Volume 33, No.45
23 Av 5779
August 24, 2019
Nathan and Rikki Lewin
in memory of his father
Harav Yitzchak ben Harav Aharon Lewin a”h
Much of our parashah is devoted to praises of the Land of Israel. We read, for example, “For the Land to which you come, to possess it — it is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. But the Land to which you cross over to possess it . . . from the rain of heaven shall you drink water.” (11:10-11)
Unlike Egypt, which has a constant water supply in the Nile, Eretz Yisrael is dependent on rain. Nevertheless, writes R’ Moshe Yechiel Epstein z”l (the Ozhorover Rebbe; died 1971), our verse is difficult to understand. The verse in Bereishit (13:10) praises Egypt as “G-d’s garden.” Why then does our verse seem to deprecate Egypt?
The answer is in the second verse quoted above. In Eretz Yisrael we are dependent on G-d’s kindness in bringing rain. This is desirable because it causes us to humble ourselves before G-d. The Nile, on the other hand, made the Egyptians feel secure and therefore bred arrogance.
When Yitro heard how G-d punished the Egyptians, he praised G-d for acting measure-for-measure. On a simple level, this refers to the fact that Hashem drowned the Egyptians just as they drowned Jewish children. On a deeper level, however, Yitro may have been referring to the fact that Hashem struck the Nile, the very source of Egyptian pride and arrogance. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Esh Dat p.190)
“Your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem, your Elokim, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery . . . And you might say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!’ Then you shall remember Hashem, your Elokim–that it was He Who gives you strength to make wealth . . .” (8:14, 17-18)
R’ Nosson Lewin z”l (1857-1926; rabbi of Rzeszów, Poland) writes: The Torah commands us here to remember at all times that Hashem is Good and does good, and that everything that any created being has is from His “Hand.” Therefore, all created beings are obligated to thank Hashem for everything He does for them.
He continues: Rambam z”l teaches in his Moreh Nevochim, “The verse (Tehilim 16:8), ‘I have set Hashem before me always!’ is a major principle of the Torah and an attribute of the Tzaddikim who walk before Hashem. By following this verse’s teaching, a person attains Yir’ah / fear, subdues himself before Hashem, and is afraid to sin against Him. [Until here from Rambam]
It follows, continues R’ Lewin, that one who forgets Hashem will lose the trait of Yir’ah and its place will be taken by haughtiness. [Ed. Note: R’ Lewin appears to be reading our verse to say, “Your heart will become haughty and you will already have forgotten Hashem.”] This, writes R’ Lewin, is why our Sages say that one who is haughty is considered to have denied G-d. (Bet Nadiv p. 59-60)
“With seventy Nefesh / soul[s] your ancestors descended to Egypt.” (10:22)
Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (4:6) observes that Yaakov’s family numbered seventy people, yet they are called “Nefesh” / soul (singular). In contrast, even when speaking of a time that Esav’s family numbered only six people, the Torah calls them “Nefashot” / souls (plural).
R’ Yitzchak Shmelkes z”l (1828-1906; rabbi of Lvov, Galicia) explains: A Rasha / wicked person doesn’t want others to be as wicked as he is, for then they might act wickedly toward him. A thief doesn’t want others to steal, for then they might steal from him. Thus, the wise king [Shlomo] says (Mishlei 21:10), “The soul of the evildoer desires evil; his companion [in evil] will not find favor in his eyes.” Since evildoers can never truly unite, the Torah calls them Nefashot.
In contrast, the ultimate desire of a Tzaddik is that all mankind be righteous, just as he is. This, concludes R’ Shmelkes, explains the Gemara (Yevamot 61a) which says that only the Jewish People are called “Adam”– a word that has no plural form, paralleling the unity of purpose that the righteous desire. (Bet Yitzchak)
Siddur Avodat Yisrael cites a custom to recite Psalm 78 on the Shabbat on which Parashat Eikev is read. Accordingly, we present here verses from, and commentaries on, that Psalm.
“They sought to beguile Him with their mouth, and they deceived Him with their tongues.” (Verse 36)
Midrash Shmot Rabbah (42:6) explains: Even as Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah with the words “Na’aseh Ve’nishmah” / “We will do and we will hear,” they already were thinking of idolatry. [Until here from the Midrash; also see page 3 inside.]
R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (the Reisher Rav; killed in the Holocaust) writes: Aharon Hakohen was aware of Bnei Yisrael’s thoughts, and he therefore had a dilemma. Our Sages teach that Hashem does not punish for evil thoughts, only for deeds. The exception to this rule is thoughts of idolatry, for which He does punish. Aharon reasoned that if Hashem would punish Bnei Yisrael for their private thoughts, of which the nations of the world were not aware, it would create a Chillul Hashem / desecration of His Name. To resolve this dilemma, Aharon made the Golden Calf, i.e., so it would be obvious why the sinners were being punished.
However, R’ Lewin writes, Hashem did not approve of this line of reasoning and the resulting course of action. Thus we read (Devarim 9:20), “Hashem became very angry with Aharon [and planned] to destroy him, so I prayed also for Aharon at that time.” Our Sages say that Moshe’s prayer for Aharon was half effective; therefore, only two of Aharon’s four children died.
This, concludes R’ Lewin, sheds light on a perplexing Midrash: Iyov saw the death of the two sons of Aharon, and he said (Iyov 37:1), “Because of this, too, my heart trembles and jumps from its place.” [Until here from the Midrash] Earlier, Iyov had cursed G-d in order to give G-d justification for making Iyov suffer so terribly. Iyov did this because did not want there to be a Chillul Hashem. However, when he saw the fate of Aharon’s sons, he realized that Hashem does not want people to “help” Him in ways that are inherently improper. (Ha’drash Ve’ha’iyun: Devarim No. 73)
We read in Parashat Yitro (19:17), “Moshe brought the people forth from the camp toward Elokim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” Rashi z”l (commenting on Devarim 33:3) describes this standing–indeed, crowding–at the foot of the mountain as a meritorious act deserving of Hashem’s blessing. This is consistent with Bnei Yisrael’s well-known proclamation: “Na’aseh Ve’nishmah” / “We will do and we will hear!”
Yet, the Gemara (Shabbat 88a) interprets the quoted verse in exactly the opposite way: “‘They stood at the bottom of the mountain’–This teaches that Hashem held the mountain over their heads and threatened, ‘If you accept the Torah, good! If not, right there will be your burial!’” This implies that Bnei Yisrael were less than enthusiastic about accepting the Torah! The same is implied by the above verse in Tehilim.
R’ Nosson Yehuda Leib (“R’ Leibel”) Mintzberg z”l (1943-2018; Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ha’masmidim and Rabbi of Khal Adat Yerushalayim in Yerushalayim and Bet Shemesh, Israel) explains that the resolution to this seeming contradiction lies in the difference between Peshat and Drash. Peshat describes the revealed aspect of an event. Had we been at Har Sinai, we would have seen a nation enthusiastic to receive the Torah. Drash reveals a deeper, hidden aspect of the same event. Here, our Sages are teaching that Bnei Yisrael’s apparent enthusiasm was not heartfelt; thus, they had to be forced to receive the Torah. In the words of King David: “They sought to beguile Him with their mouth, and they deceived Him with their tongue. Their heart was not constant with Him, and they were not steadfast in His covenant.”
Of course, Hashem cannot be fooled, and He gave Bnei Yisrael the Torah because He knew that, through practicing the Mitzvot, they eventually would develop a strong feeling for the Torah. In the words of the 13th century Sefer Ha’chinuch, “A person is influenced by his actions.” Indeed, it worked; the Gemara (Shabbat 88a) teaches that Bnei Yisrael re-accepted the Torah completely voluntarily almost 1,000 years later, following the Purim miracle.
R’ Mintzberg adds: Bnei Yisrael’s reluctance to accept the Torah originally was only on the level of their conscious thought. Subconsciously, our Sages teach, every Jew wants to live by the Torah. This is why Halachah permits Bet Din to force a person to bring a korban, even though sacrificial offerings must be brought voluntarily: subconsciously, every Jew wants to do what is right, but the Yetzer Ha’ra interferes. When Bet Din applies force, the Yetzer Ha’ra is subdued so that man’s subconscious will can prevail. In this light, the proclamation, “Na’aseh ve’nishmah,” was entirely consistent with Bnei Yisrael’s subconscious will–another reason why Hashem ignored their conscious doubts. (Ben Melech: Chochmah U’mussar p.38)