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

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Vol. 18   No. 44

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Pesach ben Ephraim Shimon z"l

Parshas Devarim

(Adapted from 'Kol Agados Yisrael')

Nevuchadnetzar and his Divinations

When King Tzidkiyahu rebelled against Nevuchadnetzar, the latter gathered a vast army and marched upon Yerushalayim.

Entering desert country, he decided to put his anticipated success to the test by means of divination.

So he took his bow and shot an arrow in the direction of Rome, and he called out 'An arrow of victory against Rome!' But the bow simply twisted in his hand and the arrow fell to the ground. Next he repeated the procedure, only this time he shot the arrow in the direction of Alexandria, crying 'An arrow of victory against Alexandria!' And the same thing happened.

A third time he fitted the arrow to his bow and announcing 'An arrow of victory against Yerushalayim!' He took aim in the direction of Yerushalayim and shot the arrow. This time, the arrow flew on target - towards Yerushalayim.

Nevuchadnetzar was thrilled. 'Now I know', he declared, 'that I am on the road to success!'

Next, the king took a handful of seeds and some saplings and planted them, announcing 'This is the plot of land that is Rome!' but neither the seeds nor the saplings grew. Again, he repeated the performance switching Rome for Alexandria. Once again, nothing happened. But when repeating the procedure a third time, he announced 'This is the field that is Yerushalayim!' Immediately, before his very eyes, the seeds and the saplings grew to their full height. Overjoyed, he declared 'They are my bread! I will swallow them like a serpent!'

Finally, Nevuchadnetzar lit a lamp, and cried out 'This is a lamp of victory (first) against Rome (then) against Alexandria!' Each time, a wind came and extinguished the lamp.

But when he lit the lamp for a third time, announcing 'This is a lamp of victory (first) against Yerushalayim, a gust of wind came and increased the flame.

Convinced that Yerushalayim was about to fall into his hands, he marched forward (and encamped in Rivlah).


When the inhabitants of Tarmud heard that Nevuchadnetzar was marching towards Yerushalayim, they were enthralled. Without delay, forty thousand Tarmudian archers approached him and volunteered to help destroy Yerushalayim and to do whatever he would command them. Nevuchadnetzar was happy to add this considerable contingent to his vast army.


Nevuchadnetzar and Nevuzradan

When Nevuchadnetzar arrived in Rivlah, he decided not to personally lead the attack against Yerushalayim, for fear that the G-d of Yisrael (whom he acknowledged) would do to him what he had done to Sancheriv, King of Ashur (who, together with his entire army, had been killed overnight as they were about to capture Yerushalayim). So he summoned his general Nevuzradan, and instructed him to lead the army against Yerushalayim, to destroy its walls and raze it to the ground.

When Nevuzradan accepted the king's instructions, he (Nevuchadnetzar) ordered him, even as he ransacked the city, to keep an eye on Yirmiyah ha'Navi, to make sure that no harm befell him and to fulfill his every request.

Furthermore, he told him that once Yerushalayim was destroyed and he was ready to lead the survivors into captivity, he should bear in mind that their G-d was full of mercy and compassion. That being the case, he was not to allow them any time to Daven as he led them to Bavel.


The Medrash tells us how he adhered to this last set of instructions conscientiously. Leading the wretched people, men, women and children into exile, he forced them to carry heavy loads on their backs, and marched them mercilessly - in the heat of summer, all the way to Bavel, without a break. Anyone whom he saw slowing down, he hacked to death with his sword.


Unbelievable as it may sound, this same Nevuzradan (presumably on his return to Yerushalayim to finish the job that he had begun) was suddenly filled with remorse for the evil that he had perpetrated, at which he did Teshuvah on the spot, and became a Ger Tzedek, whose descendent was the Tana Rebbi Meir.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted mainly from the Riva)

Not to Rebuke Twice

"And it was in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moshe spoke ,,, " (1:3)

This teaches us, Rashi explains, that Moshe deliberately put off rebuking them until just before his death. One of the four reasons that it is improper to rebuke earlier, says Rashi, is so that it should not be necessary to rebuke and to rebuke again.

What Rashi means, says the Riva, is that should the person repeat the sin, then the second rebuke will result in putting the sinner to shame even though there is no Mitzvah involved, seeing as the sin has already been perpetrated, and there is nothing to be gained by rebuking him.

Granted, he adds, Chazal learn from the double expression in the Pasuk "Hoche'ach tochi'ach"(Kedoshim 19:17), that one must rebuke, and rebuke again, even a hundred times! But that speaks where one rebukes the sinner before the sin has been performed. Because whereas to stop a person from sinning is a Mitzvah, to take him to task after the sin is not!

Others, says the Riva, maintain that what Rashi means is that Reuven should not rebuke Shimon when not on his deathbed, because if later Reuven himself is guilty of the same sin, Shimon will be able to turn round and say to him 'Did you not rebuke me about this very sin? First put yourself right before starting with others!'

However, the Riva concludes, this is not the accurate translation of Rashi's words 'to rebuke and to rebuke again'


Giving Wisdom to the Wise

" and Og, King of Bashan, who dwelt in 'Ashtoros' in Edre'i" (1:4).

Rashi comments that 'Ashtoros' is an expression of a rock and of being strong, and he cites as an example the Pasuk in Lech-l'cha in connection to the Amrofel and the kings " and they smote the giants in Asht'ros Karneyim".

The Riva disagrees. In his opinion, 'Ashtoros' refers to a location of grazing ground for the sheep, like we find in Eikev (7:13) " Sh'gar alofecho ve'asht'ros tzonecho", which Unklus translates as 'flocks of sheep'. Chazal comment on that Pasuk 'Why are they called 'Ash't'ros'? Because they enrich their owners (from the word 'Oshir').And it was because it (the land of Og) contained such good-quality pasture-land that the B'nei Gad and the B'nei Reuven opted to live there.


So Wise, and So Helpless

" I am not able to carry you alone " (1:9).

Rashi explains that it was not a matter of physical inability . And so too regarding Shlomoh ha'Melech; how is it possible that someone about whom the Torah writes "and he was wiser than all men" should say that he is unable to judge the people? What he must therefore have meant was that he could not judge them on account of the awesome responsibility that G-d places on the shoulders of the judges.

The Riva queries the initial question regarding Shlomoh, inasmuch as when Shlomoh made the statement, he had not yet received the gift of being "wiser than all men"(which in fact, was the result of the current Tefilah).

Based on the Pasuk in Daniel "He gives wisdom to the wise!", citing Rabeinu Tam from Orleans, he answers that G-d must have already granted him a large dose of wisdom so as to then be able to make him the wisest man who ever lived. As the Pasuk says in Mishlei "Give to a wise man and he will become even wiser", and the above Pasuk in Daniel "He gives wisdom to the wise and intelligence to those who understand".

The bottom line is that a fool cannot become even wiser!


Speak Up

"Lo soguru mipnei ish!" (1:17).

Moshe was saying this to the newly appointed judges. Rashi initially translates this as 'Do not be afraid of any man'. He then adds a second explanation - 'Do not hold back your words (from the Lashon of "Oger ba'Kayitz" gathering in the summer). The Riva comments that Rashi is rather vague, and that he is referring to the Gemara in the first Perek of Sanhedrin. The Gemara there explains that if a student is sitting in front of Beis-Din whilst a case is in progress, and he has something to say in favour of the poor litigant and to the detriment of the rich one, then he is not permitted to keep it to himself. He is obligated to state his point, because the Torah says "Lo soguru mipnei ish!"


The Tribe of Levi Wasn't There

" so I took from you twelve men, one from each tribe" (1:22).

This teaches us, comments Rashi, that the tribe of Levi was not with them.

Some commentaries add because they did not receive a portion in the land. What Rashi is then teaching us is that Moshe did not send a representative from the tribe of Levi among the spies. But this is incredible, says the Riva! Besides the fact that this is clearly not what Rashi is trying to say (I don't know why not), one only needs to look at the list of Meraglim in Parshas Sh'lach-l'cha to find out that Levi was not represented, so why does Rashi see fit to mention it?

Perhaps what Rashi therefore means is that the tribe of Levi was not present when Moshe rebuked Yisrael on this occasion. And he extrapolates this from this Pasuk - Moshe was speaking to all those present when he said "And I took from you twelve men ", implying that they were all involved in the sin of the Spies. Now since the twelve men who went to spy out the land did not include Levi, as we know from Parshas Sh'lach-l'cha, it is clear that the tribe of Levi was precluded from the current gathering.

Because, as we explained, they did not sin by the Meraglim, and did not therefore deserve to be rebuked.

Interestingly, the Riva's explanation takes for granted that, not only did the tribe of Levi not participate in the actual initial sin of the spies, but that they were also not involved in the subsequent people's rebellion, just as they were not involved in the sin of the Golden Calf!

* * *


'The Tzidonim called (Mount) Chermon 'the Mountain that sheds its (bountiful) fruit', whereas the Emori'im called it 'Snow Mountain' (which was snow-capped in summer as well as in winter)' 3:9.


'Because Og, King of Masnan alone remained from the rest of the giants who were wiped out in the flood, His bed was made of iron, it was placed in the royal palace in Rabat (the capitol) of the people of Amon' (3:10).



"See, I have given Sichon into your hand" (2:24)

This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that G-d showed Moshe the Angel of Sichon, hands bound.


"Only (Rak) the animals we took as spoil " (2:35).

Based on the fact that the word "rak" always comes to exclude something, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains that it was the weaker animals that the soldiers took as spoil (from the battle with Midyan). The stronger ones they sacrificed to G-d.


'Is it (Og's bed) not (ha'lo hi) in Rabat of the sons of Amon" (3:11).

The word "ha'lo" is spelt 'Hey' 'Lamed' 'Hey' (instead of 'Hey' 'Lamed' 'Alef'). Based on the fact that 'Hey' = five, and the Gematriyah of 'Hey' 'Lamed' 'Hey' is forty, the Ba'al ha'Turim therefore makes the following comment: Let the man who ruled for forty years (David ha'Melech), who was also the fifth generation (Salmon, Bo'az, Oveid, Yishai, David) come and capture these cities.

Alternatively, he explains, it hints at Moshe, who was five + five Amos tall, who jumped to a height of ten Amos, whose sword measured ten Amos, and who struck Og on his ankle, which measured ten Amos (a total of forty Amos). The Medrash tells us that as a result of that stroke, Og fell to the ground, and Moshe killed him.

* * *

Learning Torah on Erev Tish'ah be'Av

(Adapted from the Mishnah B'rurah)

At the end of Si'man 553, the R'mo cites the Minhag that from midday and onwards on Erev Tish'ah one should confine one's Torah learning to things that one may learn on Tish'ah be'Av itself. And by the same token, he adds, if Erev Tish'ah falls on Shabbos, one does not recite Pirkei Avos at Minchah - even where it is customary to do so.


The Mishnah B'rurah discusses this prohibition at length. He explains that the Chumra is based on the fact that one has the option of learning the things that are permitted to learn on Tish'ah be'Av, as the R'ma himself writes.

On the one hand, he says, many Poskim concur with the R'mo. On the other hand, he cites the G'ro and many other Poskim who consider this an excessive Chumra, and they cite Chazal who say that 'A person should learn whatever his heart desires'. In keeping with this principle, the Ma'amar Mord'chai claims that, as a result of the R'mo's ruling, many Talmidei-Chachamim, who are engrossed in their regular learning programs end up not learning at all (thereby transgressing the Isur of Bitul Torah). Consequently, he maintains, it is permitted to maintain one's regular work schedule up to a few minutes before 'Bein-ha'Shemoshos'.

The Biy'ur Halachah, still citing the Ma'amar Mord'chai, claims that if he could, he would even permit Torah-study on Tish'ah be'Av itself, because, he claims, people spend the day going for strolls and talking idle chatter. Moreover, he says, instead of mourning over the destruction of Yerushalayim, they spend the day joking and wasting time.

In similar vein, he says, the Yerushalmi cites Rebbi Aba bar Mamal, who stated that, if he had the authority to permit working on Chol ha'Mo'ed, he would. The reason for the prohibition he explains, is so that people should eat and drink and rejoice, and then sit down to learn Torah. But what they now do, is to eat, drink and indulge in frivolity. In which case, it would be better if they worked!

However, the Ma'amar Mord'chai concludes, since the prohibition of learning Torah on Tish'ah be'Av is well-established in the Gemara and the Poskim, no-one has the authority to rescind it.

Although the Mishnah B'rurah does not go as far as to actually permit Torah study on Erev Tish'ah be'Av, he concludes that 'One cannot stop anyone who wishes to be lenient from doing so'. Nevertheless, he adds in the Biy'ur Halachah, someone who feels that he is able to learn those things that are permitted on Tish'ah be'Av without detracting from the Mitzvah of Limud Torah falls under the category of 'Kodosh' (a holy person).


Regarding the extension of the prohibition to Shabbos however, the Mishnah B'rurah cites the Taz, who disagrees with the R'mo's ruling altogether. Consequently, he writes, someone who learns on that Shabbos (even if Tish'ah-be'Av itself falls on Shabbos, let alone Erev Tish'ah be'Av), will receive his full reward.

And this time, the Mishnah B'rurah specifically writes that one can rely on the Taz's ruling, especially as there are those who permit learning Torah even on a weekday.

* * *


The Tosefta at the end of Maseches Ta'anis concludes the Hilchos Tish'ah be'Av with the following statement: 'These four fast-days (Shiv'ah-Asar be'Tamuz, Tish'ah be'Av, Tzom Gedalyah and Asarah be'Teives) will all turn into Yamim-Tovim for Yisrael, as the Navi writes in Zecharyah (8:19) "The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month and the fast of the tenth month will become for the House of Yehudah days of rejoicing and happiness and happy festivals" '.

And those who mourn for it in this world will rejoice with it in the World to Come, as the Pasuk says in Yeshayah (66:10) "Be happy with Yerushalayim and rejoice with her all who love her, rejoice together with her all those who have mourned for her!"

After citing this Tosefta, the Mo'adim ba'Halachah points out how our faith in the forthcoming redemption is manifest in one of the basic Halochos of Tish'ah be'Av In Si'man 599, the Shulchan Aruch rules that 'One does not recite Tachanun or S'lichos on Tish'ah be'Av'. Such is the characteristic of Tish-ah be'Av says the Mo'adim ba'Halachah, that on the very date on which the Beis-Hamikdash was destroyed, King Mashi'ach will be born.

In the same breath, the Pasuk in Yeshayah announces that "The Lavanon (the Beis-Hamikdash) will fall into the hands of a mighty (king)" (Yeshayah 10:34), and "A staff will emerge from the stump of Yishai, and a shoot will sprout from its roots!"

* * *

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