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

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Vol. 11   No. 40

This issue is sponsored

Parshas Devarim
Incorporating Tish'ah Be'Av

Going in the Other Direction

Someone once suggested to the Chafetz Chayim, that with his powerful writing ability, he could achieve fame and fortune by writing novels and the like and selling them to a public that would 'lap them up like hot cakes'. In his own inimitable way, the Chafetz Chayim replied with a Mashal (a parable). A poor man, unable pay for better means of transportation, took to the road to walk the many miles to his distant destination. He was trudging along the road, when a carriage, going in the opposite direction, stopped beside him, and the occupant offered him a lift - back to the town from which he had set out that morning. His would-be benefactor tried hard to convince him that not only would he arrive quicker at his destination, but the journey would be much more pleasant. The weary traveler agreed wholeheartedly in principle, but, he pointed out, there was one problem his benefactor was traveling one way, whilst his destination lay in the opposite direction. And so, said the Chafetz Chayim, it was with him. His destination was one of spiritual growth and development. What sort of role would fame and fortune serve him to get there?


Most people don't like to be rebuked, yet the Pasuk writes in Mishlei (3:12) "He rebukes the one whom He loves", a sure sign that Tochachah is ultimately a sign of love, inasmuch as it leads a person on the path along which he ought to be going. It is not, as so many people believe, a sign of hatred (or, at best, a downright nuisance). And the truth of this is further reinforced by another Pasuk in Mishlei (9:8). "Do not reprove a jester, for he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you". Someone who is averse to rebuke must now draw his own conclusions as to which category he belongs. Indeed, these Pesukim were written by none other than Shlomoh Hamelech, whose mother Bas-Sheva would beat him each day coupled with a warning to woek hard on himself, in order to grow up into a G-d-fearing man. And it is the same Shlomoh Hamelech who wrote "Spare the rod and spoil the child" (Mishlei 13:24). Though one should note that nowadays, this approach is not always applicable.


Rashi in Nitzavim comments that the Tochachah listed in Ki Savo and the afflictions that Yisrael must suffer, for all their bitter contents, are to their advantage. The Sifsei Chachamim explains that they actually contain two inherent benefits; firstly they act as a marvelous deterrent (to be sure, reading the awesome list of curses makes sinning that much more difficult, and at worst, it takes much of the relish out of it so that when one does sin, one does so reluctantly). And secondly, he says, should Yisrael's urge to sin override the deterrent, the suffering that they subsequently endure cleanses them, and enables them to re-establish their connection with the Shechinah, to take over where they left off.

So whether one accepts rebuke or rejects it depends very much upon the direction towards which one is heading, whether it is along the path that leads to spiritual growth or that of 'Eat, Drink and be merry ... '.


Medrash Eichah tells the poignant story of the famous Tana, Rebbi Yehoshua, who once asked a child for directions to the city. The child pointed to one route, which he described as short but long, and to another, which he described as long, but short. Rebbi Yehoshua, who did not understand what the child meant by that, opted to take the first route. The short path, which pointed in the direction of the town, seemed straightforward enough. It lead directly towards the town, and was devoid of obstacles; a short and pleasant walk. The problem however was, that the path led to a dead end, with a city wall in front of him, but no point of entry.

Rebbi Yehoshua was forced to retrace his steps. Meeting the child who had previously directed him, he said to him 'But did you not tell me that it was short?' 'Indeed I did', came the reply , 'but did I not add that it was long?' So Rebbi Yehoshua took the second path, which took him a long way round and was full of obstacles. It certainly was a long route, just as the youngster had told him. Eventually, however, it led him straight into town. Yes, it was long, but it was short, certainly a lot shorter than the short route, via which he would never have arrived at his destination.


Sure the route of Tochachah is long and difficult, and there are many who therefore prefer to traverse other routes, where they are free to enjoy the pleasures that they encounter along the way without hindrance. But they would do well to realize that the route that they have chosen may be short, but it is also long, for at the end of the day, they will come to a dead end. They will arrive at the walls of Olom ha'Bo, but will find that there is no point of entry. On the other hand, those who choose the route of Tochachah, may have chosen the road that is long and arduous, but at the same time it is short, because it will lead them direct to their destination, straight into the Gates of Olom ha'Bo.

In slightly different words, a person must decide what he wants to do - eat now and pay later, or pay now and eat later. The choice is his!

* * *

Parshah Pearls

Nothing Like a Rebuke

"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael" (1:1).

This is what the Pasuk in Mishlei is referring to when it writes (28:2) "Someone who rebukes a man after Me, will find favor, more than someone with a smooth tongue".

"Someone who rebukes" - this is Moshe, who rebuked K'lal Yisrael.

"After Me" - after G-d had rebuked them;

and because he rebuked them, "he ... will find favour" ...

"more than someone with a smooth tongue" - refers to Bil'am, who spoke to them with a smooth tongue, when he said "How good are your tents, Oh Ya'akov ... " (his intention when issuing this beautiful statement were not as positive as it appears on the surface).

This contrast between Moshe and Bil'am can be compared to two ministers, one of whom loved the rebellious Prince, whereas the other one hated him.

The former warned the prince 'My son, be careful not to contravene the wishes of your father. Remember, he is a king and a judge, and if he hears that you plan to rebel, he will have no mercy on you, and will not hesitate to have you killed'. Whilst the latter assured him that he had nothing to fear from the king, who was his father after all, and who would certainly turn a blind eye to all his 'minor infractions'.

Moshe Rabeinu, who loved Yisrael, warned them "Beware lest your hearts go astray" (11:16).

Whereas Bil'am who hated them, said to them "How good are your tents ... ". 'Do whatever captures your fancy', because G-d will punish the other nations for their misdeeds (as the Torah writes "G-d is not a man who lies ... " [23:19]), but you are his sons, "and whatever threats He may have issued, be rest assured that He will not carry them out" (ibid.).

And it is about Moshe and Bil'am that Sh'lomoh Hamelech writes in Mishlei (26:6) "The wounds of the good friend are faithful, but the kisses of the hater pile up".

And also with regard to Moshe it is written "And to those who rebuke them it will be pleasant, and on them (on Yisrael) will come the good blessings" (Mishlei 24:25). The blessings will come on them all, on the rebuker and on the rebuked.

That is why Moshe rebuked his generation. And because they accepted it from him, the Torah writes (in Pasuk 11) "G-d will add to your numbers a thousand times". (Rosh)


Vivid Proof

"See, I have placed before you the land" (1:21).

What was there to see, asks the Rosh?

Indeed there was, he replies. They had been traveling in a desert that was full of snakes and scorpions, yet they had survived almost a year in the desert (the Torah is referring to the period following their departure from Har Sinai) without them even having seen one, let alone being attacked by them. Was that not tangible proof that it really was G-d's intention to give them the land? Surely it was no more difficult for Him to protect them from the Cana'anim that it was to protect them from the snakes and scorpions which abounded in the desert!


All Because of Yisrael

"Also with me G-d was angry because of you ... " (1:37).

What did Moshe mean by blaming Yisrael for his sin?

The Rosh explains that his sin was the result of their lack of Emunah. When he said to them "Shall we produce water from this roack?", the last thing he had in mind was that such a thing was impossible. Yet that is precisely what they thought. They thought that the fact that Moshe had produced water from a rock the first time (at Chorev) was just a coincidence, and that this time, he himself realized that it simply wasn't possible - a tremendous Chillul Hashem. And it now dawned on him that he ought to have added 'by the command of G-d', in which case, they could not have mistaken his intentions.

That may well be. At the end of the day, the catalyst was their weak Emunah, which caused them to misunderstand Moshe's statement - compounding the otherwise minor error, for which Moshe was made to pay such a heavy price (see also K'li Yakar).


Bees Don't Kill

"And they chased them like bees" (1:44).

Why does the Torah compare the Emori (or whoever they were) to bees, asks the Rosh (see also Rashi)?

And he explains that bees tend to sting in many places, yet they do not usually kill.

Here too, the Emori wounded and routed them, but did not kill them, so as to prevent them from boasting at having killed G-d's people. This also explains why the Torah does not mention the number of people who were killed (as it generally does).


Eisav's Reward

"Enough of going round this mountain" (2:3).

This is the same expression as the one used by Eisav "I have enough. You keep what is yours" Bereishis 33:9.

Bearing in mind, that they were about to enter the territory of Eisav, Eisav's overcoming his love of money to acknowledge Ya'akov's rights was no small Mesiras Nefesh on his part. Hence, Yisrael were commanded not to fight with him.

According to another explanation, it was on the merit of Kibud Av va'Heim in which he excelled. As we find, when he went in to his parental home, he would change his clothes in honour of his parents, even though his motivation was questionable.


Se'ir, Amon and Mo'av

"Don't start up with Mo'av" (1:9).

The Rosh explains why the Torah makes a point of warning Yisrael not to fight with Se'ir, Amon and Mo'av. Yisrael, he says, thought that Se'ir was permitted to them, because they were referred to as Chivi, one of the seven nations of Cana'an, and Amon and Mo'av because they were referred to as the Refa'aim, one of the ten nations that G-d promised to Avraham.

Therefore the Torah warns Yisrael here, to leave these nations alone, because Se'ir was not really the Chivi at all, but the Chori. And the reason that they were nicknamed 'Chivi', was because they could tell the nature of the earth (for planting purposes) like a Chivya (a snake). And by the same token, they were not allowed to fight with Amon, as the Mo'avim called the people who had lived there previously 'Eimim', because they cast terror in the hearts of the people, whereas those who had preceded Amon, the latter referred to as 'Zamzumin' (because they were unique schemers). People assumed both of these to be the Refa'im, to whose land Yisrael had a claim, because they too, were a mighty nation of giants. But it was not so (as Rashi explains. See also Ramban).

And because they relied on their own wisdom and strength, G-d destroyed them and gave their land to weaker nations (Amon and Mo'av). This explains, says the Rosh, why the Torah did not deem it necessary to warn Yisrael against capturing other nations (besides the seven nations of Cana'an) - only these three.

* * *

The Ten Martyrs - A Divine Decree
(Adapted from the Kinos ha'Mevu'aros)

If only Yisrael had not taught the Emperor of Rome Torah, the entire episode would never have taken place ...

When G-d created the trees, they grew very tall, and were extremely happy, until iron was invented, and they realized that man was destined to manufacture axes from iron, axes which he would use to fell trees. If only, they mused, they would be able to withhold their wood which he would need to fashion handles (without which he would be unable to cut them down). Presumably, the Medrash is referring here to the translation of the Torah into Greek, which gave the gentiles entry into the study of the written Torah, which among the numerous decrees and persecutions to which this led throughout the ages, also resulted (not long afterwards) to the episode with the Asarah Harugei Malchus (the ten martyrs).


The Emperor was once studying Torah, when he came across the Parshah in Mishpatim (21:17) that sentences to death someone who kidnaps a fellow Jew and sells him. Filling the house (from floor to ceiling) with shoes, he summoned Raban Shimon ben Gamliel (the Nasi) and his colleagues, and asked them what happens to someone who kidnaps a Jew and sells him.

When they replied that he is sentenced to death, the Emperor informed them that in that case, this is what he would do to them for the brothers' sale of Yosef, which up to then, had never been atoned for. And he instructed them to be prepared to accept the Divine ruling. To be sure, he informed them, he would have judged the brothers themselves had they been alive, but now that they were not, he had no choice but to punish them instead, since they were the greatest in Yisrael, and were therefore worthy to stand in place of Yosef's brothers. He could not of course, have known what the Kabbalists would later confirm, that the ten men whom he chose were Gilgulim (reincarnations) of the ten sons of Ya'akov who had perpetrated the crime. And these are the names of the sages - Raban Shimon ben Gamliel (the Nasi), Rebbi Yishmael ben Elisha (Kohen Gadol), Rebbi Akiva ben Yosef, Rebbi Yehudah ben Bava, Rebbi Chanina ben T'radyon, Rebbi Yesheivav ha'Sofer, Rebbi Elazar ben Dama, Rebbi Chanina ben Chachinai, Rebbi Chutzpis ha'Meturgeman and Rebbi Elazar ben Shamu'a.


What does all this have to do with shoes, you may ask?

The Medrash Tanchuma asks how it is possible for the brothers to have sold such a good-looking boy as Yosef for as little as twenty silver Shekalim. And, basing his reply on the Pasuk in Amos (2:6) "because they sold a Tzadik for money and a poor man for shoes", he explains that after stripping him of all his clothes, they threw him naked into a pit of snakes and scorpions, from which G-d protected him. Nonetheless, it was a deathly pale and trembling Yosef whom they pulled out of the pit to sell to the Yishme'eilim. And for a deathly pale and trembling Yosef the Yishme'eilim were willing to pay no more than twenty Shekalim.

To preserve Yosef's dignity however, G-d sent the Angel Gavriel, who took the Kemi'a that Yosef was wearing and made from it a garment with which he clothed him. When the brothers demanded the return of the garment, which had not been included in the sale, the Yishme'eilim refused, and they finally came to terms when the latter added four pairs of shoes to the price. This was the garment in which he was sold to Egypt to Potifera, and this was the garment in which he was imprisoned, in which he was brought before Par'oh and in which he ruled over Egypt for eighty years.

So the shoes were symbolical, serving as a reminder as to why the Emperor was taking them to task.


The sages asked for three days in which to ascertain that this was indeed a Divine decree. Although it is generally forbidden to use G-d's Holy Name for one's own use, Rebbi Yishmael agreed to do so, provided his colleagues would agree to share the blame with him. To this they condescended, and after uttering the Holy Name, a wind descended, and carried him up to Heaven, where he met Matatron (G-d's Sar ha'P'nim ['Minister of the interior']), who asked him whether he was the same Yishmael whom G-d described as His servant on earth who resembled him (Matatron), to which he replied 'I am Yishmael'. After explaining to Matatron the purpose of his 'visit', and that, in the event that their death was not a Divine decree, they would be able to nullify it using G-d's Holy Name, Matatron first praised Yisrael, to whom G-d had revealed His name, a privilege that He had not bestowed upon the angels. Sadly however, he had to inform him that he had heard a Heavenly Voice from behind the curtain, which announced that ten of the sages of Yisrael had been slated for death at the hand of the Romans.

Why? Because, in spite of the Angel Micha'el's objections, Sama'el (the Angel of Edom) insisted that if the Torah writes 've'Gonev ish u'mechoro ... mos yumos", then G-d's words must be fulfilled. And what's more, he added in reply to Rebbi Yishmael's query as to why spefically these ten were chosen, G-d found nobody other than them who could compare with the sons of Ya'akov.

His mission accomplished, Rebbi Yishmael returned to earth, and informed his colleagues to bathe and purify themselves and to dress in shrouds, because all that the emperor had said was indeed G-d's will!

* * *

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Tish'ah Be'Av Supplement

Medrash Eichah

The Kosel ha'Ma'aravi

Vespasian's siege of Yerushalayim lasted three and a half years, the Medrash relates. Vespasian was accompanied by four vassal kings - the king of Arabia, the king of Africa, the king of Alexandria and the king of Palestinia. When Titus (who took over from his father when the latter was appointed Emperor) breached the walls and entered Yerushalayim, he appointed these four kings to take charge of the four outer walls of the city, with instructions to destroy them. Fangar, King of Arabia, was given charge of the western wall. However, G-d decreed that, because the Shechinah is situated in the West, the western wall would never be destroyed. And so it was. The other three kings did their job well, destroying their respective walls; the western wall remained standing.

When Titus called Fangar and asked him why he had not destroyed the western wall, he replied that he deliberately left it standing in praise of Titus, for the world to bear testimony as to what a mighty fortification he had overcome, something nobody would ever know if he were to destroy all four walls.

Titus agreed with Fangar in principle. However, because he had disobeyed orders, he was obliged to jump off the wall. In the event that he survived, then he would be a free man, whereas if he died, then so it was destined.

And that is what happened. Fangar jumped off the wall and died, in accordance with the curse of Raban Yochanan ben Zakai, who had said that the heart knows what is inside it (whether the person's motives are good or otherwise) and Fangar's intentions were evil - to anger Yisrael. That is why he died, but the Kosel ha'Ma'aravi survived.


A Time to Mourn ...

The night that T'rachyanus ha'Rasha's wife gave birth to a boy was Tish'ah be'Av might, the night that all of Yisrael mourn for the destruction of the Beis-Hamikdash.

Four months later the baby died - on Chanukah, when Yisrael kindle their Menoros to celebrate the victory of the Chashmona'im over the Greeks. Yisrael, in anticipation of T'rachyanus' reactions, debated whether to kindle the lights or not. They decided to go ahead and light, resigning themselves to whatever would happen after that.

Sure enough, it was reported to T'rachyanus' wife that when she gave birth to her baby, the Jews mourned, and when the baby died, they kindled lights, a symbol of joy. She immediately sent her husband a letter to the battlefront, where he was fighting the Barbars, with the message that rather than fight the Barbars, he would do better to attack the Jews, who had rebelled against him.

Taking his cue from his wife, T'rachyanus boarded a ship for home. He assessed that the journey would take ten days, but he arrived in five. Upon landing in Eretz Yisrael, he found the Jews learning the Pasuk in Ki Savo (28:49) "G-d will carry a nation from the end of the world, like an eagle swoops". 'I am the eagle', he promptly announced (for after all, that was the Roman emblem). 'I thought that my homeward journey would take ten days, but the wind carried me back in only five'. He then commanded his army to surround the Jews and slaughter them, and they obeyed, killing all the men.

T'rachyanus then tried to talk the women into sinning with his men. Otherwise, he warned them, he would do with them what he had done with the men, and kill them all.

But the women refused to transgress the command of their Creator, and challenged him to carry out his threat. Immediately, he ordered his men to surround the women and slaughter them, as he had done to their men-folk. And their blood mixed with that of the men and flowed into the River Kiprus.


The Heavenly Altar

When Rebbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol ascended to Heaven (see 'The Ten Martyrs', main article), he was surprised to see a Mizbei'ach there. Matatron told him that whatever exists below (on earth), also exists above (in Heaven), and he quoted him a Pasuk in Melachim (18:13) "bonoh bonisi Beis Z'vul lach".

He then went on to explain to him that it was not bulls, rams and sheep that are brought on that Mizbei'ach, but the Souls of Tzadikim.

Upon hearing this, Rebbi Yishmael exclaimed that he had learned something that he had never heard before.

* * *

Minhagei Tish'ah Be'Av
(Adapted from the Ta'amei ha'Minhagim)

Torah-Study, the Ultimate Tikun

The Shulchan Aruch (Siman 551) restricts the number of guests who may attend a Se'udas Bris during the Nine Days to a Minyan. For a Siyum Masechta on the other hand, one may invite as many guests as one pleases. The reason for this, says the Divrei Emes, is because Yirmiyah ha'Navi ascribes the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash to Yisrael having forsaken the Torah. It therefore stands to reason that the remedy lies in increased Torah-study.


I would suggest another answer. The commentaries write that whoever attends a Siyum is considered a partner in the learning. Consequently, whoever attends the Siyum is considered a Ba'al Simchah, who is permitted to attend, irrespective of how other guests there may be.


Lights Out

The Medrash tells how, at the time of the Churban, Hashem asked the angels what a human king does when in mourning. 'He extinguishes the lights', was the reply.'In that case', said Hashem, 'that is what I will do'. And indeed that is what He did, as the Pasuk writes in Yo'el (2:10) "The sun and moon became dark, and the stars gathered in their light".

That, the Avudraham explains, is why we only kindle a nominal number of lights in Shul on the night of Tish'ah be'Av.


The Gemara is Sanhedrin (32b) explains how in the time of Sh'mad, when it was forbidden to celebrate Simchos, they would nevertheless do so clandestinely, and to inform the friends and relatives that a wedding was in progress, they would kindle a light on the threshold of the house. Indeed, there are numerous references to light and Simchah going hand in hand. And if light is a symbol of Simchah, then it stands to reason that at a time of public mourning, one decreases the lights.

Why no Parchment

Why is it, asks the Levush, that in Chutz la'Aretz one does not read Megilas Eichah from a K'laf (parchment), like other Sefarim whose obligation it is to read communally, such as a Seifer Torah and Megilas Esther?

There is no problem with Shir ha'Shirim, Rus and Koheles (which are not written on K'laf either) since they were originally read individually, but Eichah, which has always been a communal obligation, requires explanation as to why it is still read from a printed Seifer.

Perhaps, he suggests, it is because there were never any hand-written copies available, and that in turn, because the Sofrim simply declined to write it, due to their Emunah that soon, perhaps even this year, Tish'ah be'Av will be transformed from a day of mourning into a day of rejoicing and a Yom-Tov. In that case, Megilas Eichah will become obsolete. So why bother to write it in the first place?


The Ya'avetz writes that during the time of the second Beis-Hamikdash, they used to eat, drink and rejoice on Tish'ah be'Av, and treat it like a Yom-Tov; because in times of peace, all the four fasts became Yamim-Tovim. Indeed, this explains a Medrash P'li'ah, which states that there was no Yom-Tov for Yisrael like the day on which the Beis-Hamikdash was destroyed. The Seifer Zera Kodesh writes that in time to come, the twenty-one day period between Shiv'ah-Asar be'Tamuz and Tish'ah-be'Av will become a three-week Yom-Tov, equivalent to the seven days of Pesach, the seven days (incorporating the 'Shiv'as' Yemei Tashlumin) of Shavu'os and the seven days of Succos.


Who Will Sanctify G-d's Name?

One reason for saying 've'Atah Kadosh' on Tish'ah be'Av night after Eichah is because, following Hashem's intention to destroy us, Megilas Eichah stood up and asked Hashem 'If You destroy K'lal Yisrael, who will sanctify Your Holy Name, and who will arrange for Your sanctity to be declared in Your Batei K'neisiyos'?' And G-d heard and condescended. In that case, rather than ask why we recite 've'Atah Kadosh' on Tish'ah be'Av night, if we did not do so, we would need to ask why we don't! seeing as sanctifying G-d's Name is the very cause of our survival (Mateh Moshe).

Perhaps we can add that it is appropriate to recite 've'Atah Kadosh', to sanctify G-d's holy name in public, to atone for the tremendous Chilul Hashem for which we were responsible, by causing the destruction of the Beis-Hamikdash. As Chazal have said - any generation in whose lifetime the Beis Hamikdash is not built, it is as if they are guilty of its destruction.


The Pey before the Ayin

The Medrash ascribes the reason that in the second, third and fourth chapters of Eichah, the Pesukim beginning with 'Pey' precede those beginning with 'Ayin' to the fact that the Meraglim (the forerunner of the Churban) said with their mouths what they had not seen with their eyes. In that case, asks the Yalkut ha'Urim quoting the name of the Ir Binyamin, why are they not inverted in the first chapter?

The Gemara in Sotah explains that the Meraglim began their report with the truth (that the land is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey), because any lie that does not begin with some truth, will not be believed.

It is therefore not surprising that, correspondingly, the 'Ayin' and the 'Pey' appear in the correct order in the first chapter, and it is only in subsequent chapters that the order is inverted.

* * *

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