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

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Vol. 4 No. 44

Parshas Devarim

The Ox and the Donkey

"(Even) the ox knows its master, and a donkey the feeding-trough of its owner, but Yisroel did not know, My people did not understand." (Yeshayoh 1:3)

There are two kinds of understanding of authority, explain the Malbim. There are those who know inherently who their master is, not due to any ulterior motives, but because they are aware that they belong to him. And there are those who know who their master is, because he is the one who feeds them.

The former is simply an acknowledgement of authority, whereas the latter is based on a natural instinct that all living creatures share in common - the will to survive. And it is these two traits to which Yeshayoh refers when he speaks of the ox who acknowledges its master and the donkey its feeding trough. The former recognises his master by his movements, his voice, and bows to his will - because he is his master. The latter, in his stupidity and stubbornness, is unable to discern his master merely because he acquired him - and even if he does, he certainly does not acknowledge it. But what he does recognise is the one who feeds him, for it is he who gives him life.

Therefore, the Novi complains, "Yisroel" - the higher level of Jew, who ought to have known who his master is - "did not know" - (intrinsically), "My people" - the lower level of Jew - "failed to understand" (by virtue of the sustenance that they receive from Me).

Rashi, commenting on the possuk in Ha'azinu "Is this how you pay back Hashem, you base and unwise people?" - "You base people" he explains, refers to the past, who forgot what they received from Hashem in the past, "and unwise" he continues, refers to the future. You even forget that it is He who has the power to do good or bad to you in the future. Seen from a historical viewpoint, from that point in time, we can describe Yisroel's sinning in the desert, in this light. They forgot that it was Hashem who took them out of Egypt (the past), and they forgot that it was Hashem who would take them into Eretz Yisroel and settle them there (the future).

All this is similar to the two types of acknowledgement described by the Malbim earlier - only we have advanced one's forgetting the past from the mere knowledge of who one's master is, to the evil point of ingratitude. The Torah deplores the base people, who fail to recognize the master who gave them all that they have, and he deplores those who are unwise enough even to forget who it is who feeds and sustains them - they even lack the most basic instinct to survive.

It is the past which provides one with the onus of responsibility towards the G-d who provided one with all that one owns, and the future, with the logical impetus to bow to G-d's superiority. To fail in these two areas therefore, displays, on the one side total lack of gratitude and on the other, a gross stupidity - it is biting the hand that feeds him. That is why the Novi writes "Yisroel did not know" - they were ungrateful because of the past. "My people did not understand" - they were foolish on account of the future.

Maybe, using this line of thought, we can also explain the words that we say every night in Ma'ariv - "and remove the Sotton from in front of us and from behind us". "Remove the Sotton from in front of us" - that we should be able to see the future, to realise how beneficial it is for us to serve G-d; "and from behind us" - that we should look back at the past and realise who is the Master who provided us with all our needs until now. The purpose of the past is so that we should learn from it and know how to behave in the future. And so it is the acknowledgement of the things that Hashem has done for us in the past which will give us the strength to serve Him faithfully in the future.


There is no doubt whatsoever that the Kosel ha'Ma'arovi, from whose top the Shechinah has never departed, is the Holiest and most precious Heritage that we possess. Nor is there any doubt that there is no place in the world where our Tefilos are more likely to ascend to the Heaven, for so Sh'lomoh ha'Melech, builder of the first Beis-Ha'mikdosh, decreed - that even when the Beis Ha'mikdosh no longer stands (and he was fully aware that it would be destroyed) we must face Yerusholayim, and face the Beis Ha'mikdosh, because that is the spot from which all prayers go up to G-d's throne. Yet what is the Wall? Is it the ultimate realisation of all our dreams of two thousand years? Or is it a symbol of Am Yisroel's eternal character - a reminder that we will not always be in Golus, but that the day will come when we will be reunited with our G-d? If it is the former, then why are there Arabs praying to Hashem on the other side, and not Jews? If it is the former, then where is the rest of the Palace that was once termed "the most beautiful building, the joy of the world"? If it is the former, then why are we "governed" by Jews who do not fear G-d and judged by Atheists, who make a mockery of all that is sacred? Why are we derided and scorned by the nations of the world, just as we have constantly been over the past two thousand years? And if we still need convincing that the dream is far from being realised, then we would do well to remember the recent murder and maiming of scores of innocent Jews at the hand of a pack of ruthless madmen, whose life's ambition is to kill Jews - as many Jews as they can. Is that what we call a dream, or would it not be more appropriately called a nightmare?

Perhaps our recent recapturing of the Western Wall is not just a symbol, perhaps it is a spark, perhaps it is a sign that something is imminent - but a cause for rejoicing? There are those who consider the Kosel a place to celebrate, to play music, to sing and to dance. How short-sighted can one get?

Does a person whose palace has been destroyed, rejoice when he discovers part of a wall still standing? Is it called the Wailing Wall for us to sing and dance in front of it? It seems to me that the symbolism of the Kosel ha'Ma'arovi is not one of laughter and song, but one of sadness and weeping. Hashem gave it to us because He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him to restore His Holy House to its former glory, and even to surpass it. He has given us the opportunity to plead with Him to rekindle the love and the intimacy between Him and us, that was all but extinguished almost two thousand years ago. Of course we must be happy that we now have a location where we can cry... but to rejoice there?!

As Chazal have taught us: "Whoever mourns for Yerusholayim, will merit to share in its rejoicing. Now is the time to mourn!

History of the World
( Part 34) (Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)

They encamp opposite Yericho - a man (Angel) faces him with his sword drawn, and rebukes him for not indulging in Torah-study the previous night. On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Hashem tells Yehoshua to prepare to fight and capture Yericho. Ochon takes from the spoil of Yericho, in spite of the ban. Yisroel lose the first battle against Ay. In the second battle, which takes place after they kill Ochon, they are victorious. They capture the King of Ay alive.
The Givonim trick Yisroel into making peace with them.
Yehoshua halts the sun (by using Hashem's Name), and it remains day for thirty-six hours. He does this to counter the wise men of Ay who plot to defeat Yisroel through the Mazolos. By doing this, he also prevents Chilul Shabbos by extending Friday. Yehoshua sings a beautiful song of praise to Hashem (quoted verbatim in the Seider ha'Doros).
The Keyni, Knizi and Kadmoni (alias Amon, Mo'av and Edom) run away because they do not want to fight Yisroel. Some say that it is the Cana'ani who ran away, and that is why they merited that Cana'an should be called after them. Others say that it is the Girgoshi who ran away and Hashem gave them Africa. Others again, maintain that it is the Cana'ani who ran away - but to Germany.
The entire tribe of Levi enter Eretz Yisroel and so do Eldod and Meidod. Sal'mon (son of Nachshon) is also among those who enter Eretz Yisroel. He fathers Bo'az the following year.
Yehoshua spends five years capturing the nations (Chazal say "seven years they captured and seven years they distributed" - see year 2486). He distributes the land among the nine and a half tribes.

Avnius, king of Kittim, attacks Se'ir (Esov) in the 31st year of his reign. Hadad, king of Edom, in support of Se'ir, attacks Avnius with a large army. Avnius routs both armies. He captures the king of Edom and has him killed in the 48th year of his (the king of Edom's) reign. Edom becomes a vassal state to Avnius.

The seven years of conquering end - Koleiv is now 85.

Yehoshua finishes distributing the land among the tribes. Avnius dies; Latinus is crowned king of Kittim. He will reign for fifty years. Latinus wages war against Britain, among other nations. He subdues them and forces them to pay him tribute.

It is now twenty-six years since Yisroel crossed the Yarden - Yehoshua, an old man of 108, gathers Yisroel and renews the covenant with them. He reminds them that G-d is with them and exhorts them to keep His Torah. Each of the tribes buries its founder-father, whose coffin they brought with them from Egypt, in his portion of land.

Yehoshua bin Nun dies aged 110, having ruled over Yisroel for 28 years. He is buried in his portion of land in Timnas Serach, next to his father Nun. Elozor ben Aharon also dies around then, and he is buried in Giv'as Pinchos ben Elozor - in Har Ephrayim. The elders of that generation, prominent among them Koleiv ben Yefuneh, receive the Torah from Yehoshua.
The Edlers who received the Torah from Yehoshua, judge Yisroel for seventeen years.

Osniel ben Kenaz (Koleiv's maternal half-brother) takes over the reigns of leadership from the Elders (others say that Osniel was the leader of the Elders who received the Torah from Yehoshua). He retrieved the three hundred halochos that were forgotten during the days of mourning following Moshe's death. Osniel is also known as Ya'avetz; his real name is Yehudah the brother of Shim'on. Osniel was given Koleiv's daughter Achsoh, as a wife, as a reward for capturing Kiryas Seifer. He fights with Kushan Rish'osayim king of Aram Naharayim and subdues him, after Yisroel have served him for eight years.
The stories of Pesel Michah and Pilegesh be'Giv'ah take place during his rule. During the episode of Pilegesh be'Giv'ah, one thousand men from the tribe of Binyomin do not wish to fight with Yisroel. So they leave Eretz Yisroel for the Isles of Roumania - others say for Worms in France.
The image of Michah remains in Yisroel right up to the days of Tzidkiyohu (others refute this - according to them it was stopped when the Oron was exiled in the days of Eli or in the days of Yovin the king of Cana'an).

(Shabbos Cha'zon) based on Rashi (Yeshayoh 1:1-27)

Yeshayoh's opening prophecy is recorded in the sixth chapter of his Seifer, following the terrible earthquake that shook the country, after King Uziyoh (Yeshayoh's cousin) had attempted to usurp the Kehunah and had been stricken with tzora'as. He heeds G-d's call to become G-d's emissary. Consequently, the prophecy of "Cha'zon" may well open Yeshayoh's seifer, but it was by no means his first prophecy. In fact, this prophecy was said during the reign of King Chizkiyoh, the third of the four kings whose reigns Yeshayoh's prophecies spanned, on the day that the Assyrian king, Sancheiriv, sent the ten tribes into exile.

The opening paragraph is introduced with the word "Cha'zon" - vision - the harshest of all the ten expressions of prophecy. In this way, it is reminiscent of Parshas Devorim, whose Haftorah it always is, and in addition, it is a most appropriate Haftorah to read immediately before Tishoh be'Av, when it always falls.

Yeshayoh begins his words of rebuke by calling upon Heaven and Earth to bear testimony to G-d's complaints against the children whom He reared, but who subsequently turned against Him. The Novi takes his cue from Moshe Rabeinu, who, in Parshas Ha'azinu, also called upon Heaven and Earth to serve in that capacity, first of all because Heaven and Earth, more than any other beings, are always available to testify, if and when they should be needed, and secondly because, as witnesses, they are able to reward Yisroel if and when they are worthy, and to punish them, when they are not. Unfortunately, it was the latter which he was now being called upon to set into motion. And so, he invites the two witnesses to carry out the task that Moshe Rabeinu had prepared them for - only he ascribed "shim'u" to the Heaven and "ha'azinu" to the earth, reversing the order that Moshe had used, in order to equalise the witnesses, to ensure that both witnesses testify on the same facts.

The Novi then strikes a contrast between the ox, who recognises its master, and the Jewish people, whom G-d called "Yisroel" and gave some of the mitzvos, yet they did not give Him recognition. And He strikes a contrast again between the donkey, who knows the owner who feeds it, and the Jewish people, whom G-d called "My people" and fed them the Mon, yet they failed to acknowledge Him. In addition, the ox and the donkey obey their master, the one never says "I will not plough today" nor the other, "today I refuse to carry a load". And they are created solely to serve you, and have not been promised Divine reward for their services. But you Yisroel, who are destined to receive reward if you are worthy and punishment if you sin, do not want to know who your Master is, and you wilfully stray from the path of merit.

Yeshayoh goes on to castigate them. He does not mince his words, comparing them to the inhabitants of S'dom and Amorah, and accusing them of sinning to such a degree that they are riddled with sin from head to foot until not one spot on their bodies is free of sin. And he assures them that G-d is no longer interested in their sacrifices, for sacrifices serve as an atonement and to bring one closer to G-d, as the very word "korban" suggests. But of what use is a "korban" if one's heart remains distant from Him, and what is the point of praying to G-d if one's hands are "full of blood". No, G-d no longer cared for their prayers, nor would he continue to tolerate their presence in His "courtyard". Even their gatherings on Shabbos and Yom-tov, when they came to celebrate these joyous occasions, had become meaningless on account of the numerous idolatries to which they all subscribed.

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