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SEPTEMBER 19-20, 2003 23 ELUL 5763

Pop Quiz: Which is the shortest perashah in the Torah, and which is the longest?


When Moshe Rabenu went up to get the Torah, the heavenly angels protested, "How can a human being receive the holy Torah?" Hashem told Moshe to hold onto the Heavenly Throne and give them an answer (Teshubah). Moshe proceeded to explain how the Torah can only be for mortal beings as it says in the Ten Commandments, "Do not steal, kill, etc.," which only apply to humans. The word Teshubah, which literally means "answer," also refers to the concept of Teshubah, repentance. The angels were really asking, "How can a human, who can sin and fall, receive the Torah, which is holy and spiritual?" The answer is Teshubah, repentance. The Jew who stumbles and sins has an amazing opportunity to return to Hashem. This concept of Teshubah is so great that it can reach the Heavenly Throne, and that's why Moshe held onto the Throne, to symbolize the power of Teshubah. During the holiday season, Teshubah is in the air. May we grasp it and reach the Heavenly Throne and may all the suffering in the land of Israel stop. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, Health and Happiness. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d" (Debarim 29:9)

The Midrash relates that in last week's perashah, the people heard the frightening curses, ninety-eight in all, that would befall the Jewish nation if they didn't observe the Torah. They said, "Who could stand up to these curses?" Moshe Rabenu comforted them and told them, despite all the sins of the past, they were still standing before Hashem. Just as He had not discarded them before, He would maintain them in the future. Fear of the rebuke would prevent them from sinning, and if they did sin, the punishment would bring them atonement, not destruction.

The wording of the above Midrash needs to be studied. It says, "Who could stand up to these curses?" The Torah in a previous perashah, in Vayikra, also told of curses that could occur. The Midrash implies that these curses of last week's perashah frightened them, but not the ones from Vayikra.

Rabbi Shlomo Peretz explains that there was a good reason why the second set of curses were more scary than the first. The ones in Vayikra were said in the singular terminology. Therefore, the Jews weren't afraid, because each one felt he wasn't the sinner the Torah was talking about, and he would escape punishment. But, in Debarim the curses were said in the plural form, which meant that since each Jew was responsible for each other's sins, the result would be that everyone would suffer as a result of one person's sins. This is what the Midrash meant when it said, "Who could stand up to these curses?" However, Moshe Rabenu consoled them. He said, "You are all standing today," because you are responsible for each other! The responsibility that you fear is the main factor that kept you alive. If one person sins, the sin is carried by the many and the punishment is spread out over the many, which makes it lighter and bearable. Furthermore, if one does a misvah that isn't done by others, such as the misvot only done by Kohanim, it is shared by all, thereby enabling many people to receive these merits. The results are that your being together is your salvation.

It is important to always view each other as a helper and not a competitor. In the long run, we bring each other to true success, in a way we couldn't do by ourselves. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


Question: Why should the congregation not look at the Kohanim when they are doing Birkat Kohanim?

Answer: The Zohar tells us that the shechinah (presence of G-d) rests on the hands of the Kohanim as they bless the congregation. Therefore, the Kohanim cover their hands - since it is prohibited for someone from the congregation to stare at their hands while the shechinah is present. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"You are standing this day, all of you." (Debarim 29:9)

In the book of Debarim, Moshe rebukes Bnei Yisrael prior to his death. The Sages teach that even in this seemingly innocent remark, there is an element of criticism.

Angels are often referred to as "omdim" - standing, while human beings are referred to as "holchim" - walking, or progressing. This is because angels can never improve themselves. They are always "standing" at the same level as when they were created. Human beings, on the other hand, have the ability to improve themselves, and are expected to be constantly "walking" toward perfection.

Moshe's rebuke was that the people have become comfortable in their level, and are not striving to reach greater heights. It is very easy to become complacent with one's status, and it is therefore important to always remember that no matter how far we have gone, there is always room for improvement.

Question: Do you feel comfortable with your level of observance, or do you feel a need to make advances? In what way have you grown spiritually in the past year? What do you hope to improve in the coming year?

Answer to Pop Quiz: Vayelech (30 pesukim) and Naso (176 pesukim).

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