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Behold, I set before you today, a blessing and a curse. (11:26)
Why did Moshe wait forty years to notify Bnei Yisrael that they stood at the threshold of receiving a blessing? Why was this blessing not offered during their entire stay in the wilderness? In a departure from the standard pshat, interpretation of the pasuk, Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, says that Moshe was not informing the people that they would receive blessing. Rather, he was telling them that the moment had arrived when they, themselves, were able to effect blessing. They could now serve as a vehicle for generating blessing. They were now a m'kor of brachah, source of blessing. Accompanying blessing is its unfortunate counterpart. They would also be the source of curse. It was now up to them. They had come of age.
Until this day, their entire existence had been dependent upon Hashem. He sustained them with bread from Heaven, quenched their thirst with water from a well, and taught them Torah through the quintessential lawgiver, Moshe Rabbeinu. He provided every detail of their physical and spiritual existence. All they had to do was one thing - follow in the ways of Hashem. Now, things were rapidly changing. The idyllic lifestyle which they had been accustomed to living was nearing an end. Moshe Rabbeinu was taking leave of this world. They were entering Eretz Yisrael. They now had the responsibility to conquer the land, divide it among the tribes, build the Bais Hamikdash and arrange their lives in accordance with the Law of Hashem.
Would they be able to stand on their own? Could they now assume the awesome responsibility that lay before them? Moshe told them that they would be able to do it. They could effect Hashem's blessing upon their own endeavors. "Behold! I set before you a blessing and a curse." Hashem has given you the opportunity to progress. You have earned the right to catalyze your own blessing. Do as you have been taught; act as Hashem has commanded you to, and you will succeed in generating His blessing.
Behold, I set before you today, a blessing and a curse. (11:26)
We seem to expect the individual to defer his needs to the needs of the community. Is this the way it should be? A community is composed of individuals. Are we to assume that if we reach the majority of the tzibbur, we are successful in achieving our goals, even if a segment of the community continues to be alienated? Will the individual be judged by the actions of the community or by the nature of his own deeds? The Torah appears to be telling us that the individual is more important than we think. In fact, the community depends upon the individual. The Torah begins with "Re'eh" - "behold/see," in the singular, as if it were speaking to an individual. It completes its injunction with "lifneichem," - "before you," in the plural. The Torah tells us, "Let each person see for himself." The survival of Klal Yisrael is dependent upon the individual Jew. No family can be happy unless every member is satisfied and generates happiness. No business can succeed unless every employee is working towards its progress. No synagogue or spiritual endeavor will bear fruit unless all its members, all those involved, are working towards the goal. Klal Yisrael will not be restored until all Jews work towards its restoration. The community's future is determined by each individual's commitment to the Klal.
The blessing; that you listen...and the curse; if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d. And you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others. (11:27,28)
The Torah considers one who strays from the path of Hashem to be an idol-worshipper. He who serves idols is tantamount to one who repudiates the entire Torah. Idolatry is a rejection of the Almighty. One who does not firmly believe and accept Hashem as the Supreme Ruler and Creator of the world apparently spurns His mitzvos and Torah.
In Megillas Esther 2:5, the pasuk refers to Mordechai as "Ish Yehudi." The Talmud in Megillah 12b explains the term "Yehudi" as an appellation describing one who is "kofer b'avodah zarah," denies idol worship. Mordechai was called a Yehudi, not because he descended from the tribe of Yehudah, which he did not, but rather because of his firm denial of avodah zarah. Bisyah bas Pharaoh saved Moshe Rabbeinu and took him into Pharaoh's palace to be raised and protected as a child. In Divrei Hayamim I, 4:18 she is referred to as "Yehudiah," because she repudiated her father's idols and converted to Judaism.
The word "yehudi" originates from hodah/modeh, which means admit/concede. Leah named her fourth son Yehudah, saying, "Now I will thank Hashem." To demonstrate gratitude is to concede that one has benefited from someone else. A Yehudi is one who manifests his gratitude to the Almighty and who proudly, throughout his entire demeanor, recognizes Hashem Yisborach as the source of everything that exists. He shows his allegiance to Hashem in his commitment to serve Him through the observance of His mitzvos.
We may add that idol-worship has many faces and names. One does not have to genuflect to a stone god in order to be considered an idol worshipper. If one demonstrates loyalty to anything, such as a movement based upon theological deliberation, an endeavor or line of thinking that is antithetical to Torah -- or just simply relegates Hashem, His Torah and mitzvos to second place, he is guilty of worshipping an entity other than Hashem. The most common form of idol worship is self-worship. We are the greatest idols! We take care of ourselves - first, then we respond to the needs and demands of others even those of Hashem. One cannot view himself as a true Yehudi as long as he is obsessed with vain, glorious self-gratification. A Yehudi is one who unconditionally sublimates himself to Hashem. Otherwise, his self-defined brand of Yahadus is nothing more than an exercise in arrogance.
For you have not yet come unto the resting place or to the heritage. (12:9)
Rashi explains that "menuchah" refers to the Mishkan in Shiloh. Interestingly, during its tenure in Shiloh, it was forbidden for Jews to offer korbonos on bamos, private altars. The Mishkan in Shiloh was a national sanctuary. Consequently, all korbonos were to be offered there. Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, notes the word menuchah, resting place, was applied to a place of restriction and discipline. No longer were people permitted to do as they pleased, offering korbonos when and where they desired. Now there were regulations to uphold, standards to be maintained, and rules to which they needed to adhere.
We Jews are different than the rest of the world. Our Torah teaches us that restriction and discipline leads to tranquillity. Regulations enable us to enjoy life. They give us the opportunity to repose and rejuvenate. Only one who studies and adheres to Torah may be considered a free man. He is not subjected to the constant demands of his yetzer hora, evil inclination. He is not driven by desire. He is in control, because his life is controlled by Hashem's Torah, His blueprint for life. No, it really is not surprising that the period that ushered in the restriction of bamos is considered a period of menuchah, rest.
You shall harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother...for in return for this matter, Hashem your G-d, will bless you in all your deeds and in all your undertaking. (15:7,10)
The Torah tells us clearly that one who gives tzedakah should not concern himself with his momentary financial loss, for Hashem will bless him in return. Moreover, the contribution that he gives will be the source of his blessing. The Chofetz Chaim commented on this pasuk with a story that serves as an analogy, giving greater meaning to the pasuk. Once an illiterate farmer from a small village came to the market with his usual sacks of grain. Due to the farmer's limited scope of education, his mathematical acumen was, at best, poor. For every sack that he emptied into the silo, he made a mark on the wall noting the size and number of the sack.
The farmer heard that recently the businessmen in the city had been maintaining a code of ethics that was far from scrupulous. They were constantly taking advantage of the hapless farmers. Our farmer came upon what he thought was a very astute plan which would protect his interests. He appeared before the buyer and placed his cap upon the table. He told the buyer that for every sack which he poured into silo, the buyer should place a gold coin into the hat. When they completed pouring the sacks they would count the coins and know the number of sacks that had been purchased.
The buyer left the room for a few moments to check on the quality of the grain. During this time our farmer, whose principles paralleled his literacy, decided to put his hands into the till and steal half of the coins before the buyer realized what had occurred. The fool did not realize that for every coin that he stole, he was losing the value of a sack of grain.
The Chofetz Chaim quipped, "The same things happens to those who think that a penurious attitude towards their money will increase their fortune. On the contrary, for every coin that they save, they ultimately lose material and spiritual assets.
In his inimitable manner the Dubno Maggid explains this with a parable. A man once came into the city with a wallet filled with one hundred dollars which he unfortunately lost. The next day, as he was walking down the street, he found a wallet containing two hundred dollars. While he was certainly happy with his newly found money, the consolation for his prior loss was limited. He reasoned, that had he not lost his original wallet, he would now possess three hundred dollars.
If, however, the bags of one who was transporting grain from place to place were to tear open and spill out all over the place, he surely would go home an unhappy man. If later on, when he happens by the area in which his seeds had dispersed, he were to see a field filled with full grown grain which had grown from the seeds that blew away, he would attribute his good fortune to his prior loss. Certainly, now he would be completely consoled over his loss. Likewise, we should realize that what we "spread out" for tzedakah will bear fruit only as a result of our sensitivity towards those less fortunate than we are.
1. After the Torah details the mitzvah of destroying every vestige of idol worship in Eretz Yisrael, it says, "Do not do so to Hashem your G-d." In the Talmud Makos 22a, Chazal maintain that this pasuk admonishes us not to erase Hashem's Name.
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