Volume 31, No. 41
20 Av 5777
August 12, 2017
We read in this week’s Parashah (9:4-5), “Do not say in your heart, when Hashem pushes them [the Canaanite nations] away from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness Hashem brought me to possess this Land . . .’ Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations Hashem, your Elokim, drives them away from before you, and in order to establish the word that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.” R’ Eliyahu z”l (1720-1797; the Vilna Gaon) notes that in Bemidbar (22:2) the Torah says that “Yisrael” drove away the Emorites, one of the seven Canaanite nations. Why “Yisrael”? He explains: The Exodus took place in the merit of Avraham Avinu, the Jewish People were sustained for 40 years in the desert in the merit of Yitzchak Avinu, and the Land was conquered in the merit of Yaakov Avinu, also known as Yisrael. That, he writes, is why the Land is called “Eretz Yisrael.”
The Vilna Gaon writes further: Earlier in Devarim (1:8) we read: “See! I have given the Land before you; come and possess the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, to give to them and to their children after them.” “Give” implies a gift, whereas “come and possess” implies that some effort by the recipient is necessary. The primary reason Bnei Yisrael were receiving the Land was because Hashem gave the Land to the Patriarchs, as our verses indicate. But, He did not say which generation would receive it. Therefore, for that specific generation to receive it, they had to “come and possess” it. (Aderet Eliyahu: Bemidbar 22:2)
“You will eat and you will be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem, your Elokim, for the good Land that He gave you.” (8:10)
This verse teaches the obligation to recite Birkat Ha’mazon / “Bentching” after eating bread. In addition, our Sages instituted blessings to be recited before we eat.
R’ Yehuda Halevi z”l (Spain and Eretz Yisrael; approximately 1075-1141) writes: When one has the opportunity for enjoyment and pleasure, his pleasure will be doubled if, before he indulges, he thinks about how much he would miss that pleasure if he did not have it. This, he writes, is the benefit of Berachot recited with appropriate reflection, for they provide an opportunity for a person to picture the pleasure to be received, to praise the One giving it, and to imagine its absence. This will increase his joy.
A similar benefit, continues R’ Yehuda Halevi, can be derived from the blessing “She’he’cheyanu” / “You have given us life and sustained us.” Concentrating on the meaning of that blessing can make sickness, even death, easier to bear when they come. Rather than taking good health for granted, sickness gives a person an opportunity to reflect on the gifts that Hashem has given him until then, i.e., life and sustenance. A person who reflects on the matter will realize that none of the good things that he ever had were “coming to him”; rather, they were all “hand-outs” from G-d “Who gave and Who takes away, may the Name of Hashem be blessed” [paraphrasing Iyov 1:21].
R’ Yehuda Halevi adds: A person who does not adopt the approach described above is not enjoying human pleasures when he eats, but rather the pleasure of an animal lacking understanding [because the ability to reflect is what distinguishes a human from an animal, whereas merely consuming food is common to all living things]. (Kuzari III 17)
R’ Yisrael Halevi z”l (Zamosc, Poland; died 1774) comments: The more pious a person is, the more he feels that he is no more deserving of receiving worldly pleasures than anyone else is. This enhances his appreciation of G-d’s gifts. The blessing of She’he’cheyanu is an acknowledgment that our lives until this moment have been gifts from Hashem. (Otzar Nechmad)
R’ Uri Sherki shlita (rabbi and educator in Yerushalayim) illustrates R’ Yehuda Halevi’s point with an example from common experience. Wine connoisseurs do not merely pour a cup of wine and drink it. Rather, they pour the wine into a clear glass, swirl it, examine it carefully, and smell the cork–all to enhance the pleasure of consuming the wine before actually doing so. For a thinking Jew, reciting a Berachah achieves the same purpose. (Shiurim B’Sefer Kuzari p.278)
“Now, Yisrael, what does Hashem, your Elokim, ask of you? Only . . . to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. Behold! To Hashem, your Elokim, are the heaven and highest heaven, the earth and everything that is in it.” (10:12-14)
If not for this verse, would we have thought that Hashem gave us the Torah to our detriment? Also, how does the verse that follows connect to the lesson that the Torah was given for our benefit?
R’ Chaim Yissachar Dov Gross z”l (rabbi in Petrova, Hungary; later Maggid and Rosh Yeshiva in Munkacz, Hungary; died 1938) explains: Midrash Rabbah quotes Hashem as saying, “I did not give you the Torah to your detriment; rather, for your own good. After all, the angels desired it!”–referring to the angels’ objections to the Torah’s being given to mankind, as described in the Gemara (Shabbat 88b). What does the fact that the angels desired the Torah prove? Also, one might ask: Why did Hashem command us to perform Mitzvot? Would it not be better if we observed them voluntarily, as the Patriarchs did before the Torah was given?
The answer is that one who is commanded to perform a Mitzvah and does so is greater (in that respect) than one who performs the same act voluntarily, because the person who is commanded has a strong Yetzer Ha’ra that tries to dissuade him from performing the Mitzvah. A person performing the same act voluntarily does not face the same opposition. Our verse and the Midrash are teaching that the fact that Hashem commanded us rather than allowing us to observe the Torah voluntarily is for our benefit. If that were not the case, Hashem could have kept the Torah among His angels, for they desired the Torah, and they are available at all time to do His bidding, for the heavens and the highest heavens all are His. (Ketivah L’Chaim)
“You (plural) shall teach them to your (plural) children to discuss them, while you (singular) sit in your home, while you (singular) walk on the way, when you (singular) retire and when you (singular) arise.” (11:19)
Why does the Torah change plural to singular in the middle of the verse? R’ Yitzchak Menachem Weinberg shlita (Tolner Rebbe in Yerushalayim) explains: The Torah is teaching that successful parenting requires a person to work on himself. “You” alone! Do not rely on the merits of distinguished ancestors. Do not think that your behavior when you are alone, when no one sees you, doesn’t matter. If a person serves Hashem even when he sits alone at home, when he walks alone on the way, when he retires to bed alone and when he arises alone, then he can teach his children. (Chamin B’Motzai Shabbat: Devarim p.82)
A Torah Tour of the Holy Land
“Tziyon said, ‘Hashem has forsaken me; my Master has forgotten me’.” (Yeshayah 49:14 – the opening verse of this week’s Haftarah)
Is “Tziyon” the same place as Yerushalayim?
R’ David Kimchi z”l (Radak; Spain; 1160-1235) appears to understand that Tziyon is Yerushalayim. He writes in his commentary to our verse: “The prophet mentions ‘Tziyon’ as if the city is bemoaning that its children were exiled. Not only its residents, but all of the Jewish People are its children, for they used to make pilgrimages there to serve Hashem.”
R’ Elazar Azkari z”l (1533–1600; Eretz Yisrael) understands that they are not the same place. He writes in Sefer Chareidim (end of chapter 52, discussing the handling of tithes in the present day, when the Bet Hamikdash is not standing): “Within Yerushalayim, Ma’aser Sheni [the ‘second tithe,’ which is required to be eaten in Yerushalayim] may not be redeemed. If one is able to take the Ma’aser Sheni to Tziyon and redeem it there, even for a token amount, he may.”
R’ Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky z”l (1872-1956; Yerushalayim; author of Gesher Ha’chaim on the laws of mourning, and other works) writes: “It always was obvious to me that Tziyon and Yerushalayim are one and the same. Therefore, I was very surprised to find that three of our sages distinguish between them.” [One of the three is the Sefer Chareidim just quoted.]
R’ Tukachinsky continues: The viewpoint of those three scholars is difficult to reconcile with the Tosefta and Talmud Yerushalmi, which both state: “We do not permit tombs to exist within Yerushalayim except for the tombs of the kings from the House of David and the tomb of the prophetess Chuldah, which were in Yerushalayim.” This indicates that King David was buried in Yerushalayim. Yet we read that King David was buried in the City of David (Melachim I 2:10), which is referred to also as the “Citadel of Tziyon” (Shmuel II 5:7). Thus, “Tziyon” and Yerushalayim are one! If they are not synonymous, Tziyon is at least a neighborhood of Yerushalayim, as many verses prove. (Ir Ha’kodesh Ve’ha’mikdash 17:3)