The Midrash Tanchuma comments on the verse in our parashah (26:16), “This
day, Hashem, your Elokim, commands you to perform these decrees and the
statutes, and you shall observe and perform them with all your heart and
with all your soul,” as follows: Thus it is written (Tehilim 95:6), “Come!
Let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before G-d, our Maker.”
Says the midrash: “Prostrating” is “bowing,” and “bowing” is “prostrating”!
Why then does the verse list [three forms of essentially the same act]
“prostrating,” “bowing” and “kneeling”? Because Moshe saw through ruach
hakodesh that the Bet Hamikdash would be destroyed and bikkurim / the first
fruits [the subject of the preceding verses] would no longer be brought;
therefore he established that the Jewish People should pray three times a
day. Why? Because prayer is more beloved to Hashem than all good deeds and
all sacrificial offerings, as it is written (Tehilim 141:2), “Let my prayer
stand as incense before You; the lifting of my hands as an afternoon
offering.” Therefore, although Moshe Rabbeinu had performed every possible
good deed, when he was prohibited from entering the Land, he prayed. Hashem
told him (Devarim 3:26), “Do not continue to speak to Me further about this
matter. Ascend to the top of the summit . . . and see with your eyes.”
[Until here from the midrash]
R’ Avraham Meir Rosen z”l (Warsaw; 19th century) explains: The midrash is
bothered by the phrase, “This day, Hashem, your Elokim, commands you . . .”
Was that the first day that Hashem commanded regarding the mitzvot?
Therefore, the midrash understands the Torah to be teaching that even “this
day”--i.e., whenever one reads the verse, even after the Temple was
destroyed--there is a way to draw Hashem’s blessings into the world, a
function once served by the mitzvah of bikkurim. Just as one who brought
bikkurim would bow before Hashem (see 26:10), so bowing in prayer three
times a day can accomplish this goal. (Beur Ha’amarim)
“Moshe and the kohanim, the levi’m, spoke to all Yisrael, saying,
‘Hasket / Be attentive and hear, O Yisrael - This day you have become a
people to Hashem, your G-d’.” (27:9)
R’ Moshe David Valle z”l (1697-1776; Italian kabbalist and colleague of R’
Moshe Chaim Luzzato z”l) writes: “Be attentive and hear” means “Do not stop
paying attention to the curses and warnings that are in this parashah.”
This is similar to the verse (Mishlei 3:11), “My child, do not despise
Hashem’s discipline and do not despise his reproof.”
In addition, our Sages interpret“Hasket” as two words: “has” and “ket.” The
Hebrew letters of “has” (heh-samech) have a gematria of 65, equal to
Hashem’s Name which is associated with mercy (aleph-dalet-nun-yud). “Ket”
alludes to “katat” / pulverize. This teaches that even when Hashem must
strike us harshly because of our sins, He also injects an element of mercy.
King David said similarly (Tehilim 23:4), “Your rod and Your staff comfort
me.” The rod represents punishment, while the staff represents the
Shechinah which supports us. (Mishneh L’melech)
“Accursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image . . .
“Accursed is the man who degrades his father and mother . . .” (27:15-16)
The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that Hashem considers His honor and the
honor of parents to be equivalent. The reason, R' Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald
z"l (1867-1928; Hungary) explains, is that as long as one honors his
parents, he will not leave his faith, the faith which his parents have
bequeathed to him. This is why our two verses above are juxtaposed to each
other: A Jew who worships graven images (idols) degrades his parents as
well. (Keren Le'Dovid)
“. . . because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and
goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.” (28:47)
Is it really possible that merely because one did not serve Hashem happily
that he will be deserving of the terrible curses described in our parashah?
After all, such a person did at least serve Hashem.
No! writes R’ Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock z”l (1852-1928; chassidic rebbe
in Ostrowiec, Poland). Rather, the verse should be read as follows: “All
these curses will come upon you . . . because you did not serve Hashem, your
G-d.” Did you feel guilty about this? No, it was “amid gladness and
goodness of heart.” You were happy and content over the fact that you were
not serving Hashem. (Meir Einei Chachamim III)
The anonymous work Orchot Tzaddikim (possibly dating to the early medieval
period) interprets this verse as follows: “Because--amid gladness and
goodness of heart, when everything was abundant--you did not serve Hashem,
your G-d.” For example, he writes, drinking wine on Yom Tov is a mitzvah.
However, if one focuses on his drink and drinks to excess, and loses sight
of the mitzvah, he would be committing the violation described in this verse.
R’ Moshe Zvi Neriah z”l (1913-1995; rosh yeshiva in Kfar Ha’roeh, Israel,
and one of the early leaders of the Bnei Akiva youth movement) writes:
The various thoughts of teshuvah which pass through a person’s mind make him
think that he has already repaired what needs to be repaired. In reality,
however, we all know that there is a wide gulf between thought and deed.
How then can a person know where he stands? How can one know if any change
has really occurred within him? If we were dealing with empirical facts, it
would be easy enough, but we are not. Our relationship with G-d is
necessarily abstract, for He has no body and no form of a body (paraphrasing
one of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith).
The answer, R’ Neriah writes, is that the barometer of where one stands in
his relationship with Hashem is where he stands in his relationship with his
fellows. If one wants to know how he is doing with respect to “I have
placed G-d before me always” (Tehilim 16:8), let him look at how he is doing
with respect to “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
Why is this so? R’ Neriah explains that all sins come from one of two
sources, either because one does not see Hashem, or because he does see
himself, i.e., his selfish interests and desires control him. Instead of
applying “Ain od milvado” / “There is nothing besides Him” to Hashem, he
applies it to himself.
Seeing Hashem is very difficult, but not “seeing” oneself is somewhat
easier. One does this by beginning to notice those around him, by thinking
of the needs of others and giving in, by understanding, giving of oneself,
and feeling love. When a person becomes accustomed to these practices, he
gradually ceases to worship his avodah zarah / idolatry, i.e., himself. In
turn, when he is faced with a sin against G-d, it is easier to overcome that
temptation as well.
Perhaps, R’ Neriah concludes, this is what Rabbi Akiva was referring to when
he said, “‘Love your fellow as yourself’ is the major principle in the
Torah.” (Me’orot Neriah: Elul V’Tishrei p.23)
R’ Mordechai Golob shlita (Yerushalayim) writes: Our Sages teach that if a
person is in the process of becoming a tzaddik, Hashem showers goodness on
him even now. In contrast, if a person is becoming wicked, Hashem judges
him based on his present condition, not based on his future. If a person is
destined to be neither a tzaddik nor a rasha, but just “average,” Hashem
does good to him now because of the good that he (the person) is destined to
do, but He does not punish him for the bad that he has not yet done.
Therefore, one would be well advised in preparing for the High Holidays to
get on the right path, the path that leads in the direction of achieving
completeness and perfection. How? R’ Golob offers some suggestions from
sages of earlier generations:
(1) Study Torah. The Midrash notes that the study of Torah has the
potential to bring back even those who are quite distant from Hashem.
Certainly, then, it can bring closer those who are already close. The
Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) quotes Hashem, “I created the yetzer hara, and I
created the Torah as an antidote to it.”
(2) Study mussar / works on character development. The Chafetz Chaim
writes that he spoke to many great sages who were opponents of the mussar
movement in its early years [the late 19th century], and even they agreed
that the study of mussar is necessary in “our” time [i.e., the early 20th
century, and certainly the 21st century]. Without the study of mussar, the
Chafetz Chaim writes, we have no assurance that our Torah knowledge or our
fear of G-d will be retained. R’ Yaakov Lorberbaum (the “Nesivos”; early
19th century) likewise wrote to his children in his will, “I warn you to set
aside time every day to study mussar, for because of our sins, our hearts
are hardened like stones, but mussar has the power to soften the stone.”
Finally, the Chatam Sofer (also early 19th century) wrote, “Believe me! On
a day when I do not study mussar, I feel that my fear of G-d is weakened
(3) Choose a good environment and good friends. Rambam writes (Hil. De’ot
6:1), “It is only natural that a person’s views and ideas are influenced by
his friends and comrades . . . Therefore, a person must attach himself to
tzaddikim . . .”
(4) Choose a rabbi or spiritual mentor who will guide you. The Gemara says
that a person should always live near his mentor. The proof for this is
that as long as King Shlomo’s rebbe was alive, King Shlomo did not marry the
daughter of Pharaoh.
(5) Pray regarding spiritual matters. If one prays for help in improving
his Torah study or in some other spiritual undertaking, Hashem will
certainly answer him.
(6) Study the laws of lashon hara. This will help a person improve in all
areas of interpersonal relations, not just in the specific area of not
speaking evil about others. (Eitzot Le’dina p.28-29)
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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