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Parshas Devorim - Vol. 3,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Hashem Elokei avoseichem yosef Aleichem kachem elef pe’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 fulfillment of Hashem’s blessing to Avrohom!
Acheinu heimasu es levaveinu leimor am Gadol v’ram mimenu arim gedolos u’betzuros baShomayim v’gam b’nei anakim ra’inu sham (1:28)
The first chapter of Eichah is written in the form of an acrostic, with each successive verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Although chapters 2-4 follow a similar form, there is one notable exception. The verse beginning with the letter peh precedes the verse starting with the letter ayin, reversing their alphabetical order. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (104b) cryptically explains that this is because the spies sinned by preceding their mouths (peh) to their eyes (ayin) and reporting facts which they didn’t actually see. How is this to be understood, and what lesson can we take from it?
Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that in any encounter, a person is able to find what he is looking for. Before he processes the new situation, he has already made up his mind. Not surprisingly, he proceeds to find evidence to support his conclusion, a phenomenon referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Rav Chatzkel Levenstein explains that the primary sin of the spies was their trait of “narganus.” This refers to a person who is constantly full of complaints and has nothing positive to say about anything. Because the spies embarked on their journey already decided that they didn’t want to live in Israel, they interpreted everything they saw through negative lenses and returned with a report shaped by their biases.
The importance of how we view a situation and interpret events is illustrated by the following story. In the early 1950s, a large shoe company with stores across North America wanted to increase sales by expanding to new markets. They sent two salesmen to Africa to explore the prospects of opening branches throughout the large and untapped continent.
Less than a week had passed when the first agent sent back a despondent telegram: “I’m coming home at once. No money can be made here. Nobody even wears shoes!” After receiving the bad news, the management felt they had no choice but to explore other potential options for expanding their business.
Just as they were preparing to send agents to scout out another region, they received an important lesson in the power of perspective. More than a month after the first salesman had quickly despaired, the firm received an urgent cable from the second salesman: “Ship 15,000 shoes immediately to fill my five stores. Africa is a land filled with great opportunity – nobody has shoes, and everybody needs a pair!”
The Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:34) with an additional year of wandering in the wilderness for each day of the spies’ journey. Why were they punished for the entire trip and not just for the lone day on which the spies returned and spoke ill of the land of Israel? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the Torah is teaching that they sinned not just upon their return but each day of their expedition when they skewed everything that they experienced.
The spies sinned by seeking out the bad in every encounter. As we read Eichah and mourn the consequences of their actions on Tisha B’Av, let us learn from their mistakes and adopt a perspective of seeking out the good in every life situation, which will in turn become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
V’tap’chem asher amartem l’vaz yih’yeh
ub’neichem asher lo yad’u hayom tov v’ra
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!
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) In his rebuke for the sin of the spies, Moshe mentions (1:37) that as a result of this incident, Hashem became angry with him and decreed that he may not enter the land of Israel. Where is this mentioned in Parshas Shelach, where the episode of the spies is recounted, and how can this be reconciled with the verse (Bamidbar 20:12) which states that it was only at the (later) time of Moshe’s sin in bringing forth the water at Mei Merivah that it was decreed that he couldn’t enter the land of Israel? (Ramban, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh here and Bamidbar 20:5, Maharil Diskin)
2) 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)
3) Moshe sent messengers to the king of Cheshbon to ask permission for the Jews to pass through his land and offering to buy food and drink along the way (2:26-28). Why did they need to obtain food and drink when the Manna and well provided all of their needs? (Paneiach Raza)
4) In the times of the second Temple, did the Jews still fast on Tisha B’Av due to the numerous calamitous events which occurred on that day? (Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Rosh Hashana 1:3, Tashbatz 2:271, Shu”t Maharshal 64, Machazik Beracha 550:2, Mitzpeh Eisan Taanis 12a, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 157, Halichos Shlomo Moadim Vol. 1 pg. 430)
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