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

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Vol. 4 No. 45

Parshas Ve'eschanan

Lest You Forget!

"Only beware and take great heed, lest you forget the things that your eyes beheld, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life - pass them on to your children and to your grandchildren" (Devorim 4:9).

There are two distinct interpretations of this possuk:
The Ramban, linking it with the possuk that follows, interprets it as a command to remember always the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai (and indeed, it is in this context that the two pesukim are quoted in the six mitzvos (quoted in many Siddurim after Shachris) to be remembered daily.

The Ramban concludes that the object of the mitzvah is for each generation to impress upon the next the absolute truth and irrefutability of all that Moshe Rabeinu taught us. For, although Moshe Rabeinu's prophecy was proven beyond any shadow of doubt, there would be other prophets whose prophetic gifts would also be proven. Ma'amad Har Sinai (as the giving of the Torah is known), where the whole of Klal Yisroel witnessed first-hand the revelation of Hashem's divine Presence (as no other generation has ever done before or since), was an indisputable refutal of any statements or commands issued by subsequent prophets - true or false - should they in any way clash with anything that Moshe Rabeinu ever said or wrote in the Torah. Indeed, this has to be the case, since no other prophet was actually seen by Klal Yisroel to be divinely inspired as Moshe Rabeinu was. And that explains why some thousand years later, the Book of Yechezkel was almost buried, when it was found to contain apparent contradictions to Moshe Rabeinu's Torah. It was only after they had worked long and hard to reconcile his statements with those of Moshe Rabeinu, that the book was finally accepted.

R. Bachye, on the other hand, draws on a Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos (3:8) which informs us that someone who, by default, forgets just one statement of his learning, is deserving of whatever punishment he receives. This implies that he must revise his learning many times over (up to 101) in order not to forget it - and the Mishnah uses as its source the very possuk which we are discussing! ("Only beware", etc.). In R. Bachye's view, therefore, the possuk is referring not to Ma'amad Har Sinai, but to the obligation on each and every Jew to do what he can to retain the Torah that he has learned. He himself goes on to cite a number of hints to prove the importance of constant revision - one of them, the saying of Chazal, who explain the difference between "a man who serves G-d and one who does not" (referring to a possuk in Mal'achi, 3:18) as being one who revises his learning 100 times and one who does so 101 times. And in a fascinating back-up to this Chazal, quoting the possuk, "And you will return and see the difference between . . . one who serves G-d and one who does not serve Him", he indicates how the numerical value of the first letters of the words "oved Elochim la'asher" equals 101, whereas those of the words "lo avodo" equal just 200.

Another such hint based on "Geymatriyos" Rabeinu Bachye finds in the word "shochach" (forget) which equals 328, whereas that of "zochar" (remember) equals 227: the difference between them being 101 - to hint that, by revising our studies 101 times, we can deduct 101 from "shochach" to make "zochar" and will not forget our Torah.

Rashi, who explains the possuk like R. Bachye, extends his interpretation a stage further, basing his explanation of the possuk on the preceding pesukim, which speak of Klal Yisroel's unique role as G-d's chosen people. The Torah describes there how the nations of the world acknowledge that uniqueness, inasmuch as they consider us a wise and understanding nation - as long as we behave like the nation of G-d. And it is to that end that the Torah now warns us: if we are to be seen in such a light by the gentile world, then we must make sure that we do not forget the Torah, for by doing so, we will inevitably twist its precepts and lose our status as Hashem's chosen nation. Should that happen, the Torah is warning us, the nations of the world will no longer have any cause to acknowledge our uniqueness. On the contrary, they will treat us with contempt for having relinquished our close ties with G-d - as we have seen, and continue to see, up to the present day.

(Vo'Eschanan) Adapted from the Gro

The Idol that Spoke

"And Hashem will scatter you among the nations... and you will serve there man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see, hear, eat or smell." (Devorim 4:27-28)

"Are we speaking here about gods that can speak?" asks the Gro. If we are not, then why does the possuk not add "and cannot speak", which is after all, one of the most vital of the senses?

It would appear, the Gro replies, that the Torah is referring to the incident mentioned in both the Medrash Rabbo and the Zohar, in which Nevuchadnetzar told Doniel that, if he would only see what the national idol was capable of doing, he would automatically bow down to it in awe.

What was the story?

The wicked Nevuchadnetzar had taken the holy Tzitz of the Cohen Godol, which had the Name of Hashem engraved on it, and had placed it inside the national idol's mouth. When they played music in front of it and started to sing its praises, it would respond by proclaiming "I am Hashem your G-d", etc.

When Doniel saw that, he asked for permission to climb up and kiss the mouth of the idol which spoke such beautiful words. He then said to the Tzitz, "I am a human being, the emissary of G-d. Take care not to allow G-d's Name to be desecrated by you! I hereby decree upon you that you follow me." With those words, he kissed the image on the mouth and sucked inwards, at which the Tzitz flew from the idol's mouth into his own. Meanwhile, the orchestra began playing, and all the people gathered there waiting in eager expectation for the idol's response - but this time, they remained disappointed, because nothing happened. At that moment, a strong gust of wind knocked the image and blew it over.

When subsequently, the people saw the miracles that Hashem performed with Chananyo, Mishoel and Azaryah, they all took their idols and broke them into pieces. They fashioned them into bells, which they then hung around the necks of their dogs and donkeys. They would then ring them and announce, "See to whom you are bowing down!"

So here we have the case of the idol who did speak, and it is to that idol in particular, that the possuk refers when it writes "and you will serve there gods... which cannot see, hear, eat or smell" (bear in mind that the word "elohim" - god - is always written in the plural, even when it refers to only one), but it does talk.

But do not for one moment be misled, when you see millions of people going astray after this wondrous "god", into believing that it is a genuine deity. What you must do is what Doniel actually did: namely (as the possuk continues), "Seek (the Name of) Hashem, who is your G-d, from there (from the image itself) and you will find it (in its mouth - to discover that the idol has no power at all of its own, other than what it stole from Hashem) because you will seek it with all your heart and with all your soul (like Doniel, who sought the truth with all his heart and with self-sacrifice).

And With All Your Soul

The Gemoro in B'rochos (61b) quotes R. Eliezer, who explains why the Torah needs to write both "be'chol nafshecho" and "be'chol me'odecho" (6:5). There are some people, R. Eliezer says, whose bodies are dearer to them than their money (so the Torah writes "be'chol nafshecho"), and there are others whose money means more to them than their bodies (so the Torah adds "u've'chol me'odecho"). R. Akiva (R. Eliezer's disciple) adds "be'chol nafshecho" - even if He takes away your Soul (life)! The Maharsho explains that R. Akiva merely comes to clarify the words of his Rebbe.

A dochek (forced explanation, and highly unlikely) claims the Gro. In any event, he continues, who has ever heard of the person whose money is dearer to him than his life? People will give up their money to save their lives, but their lives to save their money?! The Gro therefore explains that according to R. Eliezer, "be'chol nafshecho" is referring, not to giving up one's life (in fact, in R. Eliezer's opinion, there is no such obligation, since the Torah writes "And you shall live by them"), but to exerting oneself physically. To those people whose bodies mean more to them than their money (i.e. they would prefer to spend money in the service of G-d than to go to any physical trouble), the Torah says "u've'chol nafshecho". And to those who would rather exert themselves than spend money, the Torah says "u've'chol me'odecho".

R. Akiva disagrees with R. Eliezer. "No," he says, "when the Torah writes 'u've'chol nafshecho', it comes to obligate every Jew even to give up his life in the service of his Creator", under certain circumstances.

With this explanation, the Gro concludes, we can understand the dialogue that took place between R. Akiva and his disciples, as his flesh was being torn off with iron combs.

"Ad ka'an?" ("How can you go so far?") they asked him.

"All my life," he replied "I have been worried as to when this possuk ("u've'chol nafshecho") will avail itself for me to fulfill; now that at long last it has, should I not practise it?"

It is not at first clear what R. Akiva's disciples had in mind when they queried their Rebbe about giving up his life for Hashem. Did they not know that there are occasions when it is a mitzvah to do so?

However, according to the above explanation, it seems that they followed the opinion of R. Eliezer, and so they asked R. Akiva "How can you go so far "- (as to give up your life for Hashem)? To which he replied that, in his opinion, this is obligatory, and that throughout his life he had longed for the opportunity to fulfill this great mitzvah.

(Vo'Eschanan-Nachamu) (Yeshayah 40:1-26)

The Haftorah of "Nachamu" always follows Tish'oh be'Av, serving as a consolation and a comfort to the harsh message of the previous weeks, which culminated with the Churban Beis Ha'mikdosh. In that capacity, it would not really be necessary for there to be a direct connection with the Parshah. Yet the fact that Vo'eschanan too, is always leined immediately after Tish'oh be'Av, would strongly suggest that such a connection exists.

Perhaps it is the new covenant that G-d made with Yisroel at Arvos Mo'ov, the focal point of Chapter 4, even if the covenant itself is not specifically mentioned there, which provides that connection. Indeed, the chapter opens with the word "Ve'atto" which is known to refer to teshuvah. And when the Torah goes on to deal with many positive points, including the conditions for entering Eretz Yisroel, a theme which will be repeated a number of times before the end of the Parshah, the Aseres Ha'dibros as they appear on the second Luchos, the result of Yisroel's teshuvah after the "chet ho'Eigel", and the foundations of emunah in the form of the Shema, we have before us the major ingredients of the strong words of comfort contained in the Haftorah.

The Haftorah opens with a double expression of consolation - "Nachamu, nachamu ami", for which various explanations are given. The Malbim for example, refers to the two possible ways in which the ge'ulah is due to take place: 1. Before the final time due to Yisroel's merits (referred to as "achishenu"); or 2. on the final designated date by which time Moshiach must have come, whether we are worthy or not (known as "be'itto"), whereas the Metzudas Dovid understands that the Novi's intention here is to stress the power of G-d's consolation, as is so often the case, with double expressions.

The Medrash however (Yalkut Shim'oni, Yeshayoh 445), after explaining the double expression a number of ways, concludes like this: "They sinned doubly, as it is written ('Chet Chot'oh Yerusholayim' - Eichoh 1), [therefore] they were doubly smitten, as it is written ('Because she was smitten by the Hand of G-d, double for all her sins' - Yeshayoh 40) and [therefore] her consolation is also double ('Nachamu, nachamu ami')." And it is in this connection that the Metzudas Dovid and the Redak (citing here one of the explanations quoted in the Medrash) write that Yisroel was doubly smitten - "two exiles, Golus Bovel and Golus Edom" - for its numerous sins over the two periods that the Beis Ha'mikdosh stood - and that is why it needed a double consolation.

The Redak cites another explanation in the name of his father. The double sin and punishment actually refer to their own sins, in addition to the sins of their fathers. He bases this idea on the possuk in Eichoh (5:7) "Our fathers sinned but are no longer alive, and we have to bear their sins", though we will need to reconcile this with the possuk "Fathers will not die for the sins of their children - nor vice versa. Each man will die for his own sin" (Devorim 24:16 ).

The Medrash however, could be explained differently, in light of a possuk which we read in the first of the three Haftoros of punishment. Yirmiyoh said there (4:13) "For My people have performed two evils! 1. They forsook Me, the source of spring water; 2. To dig themselves pits, broken pits, that do not hold water".

A woman might forsake her husband because she wishes to free herself of the burden of married life, in order to pursue an independent life-style. That in itself is hurtful enough. But if a woman leaves her (loving and successful husband) to marry an idiot and a "shlemiel", then it is not only a senseless thing for her to do, but it is also doubly painful for her former spouse.

To forsake G-d to go one's own way is in itself a terrible sin, even if one were to exchange Him (as if this were possible) for an equal. But to relinquish G-d in order to adopt worthless forms of idolatry is a double sin, and it is this double sin to which the Novi is referring.

We sinned doubly, and therefore we received a double punishment. It would have been sufficient effective, if G-d had simply withdrawn and left us to our own devices, for, without G-d, all of our undertakings would be doomed to failure. Or He could even have delivered us into the hands of some nation or other, allowing us to suffer by depriving us of our freedom. But G-d did not do that. He set against us the lowliest and basest of nations, first the Babylonians, and then the Romans (see Ba'al Ha'turim Devorim 32:21). Consequently, when the time of ge'ulah arrives, G-d will ensure that the consolation too, will play a double role. He will make sure that, not only will He remove the yoke of our oppressors, so that we become free once again, but, in addition, He will bring us back to the loving protection of the Shechinah, so that we will again be His people and He will be our G-d.

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