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

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Vol. 20   No. 45

"לזכר עולם יהיה צדיק"
כבוד קדושת מרן אדמור מסאווראן זיע"א
רבינו ישכר דב בן רבי יהודה זונדל זצ"ל
נלב"ע י"ג תמוז תשע"ג

Parshas Re'ei

Don't Add, Don't Subtract

"All the things that I command you, you shall observe it to do it; do not add to it (Lo soseif alav) and do not subtract from it! (ve'lo sigr'u mimenu)" (13:1).

Before discussing the interpretation of Rashi and the commentaries, let me quote the Seforno, whose explanation will answer some of the questions that will appear in the course of this article.

The Seforno maintains that even though adding details to the Mitzvos per se may well be harmless, the Torah nevertheless forbids it because one is likely at times, in one's quest to improve one's performance of the Mitzvah, to add something that is disgusting in the eyes of G-d. And as an example of this, he mentions the abominable practice of sacrificing one's children, an accepted method of worship by the followers of Molech.

Whereas the Torah sees fit to prohibit detracting from the Mitzvos even if sometimes a person may think that the reasoning behind the Mitzvah is not applicable, or at least, that it does not apply to him. This we find, for example, by Sh'lomoh ha'Melech, who maintained that he could marry more than the maximum number permitted to a king without going astray.


Rashi explains the Pasuk here very much in the same way as he explained a similar Pasuk in Va'eschanan (4:2), when, in defining the La'v of "Lo soseif", he writes 'Not to insert five Parshiyos in one's Tefilin, not to take five species on Succos, and that the Kohanim should not add a fourth B'rachah to Birchas Kohanim'. Only in place of the last example, there he inserts 'five Tzitzis'. In fact, the Sifri learns the extra B'rachah in Birchas Kohanim from the words "al ha'dovor" (implying that the prohibition extends even to merely adding words to those that G-d commanded) which appears in Va'eschanan. Strangely, Rashi mentions it specifically here, when the Sifri learns it from the Pasuk there!

In any event, it is difficult to understand as to why, according to Rashi, the Torah sees fit to issue the identical ruling in two different locations. Presumably, this is what prompts the G'ro to explain the Pasuk in Va'eschanan with regard to adding or subtracting an entire Mitzvah to or from the Taryag Mitzvos.

Maybe he prefers to learn this from the earlier Pasuk which talks about 'the Mitzvos, Chukim and Mishpatim' in the plural. Alternatively, this would be the normal procedure, to first forbid adding or subtracting entire Mitzvos, and then adding or subtracting part of a Mitzvah.


That the Torah needs to prohibit the prohibition against adding to the Mitzvos, says the Kli Yakar, is easily understood. But why does it need to add the Mitzvah of not subtracting from them? Why is that not obvious? Others ask the question the other way round: If the Torah needs to forbid the prohibition against subtracting from the Mitzvos, why does it see fit to forbid adding to the Mitzvos? What harm can there be in that? (See opening paragraph). The K'li Yakar, whose answer resolves both questions, explains that the Torah is not in fact, issuing two independent commands. What it is saying is 'Do not add to the Mitzvos in order not to subtract from them'. And he cites the Gemara in B'rachos (29) as a precedent for this interpretation. The Gemara says there ''Lo sirvei ve'lo secheto', which means (not 'Do not become inebriated and do not sin', but rather) 'Do not become inebriated in order not to sin!' It is one warning, not two, as it would appear.

In other words, a person who allows himself to add will ultimately see nothing wrong with subtracting, and that is the Torah's reason for inserting a prohibition against adding to the Mitzvos.


A completely different approach to explain the Torah's repetition of the two Mitzvos in Va'eschanan and in Re'ei is to be found in the K'sav ve'ha'Kabalah, who asks why the earlier Pasuk is written in the plural ("Lo sosifu al ha'dovor … "), whilst the latter one is written in the singular ("Lo soseif olov … ")?

And he answers that, whereas the Pasuk in Re'ei is a warning against the individual adding to or subtracting from, the Mitzvos, the Pasuk in Va'eschanan comes to warn the Beis-Din not to add to the words of the Torah or to subtract from it. And he gives the example of meat and milk, which the Torah confines to the meat of an animal together with milk. If the Chachamim wish to extend the prohibition to eating birds' meat together with milk, they have the authority to do so. But to quote it as a Torah prohibition is a contravention of the La'v of "Lo sosifu".

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)

Holding the World on One's Shoulders

"See (singular), I am placing before you (plural) blessings and curses" (11:26).

The K'li Yakar explains the switch from singular to plural with the Gemara in Kidushin (40b) which enjoins every individual to consider that not only he and his town, but also the entire world, are hanging in the balance - with Mitzvos and Aveiros (sins) equally balanced. Consequently, he has only to perform one Mitzvah to tip the scale of Mitzvos, whereas if he does one Aveirah, he will tip the scale of Aveiros.

Hence, he explains, the Torah informs us here that one man has the power to bring B'rachah or K'lalah upon the world.

Perhaps, one may add, the Torah concludes "b'rachah and k'lalah" (in the singular) - implying that it takes only one Mitzvah or one Aveirah to achieve change in the world for better or for worse..


It is G-d Who Honours the Place

"Destroy all the locations where the gentiles worshipped … Do not do that to Hashem your G-d" (12:2-4).

In the course of these three Pesukim, the Torah commands us to destroy the locations carefully chosen by the gentiles to worship their gods, ending with a prohibition against emulating their example regarding choosing their location of worship.

The K'li Yakar (clearly based on the well-known maxim that 'It is not the place that honours man but man that honours the location') explains that whereas gentiles need to honour their gods by choosing a fitting location where to place them, we do not need to do this. The gentiles need to do this as their gods are inherently insignificant, and it is only a befitting location that lends them status. Not so our G-d, whose status is self-sufficient and has no need for an external booster. Consequently, the Torah orders us not to emulate the gentiles, but to designate the location that G-d chooses, to enable G-d to enhance its status by resting His Shechinah there.


Going Home

"You are sons of Hashem your G-d, do not make cuts or bald patches on account of a deceased person" (14:1).

The K'li Yakar explains that for gentiles to behave in this way when a relative dies is perfectly justifiable, since the deceased has indeed gone forever and the loss is total.

The Torah is teaching us here that we are different, inasmuch as 'we are holy' (which has connotations of eternity), 'G-d's treasure'. And a treasure one generally takes and places it in a treasury.

Which is precisely what G-d does with the souls of the Tzadikim - placing them in the treasury that He has designated for them. Consequently their passing is not a loss for them and mourning excessively for them is uncalled for.

The Or ha'Chayim gives the same interpretation. Basing it on the fact that the Torah begins the prohibition with the words "You are sons of Hashem …", he explains it with the Mashal of a man who sent his son to a distant town on business. When the deal was completed, the son returned to his father. Needless to say, not only did the son not consider leaving the town a loss, he was happy to return home to his parental home. And so it is with the Neshamah of a deceased relative.

Incidentally, the Or ha'Chayim does not confine his explanation to Tzadikim.


Giving Double

"You shall surely Ma'aser all the crops of your seeds" (14:22).

The K'li Yakar notes that whenever the Torah speaks about Tzedakah, it always uses a double expression "Aser te'aser", "Noson titein", Poso'ach tiftach", "Ha'vet ta'avitenu". And so it is with the reward "Ki borech yevorech'cho".

And he explains that the Torah is teaching us here that when giving Tzedakah, it should be accompanied by a kind encouraging word (as the Gemara writes in Bava Basra 9b -'Whoever gives a p'rutah to a poor man is blessed with six b'rochos, and if he extends a kind word to him, he is blessed with eleven'). And he goes on to explain that one should not just give Tzedakah, but give it with a good heart, irrespective of how difficult the circumstances might be. Perhaps that is why, when putting one's Tefilin shel Yad, one places it next to the heart - to teach us that when stretching out one's hand to give Tzedakah, it must be done goodheartedly - with a smile and never with a scowl.


In what appears to be a slightly different tack, he refers to the Gemara in B'rachos (8a) which requires one to walk the distance of two entrances ('sh'nei pesachim') into Shul before proceeding to Daven (so as not to give the appearance that he is waiting by the entrance in order to make a quick exit). The term 'sh'nei pesachim', the K'li Yakar suggests, refers to the double expression "poso'ach tiftach" (which we cited a little earlier in connection with Tzedakah), and serves as the source of the Halachah (cited in Bava Basra 10a) to give Tzedakah before Davening.

Interestingly, Chazal refer to Davening as 'Avodah she'ba'leiv' (the service of the heart). This gives us another connection between Tzedakah given by the hand that is accompanied by the heart.

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