Last week's parashah contained the dire warnings of what will
happen when we sin. This week's parashah continues to warn Bnei
Yisrael not to sin and speaks of the need for repentance.
However, the final verses of last week's parashah and the
beginning of this week's appear to speak of other matters. R'
Samson Raphael Hirsch z"l (1808-1888) explains:
Moshe made a break in the announcement of the future of the
nation for the purpose of bringing about a correct appreciation
of the blessings and curses which he had announced. He did this
by reminding Bnei Yisrael of certain facts they had experienced
and by giving them certain explanations.
The facts he reminded them of are found in verses 1-8 at the
end of last week's parashah: Hashem took you out of Egypt, gave
you food miraculously, and defeated the nations on the borders of
Eretz Yisrael. The explanations that He gave them are found in
our parashah in verses 9-20.
Verses 9-14 announce that Hashem's covenant is made with all
members of the Jewish people, from the righteous scholars to the
humble water carriers, and with all generations, those born and
those as yet unborn. This, R' Hirsch writes, averts "any taking
if the duties of the covenant to be limited to certain conditions
or generations or times." "Verses 15-20," R' Hirsch continues,
"avert the misunderstanding that the proclamation of the
blessings and curses had only the national defection in mind, so
that an individual could assume freedom for his evasion of the
Torah as long as the nation kept publicly faithful to G-d and His
Torah." Moshe also warned, on the other hand, that it would not
suffice to protect one's own level of observance; one had to
ensure the spiritual solidarity of the whole nation. These
admonishments were particularly important as the nation was about
to disperse throughout the Land.)
"For this commandment that I command you today - it is not
hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in the
heavens . . . Nor is it across the sea . . . Rather, the
matter is very near to you - in your mouth and in your heart
- to perform it." (30:11-14)
Rashi writes that these verses refer to the mitzvah of Torah
R' Menachem Mendel of Kotzk z"l (died 1859) explained that
these verses are the source of the Talmudic statement, "If one
will tell you, 'I have labored [in Torah study] but have not
found it,' don't believe him." How could the Sages make a
sweeping generalization that if one has not succeeded at studying
Torah, it is because he has not tried hard enough? Such a
statement is possible because the Torah already has promised that
the mitzvah of Torah study "is not hidden from you and it is not
distant. . . Rather, the matter is very near to you - in your
mouth and in your heart - to perform it."
(Quoted in Ramatayim Tzofim, Part II, Ch. 14, No. 11)
Why does the gemara quoted above say, "'I have labored but have
not found it?" It would seem more appropriate to say, "'I have
labored but have not succeeded."
R' Chaim of Volozhin z"l explains: Even when one studies hard
and becomes a Torah scholar, he should not take credit for his
accomplishments. Just as an object that one finds in the street
is a gift from Hashem, so the scholarship that one attains is a
"And their children who do not know, they shall hear and
they shall learn to fear Hashem . . ." (31:13)
R' Moshe Sternbuch shlita writes: Here the Torah teaches us how
to educate our children. The way to attain fear of G-d is to
study the Torah constantly. However, young children who cannot
yet absorb a significant amount of Torah knowledge can still
attain fear of G-d by being around those who study Torah and
hearing their words (even though they don't understand).
He adds: Adults, too, who can't learn Torah in depth should try
to keep company with Torah scholars.
"[The nation] will say on that day, 'Is it not because my G-
d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?'
But I will surely have concealed My face on that day . . ."
If the nation seemingly has recognized the evil of its ways,
why should Hashem continue to hide His face? R' Bunim of
Peshishca z"l answers: It's a sin to say that G-d is not in our
midst. Even in our darkest hour, Hashem is with us.
(Ma'ayanah Shel Torah)
The following observations regarding the laws and structure of
selichot, the extra penitential prayers which Ashkenazim begin to
recite tonight (Motzaei Shabbat), are presented from the work
Harerei Kedem by R' Michel Zalman Shurkin shlita, based on the
lectures of R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l.
The origin for the recitation of selichot is the gemara
(Rosh Hashanah 17b) which tells that after the sin of the
golden calf, Hashem (so-to-speak) wrapped Himself in a
tallit and taught Moshe "seder tefillah" ' "the order of
prayer." Hashem said (the gemara relates), "Any time the
Jews sin, let them do thus before Me and I will forgive
them." (It was at this time that Hashem taught Moshe the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.) Based on this, we may
understand the ruling of R' Moshe Isserless z"l (the "Rema")
that the one who leads selichot should be "the most worthy
and the greatest in Torah study and good deeds who can be
found." Since Hashem was (so-to-speak) the first chazan in
the history of selichot, those who follow Him should be the
most worthy individuals possible.
Because the gemara refers to selichot as "seder tefillah" -
a term usually reserved to describe shemoneh esrei - it is
customary to stand for selichot (or at least for the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy). The work Levush explains
that this is also the reason that we recite "kaddish
shalaim" (with "titkabbel") after selichot, although that
kaddish usually is recited only after shemoneh esrei.
Similarly, says R' Soloveitchik, this is why we begin
selichot with praises of Hashem, just as shemoneh esrei
begins with praise of Hashem.
Why are selichot recited at night? (Even the selichot
recited every morning during the next week were intended to
be recited before sunrise.) Rambam writes: "It is the way
of repentance for the penitent to cry before Hashem with
tears and entreaties." When is the time for crying? We
read in Eichah (1:2), "She weeps bitterly at night." We
also read (Bemidbar 14:1), "The people wept that night."
It is customary in many communities that the one who led
selichot leads all of the prayers that day. Some
commentaries explain: "When one begins a mitzvah, we tell
him to finish it." This implies that selichot is not a
separate mitzvah; rather, it is part of the day's prayers.
If, for some reason, a person recited selichot but did not
recite the day's prayers, he would not have fulfilled his
obligation to recite selichot. (In this respect, selichot
are analogous to ne'ilah on Yom Kippur, which is meant to be
an "added" prayer. If one recited ne'ilah but had not
recited any of the prior prayers, he would not fulfill the
mitzvah of ne'ilah because his ne'ilah would not be "added."
R' Yehoshua Isaac Shapiro z"l
("Reb Eizel Charif")
R' Eizel was born in 1801 in Glubki, near Vilna, and his first
teacher was his father, R' Yechiel. R' Eizel was a child prodigy
whose genius was recognized by the age of seven, and he was soon
nicknamed, "The Iron Head" (presumably because he never forgot
what he learned). He later earned the nickname "Charif" / "The
Sharp One," although he claimed, in his humility, that it was
only an acronym of "Chatan Reb Yitzchak Fein" / "son-in-law of R'
At one point, R' Eizel was a disciple of the chassidic rebbe,
R' Aharon of Staroselya (a leading disciple of Chabad's founder,
R' Shneur Zalman), but he later became a critic of chassidut. He
also studied in the famed Blumke's kloiz in Minsk, where, it is
said, he used to review the entire Talmud every month. In 1832,
R' Eizel was appointed rosh yeshiva and darshan / preacher in
Minsk's Kloiz Chevra Kadisha.
R' Eizel received semichah / ordination from R' Abale, the av
bet din / chief rabbinical judge of Vilna, and through the
latter's recommendation was appointed a dayan / rabbinical judge
in Kalvaria, Lithuania. After 1839, he held rabbinic positions
in Kutna and Tiktin.
In 1853, R' Eizel was appointed rabbi of Slonim, the town with
which he his associated for posterity. In every town where he
served, R' Eizel somehow found time, despite his superhuman
schedule of learning and writing, to engage in numerous communal
and charitable activities. In addition, many dinei Torah / legal
disputes were brought to R' Eizel for resolution, and he was one
of the three judges appointed to rule on the dispute involving
the leadership of the Volozhin Yeshiva.
R' Eizel's nickname, "Charif," alludes in part to his sharp
sense of humor, which he readily used to humble those who he felt
needed humbling and to criticize those whose scholarship was not
up to par with the standard that he expected of Torah leaders.
(Chassidic rebbes were frequent subjects of his witticisms.) In
particular, R' Eizel was adept at making puns or plays on the
words of verses and Talmudic statements.
R' Eizel died in 1873, leaving 11 works including Emek
Yehoshua, Nachalat Yehoshua and a commentary on the Jerusalem
Talmud, Noam Yerushalmi. Many of his derashot are in the style
of the 18th century Parashat Derachim, explaining midrashic
stories and actions of biblical figures in halachic terms. All
exhibit a wide-ranging knowledge of halachah, midrash and Tanach.
(An example will appear in next week's issue of Hamaayan.)
(Gedolei Ha'dorot p. 685)