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August 6-7, 2004 20 AB 5764

Pop Quiz: Which berachah obligation is learned from this perashah?


"Your garment did not wear out from upon you." (Debarim 8:4)

Moshe Rabenu reviews the history of the journey of the Israelites in the desert. Hashem performed many acts of kindness with our people throughout their forty years. One of these is the fact that their garments didn't wear out throughout the entire time. Rashi adds that not only didn't they wear out, but they grew in size along with the people as they grew. However, the Midrash limits this phenomenon to the clothes that they wore. As the verse says, "me'alecha, from upon you." What the person wore remained clean and fresh, but not that which was stored in a box. The clothes that were stored deteriorated.

Rabbi R. Pelcovitz quotes our great musar (ethics) teachers who learn a great lesson from this. They draw a parallel between the garments and shoes worn by our ancestors in the wilderness, which remained fresh and complete, and a person's intellectual pursuits, especially his study of Torah. When a person uses his mental capacity and constantly challenges his intellect, he sharpens it and causes it to expand and improve. The way a child understands a pasuk in Humash is not the way an adult understands it. As one grows and matures so does his understanding of Torah, just as the garments which were worn by the Children of Israel who came out of Egypt miraculously grew with them.

However, this is true only if one continues to pursue his studies and develops his intellectual power by continuing his study of Torah. However, if one does not challenge himself and pursue the study of Torah, his mental capacity and ability to master Torah deteriorates. The popular expression regarding all skills in life is especially true of intellectual growth. "Use it or lose it." This is the lesson we should learn from the miracle of the freshness and durability of the clothing of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"For man does not live on bread alone, rather, by the word of Hashem..." (Debarim 8:3)

The simple meaning of this verse is that it's not the actual food which sustains a person, but rather it's the command that Hashem gives for people to be able to live. However, we can understand this in a novel way based on the verse "v'achalta v'sabata uberachta,"which tells us to bless Hashem for the food that we eat. It's not the food that keeps us going; it's the berachot we say before and after eating which provides the real nourishment for a person. If we would realize the effect that our blessings have on the world and all its contents, we would grab every opportunity to say a berachah. Indeed, Bircat hamazon, grace after meals, is the only berachah which is mentioned in the Torah, and its reward is truly unbelievable. But even a regular short blessing, which takes only a few seconds, can bring such bounty and prosperity to the one who says it. Let's start off by just one extra berachah a day with concentration and may we be blessed in return. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"That, as a man chastises his son, so Hashem chastises you" (Debarim 8:5)

The unique character of a parent's chastisement is poignantly characterized by Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer z"l in explaining the pasuk in Tehillim (23): "Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me." He draws an analogy to a father who is walking with his son in a heavily wooded and uncharted forest. Prior to entering the area the father cautions his son very strongly against separating from him even momentarily. He vividly describes to him the life-threatening danger and peril associated with walking in this forest without an experienced guide. At the outset of their excursion, the son pays attention to his father's warning and his hand doesn't even briefly leave his father's hand. However, shortly thereafter, the son noticed something which drew his interest, so that he momentarily let go of his father's hand. The father, unaware of this sudden change, continued along his walk. Upon realizing his error, the son immediately searched for his father, alas, to no avail. The unfortunate child, terrified by his predicament, begins to cry, searching on and on for his father. As the sun sets, the child has wandered farther into the depths of this forest. The terrifying sounds of the night begin, causing the child even greater remorse and longing for the comforting arms of his beloved father. Suddenly, the child feels a glancing blow on his cheek from an unknown source. Even before he is able to cry out in pain, the child realizes that this blow is from none other than his father. Instantly, in spite of the pain, his reaction is one of joy and excitement in being reunited with his father.

The condition of a sinner closely resembles that of this lost young child. During the time that he sins, he is wandering farther and farther from Hashem, his Father in Heaven, undoubtedly causing great pain to himself. However, as he is chastised and punished for his disobedience, he is filled with joy at the realization that his punishment comes from a father's love for a meandering and lost child. Therefore, when a Jew walks in the "valley of the shadow of death," he does not despair, since he knows the chastisement is a symbol of love and concern. (Peninim on the Torah)


"For you are a stiff-necked people" (Debarim 9:6)

Seforno comments: It is impossible for there to be righteousness and straightness of heart together with the trait of being stiff-necked. Being stiff-necked refers to someone who follows the arbitrary feelings of his heart and his own subjective thinking even though a Torah scholar will show him with clear proof that his thinking is incorrect and will cause him loss or harm. That is, he will not turn to the Torah scholar, as if his neck were as hard as iron and he is physically unable to turn it this way or that. Instead of listening to reason, he continues to follow his own emotions.

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler summarizes this by saying: What does it mean to be stiff-necked? This is when someone sees the truth with his own eyes but is still not willing to change his negative ways.

A person has to be willing to act according to his intellectual understanding. If a person's original way of thinking was mistaken and someone points this out to him, he should resolve to make the necessary changes. But many people find this very difficult to do. It is so much easier to continue to behave as you have done previously. It takes a strong act of will to make positive changes in one's behavior. Be flexible and open. Be willing to change anything that needs changing. Anyone having this positive trait will continue to grow and improve throughout his entire life. (Growth through Torah)


Question: Why do we say, "Besiman tob tehe lanu ulchol Yisrael - Let this be a good sign for us and all of Israel," during Bircat Halebanah?

Answer: It means: Let the moon renewing itself be a sign for the Jewish people that they, too, will be renewed. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Love the convert, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Debarim 10:19)

Aside from the requirement to love every fellow Jew, we have a special commandment to love the convert. The Torah explains that we should identify with his discomfort because we were also strangers when we went down to Egypt. We can therefore understand how he must feel, and do our best to make him feel comfortable.

Sefer Hahinuch teaches that we are also obligated to assist a person who is a stranger to the area and may need directions, advice or simply a welcoming hand. Someone who is unfamiliar to the locale will often feel self-conscious, and any support we can offer him will help to put him at ease. Think about how you feel when you are in an unfamiliar place, and how much you appreciate it when someone welcomes you and offers his assistance. You will then be able to empathize with the newcomer in your own town, and be quick to make him feel at home.

Question: When you notice a new person in town, do you introduce yourself and let him know that he can come to you for help if he needs it? What would you do if you saw someone standing on the corner looking at a map?


This Week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 49:14-51:3.

This haftarah is the second in the series of seven haftarot dealing with consolation that are read between Tish'ah B'Ab and Rosh Hashanah. Hashem tells the nation that the exile does not break the bond between Him and Israel. He will not let us be destroyed. At the end of the haftarah, Yeshayahu the prophet says that Hashem will restore the glory of the land, and that joy and gladness will be found there.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Bircat Hamazon.

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