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Parshas Va'eschanan -
Vol. 5, Issue 42
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Ki tolid banim u’vnei banim v’noshantem b’aretz v’hischasem … v’asisem ha’ra b’einei Hashem Elokecha l’hachiso ha’idosee ba’chem ha’yom es ha’shomayim v’es ha’aretz ki avod toveidun maheir (4:25-26)
The Torah threatens that after the Jewish people become accustomed to living in the land of Israel, if they begin to take it for granted and perform evil acts in Hashem’s eyes, He will have no choice but to promptly destroy them. Rashi writes that the numerical value of the word “v’noshantem” – and you grow old in the land – is 852. This hints that they will be exiled after 852 years of living in Israel. However, if Hashem allowed them to remain for the full period, He would be forced to carry out the threat of the next verse: to utterly annihilate them. In order to allow them to remain intact, Hashem mercifully exiled them prematurely after only 850 years.
While Hashem’s compassionate act was certainly beneficial, it remains difficult to understand why He sent them into exile two years early. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to allow them to remain in the land for one more year, during which time they would have an opportunity to repent their sins, and to expel them at the end of 851 years if they hadn’t corrected their ways?
The Leket Yosher writes in his introduction that the Terumas HaDeshen suggested that this difficulty is the source for the widespread belief that when comparing the numerical values of two words or phrases, they are permitted to differ by one and still be considered equivalent. Had Hashem permitted the Jews to remain in Israel for 851 years, He would no longer have been able to lighten their sentence by merely exiling them. Since 851 is only one year less than the numerical value of “v’noshantem” (852), it would have been considered a fulfillment of the Torah’s frightening threat, and Hashem would have to destroy the Jewish nation. To avoid that catastrophic scenario, He had no choice but to send them out two years early.
Lech emor la’hem shuvu la’chem l’ohaleichem (5:27)
There is a Talmudic maxim (Yevamos 97b) that ger she’nisgayer k’katan she’nolad dami – a non-Jew who converts to Judaism is legally considered newly reborn, and is no longer the person he was with the relatives he used to have. In his commentary on Avodah Zara (63b), the Chasam Sofer writes that he was troubled his entire life at his inability to locate a source for this ruling which the Gemora in many places seems to take for granted.
The Meshech Chochmah suggests that this rule may be derived from our verse. Moshe’s father Amram was one of the greatest men of his generation and was married to his aunt Yocheved, a marriage which is forbidden to Jews but permitted to non-Jews. If one of the leaders was married to his close relative, it is reasonable to assume that many other Jews did likewise and married family members who weren’t forbidden to non-Jews.
After the giving of the Torah, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the people to return to their tents. The Gemora in Moed Katan (7b) understands this as a reference to their wives. Although they were required to abstain from marital relations for three days prior to the giving of the Torah in order to receive it in a state of spiritual purity, they were now permitted to resume normal family life.
However, at this point, those Jews who were married to relatives to whom they were now forbidden by the Torah should have been required to divorce them. If Hashem told Moshe to permit all of the Jews to return to their wives, their conversion must have made them as if they were reborn and no longer related to their wives. This permitted them to remain married, and from here we may derive the source for the law which the Chasam Sofer sought.
Nachamu nachamu ami (Yeshaya 40:1 – Haftorah)
The well-known Haftorah which is read on Parshas Vaeschanan begins Nachamu nachamu ami – Comfort, comfort My people. Why is the word “nachamu” repeated? The Medrash explains (Eichah Rabbah 1:57) that because the Jewish people sinned doubly, as indicated by the double expression (Eichah 1:8) “Cheit chat’ah Yerushalayim” – Jerusalem has greatly sinned – they were doubly punished, as Yeshaya continues to say (40:2) “Ki lakcha miyad Hashem kiflayim b’chol chatoseha” – the Jews received double from Hashem’s hand (as punishment) for all of their sins. As a result, when they repent their sins, they will be doubly comforted, as indicated by the double expression “Nachamu nachamu ami” in our verse.
What is difficult to understand is the Medrash’s statement that the Jews doubly sinned. How is this to be understood? It can’t mean that they did a lot of sins, because then the verse would simply say that they did many sins. What does it mean that each of their sins was doubled, and what is the connection between this and a double consolation?
The Darkei Mussar explains that Hashem gave us the Torah to be a light unto the nations, meaning that the Torah is not only for us, but for all of the nations of the world. If we behave the way that Hashem commanded us, the non-Jews will see our conduct and be so impressed by it that they will want to imitate us and they will become elevated as well. For this reason, the Torah was given in 70 languages, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world.
Unfortunately, when we don’t behave properly, not only do we go down spiritually, but the non-Jews for whom we’re supposed to be role models go down as well. He writes that in his times, people complained that the non-Jews around them acted like lowly animals. He suggests that instead of focusing on them and blaming them for acting so inappropriately and immodestly, we should focus on ourselves and realize that if we behave in the way that we are supposed to, we will elevate not only ourselves but them as well, so the fact that they are acting in this manner is on some level our fault and responsibility.
In light of this, he explains that the Medrash says that the Jews sinned doubly because not only did they sin, but their actions had a negative impact on everybody around them, and they were held accountable for this as well. As a result, we were doubly punished, not only for our sins but also for theirs. However, the Medrash adds that the time will ultimately come when we will properly fulfill our mission and purpose, and not only will we be elevated, but the entire world will be elevated with us, and we will be doubly comforted for all of our pain and suffering, may it be speedily in our days.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) After Hashem decreed that Moshe and Aharon would die in the wilderness and wouldn’t merit leading the Jewish nation into the land of Israel, Moshe repeatedly petitioned Hashem to reconsider and rescind the decree, but Hashem silenced him and didn’t accept his prayers (3:23-26). Was there anything that Moshe could have done differently to nullify the decree? (Maharil Diskin, Yishm’ru Daas, Darkei HaShleimus)
2) Moshe exhorted the people (4:9) not to forget that which they had seen or learned at Mount Sinai. The Mishnah in Avos (3:10) derives from here that one who forgets even a small part of his Torah learning is considered as if he bears guilt for his soul. Why is this viewed in such harsh terms when forgetting occurs naturally to humans? (Mishmeres Ariel)
3) The Mishnah Berurah (61:2) writes that all of the 10 Commandments are hinted to in the three paragraphs of Shema, and a person should think of them when saying the relevant verses which allude to each of them. How many of them can you find throughout Shema?
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