If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Vaeschanan - Vol.
4, Issue 42
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha b’chol l’vavcha uv’chol nafshecha uv’chol me’odecha (6:5)
The first paragraph of Shema commands us to love Hashem with all of our hearts. This is difficult to understand. How can Hashem require a person to love Him, as emotions must be genuine and sincere, and mandated love is hardly an ideal level to strive for?
Rav Akiva Eiger suggests that feelings of love toward Hashem should come naturally. It is human nature to instinctively love a person who we feel loves us. Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (27:19) “K’mayim ha’panim l’panim kein lev ha’adam l’adam” – just as water reflects back the face of the person looking into it, so too does the human heart mirror the emotions that it receives from others.
We need merely focus on contemplating and internalizing the unfathomable love that Hashem feels for every Jew, and reciprocal feelings of love will automatically well up in our hearts. It is for this reason that we conclude the blessing which immediately precedes the morning recitation of Shema with the words “Ha’bocher b’amo Yisroel b’ahava” – Who chooses His people Israel with love – and the evening recitation with the words “ohev amo Yisroel” – Who loves His people Israel. As we focus on these words and remind ourselves of the tremendous love that Hashem feels for us, we can’t help but experience reciprocal feelings of love, which will allow us to recite Shema with the proper emotions and concentration.
V’hayu ha’devorim ha’eileh asher anochi
m’tzav’cha hayom al l’vavecha
Rav Yisroel Salanter writes in Ohr Yisroel (27) that the mitzvah of learning Torah isn’t merely a requirement to spend one’s time engaged in the study of Torah. It additionally contains a second component: the mitzvah of yedias ha’Torah – knowing the entire Torah.
A group of yeshiva students once approached Rav Shach in the middle of the winter to speak with him. They began discussing the topics which are dealt with near the beginning of the tractate their yeshiva was studying at that time. Rav Shach, who was known for his strong opposition to the slow pace of study which has become prevalent in many yeshivos, chided them, “It’s your fault that we are currently in the midst of a severe draught. When Hashem looks down at the earth and sees that the yeshiva students are only up to daf “dalet,” He assumes that the winter zman (semester) has just begun, and the time for rain hasn’t yet arrived. If you would be learning at a faster pace and covering the ground you’re capable of, Hashem would realize how much of the zman has elapsed and how desperately we need the rains to come!”
Uk’shartam l’os al yadecha v’hayu l’totafos bein einecha (6:8)
In listing the people who are permitted to return home from the battle front, the Torah includes (20:8) one who is afraid and weak-hearted. Rashi explains that this refers to a person who is fearful that the sins which are in his hand will cause him to die in the battle. It is difficult to understand the use of this peculiar expression. In what way is it possible for sins to be in a person’s hand more than they are in his heart or soul? Further, one of the examples given (Menachos 36a) of such is a sin is a person who speaks between putting the tefillin on his arm and placing the tefillin on his head. Since this isn’t from the more severe sins which require Yom Kippur to effect forgiveness, why doesn’t he merely confess and repent his sin, which will effect immediate forgiveness and allow him to remain and fight?
Rav Shalom Schwadron suggests that Chazal specifically referred to the sin as being “in his hand” to hint to the fact that he has yet to relinquish his improper actions and is still figuratively holding on to them. The reason that he is unable to simply repent his actions is that he doesn’t want to! Although he is unwilling to admit the error of his ways and correct them, he is still intellectually cognizant of their impropriety and therefore fears the consequences of placing himself in the danger of war.
Although he recognizes that his actions are inappropriate and could lead to his death, he is still unable to release them from his hand and properly correct his ways due to the tremendous force of habit. As we begin the difficult work of honestly evaluating ourselves and attempting to improve and grow throughout the month of Elul, the first step is to understand that one of the greatest weapons in the yetzer hara’s arsenal is the power of habit, a recognition which will allow us to loosen our grips and completely release the sins from our hands.
Ki yishal’cha bin’cha machar leimor ma ha’eidus v’hachukim v’hamishpatim asher tzivah Hashem Elokeinu es’chem v’amarta l’vincha avadim hayinu l’Paroh b’Mitzrayim va’yotzi’einu Hashem mi’Mitzrayim b’yad chazaka (6:20-21)
The Pesach Haggadah teaches that the Torah discusses four types of children. Our verses contain the question attributed to the wise son. For each child, the Torah provides a different answer or explanation that is tailored to his unique circumstances so that the parents will be able to explain the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt to him in a manner which is appropriate for his level. Why does the Torah discuss so many different types of children, and what is the author of the Haggadah trying to teach us by emphasizing this point?
Our Sages teach that every word in the Torah can be interpreted in 70 distinct ways. Rav Moshe Tukechinsky, who served as the Mashgiach of the Slabodka yeshiva in B’nei B’rak, suggests that this number is no coincidence. Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 90:10) that the average life span of a person is 70 years. Hashem placed in the Torah a corresponding number of levels so that a person won’t be complacent with his previous understanding, but will seek to discover a new layer of depth in each successive year. However, Rav Tukechinsky adds that it is unreasonable to expect a person to begin this project in the first few years of his life, when his intellect isn’t yet adequately developed for the task. Rather, this lifelong project begins at a person’s Bar Mitzvah, when the Torah considers his mind sufficiently advanced to hold him responsible for his actions. It should come as no surprise that Rav Tukechinsky died at the age of 83!
In light of our new appreciation of the true depths contained within the Torah, we can now understand the answer to our original question. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik explains that the fact that the Torah specifically addresses each unique type of child helps us recognize its greatness. Books which are written by humans are targeted toward one level, but the Divinely-authored Torah addresses and is relevant to every person on his unique individual level.
Rav Moshe Wolfson notes that in secular studies such as mathematics, at the end of each school year the students must turn in their old books and receive new, more advanced books at the beginning of the next year. In contrast, Jews around the world study the very same Torah, Mishnah, and Gemora beginning in their youth and continuing throughout their lives, as the Divine wisdom contained therein may be accessed by each student on his personal level.
Many of us, this author included, grew up with a perfunctory introduction to the basic “stories” of the Bible – Adam and the forbidden fruit, Noach and the flood, Moshe and the ten plagues, and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Although at that point we may have thought that we understood the full depth of the Torah, we are now mature and intelligent enough to recognize the folly and arrogance of this belief. The Mishnah (Avos 5:26) teaches: Delve into it (the Torah), and continue to delve into it, for everything is contained within it. This is a lesson that each of us, no matter where we are on our personal path of Jewish growth, would do well to contemplate and internalize.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Gemora in Nedorim (37a) derives from 4:5 that just as Moshe taught Torah to the Jewish people without being paid, so too all Jews are required to teach Torah without receiving compensation. Is this ruling specific to the mitzvah of Torah study, or is it a general prohibition against taking money for the performance of any mitzvah? (Rashi Kiddushin 58b, Tur Yoreh Deah 336, Even Ha’Azel Hilchos G’neivah V’Aveidah 12)
2) Moshe exhorted the people (4:9) not to forget that which they had seen or learned at Mount Sinai. Chazal list many things which can cause a person to forget his Torah learning. How many of them can you name? (Kuntres Sefer Zikaron)
3) The Torah commands (4:39) a person to know that Hashem is G-d in the Heavens and the earth, and there is no other power besides from Him; the Rambam similarly refers (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) to a mitzvah to know this reality. Why is this mitzvah known as “Emunah” – belief – a concept also used by the Rambam in reference to this mitzvah (Sefer HaMitzvos 1), instead of “Yediah” – knowledge? (Toras Chaim)
4) As the words “Keil Melech Ne’eman” are added to the recitation of Shema when praying without a minyan to complete 248 words corresponding to the 248 limbs in the body, are women required to say it since they have 252 limbs? (Shu”t Minchas Elozar 2:28)
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to email@example.com
Shema Yisrael Torah Network