Friday, August 04, 2006

Parshas Va'eschanan

ואתחנן אל ד' (3:23)

It is well-known that Moshe petitioned Hashem 515 times in an attempt to convince Him to rescind His decree and permit Moshe to enter the land of Israel. The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Devorim 940) states that this is hinted to in the Torah itself, as the numerical value of the word ואתחנן – and I beseeched – is 515.

The P’nei Yehoshua (Berachos 32a), however, suggests that this figure may also be mathematically derived. Rashi writes (3:23) that Moshe began to entreat Hashem after conquering the lands of Sichon and Og. Because he was permitted to enter their lands, which would later possess some of the holiness of the land of Israel as the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and Menashe dwelled there, he thought that perhaps Hashem had revoked His oath prohibiting Moshe from entering the land of Israel.

Even before the actual military battle, Moshe know that they would emerge victorious, since Hashem told him not to fear Sichon or Og (2:31, 3:2), as He had already delivered the Heavenly angel in charge of their lands into the hands of Moshe (Rashi 2:31). The Gemora relates (Bava Basra 121a, Rashi 2:17) that Hashem told him this on 15 Av, on the day that the last of those who were destined to die in the wilderness passed away and the Jewish people once again merited Hashem’s love and clear prophecy.

From 15 Av until the day of Moshe’s death, 7 Adar, there are 200 days. If Moshe implored Hashem during each of the 3 daily prayers, he would have petitioned a total of 600 times. However, one is forbidden to pray for his personal needs on Shabbos (see Mishnah Berurah 288:22). Subtracting the 3 prayers which he wasn’t able to say on each Shabbos, of which there were 28 during this period, leaves a total of 516 prayers. However, prophecy didn’t return to Moshe on 15 Av until the morning, leaving him without a reason to beseech Hashem during the evening prayers. From the morning of 15 Av until his death on 7 Adar at the time of Minchah (Zohar HaKadosh Parshas Terumah, Tosefos Menachos 30a d.h. mi’kan), it comes out that Moshe indeed prayed precisely 515 prayers!


כי תוליד בנים ובני בנים ונושנתם בארץ והשחתם ... ועשיתם הרע בעיני ד' אלקיך להכעיסו

העידתי בכם היום את השמים ואת הארץ כי אבד תאבדון מהר (4:25-26)

רמז להם שיגלו ממנה לסוף ח' מאות ונ"ב שנה כמנין ונושנתם והוא הקדים והגלם לסוף שמונה מאות וחמשים והקדים ב' שנים לונושנתם כדי שלא יתקיים בהם כי אבד תאבדון (רש"י)

The Torah threatens that after the Jewish people will become accustomed to living in the land, if they begin to take it for granted and perform evil acts in Hashem’s eyes, He will have no choice but to promptly destroy them. Rashi writes that the numerical value of the word ונושנתם – and you grow old in the land – is 852, which alludes that they will be exiled after 852 years of living in the land of Israel. However, if Hashem allowed them to remain for the full period, He would be forced to carry out the threat of the next verse: to utterly annihilate them. In order to allow them to remain intact, Hashem mercifully exiled them after only 850 years, two years prior to the pre-arranged time.

While this compassionate act of Hashem’s is certainly appreciated, it remains difficult to understand why he was forced to send them into exile two years early. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to allow them to remain in the land for one more year, during which time they would have an opportunity to repent their wicked ways, and to expel them at the end of 851 years if they hadn’t corrected their ways?

The Leket Yosher, who was the Terumas HaDeshen’s closest student, writes in the introduction to his work that his Rebbe suggested that this difficulty is the source for the widespread belief that when comparing the gematrios (numerical values) of two words of phrases, they are permitted to differ by 1 and still be considered equivalent to each other. If Hashem would have permitted them to remain in the land of Israel for 851 years, he would no longer have been able to lighten their sentence by merely exiling them. As 851 is only one year less than the numerical value of ונושנתם (852), the passage of so much time would have been considered a fulfillment of the frightening threat of our verse, and Hashem would have been forced to fulfill the end of the verse and destroy the Jewish nation. In order to avoid that catastrophic scenario, He had no choice but to send them out two years early!


לך אמר להם שובו לכם לאהליכם (5:27)

There is a Talmudic maxim (Yevamos 97b) that גר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד דמי – a non-Jew who converts to Judaism is considered for legal purposes to have been newly reborn and is no longer Biblically considered the person he was with the relatives he used to have. In his commentary on Avodah Zara (63b), the Chasam Sofer writes that he has been troubled his entire life at his inability to locate a source for this ruling which the Gemora seems in many places to take for granted.

The Meshech Chochmah suggests that this rule may be derived from our verse. Moshe’s father Amram was one of the greatest men of his generation and was married to Yocheved, his aunt, a marriage which is forbidden to Jews but permitted to non-Jews. If one of the leaders was married to such a close relative, it is reasonable to assume that a number of other Jews did likewise and married the various family members which aren’t forbidden to non-Jews.

After the giving of the Torah, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the people to return to their tents. The Gemora in Moed Katan (7b) understands this as a reference to their wives. Although they were required to abstain from marital relations for 3 days prior to the giving of the Torah in order to receive it in a state of spiritual purity, they were now permitted to resume normal family life. However, after the Torah was given, those Jews who were married to relatives to whom they were now forbidden by the Torah shouldn’t have been allowed to return to their wives, but rather should have been required to divorce them. If Hashem nevertheless told Moshe to permit all of the Jews to return to their wives, it must be that their conversion made them as if they were reborn and no longer related to their wives, thus permitting them to remain married, and from here we may derive the source for the law which the Chasam Sofer sought!


ואהבת את ד' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך (6:5)

How can Hashem command and require a person to love Him, as one’s emotions must be genuine and sincere, and mandated love is hardly an ideal level to strive for? Rav Akiva Eiger suggests that our feelings of love toward Hashem should indeed come naturally, as it is human nature to instinctively love a person who we feel loves us. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (27:19) כמים הפנים לפנים כן לב האדם לאדם – just as water reflects back the face of the person looking into it, so too does the human heart mirror the emotions it receives from others.

We need merely focus on contemplating and internalizing the unfathomable love with Hashem feels for every Jew, and reciprocal feelings of love will automatically well up in our hearts. It is for this reason that we conclude the blessing which immediately precedes the morning recitation of Shema with the words הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה – Who chooses His people Israel with love – and the evening recitation with the words אוהב עמו ישראל – Who loves His people Israel. As we think about these words and internalize their message, reminding us of the tremendous love which Hashem feels for us, we can’t help but experience reciprocal feelings of love, which will allow us to recite Shema with the proper emotions and concentration.


כי ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה העדת והחקים והמשפטים אשר צוה ד' אלקינו אתכם

ואמרת לבנך עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים ויציאנו ד' ממצרים ביד חזקה (6:20-21)

The Haggadah Shel Pesach tells us that the Torah speaks in reference to four different types of sons, with the question attributed to the wise son contained in our parsha. For each child, the Torah provides a different answer or explanation which is uniquely suited to that child’s unique circumstances, so that the parents will be able to explain the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt to each child in a manner which is appropriate for his level.

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik points out that we see from here the greatness of the Torah. Books which are written by humans are targeted toward one level, but the Divine Torah addresses and is relevant to every single person on his unique individual level. Rav Moshe Wolfson noted that in secular studies such as mathematics, at the end of each year of school, the students must turn in their old books in order to receive new, more advanced books at the beginning of the upcoming school year. On the other hand, Jews around the world study the very same Chumash, Mishnayos, and Gemora beginning in their youth and continuing throughout their lives, as the Divine wisdom contained therein may be accessed by each student on his personal level.

Rav Moshe Tukechinsky, who served as the Mashgiach of the Slabodka yeshiva in B’nei B’rak, noted that it is no coincidence that the mystics teach that the Torah may be understood in 70 different ways. He suggested that because the average life span of a person is 70 years (Tehillim 90:10), Hashem placed in the Torah a corresponding number of levels so that a person won’t be complacent with his previous understanding but will seek to discover a new depth in each successive year. However, it is unreasonable to assume that a person is expected to begin this project in the first few years of his life, when his intellect isn’t yet adequately developed for the task. Rather, we may suggest that this lifelong project begins at one’s Bar Mitzvah, when the Torah considers his mind to be sufficiently advanced as to be responsible for his actions. It should come as no surprise, then, that Rav Tukechinsky died at age 83!


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

1) Although Hashem forbade Moshe to actually enter the land of Israel, He did allow him to see the entire land, commanding him (3:27) to ascend to the top of a cliff and raise his eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward in order to take in the entire land. As he was standing to the east of the land of Israel, why did Hashem command him to also look to the east, as the land he would see in this direction wasn’t part of Israel? (Oznayim L’Torah)

2) The Torah commands (4:39) a person to knowוידעת היום – that Hashem is G-d in the Heavens and the earth, and there is no other power besides from Him; the Rambam similarly refers (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) to a mitzvah to know this reality. Why is this mitzvah known as אמונה – belief – a concept also used by the Rambam in reference to this mitzvah (Sefer HaMitzvos 1), instead of ידיעה – knowledge? (Toras Chaim)

3) The Gemora in Avodah Zara (2b) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused. If so, how can we make a blessing every morning thanking Hashem for choosing us from all of the nations and giving us His Torah (אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו) when it was only presented to us after every other nation declined the offer? (Mishmeres Ariel)

4) A well-known Gemora in Shabbos (88a) recounts that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they accept the Torah, all will be well, but if not, שם תהא קבורתכם – there will be your burial place. Wouldn’t it have been more grammatically correct to say פה – here – you will be buried? (Mas’as Hamelech)

5) A well-known Gemora in Shabbos (88a) relates that when the Jewish people answered in unison נעשה ונשמע – proclaiming with pure faith in Hashem their willingness to do and observe the commandments even before hearing them – 600,000 Heavenly angels immediately descended to present each Jew with two crowns, one for נעשה and one for נשמע, as six hundred thousand was the number of men at that time. Why didn’t the women also receive crowns for their answer?

6) There is a legal principle known as שומע כעונה – one may fulfill his obligation to recite something (e.g. a blessing or prayer) by listening to the recitation of another. Is it possible to perform the mitzvah of saying Shema by listening to another person say it, and does it make a difference whether it is being said by an individual or by the shaliach tzibbur (the person leading the prayers) on behalf of a minyan? (Aruch HaShulchan 62:8, Eliyah Rabbah 62)


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