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

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Vol. 17   No. 40

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Parshas Devarim

The Day the Sun Stood Still

"Today I shall begin to place your dread and your fear upon the nations that are under the entire heaven".

What did G-d do that achieved this amazing publicity? From here Chazal learn, says Rashi, that during the battle with Og (or more likely, with Sichon, with whom they were about to wage war), the sun stood still, something to which the entire world would bear witness.

Among the other sources for this remarkable miracle that R. Bachye cites is the continuation of the Pasuk "when they will hear of your reputation, and they will tremble and be terror-stricken before You".


Quoting Chazal, R. Bachye informs us that the sun stood still for three people - for Moshe, for Yehoshua and for Nakdimon ben Guryon (a Tzadik who lived in the era prior to the destruction of the second Beis-Hamikdash).

Quoting a Medrash that, in turn, comments on the expression used by Yehoshua (when he ordered the sun to stop in the middle of the sky) "Sun, be silent in Giv'on!", the author explains that as the sun moves, it sings the praises of Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, as the Pasuk says in Tehilim "From the rising of the sun until it sets, the Name of G-d is praised". The movement and the praise are synonymous. When it stops moving (which under normal circumstances it cannot do), it stops singing. Hence Yehoshua ordered the sun to be silent.

Furthermore, says R. Bachye, the existence of the world depends on the movement of the sun. If it would cease to move, the world would cease to function. And if in all of the above-mentioned cases, the world continued to function in spite of the sun stopping, that means that G-d that taken over the role of the sun and was running the world Himself!


When Yehoshua issued the sun with the above command, R. Bachye quotes another Medrash, the sun replied 'Since when does a junior tell his senior what to do? For I was created on the fourth day, whereas you were only created on the sixth!' To which Yehoshua retorted 'Why can a junior who is free not tell a senior slave what to do?' The sun had nothing more to say. Without another word, it stopped in its tracks!

(The explanation of this Chazal is this: The sun believed that G-d created the items in the world in order of importance. But Yehoshua corrected him, by pointing out that He created Adam last so that the all the creations should be ready to serve him when he appeared, like a person will move into a house only after it has been completed and fully furnished, not because all the pieces of furniture are more important than him, but because they are there to serve him, and it is convenient for him to delay his entry into the house only when they are all ready do so').

(It occurred to me that Chazal do not bring this dialogue with regard to Moshe. Clearly, when it came to Moshe, whose face, say Chazal, 'resembled the sun', it recognized Moshe's superiority, and obeyed his command forthwith. It was only Yehoshua, whose face is compared to the moon, whom it dared challenge).


Finally, R. Bachye asks why, bearing in mind the miracle of the sun changing its routine when, following Chizkiyahu's recovery from his fatal illness, it moved backwards 'ten degrees' from west to east, Chazal mention only three times that this miracle occurred, and not four?

And he explains that the latter miracle was a much smaller one, seeing as the sun did not stop (in which case it continues singing G-d's praises as usual), but merely reversed its course. By comparison, he explains, this was a small miracle, which could not compare with the magnitude of the other three.

(Perhaps we can also answer that, unlike the former set of miracles, the latter one, G-d performed on His own volition, and not following the request of man).

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted mainly from Rabeinu Bachye)

The Triple Promise

"Come and possess the land that G-d swore to your forefathers to give to them and to their children after them " (1:8).

"To give to them", says the Medrash; 'this refers to those who left Egypt'.

"and to their children"; 'This refers to those who arrived from Bavel'.

"after them"; 'This refers to the days of Mashi'ach'.

The Medrash saw fit to make this D'rashah, explains R. Bachye, based on three Pesukim, each of which adds something that the other one omits.

The Torah writes at the end of the second paragraph of the Sh'ma "In order that your days and the days of your children be prolonged on the land that G-d swore to your fathers to give to them, like the days of Heaven here on earth" (Eikev 11:21). Another Pasuk writes " to give to them and to their children (after them) a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ibid. 11:9).

Whilst here it writes " to give to them and to their children after them".

And it is corresponding to these three Pesukim that the Medrash makes its comment.


Who Wants to Teach Fools?

"How can I carry alone your contentiousness (torchachem), your burdens (masa'achem) and your quarrels (ve'rivchem)?" (1:12).

These three things, R. Bachye explains, refer to Yisrael's foolishness ('How can I teach the Mitzvos to fools?'), their complaints (with reference to their request for water and for meat, where Moshe specifically used the word "masa"), and constant squabbling among themselves, respectfully.

See also Rashi.


Unity is Not Always a Good Thing

"And the thing was good in my eyes" (1:23).

Moshe was pleased with their request, R. Bachye explains, because the request to send spies was unanimous. Moshe considered it quite a feat for all Yisrael to agree. Rashi in Parshas Yisro (19:2) points out that the one time Yisrael encamped 'as one man, with one heart', was at Har Sinai. On all other occasions, their was dissent (See also previous Pearl).

Perhaps Moshe ought to have realized that if Yisrael were unified on this occasion, it boded no good, There must have been something wrong with their motive (as R. Bachye, following in the footsteps of Moshe, commented on the previous Pasuk, based on the fact that they all came pushing each other without the slightest modicum of respect).

This is what the Mishnah means when it says in Sanhedrin (Perek 8, Mishnah 5) that when the Resha'im join forces it is bad for them and bad for the world.


The Merits of Edom

"Enough circling round this mountain, turn yourselves northwards!" (2:3).

G-d forbade Yisrael to starting up with Edom, a. because of the way he honoured his father, and b. so that he should receive all his reward in this world, leaving Him free to punish him to the full in the world to Come for all his numerous misdeeds.

The word "Tzofonoh" (northwards) also has connotations of hiding (as we find by 'Tzafun', at the Seider Table). When Eisav' s star is shining, says R. Bachye quoting a Medrash, then go into hiding - i.e. Don't fight them; accept their yoke and make yourself scarce,

This was precisely the mistake of the zealots, who opted to take on the Romans towards the end of the era of the second Beis-ha'Mikdash, despite the warning of the Chachamim, who took the above Medrash to heart, and instructed the people to learn to live in peace with the Romans and with their decrees.


A Great Day for Moshe - and for Yisrael

"And it was when all the men of war finished dying then G-d spoke to me saying " (2:16:17).

That day was Tu be'Av, which is a Yom-Tov because among other reasons, the decree that the people from the earlier generation must all die in the desert had come to an end, as Rashi explains. This day was a great day of rejoicing, R. Bachye explains, not so much because the decree per se was over; nor even because their entry into Eretz Yisrael was imminent, and there was nothing to stop it. But because, as Rashi explains, for thirty-eight years the communications between Moshe (Yisrael's representative), and G-d had been very low-key. Now full diplomatic relations between G-d and Yisrael had been restored, That in itself, is good enough reason for rejoicing, as what can be more exhilarating and beneficial than the direct channel of communication with G-d.

Why, asks R. Bachye, did G-d not speak to Moshe already on the tenth of Av, the day immediately following the termination of the decree?


Og's 'Bed'

"Behold his (Og's) bed was made of metal, is it not in Rabat of b'nei Amon, nine Amos long and four Amos wide, by the measurements of a man" (3:11).

According to Rashi, by "the measurements of a man", the Torah means by the measurements of Og himself. There are two problems with Rashi's comment: Firstly, the Torah leaves us with no indication of the size of Og's bed (seeing as we do not know how long Og's Amah [i.e. arm-length from the finger-tip till the elbow] was; secondly, what the Torah does leave us with is the knowledge that Og, besides being a giant, was also a freak - since, bearing in mind that most people are three Amos tall plus their head (as Chazal point out in connection with Haman's gallows), their bed would need to be on average, four Amos long, and about two Amos wide (give or take) - but nine Amos by four!

The Rashbam and the Chizkuni therefore explain "by the measurements of a man" literally. But to understand exactly what the Pasuk is teaching us, we need to cite the Ha'amek Davar, who adds that the bed referred to by the Torah is not the bed of a grown-up, but the cot ("Eres with a 'Siyn' like Arisah with a 'Samech') of a baby.

What the Torah therefore means is that baby Og's cot measured nine by four Amos of a grown-up (which is large enough to fit at least four fully-grown men. And what's more, the Torah adds, so heavy was Og as a baby, that whereas people in those days slept on wooden beds, baby Og had to have one made of metal; otherwise, he would have broken it.


A Marvelous Testimony

" is it not in Rabat of b'nei Amon" (Ibid.)

The Ramban explains that when the B'nei Amon defeated the Refa'im many generations earlier (the only refugee being Og), they took his bed (cot) and placed it in Rabat (the capitol of Amon), as testimony of the size of giants that they had defeated.

* * *

(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

"On these I weep" (1:16), Vespasian filled three ship-loads of the elite of Yerushalayim, the Medrash tells us, to transport them to Rome for immoral purposes. All of them, to the last man, cast themselves into the sea rather than suffer such a disgrace.

"Hashem is Righteous, for I rebelled against his command (ki Pihu morisi)" (1:18).

This was said by Yoshiyahu ha'Melech, when the Egyptian army riddled him with three hundred arrows.

The Pasuk does not use the word 'Piv' (His command), comments the Medrash, but "Pihu", implying His (Hashem's) command and that of the Navi Yirmiyahu.

The righteous Yoshiyahu's intention was to implement the Pasuk in Bechukosai "No sword will pass through your land!" He transgressed the word of Hashem, since the Pasuk speaks about an era when Yisrael are worthy, which in his time they were not. He was, in that he had attempted to abolish all traces of idolatry from the land. Little did he know, however, that the people continued to worship idols behind his back.

And he also transgressed the word of Yirmiyahu ha'Navi, who warned him not to interfere (others say that he sinned by simply not consulting him on this issue).

"They heard that I was sighing, but there is nobody to comfort me" (1:21).

The Rabbanan interpret this in connection with the destruction of the Beis-Hamikdash; wherever Yisrael tried to escape to, their enemies would lie in wait for them at the cross-roads and deliver them into the hand of the Romans. They tried to flee towards the east; but they wouldn't let them, toward the west, but they wouldn't let them, to the south and to the north, but they wouldn't let them. Hence the Navi Amos castigates Damesek (our neighbour to the east), Aza ( to the west), and Tzur ( to the north) and Yeshatah, Arabia ( to the south), for not only not empathizing with us in our troubles, but for rejoicing over our downfall.

"He threw down the earth from the Heaven" (2:1).

The Medrash compares this to a king whose son began to cry. He picked him up and held him aloft. He continued crying, and so he held him in his arms. He persisted, so he placed him on his shoulders. But when he dirtied him, he threw him on the ground.

When he lifted his son up, he did so in stages, but when he cast him down, he did so in one go. So too, did G-d do with K'lal Yisrael. The Pasuk in Hoshei'a describes how He picked up Yisrael slowly, in stages, but when He threw them down, the Pasuk informs us here, He threw them in one go from the Heaven to the earth, "Hashem swallowed and did not have pity on all the beautiful things of Ya'akov" (2:2).

This refers, says Rebbi Hoshaya, to the forty hundred and eighty shuls in Yerushalayim, each with its school where they learned T'nach and its Beis-Hamedrash, where they learned Mishnah, all of which were destroyed.

According to others, it refers to R. Yishmael (Kohen Gadol), Raban Shimon ben Gamliel (the Nasi), R. Yesheivav, R; Yehudah ben Bava, R; Chutzpis ha'Meturg'man, R. Yehudah ha'Nachtom, R. Chananyah ben T'radton, R. Akiva, R. Elazar ben Shamu'a and R. Tarfon - the Ten Martyrs.

"In His burning anger, He let all the heads of troops cut down all of Yisrael" (see Torah Temimah, 21) (2:3).

This refers, says the Gemara in Gitin, to the eighty thousand heads of troops (who blew the horns) that entered Beitar when the Romans captured it, and they proceeded to kill men, women and children, until their blood flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

"He turned His right-hand back before the enemy" (Ibid).

R. Yehudah b'R. Simon says that as a result of Yisrael's sins, when the enemy entered Yerushalayim, they seized all their strong men and tied their hands behind their backs. Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu then announced 'I said that I am with them in their troubles; but now My sons are suffering and I am not!' So what did He do? Kevayachol, He put His right hand behind His back!

" as they swoon like a corpse in the streets of the city, as their soul ebbs away in their mother's bosom" (2:12).

It happened (at the time of the Churban) that a certain women asked her husband to go to the market and buy some food. He went but no food was available. Overcome with hunger, he expired and died. When he failed to return, the woman sent her son to go and find her husband. After a short search, he found his father lying dead in the street. He too, fell to the ground and died. Meanwhile, her baby son needed to feed. The mother however, had no milk, so he joined his father and brother and died as well.

That is what the Pasuk means, says the Medrash, when it writes, " as they swoon like a of the city, as their soul ebbs away in their mother's bosom" .

* * *

When Galus Yechonyoh & Galus Tzidkiyahu Met
(Adapted from Kol Agados Yisrael)

When Nevuchadnetzar led his Jewish captives from the Rivers of Bavel to bring them to his land, he sent officers and task-masters ahead to Bavel to inform the people of his victory over Yisrael. He also gave them specific instructions to force the exiles who had arrived in Bavel eleven years earlier with Yechonyah, King of Yehudah, to come out to greet him, Those officers ordered them to meet their king and praise him and to express their adoration and to say 'There is nobody that can compare with you among the mighty conquerors, who crushes his enemies and who humiliates rebels'.

And so those wretched exiles changed from their regular white clothes into black, and they went out to greet the triumphant king together with his other servants to praise him, and as they approached Nevuchadnetzar, they cried out together with everybody else, "How praiseworthy are you our king, that you defeated a wanton and empty-headed people!'

But then, when they approached the Jewish captives, they called out to them 'Tell us, you unfortunate captives, what did Nevuchadnetzar's men do to our brethren? What did they do to our sons and daughters, and to the other relatives whom we left behind?'

And the captives replied 'Some died, others they put to the sword; yet others, they sent into captivity.'

When they heard these words, they began to cry bitterly. When Nevuchadnetzar heard their cries, he said to his servants, 'Go and find out who it is that dares to weep on the day of my rejoicing!. Bring him to me and I will sever his head'. When the men of Galus Yechonyah heard this, they became terrified that they would be caught, and began to trick Nevuchadnetzar. With one hand they praised the king, whilst with the other, they beat their thighs in mourning'.

* * *

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