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Parshas Devorim - Vol. 11, Issue 44
Compiled by Oizer Alport
There is a mystical idea that the content of the parsha read each Shabbos is connected to the events of the coming week. It is interesting to note that Parshas Devorim is traditionally read on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the tragic destruction of both Temples. What is the connection between them?
The following story will help shed light on the link between them. One day in Yerushalayim, two old friends encountered one another on the bus. Excited at the opportunity to catch up with one another, they sat down together and began talking. In the course of their conversation, one of them casually mentioned the name of an old friend. The other replied, "You didn't hear? She just got engaged last week to so-and-so!"
This news left her friend both elated and shocked. "That's so wonderful that she finally got engaged … but to him!? Who would have ever thought that she would settle for a person with so many problems?" Taking the bait, the one who shared the news agreed and proceeded to list problems not only with the chosson, but also with his family's reputation. The conversation went back-and-forth, with each of them heaping more and more question-marks on the match. After five minutes, a woman who was sitting behind them turned to the gossipers and remarked, "I know you didn't realize this, but I'm the aunt of the kallah that you've been discussing. We obviously didn't know about these serious allegations against the chosson and his family. As soon as I get home, I'm going to call my niece to convince her to break the engagement."
Aghast at the unexpected turn of events, the friends begged her not to do so. They explained, "We were just innocently chatting about recent events. We didn't mean many of the things that we said, and most of them were exaggerated. Please don't break-up this engagement because of our poor judgment." Just then, the bus reached the woman's stop. The wise woman paused before exiting and taught them an invaluable lesson. "You have nothing to worry about. I'm not really the kallah's aunt … but I could have been!"
The Gemora in Yoma (9b) teaches that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was the sin of baseless hatred of one's fellow Jews. Many times such hatred has its origins in forbidden forms of speech, such as gossip and painful words.
Our verse opens the book of Devorim by relating, "These are the words which Moshe spoke to all of the Jewish people." The Vilna Gaon reinterprets the verse to suggest that Moshe was addressing the need to rectify the sins which caused the Temple's destruction. The verse begins, "These are the words that Moshe spoke." And what were those words? The Vilna Gaon explains that the end of the verse can be read not as merely describing to whom Moshe spoke, but as the beginning of his actual message. Moshe didn't speak "to the entire Jewish people," but rather he told them, "Be united as one nation, not splintered into factions."
Many people who speak negatively justify their behavior by rationalizing that mere words cannot cause actual damage to other people, a mistake made by the two girls in our story. Since the outcome of such erroneous thinking was a widespread hatred powerful enough to destroy the Temple, we allude to the importance of rectifying this sin by beginning the week in which Tisha B'Av falls with the reading of Parshas Devorim, as "Devorim" means "words." As Tisha B'Av draws near, it would be appropriate to use the days ahead to contemplate this lesson about the power of our words and to attempt to rectify the sins which caused the Temple's destruction.
In the middle of his rebuke of the Jewish nation, Moshe blessed them that Hashem should increase their population 1000-fold. Rashi writes that they responded by questioning why he gave a limit to their beracha (blessing), as Hashem had already blessed Avrohom that his descendants would be so numerous that they could not be counted (Bereishis 13:16). Moshe cryptically replied, "This beracha is from me, and Hashem will bless you as He promised." What did Moshe mean that "this beracha is from me," and why did he specifically bless them with a 1000-fold increase?
The Panim Yafos explains that on two different occasions, after the sin of the golden calf (Shemos 32:10) and after the sin of the spies (Bamidbar 14:12), Hashem was so angry with the Jewish people that He informed Moshe that He intended to destroy them and create a new, even greater nation descended from Moshe. Although Hashem did not explicitly inform Moshe how numerous this new nation would be, the Gemora (Sotah 11a) teaches that Hashem's attribute of reward is 500 times greater than the Divine measure of punishment.
According to this concept, when Hashem told Moshe that He would make him into a great nation, His intention must have been for the new nation to be 500 times as numerous as the existing one that would be annihilated. Although Hashem accepted Moshe's petitions on behalf of the Jewish people and did not destroy them, there is a Talmudic principle (Berachos 7a) that any positive promise that emanates from Hashem, even if it is conditional in nature, will never be rescinded.
Because Hashem made His offer to create a great and numerous nation from Moshe twice, Moshe had a Divine beracha that he would be multiplied 1000 times as much as the nation's present population. This was the blessing that he gave the Jewish people, and this was his intention when he responded to them, "This beracha is from me." He wasn't telling them that this was his personal blessing to them, but rather that this was the beracha that he personally received from Hashem, and now he was bestowing it upon them.
In Parshas Devorim, Moshe reviews the episode that led to the appointment of judges to assist him (Shemos 18:13-26), explaining that he was unable to carry the burdens and quarrels of the Jewish people singlehandedly. However, although the word masa is normally translated as "burden," in this case the Ramban writes that it is a language of prayer, as we find in Melochim 2 (19:4) v'nasata tefilla - you offer a prayer - and in Yirmiyahu (7:16) v'al tisa ba'adam rina u'tefilla - do not lift up a cry or prayer (for the Jewish people). The Ramban explains that Moshe was expressing his inability to be solely responsible to pray for the entire nation and all of its needs. Nevertheless, Rav Simcha Zissel Broide points out that it is difficult to understand why prayer is described as a burden, especially when there are many other mitzvos that are more difficult and physically taxing than prayer.
Rav Broide explains that when we pray for another Jew who is suffering and in pain, it is not sufficient to merely petition Hashem on his behalf. We are expected to actually feel his hurt, and to call out to Hashem to alleviate not only his agony, but ours as well. Along these lines, the Gemora (Berachos 12b) teaches that somebody who declines to pray for Divine mercy on behalf of a Jew who needs it is considered a sinner, and the Gemora adds that a Torah scholar is expected not only to pray for the other Jew, but to make himself physically ill through his entreaties and petitions. Accordingly, Moshe complained that when he prayed on behalf of the nation, he felt their collective pain, and he described it as a masa - heavy burden to be carried.
As a practical application of this concept, Rav Yisroel Reisman recounts that when Rav Avrohom Yaakov Pam returned home in the morning, he was unable to eat breakfast right away. After the morning prayers in yeshiva concluded, Rav Pam met with people seeking his advice and assistance. Invariably, they would share their plights and difficulties with the Rosh Yeshiva, who took their suffering to heart to the point that when he came home, he first needed time to calm down, as he was so agitated that he was unable to eat, as just like Moshe and every great leader, he personally felt the pain and anguish of other Jews in distress.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (1:1) that Moshe mentioned Chatzeiros as an allusion to the sin of Korach's rebellion, and Di Zahav to hint to the sin of the golden calf. Why are these sins listed in non-chronological order, which is again repeated in Tehillim (106:16-19)? (Chanukas HaTorah)
2) Moshe commanded the judges (1:17) not to fear any potential litigant. If a judge fears that one of the litigants may kill him, is he permitted to recuse himself in order to protect himself? (Sifri, Bach Choshen Mishpat 12:1, Shu"t Shevus Yaakov 143, Shu"t Z'kan Aharon 126)
3) Rashi writes (1:17) that if a judge has a case involving a small amount of money in front of him and another case comes up involving a larger amount of money, he may not give precedence to the latter case, but must rule on the cases in the order in which they were presented. Is it forbidden to cut in a line, and if so, what is the source of the prohibition? (Ayeles HaShachar)
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