Parshas Reeh and Ellul
To Hear Or To See
Trust is not that simple. Trust demands that we be vulnerable. Trust
demands that we relinquish control. Trust assumes that the person or
persons we trust are deserving of trust. It assumes that they are good.
Trust is always on trial, it must always prove itself. At the first
failure trust can be irreparably compromised. Trust is not so simple to
give and it should not be simple to receive.
After wandering almost 40 years in the desert, Sefer Divarim (book of
Deuteronomy) presented to the Bnai Yisroel final confirmation of their
trust in Moshe and the absolute divinity of his prophecy. For the almost
40 years in the desert G-d had spoken only to Moshe. Moshe would then
deliver G-d's words to the people accurately without additions or
deletions. Following the delivery of the exact words G-d had spoken, Moshe
would then elaborate and explain the meaning and application of G-d’s
words. Matan Torah (Revelation) was the single exception. Matan Torah was
the only time the nation had heard G-d speak without the human buffer of
Moshe’s ministry. This meant that for the better part of 40 years the Jews
had to extend to Moshe absolute trust. They had to trust that the words he
delivered to them were absolutely the same as the ones G-d had spoken to
This was not G-d’s original intention. Originally G-d intended that each
individual would be able to hear Him speak. Purified by the persecution of
Egypt, catapulted into awareness and recognition through the miracles of
the Exodus and Kriyas Yam Suf (parting of the sea), and elevated by the
experience of Revelation itself, the Jews had returned to the purified
innocence of pre-sin Gan Eden (Paradise). They had become like Adam and
Chava before the sin and were able to hear G-d “walking in the garden.”
Had they not sinned with the Golden Calf, the entire nation would have
been able to hear G-d speak directly. Unfortunately, they sinned with the
Golden Calf and hearing G-d speak directly became impossible.
More so was the nation’s response at the time of Matan Torah. “You
(Moshe) speak to us and we will listen and do not let G-d speak, we are
afraid that we will die. In essence, at Matan Torah, the nation willingly
relinquished a degree of control they otherwise would have had over the
validation of G-d's word. By asking that Moshe act as the intermediary
between themselves and G-d they proclaimed their willingness to trust
Moshe to faithfully deliver the word of G-d. Implicit in that was that
even if he had chosen to alter the word of G-d they would still listen to
From that moment and on, because of their choice and because of their
eventual sin, the nation did not hear G-d speak again. In its place they
were given the prophecy of Moshe and the ongoing manifestation of G-d’s
will in the universe through natural law and miracles. In its stead Hashem
gave them exactly what they had requested. Moshe would speak and they
would hear the word of G-d through him.
Starting with Sefer Divarim the order of delivery changed. Rashi
explained, “G-d spoke through the throat of Moshe.” That means that
whereas the first four books of the Torah were first spoken to Moshe who
would then write the exact words of G-d and then teach those words to the
people, in Divarim the nation heard Moshe speak the words of G-d at the
very time that he himself was hearing them. Basically, it meant that they
were hearing the word of G-d a step sooner than before. They became
witnesses to the actual prophecy, not just second hand recipients of
Moshe’s delivery on the basis of their trust.
Why the change?
Sefer Divarim was Moshe’s final words to the Bnai Yisroel. It was G-d’s
final words of instruction to a generation and an entire universe for all
of time. A good part of that generation had not witnessed Matan Torah. A
good part of that generation had been born after Shavuos. This was the
generation that G-d had intended to lead a brave new world across the
Yarden and into redemption. They were to be the first generation that
would have to trust without the benefit of ever having experienced hearing
G-d speak. G-d in turn had to trust them that they would convey the truth
of His Torah, the truth of Moshe’s prophecy, to all the subsequent
generations in a manner and with a conviction that negated any possibility
of doubt as to whether or not they were transmitting the word of G-d and
living by the word of G-d. To facilitate this transition from the actual
witnesses of Matan Torah to the faithful transmitters of their belief in
that event, Hashem allowed the generation to be first hand witnesses to
Moshe’s final prophecy. More so, Moshe reviews key moments in the history
of the nation with the full impact of fact not possibility in the presence
of many who had experienced the event and the many that had not. In doing
so, he elevated the second generation to the level of witnesses.
Immediately following the repetition of the Ten Commandments Moshe stated,
(5:19-23) “These words G-d spoke to your entire assembly upon the
mountain? a great voice. He wrote them upon two stone tablets and gave
them to m came to pass when you heard the voice out of the fire you said,
G-d see His glory and His greatness and we have heard His voice. If we are
hearing the voice we will die You (Moshe) approach and hear all that He say
and you will speak to us faithfully”
By repeating the events as they occurred, Moshe made the new generation
first hand witnesses to the validity of the history. As all the
commentaries point out, if what Moshe had said was a lie and really the
entire assembly had not witnessed G-d speak at Sinai, and they had never
heard their parents and grandparents tell over the awesome events of that
singular moment in history, someone would have challenged Moshe’s
ridiculous, made-up account of the past. Instead, Moshe repeated the
events as they happened, he underscored their insistence on relinquishing
control over the validity of G-d’s word, and obligated them to convey that
truth to all future generations.
In this week’s Parsha Moshe did the same. Starting with the word “Re’eh”
Moshe proclaimed to the new generation that G-d had given them a choice.
They could choose a blessed life or a cursed life. However, he presented
it to them with the word “Re’eh, see.”
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the usage of the word “Re’eh, see”
in the context of the transition of leadership from the generation that
experienced Mattan Torah to the generation that would cross the Yarden and
take possession of the land.
“This marks the end of the introductory review and is the transition to
the compendium of laws intended for the generation that is about to take
possession of the Land. “See,” You now understand that by means of the Law
communicated to you through Moses; G-d has placed it completely into your
hands to choose whether the future will be one of blessing or one of
curses. Understand, too, that you have formed this conviction not on the
basis of “belief” of teachings you have accepted from another person, but
from everything you yourselves have experienced up until this point; these
are the experiences that were recalled to you in the retrospective survey
Some of those experiences were first hand and some the product of
tradition. Regardless, Moshe’s retelling and the manner of his retelling
elevated them all to the status of having heard the word of G-d.
Ellul Reflection & Return
As we greet the month of Ellul this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, it is
important to appreciate the historical and contemporary significance of
this month of preparation.
The Jews received the 10 Commandments on the 6th of Sivan, 2448. Moshe
ascended Sinai to learn the Torah and remained for 40 days and nights. In
his absence, due to a mistaken calculation, the Jews assumed that Moshe
was not returning and made the Golden Calf. Descending from Sinai on the
17th of Tamuz, Moshe broke the 1st Luchos, destroyed the Golden Calf,
punished the sinners, and began a second 40-day period of prayer and
supplication begging for G-d’s forgiveness. On the 1st day of Ellul,
(this coming Wednesday) G-d commanded Moshe to reascend Sinai to receive
the 2nd Luchos.
During the 2nd stay of 40 days and nights the people immersed themselves
in prayer and Teshuvah (repentance) hoping for G-d’s reacceptance of them
as the Chosen People. In order to avoid making the same miscalculation as
before, the people sounded the Shofar at the end of each day that Moshe
was on the mountain. Moshe returned after 40 days on Yom Kippur, 2449,
bearing the 2nd Luchos and G-d’s full acceptance of their Teshuvah. From
then on, the 40 days, starting with Rosh Chodesh Ellul and culminating
with Yom Kippur, have been designated as the period for soul searching,
Starting with Mariv on Tuesday, we add Psalm 27 at the end of Shachris and
Mariv. Friday morning after Shachris, we will begin sounding the Shofar
every day. The saying of L’David continues through Succoth. We do this
because of the references to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succoth made
in that Psalm.
This period and the Yomim Noraim are resplendent with symbols and
customs. Beginning with the month of Ellul, we introduce into our daily
activities the focus of this special period: Tefilah (prayer), Teshuvah
(repentance), and Tzedaka (charity). The sounding of the Shofar reminds
us of the origins of this period, culminating with Yom Kippur. However,
the intent is far more than a historical commemoration.
As explained, the Jews in the desert sounded the Shofar at the end of the
day to indicate the end of each of the 40 days Moshe was on the mountain
and avoid a repeat miscalculation. Why then do we sound the Shofar every
morning after Shachris?
This period is intended to focus us on our ability to rebuild and do
Teshuvah. Therefore, we sound the Shofar in the morning to capture the
imagery of Moshe ascending the mountain on the morning of the 1st day of
those last 40 days to accept the 2nd Luchos and G-d’s forgiveness.
Knowing that we have sinned is important; knowing that G-d forgives, is
far more important. How often have we been motivated to seek forgiveness
from a friend only to be rebuffed by their lack of desire to forgive? How
quickly that desire to apologize dissipates! Knowing that G-d will
forgive generates the desire to seek forgiveness.
The custom of adding Psalm 27 to the daily davening is another technique
for focusing us on the nature of this special month. Starting with the
1st day of Ellul we enter into a period highlighted by the severity of
being judged on Rosh Hashanah, the certainty of being forgiven on Yom
Kippur, and the celebration of renewed intimacy with G-d, manifested
during Succoth. It is an amazing sequence of introspection, change, and
renewal that is captured within the verses of the 27th Psalm.
The first verse refers to G-d as our “light and salvation”. Light refers
to the harsh, but honest, perspective of judgment that forces us to
confront the truth of our actions and rationalizations.
Salvation refers to the benevolence of G-d’s forgiveness on Yom Kippur
that embraces us in renewed intimacy and trust.
The later mention of being “sheltered by G-d’s Succah”, is the comfort and
security generated by our intimacy with G-d and the trust we have in Him.
We are so confident in our renewed relationship that we celebrate with
seven days of joy, culminating in Simchas Torah.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.