in reality, just another year. Some have even cynically suggested that instead of getting excited and making a new list of proposed changes, he should simply take out last year’s list and change the date at the top, as the lists will surely coincide. The Torah hints to this sad phenomenon when it refers to the beginning of the year as רשית השנה – the beginning of the year – while the end of the year is merely אחרית השנה – the end of yet another typical year!

However, the Rebbe, in his inimitable fashion, provided a brilliant insight full of hope and consolation. In the Kedushah recited (Nusach Sefard) during Mussaf, the chazzan says הוא אלקינו הוא אבינו. הוא מלכנו הוא מושיענו. והוא יושיענו ויגאלנו שנית וישמיענו ברחמיו שנית לעיני כל חי לאמר. הן גאלתי אתכם אחרית כראשית להיות לכם לאלקים – He is our G-d, He is Our Father, He is Our King, He is Our Savior, and He will save and redeem us a second time and will tell us in His mercy for all to see: “I have redeemed you at the end (of time) as at the beginning, to be to you for a G-d.” In reassuring us that we will once again be redeemed from the current exile, the Rebbe suggested that Hashem hints to us that this will take place when אחרית כרשית – when the end (of the year) is like the beginning (of the year). The time will come when we won’t just begin the year excited that this will be “the year,” but when we will be able to look back at the end and declare with pride and satisfaction, “This was indeed ‘the year.’” When that time comes, Hashem will bring the ultimate redemption, may this be “the” year!


ארץ אשר ד' אלהיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ד' אלקיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה (11:12)

The Gemora in Rosh Hashana (16b) states that any year which is “poor” at the beginning will be rich and full of blessing at the end. This is homiletically derived from our verse, which refers to the beginning of the year as רשית השנה (leaving out the “א” in ראשית), which may be reinterpreted as a poor year. The Gemora understands the Torah as hinting that such a year will have an אחרית, an ending different than that with which it began (i.e. rich and bountiful). Rashi explains that a “poor” year refers to one in which a person makes himself poor on Rosh Hashana to beg and supplicate for his needs.

Rav Chaim Friedlander writes that the Gemora is giving us invaluable advice for receiving a decree for a good year. However, in order to follow this advice, one must comprehend what it means to make oneself like a poor person and how does one do so? It isn’t sufficient to merely view oneself “as if” he is poor for the day. Rather, a person must honestly believe and internalize that his entire lot for the upcoming year – his health, happiness, wealth, and family situation – will be determined on this day. In other words, at the present moment, he has absolutely nothing to his name and must earn it all while beginning from scratch.

This may be difficult to do for a person who is fortunate enough to have a good source of income, a large number of good friends, a beautiful house and family, and no history of major medical problems. How can such a person honestly stand before Hashem and view himself as a poor person who has nothing to his name?

Rav Friedlander explains that if he contemplates the fact that all that he has is only because Hashem willed it to be so until now, he will naturally recognize that at the moment that Hashem wills the situation to change, it will immediately do so. If Hashem wishes him to lose all that he has in the manner which occurred to Iyov, he could G-d forbid lose everything in a moment, or find himself facing a dangerous situation or illness for which his entire estate will prove helpless. Although we are all accustomed to assuming that this couldn’t happen to us in order to avoid the constant anxiety such thinking would cause, we all personally know of such stories which can help us to internalize this concept as we approach Rosh Hashana.

On Rosh Hashana, Hashem decrees on every single person what will happen to him at every moment of the upcoming year, including what they will have and to what extent they will be able to enjoy it. Therefore, each person must begin the year with a clean slate and merit to receive everything which he had until now from scratch. If he views himself standing before Hashem’s Throne of Glory like a poor person with nothing to his name, he will realize that his entire existence in the year to come is completely dependent on Hashem’s mercy and kindness. A person who honestly feels this way can’t help but beg and plead for Divine mercy, which the Gemora promises will indeed be aroused to give him a decree of a wonderful year, something we should all merit in the coming year!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Baal HaTurim writes (8:8) that the verse extolling the land of Israel for its 7 unique species contains 10 words, which correspond to the 10 fingers with which one is to hold bread when reciting the blessing over it and to the 10 mitzvos which were involved in the production of the bread. How many of these mitzvos can you name?

2) The Gemora in Berachos (35b) states that eating without reciting the appropriate blessing is considered a form of stealing. Why aren’t non-Jews, who are forbidden to steal, obligated to recite blessings before and after their meals?

3) The Medrash states (Bereishis Rabbah 42:3) that the word ויהי is used in conjunction with sad events and the word והיה is used to connote joy. Why does the Torah use (8:19) the word והיה in reference to forgetting Hashem and going to worship idolatry, something hardly associated with happiness? (Mayan Beis HaShoeivah)

4) While rebuking the people for the sin of the golden calf, Moshe mentions (9:17) that upon seeing the calf, he grabbed the Tablets and threw them to the ground, smashing them in the process. Why did he need to grab the Tablets when he was already holding them? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Rav Yosef Leib Nendik as quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)

5) Moshe recounts (9:21) that “your sin which you committed – the golden calf – I took and burned it in fire.” While it was possible to burn the physical calf, what does it mean and how is it possible to burn the actual sin? (Shelah HaKadosh)

6) Moshe descended from Mount Sinai with the second Tablets at the end of the 3rd set of 40 days (10:5, Rashi 10:1). Rashi writes (Shemos 34:29) that this took place on Yom Kippur. How was Moshe permitted to carry the Tablets, which is one of the creative labors forbidden on Yom Kippur as on Shabbos? (Rinas Yitzchok and Tzafnas Paneiach 10:5, Panim Yafos Parshas Ki Sisa, Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh Orach Chaim 192, Shu”t Rivash 96, Chasam Sofer Parshas Yisro, Chavatzeles HaSharon Parshas Ki Sisa, Ramban Shemos 18:13)

7) The Gemora in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one is required to recite 100 blessings daily. Is this a Biblical or Rabbinical obligation? (S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Ches Klal 34)

8) The Gemora in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one is required to recite 100 blessings daily. Are women included in this obligation? (Halichos Beisah quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi)

9) The Gemora in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one is required to recite 100 blessings daily. For the purposes of this mitzvah, does a day begin at sunrise or sundown, and if it begins at sunrise, why is different than other mitzvos for which the Jewish day traditionally begins at sundown?

10) Rashi writes (11:18) that Moshe warned the Jews that even when they are in exile, they must continue to observe the mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tefillin, in order to be familiar with them when they return to the land of Israel. How can the need to observe these mitzvos be attributed to this indirect reason when the Mishnah in Kiddushin (1:9) rules that as regards mitzvos which aren’t directly dependent on the land, one is equally obligated to perform them in Israel and outside of the land? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

11) Why is the entire 2nd paragraph of Krias Shema written in the plural except for the verse (11:20) containing the commandment to write mezuzos on one’s doorpost? (Meshech Chochma, Shiras Dovid, Rinas Yitzchok)


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