Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 10   No. 43

This issue is sponsored
Wishing a refu'ah sheleimah
to Miriam bas Tziporah

Parshas Devarim
(Including Tish'ah B'Av Supplement)

Sins and Sins

"If your sins will be like a scarlet thread", we read in the Haftarah, "they will become white like snow; whereas if they will be red like scarlet dye, they will become white like wool".

The difference between scarlet wool and scarlet dye, explains Reb Zalman from Volozhin, is that whereas the one is itself red, the other, makes everything else red, too.

He then goes on to explain the dual Mashal, based on the Mishnah in Nega'im, which listing the four basic categories of Tzara'as, places 'white like snow' on top of the list, and 'white like lamb's wool' two levels lower.

As long as our sins are purely personal, the Navi is teaching us, we will have no problem doing Teshuvah, and they will become white like snow. The moment however, they affect others, causing them to sin too, then even if we try, we will not be able to repent fully, and our sins will only become white like lamb's wool - for so Chazal have said 'Someone who causes others to sin, will not be given the opportunity to do (a full) Teshuvah'.


The Meshech Chochmah explains the Pasuk with the Gemara in Yuma (9b). The Gemara there explains that the period of the second Galus was not revealed because their sin was not revealed. On the other hand, the seventy years of exile following the first Churban, were predetermined (even if the exact dates were not), because their sin was revealed.

This means, says the Meshech Chochmah, that, however serious the sins that caused the destruction of the first Beis-Hamikash were, they were only on the surface. The people had their external weaknesses, to be sure, but in their hearts they loved the Torah and they loved each other.

And he cites Achav (described in the Navi as one of the worst idolaters), yet he succeeded in battle, because the people in his time did not speak Lashon ha'Ra. This we know because Eliyahu claimed to be the only remaining Navi, yet nobody divulged to Achav the fact that there were another hundred Nevi'im, whom Ovadyah had hidden in two caves. Moreover, Chazal say about Achav, that when the king of Amon demanded his wives, he acquiesced; when he demanded his silver and gold, he acquiesced. But when he demanded the Seifer-Torah, he refused point blank, whatever the consequences.

That is why Yisrael's sins during the period of the first Beis-Hamikdash, turned white like snow, as symbolized by the red thread on Yom Kipur. For a red thread is intrinsically white, and it is only the outside that is red. And by the same token, even when those sins reached the stage that brought on the Churban Beis-Hamikdash, the ensuing Galus was limited in time.

During the period of the second Beis-Hamikdash (from the death of Shimon ha'Tdadik) however, the thread no longer turned white. This was because their sins were deep. They were guilty of baseless hatred and Lashon ha'Ra, sins that reflect inner decay. That is why the Pasuk compares them to the worm (Tola) which produced the red dye, which is intrinsically red. Consequently, the Navi says, their sins will become like wool, but not like snow. And that also explains why, after all these years, the Galus has still not fully atoned for all our sins.


The Agados Maharsho explains the Gemara in Yuma differently (though there is no indication that he connects the distinction that he draws to the Pasuk in Yeshayah). He compares the contrast of the sins of the first Beis-Hamikdash and the second, to the contrast the Gemara in Bava Kama makes between a Ganav (who steals on the quiet) and a Gazlan (who steals openly). Neither is afraid of G-d, only whereas the latter is not afraid of man either, the former is. And to display more fear towards men than towards G-d is in itself sinful. Perhaps the reason for that is because, if, to a degree, someone who is fearless by nature can be excused for not fearing G-d, that excuse does not apply to someone who is afraid of man. It is similar to Chazal, who commenting on the initial defeat of the other tribes in the civil war versus Binyamin, following the episode of the Piligesh be'Giv'ah, ascribe it to the zealousness which Yisrael displayed, to avenge the innocent concubine whose death Binyamin had caused. Such zealousness is certainly a good thing in itself. Yet it aroused G-d's ire, because when His honour was at stake (in the form of the image of Michah which people openly worshipped) they did nothing to defend it.

It is one thing for people not to be inclined towards zealousness, but quite another, to practice it for the sake of a human-being's dignity, and not for the sake of G-d. That is why Yisrael lost the first two battles.


The Agados Maharsha asks from the Gemara in Kidushin (40a), which rules that someone who is unable to control his evil inclination, should go to a place where he is unknown, wear black and do as he pleases, to minimise the Chilul Hashem. However one explains this ruling (see Tosfos there and Agados Maharsha), inherent in the Gemara's message is that it is better to sin privately than in public, to avoid desecrating G-d's Name. This seems to clash with the Gemara in Bava Kama, which places a Gazlan on a higher level than a Ganav, in spite of the Chilul Hashem.

The Maharsha hints that there is an answer, without saying what it is. Perhaps what he means is to bear in mind that the Gemara in Bava Kama is speaking after the act, because from the point of view of Midos, stealing in public is preferable to stealing in private, as we just explained.

Had the potential Gazlan weighed up carefully beforehand whether to take to stealing discreetly or in public, he would have arrived at the conclusion that he will be better off in the Ganav trade. Because Midos apart, a Gazlan will have to give an additional Din ve'Cheshbon for the Chilul Hashem, and that will cost him dearly, when it comes to the crunch.

It can be compared to two people who each ate an apple, the one a sweet, perfectly tasting apple, the other, one that was less perfect. However it later transpires that the sweet apple contained a worm. That worm constitutes the Chilul Hashem of which we spoke.


Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah) The Three Sections of Seifer Devarim

"These are the words that Moshe spoke ... " ."On the first day of the eleventh month Moshe told B'nei Yisrael ... ". ... "On the other side of the Yardein Moshe began to explain this Torah" (1:1, 3, 5)

Within the first five Pesukim of the Parshah, the Torah has mentioned three times that Moshe spoke to Yisrael. The G'ro explains that this is because these Pesukim constitute an introduction to the entire Seifer Devarim, which is divided into three sections. And this itself is based on the fact that Seifer Devarim, which is known as 'Mishneh Torah' (the repetition of the Torah), repeats the essence of Sh'mos, Vayikra and Bamidbar.

The first section, from the beginning of the Seifer until the fifth chapter in Va'eschanan, deals with Musar and rebuke. The second section, which begins with the Aseres ha'Dibros and lasts until the middle of Ki Savo, deals with the Mitzvos. Whereas the third section, beginning at that point (27:9), deals with the B'rachos and the K'lalos.

Consequently ,"Eileh ha'devorim asher diber Moshe" introduces the first sections (and that explains why it contains a summary of the rebukings). " Moshe told B'nei Yisrael all that Hashem had commanded him", which refers to all the Mitzvos, introduces the second section. And "Moshe began to explain this Torah" (where the Torah also uses the expression "Ba'er Heitev"), introduces the third section.


It's That Sin Again

"Eileh ha'devarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisrael" (1:1).

Chazal have said that most people are guilty of stealing (time, sleep ... ), only a minority commit adultery. Everybody however, is guilty of speaking avak Lashon ha'Ra (a form of indirect Lashon ha'Ra). That is why Moshe found it necessary to gather all the people here, because "Eileh" spells the first letters of 'Avak Lashon Hara' (Megaleh Amukos).


Delayed Action

"After he had defeated Sichon" (1:4).

Moshe waited, Rashi explains, until he had defeated Sichon and taken the people into the preliminary area of Eretz Yisrael, before rebuking them. And he did that, to partially offset at least, their anticipated reaction. Now that he was leaving them high and dry in the desert, they would argue, who was he to give them Musar?

The question arises however, that since the defeat of Sichon took place in Ellul, why did Moshe then wait five months (until Sh'vat) before rebuking them.

Before citing the Binyan Ariel's answer, bear in mind that seeing as Moshe had yet to defeat Og, which he only did after the Yomim-Tovim, the question really ought to be why he waited four months from Tishri until Sh'vat.

In any event, the Binyan Ariel cites Rashi in Va'eschanan, who describes how, after having captured Sichon and Og, Moshe believed that G-d's vow (that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael), had been nullified. It goes without saying that, as long as he thought that he would enter the Land, there was no question of rebuking Yisrael, because, as Rashi also explains, it is correct to rebuke only shortly before one dies. Consequently, it was only after G-d informed Moshe that his thoughts were unfounded (see Rashi Va'eschanan 3:23), that he would have decided to rebuke them, and for all we know, that only occurred close to Sh'vat.

It seems to me however, that once we know of Moshe's reluctance to rebuke the people long before his death, we no longer need to come on to the Binyan Ariel' s answer. Even assuming that G-d informed Moshe immediately of his mistake, he would not have rebuked them there and then, since his death was not immediately imminent. Rashi here is merely stressing the importance Moshe attached to defeating Sichon (or Sichon and Og) some time before his death, with the intention of then rebuking them with impunity when the time arrived..


The Three Duties of a Leader

"How can I bear alone- ''Torchachem, Masa'achem ve'Rivchem" (1:12).

The Ramban explains these three terms. 'Torchachem" he explains, means the trouble to teach the people Torah (as Moshe said to Yisro "And I instruct them the statutes of G-d and His laws"); "Masa'achem", means Tefilah (as he told him "When the people come to me to seek G-d"); whereas "Rivchem" means judging them when the need arises.

Here we have the three duties of a Jewish leader vis-a-vis the people.


About the Haftarah

Three-Week Jews

"From the sole of the foot up to the head there is not an inch that is perfect" (Yeshayah 1:6)

When the Days of Awe arrive, most people tend to repent and mend their ways, out of fear of the forthcoming Days of Judgement. And this fear remains with them up to Hosha'ana Raba, the 'Day the Judgements are Sealed'. After that, the effect of the past days quickly fades away, and it's back to 'business as usual'.

Looking at the above Pasuk from a different slant, perhaps that is what it is hinting to us here - "From the end of Regel (Sukos [Hosha'ana Raba]) till Rosh Hashanah (of the coming year) there is not a day which is perfect' ... as we just explained. (Noda bi'Yehudah).

Come Rosh Hashanah, and the cycle begins all over again.


Getting Our Priorities Wrong

"Tzedek yolin boh, ato meratzchim (Righteousness used to dwell in it [Yerushalayim], but now they are murderers)" (1:18).

Rebbi Yonasan Aybeshitz, in similar vein to the previous vort, explains the Pasuk like this.

'When there is a charitable act to perform, you leave it for tomorrow. But when it comes to murder, you do it immediately, on impulse'.



In Parshas Chukas (Main article), we referred to 'the juxtaposition of the death of Aharon to Yom-Kipur'. This should of course, have read 'the juxtaposition of the death of the sons of Aharon to Yom-Kipur'. We apologize for the error. Many thanks to the reader who pointed this out.


Tish'a B'Av Supplement

(sponsored with wishes for a refu'ah sheleimah for Miriam bas Tziporah)

(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

Crying Twice

"Bochoh sivkeh ba'laylah" (1:2).

The double expression, says Rashi, refers to the Churbanos of the two Batei Mikdash, which were destroyed on the same day. The Medrash however, adds other interpretations - one for the calf that they served in the desert and the other, for the two calves set up by Yeravam in Beis-Eil and Dan; one for Yehudah, the other, for Tziyon and Yerushalayim; one for the Galus of the ten tribes, the other, for that of Yehudah and Binyamin.

Alternatively, when Yerushalayim weeps, everyone weeps with her (as Rashi writes, to explain why the Pasuk writes 'in the night') - Hashem weeps with her, the angels weep with her, heaven and earth weep with her, the sun and the moon weep with her, the seventy nations (on whose behalf seventy bulls were brought in her [Yerushalayim] every Succos) weep with her and above all, K'nesses Yisrael weeps with her.

In short, Yerushalayim is the centre of the world. It is the foundation upon which the entire world rests. And when the foundation cracks, the entire building is in jeopardy.


Only Ourselves to Blame

Rebbi Yitzchak points out that had we merited, we would have been reading about "the guarded night" (Leil Shimurim), but now that we do not, we read about weeping in the night, instead. And he repeats this idea when, in the next Pasuk, the Navi writes "Yehudah went into exile: There he says that had we deserved, we would have been reading "And you will dwell in safety in the Land", but now that we do not ... And he repeats this theme many more times during the course of Eichah. Such is our relationship with G-d that whatever happens to us, is merely a reflection of our own behaviour, nothing else.


With Her Tears on her Cheek

Based on references in other Pesukim, the Medrash relates "her cheek" to the troubles that befell her Kohanim, her warriors, her judges and the young men of Yerushalayim. Then the Babylonians entered the Beis-Hamikdash, they seized the young men and tied their hands behind their backs before marching them to Babylon.. The tears which they were unable to wipe off their faces, and which became scorched by the mid-summer sun, marked their skin like 'the scar of a boil'.


Times will Change

"Ein lah menachem (she has no comforter)".

Whenever the Pasuk uses the expression "ein lah", says Rebbi Levi, it is describing the situation now, but indicates that things are destined to change.

That is why G-d assures us "Anochi Anochi Hu menachemchem (I Myself will comfort you)" (Yeshayah 51).

And the same applies to the Pasuk in the last chapter "Yesomim hayinu ve'ein av (we became orphans who have no father)". At the time of the Churban, we may well have been orphans without a father. But the expression "ve'ein" assures us that times will change, and that our close relationship with our Father in Heaven will ultimately be restored.


Now That's What You Call Exile

"Yehudah went into exile" (1:3).

So what if they did? Is it only Yehudah who was exiled? Many other nations went into exile too.

The difference is simple, the Medrash explains. When other nations go into exile, they are permitted to eat the bread and drink the wine of their captors. There is nothing to stop them from assimilating. That's not really Galus.

We Jews on the other hand, are forbidden to eat non-Jewish bread and drink non-Jewish wine. So we are forever branded as strangers, hated and taunted for being different. Now that's what you call Galus! Like Chazal said, one of the reasons for the name 'Har Sinai' is because the Torah that was given on it causes us to be hated by the world ('Sinai' = sin'ah).

Sometimes it gives the impression of being a permanent scar. In fact, it is a permanent mark of greatness.


(adapted mainly from the Otzar Ishei ha'Tenach)

According to the Medrash, Sh'lomoh Hamelech had relations with the Queen of Sheba, from which a daughter was born.

Nevuchadnetzar was a descendent of that daughter.

Sh'lomoh built the Beis-Hamikdash, but his own (biological) great-grandson destroyed it.

Incidentally, the Gemara in Shabbos informs us that when Shlomoh married bas Par'oh, the Angel Gavriel came down and 'planted' a cane in the sea, which later became Rome. Whatever exactly the Gemara means, it is incredible that Sh'lomoh who built the Beis-Hamikdash, planted the seed that would later result in the destruction of both the first and the second Beis-Hamikdash, and both as a result of devious relationships with women.


Nevuchadnetzar ruled for forty-five years. During the first year of his reign, he defeated Ninveh (capital of Assyria), and in the second, he captured Yehoyakim, King of Yehudah. Seven years later, he exiled Yehoyachin (Yechonyah) and the Torah scholars to Bavel. And eleven years after that, he destroyed the Beis-Hamikdash, and exiled Tzidkiyahu and the rest of the people.

On the very day that he entered the Heichal, Daryavesh (king of Persia), who was destined to liquidate his empire, was born.

When Hashem destroyed the Camp of Ashur, five people escaped, Sancheiriv and his two sons (who subsequently killed him), Nevuchdnetzar and Nevuzraden (who later became general of Nevuchadnetzar's army).


Yirmiyah (who was a Gilgul of Shlomoh Hamelech) as a boy, was once strolling with Nevuchadnetzar, when the latter, an unknown, poverty-stricken youth, announced that if he were king of the entire world, he would attack Yerushalayim and destroy the Beis-Hamikdash and the city, kill the inhabitants and take the remnants captive.

Yirmiyahu, who saw with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh that this is what would indeed happen, first asked him to spare Yerushalayim, then the Beis-Hamikdash and then the children, but each one in turn, Nevuchdnetzar adamantly refused. Finally, he granted Yirmiyahu whatever he would be able to take out of the city from mid-day until nightfall.

When years later, that day arrived, G-d, who had other plans, had induced Yirmiyah to leave Yerushalayim. When, from afar, he saw fire and smoke rising from the ruins, he hurried back, but he only managed to arrive at nightfall, and so, he did not manage to save anything.


Three kings ruled over the whole world - Achav, Achashveirosh and Nevuchadnetzar.

Nevuchadnetzar, in whose time, nobody ever smiled, would humiliate the vassal kings over whom he ruled, by drawing lots to determine whose turn it was to participate in his perversions. When the lot fell on the Tzadik Tzidkiyahu, G-d intervened, and he detered him from carryig out his evil plans.

Four kings made themselves out to be Divine, Par'oh, Chiram (King of Tyre, who was also the husband of Nevuchadnetzar's mother), Yo'ash (king of Yehudah) and Nevuchadnetzar. All of them indulged in the same form of pervert practice.

The wicked Vashti was Nevuchadnetzar's granddaughter.


When Chizkiyahu Hamekech recovered from the illness from which he almost died, Merodach B'ladan, King of Bavel, sent him a letter with greetings 'to King Chizkiyah, the city of Yerushalayim and the Great G-d', in that order.

Nevuchadnetzar, who was his scribe at the time, but who was absent when the letter was written, walked in just after the messenger had left. When the king informed him what he had written, he objected to the order of the greetings, insisting that 'the Great G-d' should be placed first. The King ordered him to re-write the letter accordingly, and switch the letters with the messenger. After he had run four Parsah (about 16 km.), the Angel Gavriel intercepted him and finished the errand. As a result of that deed, he merited to destroy the Beis-Hamikdash. Had Gavriel not stopped him, he would have merited to wipe out the whole of Yisrael.


For eighteen years, a Heavenly Voice invited Nevuchadnetar to destroy the Beis-Hamikdash. But he could not believe that G-d would destroy Yerushalayim. Eventually, he put it to the test through sorcery. He shot arrows in the direction of Anti'och, Tyre and Ludki, and each time the arrow broke. But when he shot an arrow in the direction of Yerushalayim, it remained whole. That was when he knew that Yerushalayim would fall into his hands.

Three times he attacked Yerushalayim; the first time, he exiled Yehoyakim, the second time, Yehoyachin and the third time, following a three and a half year long siege, he destroyed the city and exiled Tzidkiyah.

When Yehoyakim was delivered into his hands, Nevuchadnetzar tore open a donkey, placed him inside and led him round the cities of Yisrael. As he did this, he cut off small strips of flesh from his body which he fed to the dogs, eventually leaving his remains lying out in the open, unburied.


When Nevuchadnetzar attacked Yerushalayim, he was afraid that he might suffer the same fate as Sancheiriv. So he kept his distance, encamping in Rivlah, and appointing Nevuzraden commander of his forces, with instructions to capture Yerushalayim.

They were short of mills in Bavel, so he ordered Nevuzraden to load millstones on the Jewish captives' backs, and that is how they were led into exile.

He also ordered Nevuzraden not to allow the Jewish captives to pray, because, he told him, they have a merciful G-d who will take pity on them if they repent. And by the same token, they were not even to be allowed a moment's break that they might stop and sigh. And Nevuzraden obeyed his instruction to the letter; He drove the hapless captives mercilessly, without respite, moving briskly towards Bavel - naked, arms tied behind their backs, laden with the heavy millstones, whilst the Tamuz sun beat down on them relentlessly.


Nevuchadnetzar was once sailing in a boat on the river accompanied by princes and a variety of musicians, when he noticed the kings of Yehudah, naked and in chains, walking along the banks of the river. 'Why are these men walking upright?' he asked his servants. 'Is there no burden to place on their backs?'

Immediately, his servants went and brought Torah scrolls, which they made into flasks, and filled with sand. These, he placed on their shoulders, until their backs doubled over from the weight. That is why they declared "On our necks we were pursued" (Eichah 5:5).


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