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Parshas Eikev - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’yadata ki lo b’tzidkascha Hashem Elokecha nosein lecha es ha’aretz ha’tovah ha’zos l’rishta ki am k’shei oref atah (9:6)
A mere 40 days after accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people committed the worst sin in the history of their nation: the making and worship of the golden calf. Hashem’s preliminary reaction was to create a new nation which would be descended from Moshe (Shemos 32:8-10), a plan which was fortunately rejected as a result of Moshe’s fervent prayers on their behalf.
Curiously, Rav Shalom Schwadron points out that a careful reading of these verses reveals that even this terrible sin didn’t arouse sufficient Divine wrath to warrant the annihilation of the Jewish people. Only after Hashem added that they were a stiff-necked people did He conclude that they were deserving of eradication. Although stubbornness is an undesirable trait, how can its severity be compared to the grievous sin of the golden calf, and how can we understand that this was the primary cause of Hashem’s initial decree?
Rav Shalom answers that no matter how grave a sin a person may commit, it is always possible to correct his ways. However, this is dependent upon his willingness to critically examine his ways. After Hashem noted that besides having committed a terrible sin the Jewish people were also stubborn and inflexible, there was no longer a chance that they would be willing to admit the error of their ways. Only at this point was their fate sealed.
The importance of accepting rebuke is illustrated by the following humorous story. At one time, certain bus routes in Jerusalem were separated by gender for reasons of modesty. Late one stormy Friday afternoon, a pregnant woman missed the last bus for women before Shabbos. When the final men’s bus approached, she attempted to board. A fanatical man on the bus began vocally protesting her “immodesty.” One of the other passengers attempted to defend her, asking the extremist, “What about the law prohibiting the public embarrassment of another Jew?” The zealot turned to her supporter and responded, “You’re right, so why are you embarrassing me!”
This lesson can also be applied to marriage. When considering a person as a prospective spouse, the Chazon Ish advised that it is impossible to completely examine every attribute, viewpoint, and philosophy of the person in question. Therefore, in addition to making a good-faith effort to clarify the most important issues, it is also critical to find out whether the person is intransigent in his thinking.
No matter how similar and well-matched two people may seem, there will inevitably arise differences of opinion and style in confronting life’s challenges. As long as each person is open-minded and flexible, willing to listen to and understand the viewpoint of the other and then reconsider his own, this needn’t be a cause for concern. However, if one spouse is stubborn and set in his ways, refusing to even consider alternate viewpoints, this presents a tremendous danger to the future peace and harmony in his home, and the Chazon Ish advised that one stay far away from such a match.
Although many of us go through life convinced that we are always correct (and wondering when those around us will finally realize it), the lesson of the golden calf is that more important than the propriety of our deeds is our willingness to question them, maturely admit when we are wrong, and attempt to improve and learn from our mistakes.
V’atah Yisroel ma Hashem Elokech sho’el me’imach ki im l’yirah es Hashem Elokecha (10:12)
The wisest man ever to live, Shlomo HaMelech, concluded his words of wisdom (Koheles 12:13) with the following thought, “The sum of the matter when everything has been considered: fear Hashem and observe His commandments, for this is the entire person.” Rav Elchonon Wasserman explains Shlomo’s intent by noting that a person who isn’t wise, wealthy, or attractive may be missing an important quality, but he is still considered a person. In contrast, Shlomo teaches that one’s entire “personhood” is defined by the level of his fear of Hashem. Somebody who is completely lacking in fear of Heaven isn’t considered a deficient person. He isn’t even considered a person!
Similarly, to the degree to which somebody fears Hashem, he is a greater or lesser person. A person may possess all of the characteristics that are valued by society. He may be handsome, successful, outgoing, and kind, but if he is lacking in fear of Heaven, he hasn’t even entered the realm of humanity. In the Torah’s eyes, a humble, simple, and unassuming man who lives honestly and fears Hashem is infinitely superior and in an entirely different category. It is for this reason that Moshe emphasized that the most important trait that Hashem asks from a person is his fear of Heaven.
Ki ha’aretz asher atah ba shamah l’rishtah lo k’eretz Mitzrayim hu asher y’tzasem misham asher tizra es zarecha v’hishkisa b’raglecha k’gan hayarek v’ha’aretz asher atem ovrim shama l’rishtah eretz harim uv’kaos lim’tar haShomayim tishteh mayim (11:10-11)
Moshe stressed to the Jewish people that the land of Israel would be different than the land of Egypt from which they 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. Although Rashi notes that a natural water supply is advantageous in that it requires substantially less exertion, what deeper message was Moshe trying to impart?
After tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the serpent was cursed that it would travel on its stomach and eat dust all the days of its life (Bereishis 3:14). In what way does this represent a punishment, as other animals must spend days hunting for prey while the snake’s diet – dust – can 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. The snake, on the other hand, slithers horizontally across the earth. It never goes hungry, never looks upward, and is 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. He was teaching that just like the serpent, the Egyptians were a totally “natural” people. Because it never rained in their country, so they never had to look skyward to see what the clouds foretold. As a result, their hearts never gazed toward the Heavens, which effectively cutting them off from perceiving any dependence on or relationship with the Almighty. Everything which occurred in their lives could be explained scientifically and deceptively appeared to be completely “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.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe told the Jewish people (8:5) that just as a father will chastise his son, so too does Hashem rebuke them. Why did Moshe refer to future punishments which had yet to occur instead of to those which had already transpired and to which they could better relate? (Yalkut HaGershuni)
2) How is it possible that the correct blessing before eating a food item is Mezonos, yet the blessing after consuming even a small amount of it is Birkas HaMazon (8:10)? (Chai Odom 51:17)
3) In discussing the sin of the golden calf (9:21), Moshe told the Jewish people, “Your sin which you committed, I took it and burned it in fire.” Although Moshe took the physical calf and burned it, what did he mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation? (Shelah HaKadosh)
4) The Gemora in Menachos (43b) derives from 10:12 that one must recite 100 blessings daily. Is this mitzvah Biblical or Rabbinical? (S’dei Chemed Ma’areches Ches 34, Piskei Teshuvos 46:8)
5) The Gemora in Pesachim (4a) rules that placing a mezuzah on one’s doorpost is an obligation for one who is currently in the residence. When one rents an apartment which already has mezuzos that were placed by a previous tenant, is he required to recite a blessing over them? (Magen Avrohom 19:1, Shu”t Rav Akiva Eiger 9 , Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 19)
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