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Parshas Devarim - Vol. 7,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Eileh ha’devorim asher dibeir Moshe (1:1)
There are 5 books in the written Torah, and 6 sections of the Mishnah – the Oral Torah. The Paneiach Raza writes that there are 6 portions in the written Torah which correspond to the Mishnah, each of which begins with the letter aleph – eileh toledos Noach, eileh Pekudei, im Bechukosai, eileh masei, eileh ha’devorim, atem nitzavim. This is because the spelling of the letter aleph comes from the root meeting to study, and the word Mishnah also means to learn.
Of the 6 portions, four begin with the word eileh, which alludes to the four sections of the Mishnah on which we also have Talmudic commentary, as the gematria (numerical value) of the word eileh is 36, which is also the number of tractates in the Babylonian Talmud! The last book of the Torah, Devorim, begins with one of these four parshios in order to teach that in reviewing the Torah and its laws with the nation before his death, Moshe reviewed not only the written Torah but the entire Talmud and Oral Law as well.
Similarly, there are 5 tractates in the Mishnah which begin with the letter aleph – eilu Devorim she’ein lahem shiur (Peah), ohr l’arba’ah asar (Pesachim), arba’ah roshei shanim heim (Rosh Hashana), arba’ah avos nezikin (Bava Kamma), avos hatumah (Keilim), which hint to the 5 books of the written Torah and teach that every component of Torah is deeply intertwined. The Torah itself represents the Will of Hashem, and just as He and His Will are one, so too all parts of the Torah are interconnected, and the components which may seem the most disparate and unrelated are full of deep and powerful wisdom waiting to be unlocked by one who toils to uncover it.
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.
Havu lachem anashim chochomim unevonim viy’duim l’shivteichem v’asimeim b’rosheichem (1:13)
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.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) In the middle of his rebuke of the Jewish people, Moshe blessed them (1:11) that Hashem should increase their population 1000-fold. Rashi writes that they responded by questioning why Moshe gave a limit to their blessing, as Hashem had blessed Avrohom that his descendants should be so numerous that they could not be counted. Moshe responded that Hashem’s blessing still stood, and he was merely giving his own blessing. If Hashem gave them a greater blessing, what was the purpose in Moshe giving a more limited blessing? (Sifsei Chochomim, Ayeles HaShachar)
2) 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)
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 Beis HaMikdash, did the Jewish people fast on Tisha B’Av? (Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Rosh Hashana 1:3, Shu”t Tashbatz 2:271, Shu”t Halachos Ketanos 2:140, Machazik Beracha Orach Chaim 550:2, Mitzpeh Eisan Taanis 12a, Josephus 5:39)
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