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Parshas Re'eh - Vol. 10, Issue 43
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Rav Moshe Aharon Friedman of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim explains that Sefer Devorim represents a process, beginning with Parshas Devorim which is read on the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av as our mourning intensifies, and concluding with Parshas V'Zos HaBeracha, which is read during the height of our rejoicing on Simchas Torah. During the three-week mourning period preceding Tisha B'Av, we read three Haftorahs that warn of impending doom, which respectively begin with the words Divrei Yirmiyahu (the words of Yirmiyahu), Shim'u D'var Hashem (hear the word of Hashem), and Chazon Yeshayahu (the vision of Yeshayahu). These correspond to the senses of speech, hearing, and sight, respectively. After Tisha B'Av, we begin the process of being comforted, and therefore the first three Torah portions read during this period begin with the words Va'eschanan (I beseeched), V'haya eikev tishma'un (and if you listen), and Re'eh (see). These three portions represent the senses of speech, hearing, and sight, respectively, and they come to rectify and comfort us for the suffering and punishments discussed in the three preceding Haftorahs.
We begin the public reading of Sefer Devorim in the month of úîåæ, the letters of which stand for z'man teshuvah m'mash'meish u'ba - the time to repent is drawing closer. We continue through the month of Av, the letters of which spell Elul ba - Elul is coming. Parshas Re'eh is in the middle of Sefer Devorim and stands for re'eh Elul higi'a - see that Elul has arrived, as this Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Maharsha (Bechoros 8) points out that there are 21 days of mourning during the 3-week period from 17 Tammuz until Tisha B'Av, which parallel the 21 days of joy from Rosh Hashana until Shemini Atzeres, as each 21-day period represents an opportunity to draw close to Hashem, one through mourning and destruction, and the other through elevation and rejoicing.
Rav Nochum Partzovitz lamented the fact that once upon a time, people could palpably sense the arrival of Elul, whereas today Rosh Chodesh Elul is more comparable to the yahrtzeit of Elul, in the sense that we have a vague recollection and familiarity with the theoretical significance of this time of the year, but we have no personal connection or relationship to it. The commentators point out that the period of repentance from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur consists of 40 days, which is 960 hours. Similarly, for a mikvah to be kosher, it must contain 40 se'ah of rainwater. Each se'ah is comprised of 24 lugin (a Talmudic liquid measurement), in which case a kosher mikvah must contain a minimum of 960 lugin. Just as the 40 se'ah of rainwater in a kosher mikvah have the ability to purify somebody who has become impure, so too the 40-day period that commences on Rosh Chodesh Elul possesses the unique ability to transform and uplift a person, no matter how far he has fallen in the previous year. At the same time, just as a mikvah which is missing even one lug becomes invalidated, so too if we allow even one hour of the precious period we are about to begin to go to waste, our Elul will be deficient.
As Parshas Re'eh heralds the arrival of Elul, it is not surprising to find this message about the importance of growth and change alluded to in the parsha itself. Parshas Re'eh begins by telling us that there are two paths placed before us: blessing and curse. The Vilna Gaon (Mishlei 15:24) points out that the third option, staying neutral, is curiously omitted. He explains that for a Jew, there are only two choices: going up, or going down. It is up to us to consciously and actively choose the path of growth, and if we fail to do so, it is impossible to remain standing in place, and we will by necessity fall downward. As the Maharsha teaches us, we can repent and draw close to Hashem either through blessing or through curse. However, it is far preferable to come close to Hashem on our own initiative through the path of blessing than to compel Him to shake us and wake us up from our spiritual slumber through curse. Let us resolve to fully immerse ourselves in the mikvah of Elul and to use the holy days ahead of us properly, and in that merit, may we all be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year to come.
After instructing the Jewish people to break and smash the idolatrous temples and pillars which they will find in the land of Israel, the Torah warns against doing the same to Hashem. Rashi questions why a Jew would consider destroying the Temple. He explains that the Torah means to prohibit copying the immoral actions of the non-Jews which will cause the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed.
Rashi also quotes the Gemora in Shabbos (120b), which derives from our verse that although it is forbidden to erase Hashem's name, it is Biblically permissible to cause it to be erased in an indirect manner. How can our verse, which the Gemora understands as prohibiting only direct action and permitting indirect causality, also be interpreted as forbidding actions which will only indirectly bring about the Temple's destruction?
Rav Aharon Kotler answers that the Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 3:6) refers to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash as the grinding of already ground flour. In other words, although our enemies carried out the actual destruction of the Temple's physical edifice, in reality its spiritual beauty and splendor had already been removed due to the sinful paths that the Jews followed. Had this not been the case, the non-Jewish army would have had no power over the place where Hashem's presence dwelled. When Rashi interprets the verse as an admonition against following non-Jewish practices and causing the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, he isn't referring to indirect causality, which is permitted according to the Gemora in Shabbos. Rather, just as the Gemora forbids directly erasing Hashem's name, Rashi is teaching us that our sins and immoral choices directly destroy Hashem's Temple.
The Torah exhorts us to be compassionate toward the poor, commanding us not to close our hand to the destitute, but rather to open it. This statement seems redundant. If it is forbidden to close our hand to the poor, doesn't it go without saying that we are required to open it? What is the Torah trying to teach us by emphasizing this point?
The Vilna Gaon explains that although a person is obligated to give tzeddakah, he is not supposed to disburse it equally to each poor person. There are laws governing to whom one must give precedence when distributing charity, such as family members or people in his community, and the needs of each pauper must be assessed when determining how much to give them.
The Torah alludes to the requirement to take these considerations into account when giving tzedakah. When a person closes his hand and looks at his fingers, they all appear equal in length. Opening one's hand reveals that this is not the case, as each finger is a different size. The Torah already commanded us to be merciful to our needy brethren. Our verse takes for granted that we will help meet their needs and is not coming to repeat this point. Rather, it comes to teach that the manner in which we do so should not be one in which we indiscriminately give equal amounts to each beggar, as symbolized by a closed hand. Instead, we should open our hands and realize that each poor person's needs as well as our obligation to him aren't the same, and we should disburse our charity accordingly.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah prescribes a harsh punishment in the case of one's maternal brother who attempts to entice him to worship idolatry (13:7-11). Why does the verse specifically refer to a maternal brother more than to a paternal brother? (Daas Z'keinim, Paneiach Raza)
2) The Torah prohibits (14:1) various forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Under what circumstances would one be required to sit shiva to mourn the death of a person who was not a Torah scholar or national leader, and to whom one was not related? (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 376:3)
3) Parshas Re'eh contains the laws governing which animals are kosher and which may not be consumed (14:3-21). If a person is required to consume non-kosher food for the sake of his health, does it still cause him spiritual impurity? (Toras Chaim, Shu"t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 1:83, Meshech Chochmah 6:11, Orchos Yosher 13)
4) The Torah requires (15:7-11) a person to be compassionate and merciful toward his poor brethren and to generously open his hand to dispense charity to assist them. Rashi writes (15:8) that whatever a person had prior to becoming poor, we are required to supply him with. If a wealthy man used to give large donations to the synagogue and was honored with the sixth aliyah during the reading of the Torah but lost his money and is no longer able to continue his pledges, is the synagogue obligated to continue honoring him as if he could? (Lulei Soras'cha, Derech Sicha)
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