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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Reah

See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. (11:26)

The Torah's use of the word "re'eh", see, is significant. It is important that we clearly understand the relative effects of mitzvah and aveirah. We should actually see this distinction. We should be able to comprehend blessing as the direct result of a life of mitzvah-performance and curse as the product of a sinful lifestyle. All too often we attribute our good fortune to just that - good fortune. On the other hand, we perceive external factors to be the cause of our misfortune. We should open our eyes to perceive the accurate distinction between blessing and curse. Regretably, the Torah oriented definitions do not necessarily coincide with currently accepted values. An individual who does not necessarily enjoy material abundance, but rather is blessed with a wonderful family, nachas, peace, and happiness, is truly blessed. Conversely, not everyone who society considers to be blessed is really fortunate. Indeed, he might be a prisoner to society's value system -- and actually not blessed at all. The Torah instructs us to "re'eh", open our eyes and mind in order to see the effect of living a Torah life, as well as the effects of contrary lifestyles.

We may also note that Torah uses the words "blessing" and "curse," as opposed to good and bad. By definition, "blessing" means that one's entire life will be blessed. He will be lacking nothing. He will be happy in every aspect of his existence. He who is cursed will find that life is missing something. He is always feeling shortchanged. One added note: In order to see this blessing, it is necessary to live a life of Torah and mitzvos. Nothing is as convincing as the experience itself. One must live the spiritual life -- and experience the joy and serenity that accompanies it -- to sense fully the blessing of Torah living.

You shall not do this to Hashem your G-d. Rather, only at the place that Hashem, your G-d place His Name shall you seek out His Presence and come there. And there shall you bring your elevation offerings. (12:4,5,6)

The commentators, each in his own initimable style, explain what it is that we "shall not do" to Hashem. Horav Itzile M'Volozhin, zl, offers a practical interpretation of this pasuk. We find that in order to facilitate the unintentional murderer's "escape" to the Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge, the people erected signs at various crossroads to indicate the most efficient way to reach his destination. They did this in order to ensure that the rotzeach b'shogeg, unintentional murderer, would not have to ask people for directions as he sought his destination. We may wonder why this helpful idea was not also a provision for those that went up to Yerusholayim for their annual pilgrimages or to offer korbanos on the Mizbayach.

Horav Itzile comments that if we had made it "easy" for the individual to reach Yerushoalayim without construing a situation in which he would be obliged to speak to people, to share with them his lofty and noble plans, to tell them about the exciting occurences that were taking place in Yerusholayim, he would probably be one of the few who would consider making the trip. Now that he was required to seek out the Bais Hamikdash, to interact with people, to inspire them through his attitude and intentions, others would also join him on his journey to Yerusholayim. Indeed, did not Elkanah make his annual trip to Yerusholayim using a different route, precisely so that he could influence more people to join his pilgrimage?

In sum, Hashem wants people to strive, to search, to seek out the Holy Place where they will perform the rituals and offer korbanos. By doing so, they will encourage others to join in their endeavor. The pagans, on the other hand, placed their idols on mountains, so that everyone was able to notice their presence -- and easily arrive there to worship. The Torah admonishes us, "You shall not do this to Hashem". Chazal interpret this to mean not to place G-d on mountains and hills, to build the Bais Hamikdash on high land. Rather, the Torah commands us "to place His Name shall you seek out His Presence." The Torah emphasizes " sidreshu," "you shall seek", to teach us that one ascends to the Bais Hamikdash only through derishah, seeking, searching, including and inspiring others in this course of his quest. Only then will we fulfill the enjoinment of "and then shall you bring your elevation offering." When everyone perceives how the individual diligently searches for the Divine, they will follow suit. The serious individual whose commitment to Hashem is sincere will inspire others, with by his genuineness and candor, to serve Hashem alongside him.

We may add that Hashem wants us to seek Him out, to search diligently, to reach out to Him. The actual search is the key to obtaining the sanctity that one strives to achieve. He who sits back waiting for spirituality to come to him might discover its elusiveness. Perhaps this is why the pasuk begins in the plural, "l'shichno sidreshu," and ends in the singular, "u'baasa shamah." Everyone asserts that he wants to ascend, to attain a higher level of kedushah, to build Hashem's Mikdash, but for how many people are these merely empty words? Only the yachid, the individual who is discriminating and determined, who leaves no stone unturned in his quest for kedushah, will attain the ultimate goal. Everyone has the opportunity, but only a few achieve the supreme gift: closeness to Hashem.

You are children to shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person. (14:1)

Being Hashem's Chosen People, His treasure in this world, carries with it immense responsibilities. Being banim la'Makom, children to the Almighty, is not an attribute one can ignore. We are, therefore, adjured to exert constraint when we are confronted with the passing of a loved one. The pagans mutilated their bodies in an expression of grief. Such manifestations of the depraved behavior that reigned in antiquity are strictly forbidden. In the Talmud Sanhedrin, Chazal relate that when Rabbi Akiva came upon the coffin of Rabbi Eliezer, he beat his flesh until he broke the skin and began to bleed profusely. He began to wail, "My father! My father! I have much money, but I have no money changer." Rashi explains Rabbi Akiva's analogy. He was implying that he had many halachic questions to ask, but he no longer had an individual who could elucidate the law and respond to his questions. Tosfos questions Rabbi Akiva's overwhelming display of grief. He was wounding himself, which is apparently prohibited by the Torah. They respond that for the sake of Torah, it is permitted. In other words, since Rabbi Akiva was grieving over loss of a source of Torah knowledge, he was permitted to exhibit excessive grieving.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains the logic behind Tosfos' statement. He cites Sforno and Daas Zekeinim, who explain that we should not be overwhelmed by the feeling of loss which we experience upon the passing of a loved one. This is because we still have our Father in Heaven who is our closest and most distinguished relative. This realization should provide us with comfort and support, as we encounter the challenge of our bereavement. This idea, however, applies only in regard to the loss of a relative. Knowing that our Father in Heaven is always present is the greatest source of comfort. When Rabbi Eliezer passed away, however, Rabbi Akiva became bereft of his rebbe. Who was he to turn to with his questions in Torah? Who would provide his spiritual sustenance? Who would help him grow in Torah? Suddenly, he felt distanced from the true Father - Hashem.

Our relationship to Hashem is manifest through the medium of Torah and mitzvos. We become closer, clinging to Hashem, as we perform His mitzvos and study His Torah. We merit eternal life through this process. When Rabbi Akiva's rebbe passed away, his growth in Torah-study became stunted. It was an eternal loss! For such a loss, there are no parameters of grief. Indeed, the Ramban, in his lament for his rebbe, Rabbeinu Yona, writes that nothing in this world could comfort him. His only consolation was that one day he would also pass on and once again meet his rebbe in Olam Habah. This is how great teachers grieved for their rebbeim. In those times, they understood the true role of a rebbe and accepted his all-encompassing influence on us.

You shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person. (14:1)

Our relationship with Hashem demands that we adhere to a strict code of discipline, as expressed in the Torah and interpreted and expounded by our Torah leadership. The discipline of Torah governs our entire life. The Torah addresses every aspect of life's endeavor. We are called banim la'Makom, children of the Almighty. Can there be a greater appelation, a more honored relationship? Such closeness, however, also carries with it an inherent responsibility. When one mourns a loved one, thus confronting his own mortality, a Jew manifests great discipline. Halachah desginates time limits during which one may and should express his grief. Halachah dictates for whom one mourns, as well as the duration of this mourning.

For a father and mother, r"l, one mourns an entire year, while for other close relatives the specified period is thirty days. It would seem that the allotted times are somewhat confused. After all, while the loss of a parent is certainly a tragedy, it is, however, the way of the world. Generations come, and generations go. Young people grow into adulthood, have families, and eventually pass on to a better world. While one should mourn and feel the terrible loss of a parent, it is truly different than the loss of a contemporary such as a sibling, mate or a child r"l. Should not the prescribed mourning period be even greater than for a parent? This is not a natural occurence. Thus, the time frame for expressing one's grief should be commensurately extended.

Horav Yitzchak Hutner,zl, makes a profound observation in response to this question. When a parent passes away, another link in the chain that stretches to Har Sinai is severed. The son or daughter suddenly becomes one more generation removed from that unparalleledd experience, from Matan Torah. For that loss, one grieves an entire year.

We derive from this remarkable statement that the underlying motif behind mourning is totally different from what we might have in mind. One does not grieve only because of his personal loss. He mourns his spiritual distancing from the Torah. This is a concept that is foreign to most people. We understand a parent's presence in a different light. Parents provide the bridge to a previous generation - one that brings us closer to the Almighty. Our relationship with our parents is no longer just a mundane flesh and blood affiliation, it is a spiritual experience. Honoring one's parents takes on a new meaning. We give respect to an institution, not just to an individual. Indeed, we honor our parents because of what and who they are, not merely as a consequence of their relationship to us.

For in the month of the springtime, Hashem your G-d , took you out of Egypt at night...for you departed from the land of Egypt in haste - so that you will remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt. (16:1,3)

The Torah states clearly that the Egyptian exodus took place in the evening. This is reiterated in pasuk 6, when the Torah says to slaughter the Korban Pesach after the sun descends, "the appointed time of your departure from Egypt." If this is the case, why does the Torah in pasuk 3 declare that we should "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt"? There seems to be an apparent contradiction between the pesukim concerning exactly when Klal Yisrael left Egypt. The Talmud in Berachos 9A identifies the "shaas chipazon" of Klal Yisrael, which occurred the following day at midnight when the Egyptian firstborn died. After this occurrence, the Egyptians proceeded to the Jews and told them to leave. The Jews did not leave, however, until morning. From the Egyptian point of view, the Exodus took place at night, although the Jews did not actually leave until the next day. In other words, there were two yetzios, departures: one from Mitzrayim, Egypt, at night, and one from Eretz Mitzrayim, the land of Egypt , which took place by day.

Horav Shimon Schwab,zl, gives insight into these two departures and explains the corresponding text which seems to distinguish between Egypt and the land of Egypt. When Hashem commanded Klal Yisrael to slaughter the Korban Pesach, the lamb which served as the Egyptian godhead, to smear its blood on the doorpost and lintel, their homes became Batei Yisrael, Jewish homes - islands of spirituality and morality amidst a sea of pagan hedonism. They were instructed not to leave their homes that night. They had already departed from the Egyptian culture and lifestyle. They were no longer assimilated into Egyptian culture.

This metamorphosis took place while Klal Yisrael was still in the land of Egypt. Consequently, the Torah emphasizes that they had left Egypt while they were still in the land. They were not out of Egypt, but Egypt was no longer a part of them. During the next day, Klal Yisrael completed the Exodus -- by actually leaving the land.

1. What is the difference between a mizbayach, a matzeivah, and an asheirah?

2. How does the Torah refer to Bikurim?

3. What is the difference between "yashar" and "tov"?

4. We are told not to listen to the false prophet, even if he displays a miracle. Why does Hashem give him the ability "make" a miracle?

5. May the city of Yerusholayim become an ir ha'nidachas?

6. Does the issur of bassar b'cholov apply to a beheimah teme'ah?

7. Is one obligated to give Maaser from Leket, Shikchah, or Peah?


1. Mizbayach - altar made of many stones, matzeivah - one stone; asheirah - tree which is worshipped.

2. Terumas yedcham

3. Yashar - in the eyes of man; tov - in the eyes of Heaven.

4. Hashem tests us in this manner.

5. No.

6. No.

7. No.



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