Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Parshas Eikev

ואת חטאתכם אשר עשיתם את העגל לקחתי ואשרף אתו באש (9:21)

In discussing the sin of the golden calf, Moshe tells the people that “your sin which you committed, I took and burned it in fire.” While Moshe indeed took the physical calf and burned it, what did Moshe mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation?

The Shelah HaKadosh explains that every act which a person performs mystically creates a corresponding angel. Mitzvos create good angels, while sins bring about bad ones. Moshe recognized that simply burning the calf itself, while necessary, wouldn’t suffice to erase the spiritual effect of their actions. He therefore additionally took the destructive angel which was created through their sin and burned it as well. Moshe related this to the people to teach us that when repenting our misdeeds, we must sincerely regret our actions and accept upon ourselves not to repeat them in order to uproot not only the physical consequences of the sin but the spiritual ones as well.


כי הארץ אשר אתה בא שמה לרשתה לא כארץ מצרים הוא אשר יצאתם משם אשר תזרע את זרעך והשקית ברגלך כגן הירק והארץ אשר אתם עברים שמה לרשתה ארץ הרים ובקעת למטר השמים תשתה מים (11:10-11)

Moshe stressed that the land of Israel would be different than the land of Egypt from which the Jews were coming. Whereas the fields of the land of Egypt were watered by irrigation from the Nile river, those in Israel received their water from the rain supply. Although Rashi notes that a natural water supply is advantageous in that it requires less exertion, what deeper message was Moshe trying to impart?

After tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was punished and cursed that it will travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Bereishis 3:14). In what way does this represent a curse, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey, while the snake’s diet – dust – is to be found wherever it travels?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this point is precisely the curse. Other animals are dependent on Hashem to help them find food to eat, while the snake slithers horizontally across the ground, never going hungry, never looking upward, and therefore totally cut off from a relationship with Hashem, and therein lies the greatest curse imaginable!

Similarly, Rav Shimshon Pinkus symbolically explains that Moshe wasn’t merely relating an agricultural fact, but was teaching that the Egyptians were a totally “natural” people. It never rained in their country as it did in Israel, so they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold. In doing so, their hearts also never gazed toward the Heavens, thus effectively cutting them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically, appearing to be totally “natural.”

In light of this, the Exodus from Egypt to Israel wasn’t merely a physical redemption from agonizing enslavement, but it also represented a deeper philosophical departure. The Exodus allowed the fledgling Jewish nation to exchange a worldview devoid of spirituality, through which everything is understood and explained according to science and nature, for one in which we confidently declare that Hashem runs every aspect of the universe and we are dependent on Him for every detail of our daily lives.


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

The Satmar Rebbe points out a glaring lack of parallel structure in our verse, which mentions the beginning of the year (מרשית השנה) and the end of year (אחרית שנה). He explains that Parshas Eikev is read toward the end of the summer, as vacation slowly comes to an end. 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 is just around the corner.

Every year, a person gets excited about this opportunity for spiritual rebirth, eager to improve his deficiencies. He convinces himself that this will be “the year” of all years, the year in which he is finally successful in addressing the issues which have haunted him throughout his life. He makes a list of the areas he plans to rectify. Upon its completion, he becomes filled with enthusiasm, convinced that he is on the home stretch to becoming the new person that he always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that the evil inclination is only too happy to let him repeat the process he engages in every year. It knows that with the putting away of the sukkah, his dreams will be forgotten for another year as he becomes distracted by the responsibilities 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. The Torah hints to this phenomenon in referring to the beginning of the year as רשית השנה – the beginning of the year – and the end of the year as merely אחרית שנה – the end of yet another typical year!

However, the Rebbe, in his inimitable fashion, provides a brilliant insight full of consolation. In the Kedushah said during Mussaf (Nusach Sefard), 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. 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.”

The Rebbe homiletically suggests that Hashem hints to us that we will be redeemed from the current exile 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 proudly, “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.

As Rosh Hashana grows ever closer, what does this valuable advice mean, and how can we use it to ensure that coming year will be a prosperous one for us and our loved ones? Rashi explains that a “poor” year refers to one in which a person makes himself poor on Rosh Hashana to beg for his needs. In order to follow this advice, we must first understand what it means to make oneself like a poor person.

Rav Chaim Friedlander explains that 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, and family and financial situations – 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 from scratch.

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

Rav Friedlander explains that if a person understands that all that he has is only because Hashem willed it to be so until now, he will recognize that at the moment Hashem wills the situation to change, it will immediately do so. Although we are accustomed to assuming that this couldn’t happen to us, we all personally know of such stories which can help us internalize this concept.

I recently learned this lesson the hard way. Last year, I was excited to travel to Israel. Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, I took a taxi to the Kosel. My enthusiasm quickly turned to shocked disbelief when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my wallet in the back seat of the cab. Numerous frantic calls to the taxi’s company bore no fruit, and instead of proceeding to pray at the Kosel, I had to first stop to call my bank to cancel my credit cards. Looking back a year later, I realize that I painfully learned that just because I had something and assumed it to be firmly in my possession, I shouldn’t rely on this belief and take if for granted.

On Rosh Hashana, Hashem decrees what will happen to every person 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 receiving everything which he had until now from scratch.

If we view ourselves standing before Hashem’s Throne of Glory like a poor person with nothing to our names, we will realize that our entire existence in the year to come is completely dependent on Hashem’s kindness. A person who honestly feels this way can’t help but beg and plead for Divine mercy, which the Talmud promises will indeed be aroused to give him a decree of a wonderful year, something we should all merit in the coming year to come!


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

1) How can the Torah’s promises (7:12-16) of substantial earthly rewards for the performance of mitzvos be rectified with the Talmudic maxim (Kiddushin 39b) that Hashem doesn’t give reward in this world for the performance of good deeds? (Imrei Da’as, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

2) Moshe told the Jewish people (8:5) that just as a father chastises his son, so too does Hashem rebuke them. What lessons can we derive from Hashem’s conduct with us regarding how and under what circumstances a parent should punish a child? (Ramban)

3) A 12-year-old boy ate a meal just before sundown on the day before his Bar Mitzvah and recited the Grace after Meals. If the food hasn’t yet been fully digested and he is still satiated after sundown, when he legally becomes a Jewish adult, must he again recite the Grace after Meals, as his Rabbinically-mandated recitation is unable to fulfill his new obligation at the Biblical level? (Chiddushei Rav Akiva Eiger on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 186)

4) Although the Torah requires a person to say the Grace after Meals after eating (8:10), the obligation to recite blessings prior to eating is only Rabbinical in nature. In what way are the blessings said after eating more important than those said before?

5) The Gemora in Berachos (49a) teaches that when reciting the Grace after Meals (8:10), a person is required to give thanks to Hashem for giving us the Torah and the mitzvah of circumcision. In what way are these connected to eating, and why is a person obligated to mention them when thanking Hashem for the food that he ate? (Chasam Sofer)

6) Prior to the performance of a mitzvah, a person customarily recites a Birkas HaMitzvos, thanking Hashem for sanctifying us and commanding us regarding this specific mitzvah. Why isn’t one required to do so before reciting Birkas HaMazon – אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לברך ברכת המזון?

7) Rashi writes (10:1) that although Hashem instructed Moshe to carve the Tablets and afterward make an Ark in which to place them, Moshe reasoned that it would be improper to make the Tablets and have nowhere to place them. As a result, Moshe reversed the order of the construction. Why did Moshe deviate from Hashem’s instructions based on a calculation which had surely been taken into account when giving them? (Shiras Dovid)

8) The Yerushalmi in Yoma (2a) explains that the Torah juxtaposed the death of Aharon (10:6) to Moshe’s breaking of the Tablets to teach that the death of the righteous is as painful as the destruction of the Tablets. Why is Aharon’s death juxtaposed to the making of the 2nd set of Tablets (10:1-5) and not to the actual breaking of the 1st Tablets (9:17)? (Mishmeres Ariel)

9) Were the tents of the Jews in the wilderness considered permanent dwellings on which they were required to place mezuzos?


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