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Parshas Re'eh - Vol. 11, Issue 47
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Re'eh begins with Moshe informing the Jewish people that when they entered the land of Israel, blessings would be given on Mount Gerizim, while curses would be uttered on Mount Eival. Rashi explains that the Kohanim and Levi'im stood in the middle and turned to face Mount Gerizim when they said the blessings, and then turned toward Mount Eival when giving the curses.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that while these two mountains are physically located in close proximity to one another, their appearances are vastly dissimilar. While Mount Gerizim is full of lush trees and grass, its neighbor Mount Eival is rocky and dry, a physical representation of the difference between blessing and curse. Still, it is difficult to understand how two mountains of approximately the same size and subject to the same climate patterns could turn out so differently, with one mountain producing extensive vegetation, while the other remains barren and desolate. Rav Hirsch posits that the variance in their outcomes is due not to the external factors to which they are subjected, which are indeed comparable, but rather to what each mountain contains within. Mount Gerizim possesses healthy soil which is capable of supporting growth, while Mount Eival does not.
Rav Nissan Kaplan of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim derives from this explanation the folly of a widespread line of thinking. We often convince ourselves that if we had grown up in a certain family, attended a specific elite yeshiva, and been born with additional talents and different life circumstances, we would have turned out as different - and better - people. Unfortunately, because we were placed into our families of origin and grew up and were educated in often suboptimal conditions, we reason that we had no choice but to become the people we did.
However, this line of thinking is fundamentally mistaken, as Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival teach us that what we become is dependent not on external circumstances, but on what we contain within us and what type of people we elect to become. If we choose to become the best Jew we can be no matter what environment we are given, we will blossom and sprout like Mount Gerizim., but if we choose not to work on ourselves and to justify our behavior based on our life situations, we will sadly remain barren like Mount Eival. The lesson of these two mountains is that the power to decide what type of life we wish to lead is fully in our control, irrespective of any external circumstances we may experience.
The Gemora (Chullin 16b) quotes the opinion of Rav Yishmael, who maintains that after the Mishkan was built, the only meat that the Jewish people were permitted to eat for the duration of their sojourn in the wilderness was that of the sacrificial offerings, as slaughtering an animal other than for the purposes of offering it upon the Altar was punishable by spiritual excision (Vayikra 17:3-4). However, in Parshas Re'eh Moshe informed them that after Hashem broadened their borders by bringing them into the promised land of Israel, if they found themselves yearning to eat meat but living far away from the Beis HaMikdash, they would be permitted to ritually slaughter their cattle and sheep in order to eat their meat. Curiously, Moshe added that they should only eat the meat in the manner in which they eat the deer and the hart. It is difficult to understand the purpose of Moshe's comparison. What message was he attempting to convey in adjuring the Jewish people to eat their beef and lamb in the same way that they eat venison?
The following story will help us understand Moshe's intentions. Several years ago, a number of students in a yeshiva in Israel for post-high school American boys had a tremendous craving for food from Dougie's, a well-known restaurant in New York. Unable to wait until they returned home at the end of the year, they hatched a creative plan to satiate their longings for spicy wings, ribs, and burgers.
They realized that they didn't all need to get to the restaurant in order to savor the succulent meat. Instead, one of them could take everybody's orders and fly to New York to pick up the food and bring it back to the rest of the boys in Israel. If they split the cost of the plane ticket amongst the entire group, the cost would be quite reasonable. In order to make it clear that the sole purpose of the trip was to procure the food, they stipulated that whoever made the journey was forbidden to go home to visit his family or to make any other stops. Not surprisingly, the administration of the yeshiva was quite upset when they learned what had happened, both because of the safety concerns involved and because of the unbridled passion for meat which begat the entire incident.
In light of this episode, we can appreciate the Kli Yakar's answer to our question. He notes that this passage begins (12:20) by emphasizing that it applies after Hashem expands their borders and they say, "I will eat meat." This teaches us that a person is only drawn after material pleasures such as meat when he is prosperous and successful, which creates a mindset that enables him to explicitly express his desire to eat meat without feeling embarrassed by his fixation on ephemeral physical pleasure. The next verse (12:21) stresses that the underlying reason for this spiritual decline is the fact that the person no longer lives in close proximity to Hashem's chosen dwelling place, and the physical distance from the Shechinah results in a corresponding spiritual distance from Hashem, as manifested by the desire to eat meat solely for personal enjoyment.
Under these new circumstances, Moshe informed the people that they would indeed be permitted to eat meat as long as they slaughtered their animals in accordance with Jewish law. Even so, he cautioned them that this indulgence should not become the focus of their lives, and they should do so only intermittently. He expressed this metaphorically by telling them that they should eat the meat of their cows and sheep in the manner that they eat the deer and the hart. The Kli Yakar explains that because domesticated animals such as cows and sheep are readily available, one could easily fall into the trap of eating them regularly. Wild animals, on the other hand, are much more difficult to consume, as hunting and capturing them is not always successful, and even when it is, it requires a substantial amount of time and energy and is fraught with great risk and danger. Therefore, the Torah advises us that even now that we are permitted to eat non-sacrificial meat, we should not abuse this allowance as the yeshiva students in Israel did, but rather we should view it in the proper perspective by preserving it for appropriate occasions and maintaining spirituality as the primary focus of our lives.
In Parshas Re'eh, the Torah commands us to tithe our crops. The Gemora in Taanis (9a) offers a homiletical interpretation of this mitzvah based on the similarity between the Hebrew letters "shin" and "sin," rendering the words aser te'aser - you shall surely tithe - as aser bishvil she'tis'asher - tithe, and you will become rich. While the literal understanding of this well-known Talmudic statement seems to present a guarantee of financial success for one who is careful to perform this mitzvah properly, Rav Shimon Schwab suggests an alternative interpretation.
The Gemora in Nedorim (38a) lists four prerequisites for prophecy - strength, wealth, wisdom, and humility. As there were many prophets who were not rich in the traditional sense, the Rambam explains the requirement of wealth as an obligation to be happy with one's lot in life, based on the teaching of the Mishnah in Avos (4:1) Aizehu ashir ha'sameach b'chelko - the true definition of wealth is being content with one's potion. Along these lines, Rav Schwab notes that when a person gives charity, he naturally becomes happier. This does not take place through miraculous means, but rather because human psychology is such that a person who gives to others appreciates his blessings and becomes content with his lot. When the Gemora promises that somebody who tithes his possessions will become wealthy, it is this form of wealth to which Chazal were referring.
Similarly, the Rema writes (Yoreh Deah 265:11) that a person should not honor the same individual as sandek more than once. He explains that serving as sandek is an exceedingly lofty honor and is compared to offering an incense offering in the Beis HaMikdash, regarding which the Gemora in Yoma (26a) relates that no Kohen was permitted to offer the incense more than once in his life. Because this service contained a special power to bring riches to whomever merited to perform it, nobody was allowed to do so a second time, in order to allow other Kohanim to share in this unique opportunity. The Steipler regularly served as sandek at circumcisions, yet he was not materially wealthy by traditional standards. When asked about this apparent discrepancy, the Steipler would point to the numerous well-received seforim that he authored and his world-renowned son Rav Chaim, and explain that wealth comes in many forms, not all of which involve money and physical possessions.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Why does the Torah repeat (13:1) the prohibition against adding to or subtracting from the commandments, which was already taught in Parshas Vaeschanan (4:2)? (Tal'lei Oros)
2) The Torah prohibits (14:1) various forms of mourning the death of loved ones. Why is the mourning period for the more natural and frequent loss of a parent longer (12 months) than that for the unnatural and seemingly more traumatic loss of a child (30 days)? (Meged Yosef)
3) 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 loans and charity to assist them. Does one fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah if he gives less than one perutah, the smallest amount of money which is considered to have any legal value? (Shu"t Beis Yitzchok Orach Chaim 21, Shu"t Maharil Diskin 1:24, Tzedakah U'Mishpat, Matamei Yaakov)
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