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 Parshas Vaeschanan - Vol. 8, Issue 41
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 He would have to destroy the Jewish nation. To avoid that catastrophic scenario, He had no choice but to send them out two years early.

U'keshartem 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, mitzvos which are presented in Parshas Vaeschanan (6:8). 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. Nevertheless, 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.

Rav Yisroel Salanter is quoted as saying that the greatest distance between two places in the world is the gap between a person's mind and his heart, which we see illustrated here. The soldier believes in something in his mind, but unless he can find a way to internalize it in his heart and know it with every fiber of his being, it won't affect his actions. This is why the Torah commands us (4:39) v'yadata ha'yom v'hasheivosa el levavecha - it's not enough just to know something in your head, but you have to also find a way to implant it into your heart.

For this reason, Hashem told Moshe in Parshas Tetzaveh that the unique garments that were worn by the Kohanim during the time that they served in the Beis HaMikdash were so special and holy, they couldn't simply be made by anybody who possessed the necessary skills and craftsmanship. Rather, Hashem instructed Moshe (Shemos 28:3) to command the wise of heart to make these special garments for Aharon and his sons.

The Torah recognizes that the primary criterion for evaluating wisdom lies in the ability to connect one's mind, and the information stored therein, with his heart, which guides and determines his decisions and actions. It is for this reason that Hashem stressed the importance of selecting the truly wise - the wise of heart - to make the special garments worn by the Kohanim.

Now that we have a heightened appreciation of the importance of ensuring that our intellectual learning and development influences and guides our actions and decisions, the more difficult question is how a person can do so. The Baalei Mussar tell us that the secret to getting knowledge and information to travel all the way from the brain to the inner depths of one's heart is through emotion. When something makes a strong and powerful impression on a person, it impacts him to the core and becomes a part of him.

I would like to suggest an additional technique based on the topic of tefillin with which we began. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 25:5) writes that the tefillin shel yad corresponds to the heart, and the tefillin shel rosh corresponds to the head. In light of this piece of information, we can understand that wearing tefillin properly can help us connect and unite our heads and our hearts.

Rashi maintains that the sin involved in speaking between putting the tefillin on his arm and placing the tefillin on his head is not the hefsek (interruption) constituted by speaking, but rather doing so obligates a person to make an additional blessing before placing the tefillin on his head, and the Gemora is speaking about a case of somebody who neglected to do so. According to this explanation, the sin is not unique to the mitzvah of tefillin, and the Gemora could have seemingly selected any number of cases of a person performing a mitzvah without reciting the appropriate blessing beforehand. If so, why did the Gemora specific choose to give this example as opposed to any other?

B'derech drush, I would suggest that the Gemora was bothered by this phenomenon. How is it possible that somebody is afraid of his sin, but yet is unable to do teshuvah and move on with the battle? It must be that there is a cognitive dissonance between what he knows in his mind and what his heart causes him to do. How did such a situation come about? Why didn't his tefillin help him unite his mind and his heart and overcome the disconnect between them? The Gemora understood that his sin must have been that he talked in between them and severed the connection between them, which is why his mind lost its control over his heart.

Although the society in which we live holds wisdom and its pursuers in high esteem, we must recognize that our study of Torah cannot become just another source of intellectual stimulation and knowledge. The Torah is described as a "Toras Chaim," for it is intended to provide us not just with intellectual stimulation, but to shape our actions and to guide us in every decision that we make in life. Therefore, as we pursue our studies, it is important to be cognizant of the Torah's message about the true definition of wisdom. 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 whatever we study must penetrate our hearts and become part of us so that it influences and guides our future actions and makes us truly wise, a recognition which will allow us to loosen our grips on our sins and completely release them from our hands.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

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 without being paid, so too all Jews are required to teach Torah without compensation. Is this rule 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, 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 - v'yadata ha'yom - 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)

 © 2013 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 parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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