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 Parshas Haazinu - Vol. 3, Issue 53
Compiled by Oizer Alport


She’al avicha v’yagedcha z’keinecha v’yomru lach (32:7)

            Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer served as the beloved Rav of the prestigious Jewish community of Slutzk. However, the position as spiritual leader of the community kept him quite busy and left him little time for Torah study. When he was presented with an offer to leave the Rabbinate to become the Rosh Yeshiva in another town, he jumped at the opportunity. Before making a final decision, he traveled to discuss the matter with his illustrious mentor, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.

            Rav Isser Zalman laid out three arguments in favor of his proposed decision to accept the new position. Firstly, the position of Rav of a community, in which one must rule daily on difficult questions of Jewish law, is fraught with tremendous responsibility. One wrong decision could, G-d forbid, cause somebody to eat non-kosher food or unjustifiably have to pay money to another person, whereas giving a daily Gemora shiur (class) would be a much lower-risk activity.

Secondly, in his present position, he was forced to spend a large portion of the day dealing with simple, uneducated laymen who weren’t able to appreciate his greatness in Torah. In a yeshiva setting, on the other hand, he would be able to spend the entire day engaged in Talmudic discourse with young scholars who could appreciate his talents and who would challenge him to maximize his own potential.

Finally, the obligations of his current position were so numerous that they left him insufficient time to engage in his own personal Torah study. The new position being offered would leave him free of distractions so that he would be able to focus his efforts on loftier pursuits. Rav Isser Zalman concluded by suggesting that each of the three reasons unto itself constituted a powerful argument for accepting the new position, and when considered together they seemed to point unequivocally in that direction.

Rav Chaim responded that Rav Isser Zalman’s logic indeed seemed correct. However, Rav Chaim pointed out that he had overlooked one compelling consideration: this is not the way such matters have traditionally been handled! Rav Isser Zalman was not the first Torah scholar in history to serve as Rav of a community who found himself spending a disproportionate amount of his day engaged in activities that he would prefer to avoid. Nevertheless, there is no mesorah (tradition) of these Rabbonim abdicating their positions due to the aforementioned considerations.

In our verse, the Torah teaches that when in doubt, a person should consult those older and more experienced than him, who can guide him based on the wisdom of their years. In this case, Rav Isser Zalman’s seemingly logical reasoning was outweighed by the simple observation that throughout the generations, our elders had a different perspective and this is not the way that they conducted themselves.


Amarti af’eihem ash’bisa me’enosh zich’ram (32:26)

            The Seder HaDoros (4954) records a fascinating historical incident. The Ramban had a student by the name of Avner who left the path of Torah observance and eventually rose to become a prestigious minister to the Spanish king. One year, in the middle of Yom Kippur, Avner sent a messenger to bring the Ramban before him in the king’s palace. On the holiest day of the Jewish year, in front of his illustrious former teacher, Avner proceeded to commit the dastardly deed of killing a pig, cooking it, and eating it.

Although Avner had sunken to the lowest spiritual abyss imaginable, he still retained the knowledge that the Ramban had imparted to him. After eating the pig, he asked the Ramban how many kerisos (spiritual excisions) he was liable for his actions. The Ramban responded that he would suffer four kerisos for what he had done. Avner attempted to argue that he was actually liable five kerisos, but the Ramban gave him a stern look of disapproval. Avner, stricken with the ingrained reverence he once felt toward his teacher, was speechless and unable to continue.

At this point, the Ramban asked Avner what had caused him to leave the Torah path. He replied that the Ramban had once claimed that Parshas Haazinu contains within it allusions to the entire Torah and to everything which will occur throughout history. Avner found such an assertion ridiculous and viewed it as an insult to his rational faculties. This was the beginning of his cynical questioning of everything which he had ever been taught and held as sacred. The Ramban responded that his original contention was indeed valid. Avner challenged the Ramban to locate a reference to him in the parsha. The Ramban silently prayed for Divine assistance, and our verse was revealed to him. Beginning with the second word in the verse, the third letter in each word spells the name Avner.

Upon realizing the implications of the verse, which means “I will scatter them, and I will cause their memory to cease from mankind,” in which his name is contained, Avner was overcome by an intense fear and asked his teacher if there was any hope for him. The Ramban replied, “You heard what the verse says (and its connotations).” At that point, Avner set sail in a boat with no destination, allowing it to take him in whichever direction the winds and waves would send him, and he was never heard from again – in precise fulfillment of the words of the verse in Parshas Haazinu which refers to him!


R’u ata ki ani ani hu v’ein elohim imadi (32:39)

In the middle of discussing Jewish national history, Moshe digressed to proclaim, “See now that I (Hashem) am He, and there is no other god with Me.” Why did Moshe interrupt his discourse to make this declaration specifically at this point? Further, why did he stress that you should see now that I am Hashem and there are no other powers besides Me, implying that something occurred which clarified this point?

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly answers these questions. The mystical work Megaleh Amukos writes that there are 955 ascending levels in the Heavens. Although the majority of them contain various types of celestial angels, the upper 55 levels are empty of anything but Hashem’s Divine Glory. This is alluded to by the verse (10:14) hen l’Hashem Elokecha – they (the Heavens and the earth) belong to Hashem your G-d. The numerical value of the word “hen” is 55, hinting to the fact that although the entire Creation belongs to Hashem, the upper 55 levels of the Heavens are exclusively His.

The Vilna Gaon explains that with each successive verse of the book of Devorim that Moshe taught, his soul ascended to the next level of the Heavens, concluding with the 955th verse, through which he merited reaching the greatest heights possible and from which there was nowhere further to ascend. As Moshe spoke each verse and ascended through the levels, he encountered loftier celestial beings, yet there was nary a level which was completely devoid of them.

Our verse is the 901st verse in the book of Devorim. As Moshe prepared to say it, he looked around at the celestial level he had just reached and noticed that for the first time in his ascent, he had reached a place completely empty of any being other than Hashem’s Divine Presence. He couldn’t help but exclaim that although it hadn’t been visibly apparent in the lower levels, now – from his new vantage point – it was quite clear to see that Hashem is One, and there are no other powers with Him!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Gemora in Berachos (21a) derives from 32:3 the mitzvah to recite a blessing prior to Torah study. If somebody is unsure whether he recited the blessing that day, the Mishnah Berurah (47:1) rules that because this is a Biblical commandment, he must say it again out of doubt. The Mishnah Berurah (47:28) rules that because there is a dispute whether a person who stayed awake the entire night is obligated to make a new blessing in the morning, one should not do so because of the rule that safek berachos l’hakel – when a person is in doubt whether he must make a blessing, he should refrain from doing so. Why isn’t the rule quoted in the former ruling, that one must be strict when in doubt regarding a Biblical obligation, applicable in the latter case? (M’rafsin Igri)

2)     The Torah instructs us (32:7) to ask our fathers and grandfathers for advice. Does this advice also apply to somebody whose father or grandfather isn’t a Torah scholar? (Lulei Soras’cha)

3)     The Torah says (32:39) that Hashem puts to death and brings to life. The Ibn Ezra writes that many derive from here a source for the concept of the World to Come, as the verse hints that Hashem will revive the dead. Why are the fundamental concepts of the World to Come and the resurrection of the dead not discussed explicitly anywhere in the Torah? (Ibn Ezra, Taam V’Daas)

4)     Rashi explains (32:48) that our parsha is one of 3 places where the expression b’etzem hayom hazeh – in the middle of the day – is used. It is also used in conjunction with Noach entering the ark and with the Jews leaving Egypt to emphasize that although others claimed they would prevent Noach from entering the ark and the Jews from leaving Egypt, Hashem commanded them to do so “in broad daylight” to prove that nobody can thwart His will. When the Jews heard of Moshe’s impending death, they claimed they would not permit him to die. Hashem commanded him to ascend the mountain and die in the middle of the day to prove that they were unable to stop Him. How did the Jews think that they could prevent him from dying, something which was beyond their control? (Yalkut Shimoni Parshas Chukas 764, Medrash Lekach Tov, Chiddushei HaRim, Nesivos Rabboseinu, Yishm’ru Daas, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)

5)     Hashem told Moshe (32:49-50) to ascend the mountain and die there just as his brother Aharon died. Rashi explains that Moshe coveted the way in which Aharon had died. Aharon merited seeing his son Elozar wearing the garments of the Kohen Gadol and preparing to succeed him, and Hashem promised Moshe that he would die a parallel death. In what way did Moshe enjoy a similar death, as Rashi writes (Bamidbar 27:16) that his request for his children to succeed him was denied and he was succeeded instead by Yehoshua? (Kol Dodi)

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