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Parsha Page by Fred Toczek

A survey of parsha thoughts from Gedolei Yisroel compiled by Fred Toczek. Perfect for printing and use at your Shabbos tisch.


Vo'eschanan 5757 & 5762

NEXT PARSHA:  EKEV

I. Summary

A. Moshe is denied permission to enter Israel. Moshe recalled how he entreated Hashem for permission for him to enter Israel. Hashem refused his request, instead telling him to view the Land from Mt. Pisgah and that Yehoshua had been appointed to lead the Jews into Israel and assume the role of leadership therein.

B. Moshe appeals to the Jews to keep the mitzvos. Moshe appealed to the people to adhere meticulously to Hashem's statutes and edicts, so that they would be recognized as a great nation and prevail despite their small numbers. They would be aided by the memory of hearing Hashem proclaim the Ten Commandments -- Hashem hadn't appeared to them in any form or shape, and this should remind them of the prohibition against forming graven images; should they disobey this injunction, they would be exiled and scattered among the nations (although, even if this occurs, their sincere repentance would bring about Divine mercy and forgiveness).

C. Moshe designates three Orei Miklot (Cities of Refuge). Moshe then designated three Orei Miklot in the east of Jordan.

D. The Ten Commandments. Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments, noting that the people assembled at Mt. Sinai were terrified by the wonders they witnessed and pleaded with Moshe to speak to them in place of Hashem.

E. The Shema. Moshe then expounded the Shema, affirming the unity of Hashem, Whom we should love and Whose commandments should be transmitted to the next generation. Hashem's laws are to be remembered by a "sign" upon one's hand and forehead (Tefillin) and doorposts (Mezuzah).

F. Remembering Hashem's Commandments. Moshe cautioned the people not to forget Hashem even after they settled in Israel and enjoyed prosperity. The Jews were warned to avoid all forms of idol worship (for this would lead to their destruction) and intermarriage. Future generations should be trained in Hashem's commandments and told of His wondrous acts in delivering the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Moshe reminded them that they are a holy people for whom Hashem showed His love by redeeming them from bondage, and it is their duty to reciprocate by observing His commandments.

II.  Divrei Torah

A. Soul of the Torah (Victor Cohen)

1. Proper Kavanah. "I implored Hashem at that time, saying . . . " The Zanzer said that before he prays, he prays.

2. Caring For Our Health. "But you should take great care of your soul." The Baal Shem Tov commented that one should take care of his/her body, for when the body is sick the soul also becomes sick.

3. A Heartfelt Search. "From there you will see Hashem, your G-d, and you will find Him with all your heart and all your soul." The Chiddushei Harim commented that if we seek Hashem with our hearts, we will find Him there.

4. Deliverance From Affliction. "When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem you G-d, and listen to His voice." The Skoyler Rebbe noted that if we find ourselves in anguish, we should look at it through a window. We will then notice that the Jews are in the Diaspora and that the advise that is given to them is to "return unto Hashem" in true repentance. Therefore, we must return to Hashem and find personal deliverance from affliction. As the Talmud (Yoma 6b) teaches, great is repentance for it will bring the ultimate redemption.

5. Simple Faith. "You have been shown to know that Hashem He is your G-d. There is none besides Him." R' Yaakov Yisroel Cherkaser commented that there are two ways to reach the level of knowing Hashem. The first is through knowledge and the second is through simple faith that Hashem "He is your G-d . . ."

6. Our Hidden Strength. "And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all of your heart, with all of your soul and will all of your  possessions." The S'fas Emes asks why philosophers cannot comprehend how "to love" can be a command. They say that love is a natural phenomenon and cannot be commanded. He notes that it is probably in the nature of the Jew to love Hashem; however, it is necessary to awaken this natural love and cultivate it. That is the mitzvah of "you shall love" - we should act to awaken our hidden strength to love Hashem.

7. You Shall Teach ("Shinantam") Them. The Kotzker commented that the word "teach" ("shinantam") means "learn". If we wish our children to learn, we must study so that we are a role model to them.

B. Torah Gems (Aharon Greenberg)

1. Prayer. "And I pleaded to the L-rd at that time . . . " R' Yisroel said "nothing gives me greater pleasure in this world than a good prayer."

2. Self-Centeredness. "I stood between the L-rd and you at that time . . . " The "I" of man - his self-centeredness is what stands between him and His creator.

3. Inside Our Tents. "Get into your tents again." How we can act inside our homes is the main test of who we really are. R' Simcha Bunim.

4. Mercy and Justice. "And you shall love the L-rd your G-d will all your heart, will all your soul and will all your might." The word "L-rd" refers to G-d's mercy, whereas the word "G-d" refers to His strict justice. Whether G-d treats us with mercy or justice, we must always love Him. Alshekh.

C. Something To Say (R' Dovid Goldwasser)

Hishtadlus (Effort). "Six days a weeks shall you labor and accomplish all your work." R' Avigdor Miller notes that the work described in this verse refers to the concept of Hishtadlus, which declares the necessity for us to exert ourselves to achieve whatever is necessary. Although G-d is the Master Planner, He concealed His Presence by the means of these laws. It is His desire that we help ourselves with our efforts and not require miraculous help from him. The "six days of labor" refer to human striving.  We do not know what result our efforts will bring about; it is simply our job to do it.

D. Pirkei Torah (R' Gifter)

1. Do Not Add or Subtract. "You shall not add to the words that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it to observe the commandments of Hashem  your G-d that I command you." Man's natural tendency is to refrain from submitting himself to another's will and desire. We wish to govern ourselves. This tendency can greatly impede our service of G-d because true service of G-d demands complete submission to the Torah's governance. Adding or subtracting from the mitzvos - the manifestation of our service of G-d - would be fulfilling one's own will, not the will of our Creator.

2. Communal/Individual Search. "There you will seek Hashem your G-d and you will find Him if you will search for Him with all your heart and will all your soul." The word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. A desire to seek G-d is the result of our realization that the world does not run itself, but that there is a higher power which governs all. It is not too hard to reach this conclusion; however, each person needs to do so on his/her own level. Thus, the verse tells us to seek G-d in the plural, but recognizes our individual searches in doing so.

E. LilMode U'lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)

1. Going beyond the letter of the law. The Parsha contains an apparent redundancy -- it contains several admonitions to observe the laws taught by Moshe, but later states "and you shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of the L-rd". What new instruction does the latter verse add? Rashi and Rambam explain that this verse contains the additional command to do "right and good" -- i.e., to go above and beyond the letter of the law in serving Hashem and aiding one's fellow man. One who does so shows that he acts not only out of a sense of duty, or to gain rewards, but also out of a sincere desire to do Hashem's bidding for its own sake. This ideal is illustrated by the following story: A man came to the Brisker Rav before Pesach and asked "Can I use milk instead of wine for the Four Cups?" The Brisker Rav didn't reply; instead, he removed five rubles from his pocket and gave them to the man. The Rav's wife asked "Would not one ruble have been more than enough money for him to buy wine?" "Perhaps," responded the Rav, "but from his question, it was clear that he didn't have money for meat either, for one can't eat meat and use milk for the Four Cups. Therefore, I gave him enough money for both meat and wine for his Pesach Seder."

2. Mezuzah and Tefillin. Mezuzah and Tefillin each contain a portion of Hashem's teaching to Israel. As a result, they serve as a link to Hashem, a constant reminder that we are guarded by His presence and that it is our task to perform His mitzvos (Rambam), as illustrated by the following story: Onkelos ben Kalonymos was a close friend of the Emperor and a convert to Judaism. The Emperor didn't take kindly to Onkelos' conversion and sent several groups of soldiers to pick him up and return him to Rome. As he was  being dragged out of his house by the soldiers, Onkelos reached over and  kissed his Mezuzah. As the soldiers gazed in astonishment, he told them "Do you see the difference between your human ruler and my G-d? A human emperor stays inside while his guards stand outside to guard him; but my G-d stays at the door and guards all of the common people inside. (Onkelos's words  had such an impact on the soldiers that they also converted.)

F. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)

1. Bring sanctity into all aspects of human behavior. "See that I have taught you statutes and laws as the L-rd, my G-d, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land." Some philosophers advocate that if a person wants to live a life of sanctity and purity, he must flee from inhabited places and live alone in the wilderness. This is not, however, the path of the Torah. We are told to live an elevated life among other people. True sanctity and perfection is to live among other people and behave towards G-d and your fellow man in a manner consistent with Torah values (Arvai Nachal). The ideal of Torah is to bring sanctity and idealism into all aspects of  human endeavor. If you live alone, you will be free from anger, envy, causing others pain, etc.; but, you will also be missing opportunities for  kindness, compassion, charity, etc. Only when you are in the company of  others can you fulfill all aspects of the Torah.

2. View anew each day all that you have. "If you beget children and grandchildren and become old in the land, and become corrupt and make an idol, the image of anything, and you do what is evil in the eyes of the Almighty, your G-d, to anger him". Why does a person meriting children and grandchildren lead to his becoming corrupt and doing evil? To the contrary, shouldn't it make him more grateful to Hashem? The answer lies in the word "Venoshantem", becoming old -- that is, you become so accustomed to what you  have that you no longer appreciate it. Taking for granted what you already  have prevents you from being grateful to Hashem for all the good that He has given you. There are many things that you have that you appreciated when you first got them. If order to develop a deeper gratitude for Hashem's kindness, we should try to view all that we have as though it was just received that very day.

3. Internalize the awareness that all that occurs to you if from the Almighty. "And you shall know this day, and you shall take this to your heart, that the Almighty is G-d in the heavens above and upon the earth below, there is no other." The Chofetz Chaim taught that this verse tells us that all that happens in our lives -- profits/losses, pain/suffering, joy, etc. -- is from Hashem.

4. Continue to reflect upon Hashem's love and eventually you will experience it. "And these things which I command you this day shall be on your heart". Rabbi Shalom Schwadron interpreted this mean that we must remove any obstructions (i.e., faulty character traits and emotions) form our heart before we can experience love for Hashem. The Kotzker Rebbe commented that "at times your heart might be closed and the concepts and ideas you accept intellectually don't penetrate and become part of you. Still keep them on your heart even if they don't enter your heart, for as soon as your heart opens up they will immediately fall right in."

G. In the Garden of the Torah (the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, z'tl)

What is Prayer? The fundamental dimension of prayer is to ask G-d for our needs; the praise and thanksgiving which precede and follow our requests is merely a supplementary element of the mitzvah (Rambam; Cf. Shulchan Aruch Harav, which refers to the recitation of G-d's praise as the "fundamental element of prayer"). This week's Parsha -- in which Moshe pleaded to Hashem  for permission to enter Israel -- gives us insight in the way we should approach G-d in prayer. As the Sifri notes "[Moshe] could have depended upon his good deeds. Instead, [he] asked G-d for a gift . . . How much more  so should we make requests [of G-d in this manner]." When asking for Hashem's goodness, one should plead with humility; even when a person is deserving, he should not rely on his merits, but should ask G-d for unearned kindness.

H. Reflections on the Sedra (Rabbi Zalmen Posner)

Face-to-face. In recalling the forty years in the wilderness, Moshe repeats the Ten Commandments, which he prefaces with the introduction that, "face to face G-d spoke to you from the mountain," and "not with our fathers but with us here today alive." There is a personal element in Torah, a challenge made to man by G-d face to face. We are placed on earth to live as we will and make of it what we please. We are given Torah to teach us how to live and what we can accomplish. We can approach Torah affirmatively, seeking meaning for our lives, finding where and how G-d speaks to each of us face to face. Torah is meant for the living; it is not  to  be consigned to our ancestors as a revered relic of an almost forgotten past. Torah is to be used, employed in all situations and problems, for it has an immediate relevance to all who are alive.

I. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)

An active Shabbos. "And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and G-d delivered you from there . . . therefore he is commanding you to make the day of Shabbos." Several times, the Torah refers to Shabbos with the word "to make," as though there were something active about Shabbos, although it would seem that the salient feature of Shabbos is complete rest or lack of activity. In the repetition of the Ten Commandments, there is a marked change from the original recitation. There it says that we must observe Shabbos because G-d created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh." Yet, here it says that we should observe in remembrance of our enslavement in Egypt, Hashem is commanding us to make the day of Shabbos. Why does the Torah give a different reason for Shabbos here? Perhaps it is because that here the Torah is not telling us why to observe Shabbos, but how not to observe it. The idea of a "day of rest" is essentially a secular concept. One rests so that he/she can "recharge" the batteries in order to increase one's work efficiency for the following week. The day of rest is a means rather than an end. The Torah concept of  Shabbos is just the reverse. One works six days in order to be able to have a Shabbos. Exhaustion is not the reason for Shabbos any more than it was for G-d's resting on the seventh day. Shabbos is a day of spiritual growth  and development. It is a day when through prayer and the study of Torah, one should be able to create a new self, a person more refined than one had been heretofore. Shabbos is passive only in the sense of abstinence from work, but that abstinence is not sufficient. It must be used to enable  oneself to make oneself into something finer and more spiritual person. This is what the Torah means by repeatedly using the expression "to make" the Shabbos. Make the Shabbos an active day of spiritual achievement and creation.

J. Artscroll Chumash: A Few Thoughts On The Shema.

1. Hashem is "One and Only". There is an inner harmony in all that He does, though human intelligence cannot comprehend it. (R' Gedaliah Schorr likened the concept to a ray of light seen through a prism. Though the viewer sees a myriad of different colors, it is a single ray of light. So, too, G-d's many manifestations are truly one.). On another note, the first and last letters of the first verse of the Shema are written large in the Torah. These two letters spell the Hebrew word for "witness", symbolizing that by  reciting the Shema, the Jew bears witness to G-d's Oneness.

2. "You shall love . . . " How can one be commanded to love? The Torah answers this in the next few verses by saying that Jews should think about the Torah, study it and teach it. When one meditates on G-d's great and wondrous deeds and creations, he will come to love and praise Him (Rambam).

3. "With all of your heart . . . " Rashi notes that this is really referring to hearts; that is, we must love G-d with both our good and evil  inclinations. Talmidei R' Yonah interprets this to mean that we should  follow our good inclination to perform commandments and reject our bad inclination to sin. Rambam notes that the "evil inclination" refers to our earthly cravings (e.g., for food, drink, physical gratification, etc.); by channeling these desires to the service of Hashem, we serve Him with both inclinations.

4. "With all of your soul . . . " -- i.e., even if your devotion to G-d costs you your life (Rashi); this refers to the rare situations -- idolatry, adultery and murder -- in which halachah requires one to die rather than sin. According to Ramban, your "soul" refers to the seat of the intellect, meaning that one should devote one's entire intellectual capacity to the love of G-d.

5. "Today . . . " You should always look to these matters as if they are new, fresh and exciting -- as if the Torah was given today. If one makes that effort, one can always find stimulation and challenge in the Torah and mitzvos

NEXT PARSHA:  EKEV

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