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Parshas Devorim

Hashem Elokei avoseichem yoseif aleichem ka’chem elef p’amim (1:11)

            In the middle of his rebuke, Moshe blesses the Jewish people that Hashem should increase their numbers 1000-fold. As significant an increase as that represents, the Jews at that time numbered between 2 and 3 million, such that a 1000-fold increase would bring their numbers to a total of 2-3 billion. While this would make the Jews the most populous nation in the world, it still can’t be considered a fulfillment (see Rashi here) of Hashem’s blessing to Avrohom Avinu (Bereishis 13:16) that He will make Avrohom’s descendants so numerous that they can’t even be counted.

            However, Rav Akiva Eiger notes that this interpretation is based on a flawed understanding of Moshe’s carefully chosen words. A close reading of his blessing reveals that he didn’t bless them that Hashem should multiply their current numbers by 1000, as that would have been written in a slightly different manner –Hashem Elokei avoseichem yosef aleichem elef p’amim ka’chem – which would indeed mean that Hashem should increase 1000-fold your current population. Rather, Moshe carefully and subtly switched the words to read Hashem Elokei avoseichem yosef aleichem ka’chem elef p’amim which means that Hashem should increase your population at present by that amount (i.e. double the number of Jews) and then continue to do so another 999 times. In other words, Hashem should multiply the current population by 21000, which would result in the total number of Jews being a number which contains more than 300 digits, which is indeed quite an amazing blessing!


Hashem Elokei avoseichem yoseif aleichem ka’chem elef p’amim (1:11)

            In the middle of his rebuke, Moshe blesses the Jewish people that Hashem should increase their numbers 1000-fold. On this verse, a cryptic Medrash Pliah comments that our verse is what Dovid HaMelech had in mind when he wrote (Tehillim 5:8) V’ani b’rov chasd’cha avo Beisecha eshtachave el Heichal Kadshecha b’yirasecha – And I (Dovid), through your tremendous kindness, will come into Your House, and I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You – a verse which ostensibly has no connection whatsoever to Moshe’s blessing to the people that their numbers should increase and multiply.

            I once heard a beautiful explanation of the link between these two apparently unrelated verses. The Gemora in Yoma (22b) states that it is forbidden to count the Jewish people, even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, as doing so could make them subject to an ayin hara (evil eye) which may reduce their numbers. Although one may not perform a head-count of Jews, it is permitted to count them via proxy, as was done in the desert when the census was taken by counting the half-shekels contributed by each person (Shemos 30:12-14).

            Before beginning the daily prayer services, one often must look around the room to make sure that a minyan (quorum) of 10 adult men is present. However, it is forbidden to do so by counting the individual people present (Pri Chadash Orach Chaim 55). Rather, it has become customary to choose a verse which has 10 words and to recite one word of the verse when pointing to each person present in the room (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3), and if one is able to finish the entire verse, this is an indication that the required minyan is indeed present.

One such example of a verse with 10 words is the aforementioned verse from Tehillim which is quoted by the Medrash. Our verse contains Moshe’s blessing that the Jewish nation should become numerous. However, the Medrash questioned how this could be, as Jews are required to pray with a minyan, and in performing a head-count to see if the required 10 men are present, one will inadvertently invite an ayin hara to strike the people and reduce their numbers. If so, how can Moshe’s blessing ever be fulfilled? To that dilemma, the Medrash answers that instead of counting the individual Jews present, one may count them using the words of the verse in Tehillim, which will spare them from the threat of the ayin hara and indeed allow Moshe’s blessing to come to fruition!


V’atzave es shofteichem ba’eis ha’hee leimor shamoa bein acheichem ush’fat’tem tzedek bein ish u’vein achiv u’vein geiro (1:16)

            Even in his youth, the great Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was known for his remarkable diligence in his studies. While all of his peers idly passed their free time playing games and acting their ages, Rav Yonason utilized every spare moment for the study of Torah. Somebody once asked him about his behavior, questioning whether he wouldn’t be happier if he spent at least a portion of his free time engaged in more age-appropriate extracurricular activities.

            Rav Yonason, demonstrating the incredibly sharp and analytical mind for which he would later become world-famous, responded by quoting the Gemora in Sanhedrin (7b). One opinion in the Gemora there cites our verse as the source of the law that a judge may not listen to the claims of one of the litigants if the other party isn’t present to challenge his arguments. According to this opinion, this is hinted to by the words shamoa bein acheichem – you shall listen between your brothers – which teaches that a judge may only listen to the accusations of one party if the other is present at the time.

            The Gemora in Sanhedrin (91b) states that a person receives his yetzer ha’ra – evil inclination – at the time of his birth, whereas a person’s yetzer tov – good inclination – doesn’t enter him until the time of his Jewish adulthood (Bar Mitzvah), at which point he is held accountable for his actions. Even a person who never becomes a judge on a Jewish beis din still serves as a judge every moment of his life, as he must constantly listen to the arguments of the two “litigants” inside of him – his yetzer ha’ra and his yetzer tov – and sort them out in order to come to a judgment regarding the proper course of action to choose. “While putting away my studies in order to indulge in the hobbies and games enjoyed by the other boys may seem quite tempting,” concluded the wise-beyond-his-years Rav Yonason, “this is the opinion of only one of the litigants – the yetzer ha’ra. The law is that as a judge, I am forbidden to listen to his claims until my Bar Mitzvah, at which time the other party will be able to present its counter-claims and I will be able to reach a judgment as to the proper course of action. Until that time, however, the “law” gives me no choice but to ignore him and to continue my diligent studies!”


V’tap’chem asher amartem l’vaz yih’yeh ub’neichem asher lo yad’u hayom tov v’ra
Heima yavo’u shama v’lahem et’nena v’heim yirashu’ha (1:39)

            In the 1930s, European Jewry was under attack from all directions. The twin dangers posed by physical annihilation, as the rumblings of the Holocaust were growing louder, and spiritual ruin, as the assault on religion presented by numerous anti-Torah movements (communism, Zionism, reform) only grew more intense, threatened to leave a generation bereft of scholars and Torah-observant Jews.

            In a major address at that time, Rav Shimon Shkop delivered words of comfort based on the prophecies of the Torah. In the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem commands Avrohom to leave his home and set out for the land of Israel, promising him (Bereishis 12:2) v’e’es’cha l’goy gadol v’avar’cheka v’agadla sh’mecha veh’yeh brocho – I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. On this, Rashi quotes the Gemora in Pesochim (117b) v’e’es’cha l’goy gadol  ze’hu she’omrim Elokei Avrohom, v’avar’cheka ze’hu she’omrim Elokei Yitzchok, v’agadla sh’mecha ze’hu she’omrim Elokei Yaakov, yachol yih’yu chos’min b’kulan talmud lomar veh’yeh brocho b’cha chos’min v’lo bahem – “I will make you into a great nation” refers to that which we call Hashem when praying “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 one would conclude by invoking all three of the Avos, “and you shall be a blessing” teaches that we conclude only by mentioning 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 to have two generations of teachers. One might have expected that throughout time, each succeeding generation would build on the belief and accomplishments of the previous generation 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, and each successive generation would only decline further in its commitment to observing the Torah and believing in Hashem. However, just as the status 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 had done. This 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 on the successes of the previous generations as did Yitzchok and Yaakov, but 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.

            He concluded by reassuring those gathered 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, and prophetically suggested – some 70 years ago – that this is the intent of our verse: v’tap’chem asher amartem l’vaz yih’yeh uv’neichem asher lo yad’u hayom tov v’ra – 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, heima yavo’u shama v’lahem et’nena v’heim yirashu’hathose 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!


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

1)     There is a mystical concept that the content and events described in the parsha read each Shabbos are on some deep level connected to the events of the coming week. It is interesting, then, to note that Parshas Devorim is always read on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av. What is the connection between the two?

2)     Rashi writes (1:1) that because of the honor of the Jewish people, Moshe didn’t want to elaborate on his rebuke and only hinted to the places where they had sinned, without dwelling on their actual sins at length. Why did Moshe then proceed to focus on the sin of the spies and spell it out in all of its detail (1:19-46)? (Paneiach Raza)

3)     Rashi writes (1:3) that Moshe waited to rebuke the Jewish people until close to his death. How was he permitted to neglect all this time the fulfillment of the mitzvah to rebuke another Jew (Vayikra 19:17)? (Sifsei Chochomim, Zahav Sh’va)

4)     Rashi writes (1:3) that Moshe waited to rebuke the Jewish people until close to his death. What purpose was there in rebuking the Jews who were alive at this time for sins committed by their parents and of which they themselves were innocent? (Darash Moshe Vol. 2)

5)     Rashi and the Baal HaTurim write (1:13) that the word v’asimeim is written without the letter “yud” in order to hint that the sins – asham – of the Jewish nation rest on the heads of the judges, who should have protested and directed the people on the right path. How is this discrepancy to be understood in light of the fact that in our Sifrei Torah the word is written with the letter “yud,” a difference not mentioned by Rav Akiva Eiger in Gilyon HaShas (Shabbos 55b), where he lists all of the textual variances between the version of the Gemora and the version in our Sifrei Torah? (Sefer Zikaron on Rashi, Chizkuni)

6)     In his rebuke for the sin of the spies, Moshe mentions (1:37) that as a result of this incident, Hashem also became angry with him and decreed that he also may not enter the land of Israel. Where do we find any mention of this in Parshas Shelach, where the episode of the spies is recounted, and how is this to be reconciled with the apparently explicit verse in Parshas Chukas (Bamidbar 20:12) which states that it was only at the (much later) time of his sin in bringing forth the water at Mei Merivah that it was decreed that he wouldn’t be able to enter the land of Israel? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh here and Bamidbar 20:5)

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