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

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Vol. 22   No. 41

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Parshas Va'Eschanan

Remembering Har Sinai

"Only beware and guard yourself very much lest you forget the things that your eyes saw and you shall tell them to your children and your grandchildren - the day that you stood before Hashem your G-d at Chorev " (4:8 & 10).


'If you do not forget them', Rashi explains, 'and carry them out faithfully, then you will be considered wise and understanding (in the eyes of the nations), but if you will twist them due to forgetfulness, you will be considered fools'.

Rabeinu Bachye, stressing the word "only", connects Rashi's comment to three Pesukim earlier, which citing the nations' opinion of Yisrael, states "Only wise and understanding is this great nation". The Torah is now issuing a stern warning that, should Yisrael not live up to the Torah's expectations, the nations' attitude towards Yisrael will change dramatically.


R. Bachye himself, commenting on the same word "only", explains that Yisrael had best beware not to forget the Torah, as their superiority over the nations is based exclusively on the fact that they received the Torah at Har Sinai whereas the nations of the world did not.

And citing the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:5), he further explains this Pasuk as a warning to do everything possible not to forget the Torah that one has learned.


The Ramban however, rejects Rashi's interpretation of the Pasuk, seemingly on two scores: 1). The Pasuk is not just a piece of advice on how to be wise in the eyes of the nations; 2). It is speaking, not about remembering Torah (notwithstanding the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos cited by R. Bachye), but about remembering Ma'amad Har Sinai.


He explains that after issuing a warning about keeping the Mitzvos, the Torah adds a specific Lo Sa'aseh (as is inherent in both the words "Hishamer" and "Pen" - which appear in the current Pasuk) not to forget the experience of standing at Har Sinai when the Torah was being given, the Torah wants us to remember what we saw there - the Tone of the Shofar and the flashes of lightning, the Glory of Hashem and His Greatness. And it wants us to remember the words that we heard there directly from the Mouth of G-d (Kevayachol) that emerged from the fire that was present on the mountain.

And the underlying motive behind the Mitzvah is to instill within us and within our children a permanent fear of G-d, which, when all's said and done, is the mainstay of all the Mitvzos.


Rabeinu Bachye, in the continuation of the explanation that we cited earlier, actually echoes the Ramban, when he attributes our superiority over the nations to the Torah, but adds that it is not just the Torah, but the Torah that we received at Har Sinai, just as the Ramban explains it. And he concludes that someone who removes that wondrous experience from his heart will go on to deny Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu Himself (chas ve'shalom).

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ramban & Rabeinu Bachye)

Parshiyos in Perspective

"And I implored Hashem at that time saying" (3:23).

It is not clear to which period Moshe is referring, since the Tefilah that he goes on to quote is not mentioned previously.

The Ramban therefore concludes that it pertains to the period following the defeat of Sichon and Og, after Moshe had distributed their land to Reuven and Gad, when G-d instructed him to ascend Har ha'Evarim and to view the Land (Bamidbar 27:12). That was when Moshe Davened to Hashem, and asked Hashem to rescind the decree and allow him to actually cross the Yarden together with the people.

And it was when G-d replied in the negative that he went on to Daven that He appoint a leader to lead the people in his place (Ibid. 15/16).


That also explains, says the author, why, a few Pesukim later (in Pasuk 28), G-d instructs Moshe to appoint Yehoshua as his successor. This is the request that he made there (in Parshas Pinchas) that was answered favourably, as the Torah informs us there. And it is because his personal request was turned down that he did not mention the current Tefilah there.

He mentions it here, to tell the people how precious Eretz Yisrael was to him, and to remind them that it was due to them that he was denied the right to enter it - as part of the general rebuke which he was levelling at K'lal Yisrael.


Adding to the Mitzvos

"Don't add to the thing (al ha'dovor) that I am commanding you today" (4:2).

Rashi explains that this pertains to inserting five Parshiyos to the Tefilin or five Tzitzis - both instead of four.


The Ramban adds adding an extra Pasuk to Birchas Kohanim, such as "Hashem Elokei avoseichem Yosef aleichem" (Devarim 1:16), which the Sifri learns from the words "al ha'dovor", which can also mean 'on the words', and which Chazal often interpret in this way.


He also incorporates in the La'av sleeping in the Succah on the eighth day of Succos, with the intention of performing a Mitzvah - and by the same token, someone who observes only six days of Succos, transgresses 'bal Tigra' (not to detract from the Mitzvos) - and someone who introduces his own Yom-tov, in the way that Yerav'am ben N'vat did.

And he cites the Gemara in Megilah (14a), which cites the reaction of the Chachamim to Mordechai and Esther, when they first introduced Purim. The Yerushalmi explains that they initially rejected the suggestion outright, until they discovered a hint in the Torah permitting it.

The initial objection however, was based, not on the current Pasuk, but on the Pasuk at the end of Seifer Vayikra "These are the Mitzvos that Hashem commanded Moshe" - indicating that 'no Navi is permitted to add another Mitzvah'. That is because, as is clear from the Yerushalmi, we would have thought that the prohibition of not adding to the Mitzvos does not apply to the Nevi'im/Chachamim -indeed there are areas where they may and are even expected, to add specific aspects to the Mitzvos. Therefore the Torah finds it necessary to include them in the prohibition of adding Mitzvos and Yamim-tovim to the existing ones.


Commanded Already at Marah

"Observe the Shabbos to sanctify it like Hashem your G-d commanded you" (5:12).

The Ramban cites Rashi, who explains that this refers to Marah, the first stop after the drowning of the Egyptians at the Yam-Suf, where Yisrael were commanded some Mitzvos pertaining to the Shabbos.

In that case, he points out, the same will apply to the Mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Eim (the next Commandment), where the Torah uses exactly the same expression. Yet Rashi there (in Sh'mos 15:25) lists the Mitzvos of Shabbos, Parah Adumah and Dinim as having been given at Marah, but omits that of Kibud Av va'Eim.


The commentaries explain Rashi's omission there, as we shall see shortly. They point out however, that he makes up for it at the end of Mishpatim, where, listing the Mitzvos that were given before Matan Torah, he includes Kibud Av va'Eim in the list.


Strangely, neither the Ramban nor the commentaries cite Rashi here, in Pasuk 16, where he specifically writes that Kibud Av va'Eim too, was given at Marah. Moreover, citing the Gemara in Sanhedrin, he quotes the source as the Pasuk there in Beshalach - "Shom som lo chok u'mishpat". This seems to contradict the commentaries, who attribute Rashi's omission to the fact that he is merely concerned with explaining that Pasuk, and not with listing all the Mitzvos that were said there. This implies that Kibud Av va'Eim is learned from another source (presumably the Pasuk here), and not from the Pasuk "Shom som lo " - yet Rashi here cites this Pasuk as the source for Kibud Av va'Eim.


Talking Torah

" you shall teach them to your sons and speak about them (bom) " (6:7).

Rabeinu Bachya, citing the Gemara in Yuma (Daf 19b) learns from the words "speak about them" that Torah should be one's main topic of conversation, and from "bom", a Mitzvas Asei not to speak about mundane matters (that are not necessary for one's Parnasah and the like).

Note, the Pasuk continues with the words "when you sit in your house and when you go on a journey".

The commentaries point out that the written Torah ("Bereishis") and the first letter of the first word in the oral Torah ('Me'eimosai') spell "bom".

Elaborating on the Gemara in Yuma, we can now explain the Pasuk to mean that one's main occupation should be the study of the Torah, both the written and the oral.


but not Tefilah


R. Bachye, citing the same Gemara, adds the D'rashah "You shall speak about them (Torah)", 'but not about Tefilah'. This he explains to mean that although Torah should be learned out loud - just as it was given at Har Sinai, Tefilah must be said silently.

It should be noted that learning Torah aloud helps one to remember what he has learned.

* * *

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