This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Nachamu" after the first word
of the haftarah. R' Chaim of Krasna z"l (18th century; one of
the early followers of the Ba'al Shem Tov) offers the following
homiletical interpretation of the haftarah's opening verse:
That verse (Yishayah 40:1) states: "'Comfort, comfort, My
people,' says your G-d." R' Chaim relates this verse to the
discussion between the Jewish people and Hashem which is recorded
in the midrash. In that discussion, Hashem says (Zechariah 1:3),
"Return to Me and [then] I will return to you." The Jewish
people respond (Eichah 5:21), "Return us, Hashem, to You and
[then] we will return." In other words, Hashem and the Jewish
people disagree over who should take the initiative in order to
bring about a reconciliation between us and Him. Hashem says
that we must return to Him, but we maintain that He must reach
out and draw us in.
00 Hashem's desire is also expressed in Hoshea (14:2): "Return,
Yisrael, to Hashem, your G-d . . ." What He asks is that you
make Him "your G-d."
Returning to the verse from our haftarah, R' Chaim explains (by
repunctuating the verse): We ask, "Comfort?" How can we be
Hashem responds: "Comfort [when] My people says, 'Your G-d'."
He tells us that He will comfort us when we call Him, "Our G-d."
In reality, however, these words themselves comfort us, for He
has called us, "My people," and thus taken the first step.
(Mishnat Chassidim p.364)
"Va'etchanan/I implored Hashem at that time, saying . . ."
R' Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz z"l (died 1884) comments: One
must pray on each of the six work days that he merit to honor
the Shabbat properly. This is the meaning of the verse (Shmot
31:16), "Ve'shamru Bnei Yisrael et ha'Shabbat," usually
translated, "The Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat."
"Ve'shamru" can also mean, "They shall anticipate" (see Bereishit
37:11 and Rashi there); thus the verse teaches that the Children
of Israel should anticipate Shabbat.
This is alluded to in our verse as well. "Va'etchanan" - the
first letter "vav" alludes to the six work days.
"Etchanan el Hashem/I will implore Hashem."
"Ba'et ha'hee laimor"/"at that time saying" - has a gematria of
760, equal to "Bayom ha'Shabbat"/"the day of Shabbat."
Thus: "I will implore Hashem during the six work days regarding
the day of Shabbat."
"I am Hashem, your G-d . . ."
"You shall not have other gods . . ." (5:6-7)
The midrash explains the order of the commandments as follows:
When a king conquers a new land he must convince the people to
recognize his authority before he can legislate effectively. So,
too, before Hashem could instruct Bnei Yisrael regarding the
commandments, He had to convince them to accept His rule.
R' Yisroel Kanarik z"l (rosh yeshiva in New Rochelle and
Peekskill, New York) writes: It appears from this midrash that
Bnei Yisrael accepted Hashem's rule only after they heard, "I am
Hashem . . ." They did not accept Him based on the miracles of
the Exodus alone.
Indeed, our parashah (5:20-22) states: "It happened that when
you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness and the
mountain was burning in fire, that all the heads of your tribes
and your elders approached me. You said, 'Behold! Hashem, our G-
d, has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard
His voice from the midst of the fire; this day we saw that Hashem
will speak to a person and he can live. But now, why should we
die when this great fire consumes us? If we continue to hear the
voice of Hashem, our G-d, any longer, we will die!'" This teaches
us, writes, R' Kanarik, that Bnei Yisrael received the Torah in a
state of unimaginable awe that penetrated to the very foundation
of their beings. Specifically, this awe made the giving of the
Torah complete. Man does not attain perfection by keeping the
Torah because it is beautiful or because it creates a workable
social order. Rather, one must observe the Torah out of a
realization that there is no alternative.
(Chevlei Mashiach p.27)
"You said, 'Behold! Hashem, our G-d, has shown us His glory
and His greatness . . . But now, why should we die when this
great fire consumes us?'" (5:21-22)
Bnei Yisrael heard the first two commandments directly from the
"mouth" of G-d. However, in the above verses, Bnei Yisrael asked
Moshe to be an intermediary between them and G-d, and to teach
them the rest of the commandments himself after he alone heard
them from Hashem.
R' Moshe Yisrael Feldman z"l (1883-1944; Hungarian rabbi,
brother-in-law of the "Maggid" R' Shalom Schwadron) offers the
following interpretation of Bnei Yisrael's words: R' Yosef Albo
z"l (14th century) observes in Sefer Ha'Ikkarim that there are
two ways G-d could calculate reward and punishment. He could
take into account the majesty of the Lawgiver (i.e., Himself) and
reward or punish man as is appropriate for one who obeys or
disobeys such an exalted King. Or, He could look only at the
puniness of the one performing the mitzvah or the sin and
dispense a reward or punishment accordingly. Obviously, the
latter type of reward or punishment will be lesser than the
What does He in fact do? R' Albo writes that when Hashem
rewards man, He gives a reward that befits a servant of an
exalted king such as Himself. However, when He punishes, He
ignores the identity of the Lawgiver (Himself) and chooses a
punishment based only on the sinner's (lowly) status.
There is one exception, says R' Albo. The sinner referred to
above is one who sins out of weakness. However, if one rebels
against G-d, the punishment does take into consideration the
greatness of the One whose laws were broken.
Why? R' Feldman explains that one who rebels against Hashem
violates the first two commandments, "I am Hashem" and "You shall
not have other gods." These two commandments were spoken to all
of Bnei Yisrael by G-d himself, and one who violates them
deserves a punishment commensurate with the insult to the
Lawgiver Himself. In contrast, all of the other mitzvot were
taught to Bnei Yisrael through Moshe; they were heard from a
mortal. Thus, disobeying those commandments is less of an insult
to Hashem Himself and the punishment need not take into account
the Lawgiver's greatness. (As for the positive commandments, the
observance of any of them is an affirmation of one's faith.
Because such an affirmation confirms one's acceptance of the
first two commandments, which G-d Himself spoke, the reward takes
into account the honor given to the Lawgiver.)
The foregoing is alluded to in our verses: 'Behold! Hashem,
our G-d, has shown us His glory and His greatness" by speaking
the first two commandments, and we know that we will therefore be
punished more severely if we disobey those commandments.
Accordingly, we do not want to hear any more from Him. "But now,
why should we die" for violating those other commandments as
well? Rather, you, Moshe, speak to us.
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written by R' Avraham Yitzchak
Hakohen Kook when he served as Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of
Yerushalayim. It is printed in Igrot Ha'Rayah, Vol. IV, No.
980. We have deleted references to the specific issue under
discussion; what is of primary interest is R' Kook's
approach to persuading both those who abide by halachah and
those who do not.
B"H, In the holy city, Yerushalayim,
may she be built and established,
11 Tishrei 5680 [October 5, 1919]
An Open Letter
To the honorable board of the organization, Mizrachi:. . .
I think that the question has three parts:
1) Regarding the halachah-is it permitted or prohibited?
2) Regarding the good of the community-can anything good come to
the Jewish people either from a positive answer or a negative
3) Regarding the ideal-does our moral consciousness negate this
thing or demand it?
Regarding the halachah, I have nothing to add to those rabbis
who preceded me . . .
It remains for us to deal with [the question from] the
perspective of the good of the community. Regarding this, I
think that we are obligated to inform all of our brothers from
the various factions-all of whom certainly seek the good of our
nation and the broadening of our rights in Eretz Yisrael-that the
declaration by the British government [i.e., the Balfour
Declaration], which planted a delicate shoot that may grow into
the redemption, is based primarily on the viewpoint from which
the best of the nations in general and the British in particular
see our rightful connection to Eretz Yisrael as something
sanctified by Heaven. They are influenced to this outlook by the
Tanach which is considered holy by the majority of civilized
peoples in our day . . .
The enemies of Yisrael, from both within and without, make use
of the accusation that the Jewish youth has lost its connection
to the Holy Book and therefore has no right to the Land of the
Tanach. We are obligated to stand guard to demonstrate to all
that the soul of Yisrael is alive in its true form and the Land
of the Tanach belongs to the People of the Tanach . . . This will
come about specifically by protecting our true form according to
the decrees of the Torah and its laws, which guide us towards a
life that will elevate our honor and lead us towards a higher
freedom and redemption.
Rikki and Nathan Lewin
in memory of his mother
Pessil bas R' Naftoli a"h