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Parshas Devorim - Vol. 9,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The book of Devorim begins with Moshe's review of the 40-year national history from the time of the Exodus until the present. Much of Parshas Devorim revolves around Moshe's rebuke of the Jewish nation for sins they committed during this period, in an attempt to ensure that they wouldn't continue in these mistaken ways. It is curious to note that in our verse, Moshe seems to digress from his chastisement to stress that the Jewish people are distinguished, wise, and understanding. Why did he interrupt his focus on reproaching the people with this point, which is hardly a message of rebuke?
Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (9:8): Do not reprimand a scoffer lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. Why would the wise Shlomo advise rebuking a person who seemingly shouldn't need it and ignoring a scoffer whose ways need correcting?
The Shelah HaKadosh suggests that the erudite Shlomo is actually talking about only one person. The Torah obligates (Vayikra 19:17) a person who sees another Jew engaged in inappropriate activities to rebuke him and attempt to inspire him to change his ways and return to the proper path. In order to do so successfully, a bit of wisdom is required. Shlomo HaMelech advises that talking condescendingly to the scoffer will be useless and cause him to hate the one attempting to reprove him. Talking to him as if he is wise and respectable will likely move the sinner to accept his words and love him for caring about him and coming to his assistance.
A modern-day application of this lesson is offered by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. He writes that when growing up, he was a typical child who got into his share of trouble. However, his father taught him a priceless lesson in how to raise well-adjusted children by the manner in which he rebuked him. All too often, we hear parents screaming at their children, "You good-for-nothing bum! How could you have been so foolish and lazy?" A child who grows up repeatedly hearing this message slowly absorbs the belief that he truly is foolish and lazy. Not surprisingly, he will likely go on to make decisions in life which reflect this self-image.
Rabbi Twerski's father, on the other hand, used to scold his children in Yiddish, "Es past nisht" - what you did isn't appropriate for somebody as wonderful and special as you. The message which was constantly driven into him was that he was an amazing child with tremendous potential who simply needed to maintain his focus on channeling his energy properly. As one might expect, he grew up with an unshakably positive self-esteem which surely contributed to his success in life.
With this introduction, the Shelah HaKadosh explains that before fully launching into his criticism of the Jewish people, Moshe first built them up by emphasizing their many good qualities and tremendous potential, which would in turn allow his message to be well-received. The lesson for us is clear: whenever we may need to correct a family member, friend, or co-worker, we should do so in the wise and proven manner taught to us by Moshe Rabbeinu and Shlomo HaMelech.
Looking around at the state of Judaism today - decreasing numbers of religiously-educated or even self-identifying Jews combined with a skyrocketing rate of intermarriage - can lead a person to depressing conclusions about its future. As the Torah is the guidebook for every generation, what does it have to say about this matter, and what message of hope and optimism can we find in it?
In the 1930s, European Jewry was under attack from all directions. The twin dangers posed by physical annihilation and spiritual ruin seemed to threaten the future of the Jewish people. In a major address at that time, Rav Shimon Shkop delivered words of comfort based on the prophecies of the Torah, a message which is even more applicable today than it was then.
In the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem commands Avrohom to leave his home and set out for the land of Israel, promising him, "I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." In his commentary on this verse, Rashi quotes the Gemora in Pesachim (117b), which explains: "I will make you into a great nation" refers to that which we refer to Hashem when praying as the "G-d of Avrohom;" "I will bless you" applies to our calling Hashem "G-d of Yitzchok;" and "I will make your name great" refers to our mention of Hashem as "G-d of Yaakov." As one might think that he should conclude by invoking all three of the Avos, "And you shall be a blessing" teaches that we finish by mentioning only Hashem's connection to Avrohom.
Rav Shimon explained that Avrohom grew up in a house of idolatry. He had no role model for proper belief in Hashem, and only came to that recognition on his own. In contrast, although Yitzchok added his own unique expression of serving Hashem, he nevertheless had a father who taught him to believe in Hashem, and Yaakov even merited two generations of teachers. One might have expected that throughout time, each succeeding generation would build upon the belief and accomplishments of the previous one until the generation of Moshiach would reach the pinnacle.
Chazal saw that the sad reality would be otherwise. There would come a time when the momentum would be reversed. Each successive generation would only decline further in its commitment to observing the Torah and believing in Hashem. However, just when the level of the Jewish people appears ready to disappear into a bottomless abyss, Hashem will allow the innocent and ignorant children to rediscover Him, just as their ancestor Avrohom did.
This phenomenon is alluded to in the words of Chazal, who suggest that one might have thought that "the end" (of the current era, not of one's blessings) would come about through continuing to build upon the successes of the previous generations as did Yitzchok and Yaakov. In reality, "the end" will be brought about by an entire generation of those eager to rediscover and reconnect to the truth of their roots.
Rav Shimon concluded by reassuring those assembled that although Judaism seemed at that time doomed to physical and spiritual extinction, the children and grandchildren of those abandoning their traditions would be brought back in an unprecedented spiritual awakening. He prophetically suggested - some 70 years ago - that this is the intent of our verse: And the little children, regarding whom you said "they will be taken (spiritually) captive," and the children who (aren't educated to) know the difference between good and evil, those very children of whose futures you despaired will be the ones to come to the land of Israel, and to them will I give it, and they will possess it.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (1:1) that Moshe mentioned the words Di Zahav - abundance of gold - to hint to the sin of the golden calf, which was produced because of the large amount of gold that they had. Rashi writes (Shemos 32:31) that after the sin of the golden calf, Moshe argued that Hashem had indirectly caused the sin by giving them so much gold when they left Egypt that they had nothing to do with it but sin. How can this be reconciled with Rashi's comment (Bereishis 3:12) that in blaming Hashem for giving him Chava who caused him to eat from the forbidden fruit, Adam was guilty of a lack of gratitude to Hashem for all of the good that He had bestowed upon him? (Ayeles HaShachar Shemos 32:31)
2) Masechta Sofrim (1:7) relates that the day King Ptolemy ordered five of the Jewish elders to translate the Torah into Greek was as painful and difficult for the Jews as the day on which they sinned with the golden calf. In what way was this worse than Moshe's translation of the Torah into all 70 languages (Rashi 1:5), which presumably includes Greek? (HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah, Mishmeres Ariel, Shiras Dovid)
3) Why did Eisav merit receiving Mount Seir as his inheritance immediately and without any hardship (2:5) while Yaakov and his descendants were forced to descend to Egypt and suffer centuries of backbreaking slavery before they were finally able to receive the land of Israel as their inheritance? (Rav Aharon Bakst quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
4) Rashi writes (2:17) that for the duration of the 38-year period in which the Jewish nation was in Divine disfavor due to the sin of the spies, Hashem didn't speak to Moshe in the manner in which He was accustomed. Did Hashem communicate with Moshe at all during this time, and if so, in what fashion did He do so? (Rashi Taanis 30b, Rashbam Bava Basra 121b, Rabbeinu Bechaye)
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