Friday, July 20, 2007

Reb Oizer on Devarim

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Devorim – Vol. 2, Issue 37
Compiled by Oizer Alport

אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל (1:1)
There is a mystical idea that the content of the parsha read each Shabbos is connected to the events of the coming week. It is interesting to note that Parshas Devorim is always read on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av. What is the connection between them?
The Gemora in Yoma (9b) teaches that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was the sin of baseless hatred of one’s fellow Jews. Many times such hatred has its origins in forbidden forms of speech, such as gossip and painful words.
Our verse opens the book of Devorim by relating that “these are the words which Moshe spoke to all of the Jewish people.” However, the Vilna Gaon reinterprets the verse to suggest that Moshe himself addressed the need to rectify the sins which caused the Temple’s destruction. The verse begins, “These are the words that Moshe spoke.” And what were those words? The Vilna Gaon explains that the end of the verse can be read not as merely describing to whom Moshe spoke, but as the beginning of Moshe’s actual message. He didn’t speak “to the entire Jewish people,” but rather told the people, “Be united as one nation, not splintered into factions.”
Additionally, the Vilna Gaon points out that the very first word in the parsha, אלה, is an acronym for אבק לשון הרע, literally the “dust” of evil speech, used to refer to traces of gossip which are forbidden as they often incite full-blown lashon hara.
Many people who speak in this manner mistakenly justify their behavior by rationalizing that mere words cannot cause any real damage to others. The name of the parsha – Devorim – means “words.” As the end product of this erroneous thinking was a widespread hatred powerful enough to destroy the Temple, we allude to the importance of rectifying this sin by beginning the week in which Tisha B’Av falls with the reading of Parshas Devorim.

אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה (1:1)
There are 5 books in the written Torah, and 6 sections of the Mishnah – the Oral Torah. The Paneiach Raza writes that there are 6 portions in the written Torah which correspond to the Mishnah, each of which begins with the letter א – אלה תולדות נח, אלה פקודי, אם בחוקתי, אלה מסעי, אלה הדברים, אתם נצבים. This is because the spelling of the letter “א” – אלף – comes from the root meeting to study, and the word Mishnah also means to learn.
Of the 6 portions, four begin with the word אלה, which alludes to the four sections of the Mishnah on which we also have Talmudic commentary, as the gematria (numerical value) of the word אלה is 36, which is also the number of tractates in the Babylonian Talmud! The last book of the Torah, Devorim, begins with one of these four parshios in order to teach that in reviewing the Torah and its laws with the nation before his death, Moshe reviewed not only the written Torah but the entire Talmud and Oral Law as well.
Similarly, there are 5 tractates in the Mishnah which begin with the letter א – אלו דברים שאין להם שיעור (פאה), אור לארבעה עשר (פסחים), ארבעה ראשי שנים הם (ראש השנה), ארבעה אבות נזיקין (בבא קמא), אבות הטומאות (כלים), which hint to the 5 books of the written Torah and teach that every component of Torah is deeply intertwined. The Torah itself represents the Will of Hashem, and just as He and His Will are one, so too all parts of the Torah are interconnected, and the components which may seem the most disparate and unrelated are full of deep and powerful wisdom waiting to be unlocked by one who toils to uncover it!

הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבנים וידעים לשבטיכם ואשימם בראשיכם (1:13)
The book of Devorim begins with Moshe’s review of the 40-year national history from the time of the Exodus until the present. Rashi (1:3) notes that much of the parsha revolves around Moshe’s rebuke of the Jewish nation for sins they committed during this period, in an attempt to ensure that they wouldn’t continue in these mistaken ways. What is curious to note is that in our verse, Moshe seems to digress from his chastisement to stress that the Jewish people are distinguished, wise, and understanding. Why did he interrupt his focus on reproaching the people with this point, which is hardly a message of rebuke?
Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (9:8): Do not reprimand a scoffer lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. Why would the wise Shlomo advise rebuking a person who seemingly shouldn’t need it and ignoring a scoffer whose ways need correcting?
The Shelah HaKadosh suggests that the erudite Shlomo is actually talking about only one person. The Torah obligates (Vayikra 19:17) a person who sees another Jew engaged in inappropriate activities to rebuke him and attempt to inspire him to change his ways and return to the proper path. In order to do so successfully, a bit of wisdom is required.
Shlomo HaMelech advises that talking condescendingly to the scoffer will be useless and cause the sinner to hate the one attempting to reprove him. However, talking to him as if he is wise and respectable will likely move the sinner to accept his words and love him for caring about him and coming to his assistance.
A modern-day application of this lesson is offered by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, a well-known contemporary psychiatrist and author. He writes that when growing up, he was a typical child who got into his share of trouble. However, his father taught him a priceless lesson in how to raise well-adjusted children by the manner in which he rebuked him.
All too often, we hear parents screaming at their children, “You good-for-nothing bum! How could you have been so foolish and lazy?” A child who grows up repeatedly hearing this message slowly absorbs the belief that he truly is foolish and lazy. Not surprisingly, he will likely go on to make decisions in his life which will reflect this self-image.
Rabbi Twerski’s father, on the other hand, used to scold his children in Yiddish, “Es past nisht” – what you did isn’t appropriate for somebody as wonderful and special as you! The message which was constantly driven into him was that he was an amazing child with tremendous potential who simply needed to maintain his focus on channeling his energy properly. As one might expect, he grew up with an unshakably positive self-esteem which surely contributed to his success in life.
With this introduction, the Shelah HaKadosh explains that before fully launching into his criticism of the Jewish people, Moshe first built them up by emphasizing their many good qualities and tremendous potential, which would in turn allow his message to be well-received. The lesson for us is clear: whenever we may need to correct a family member, friend, or co-worker, we should do so in the wise and proven manner taught to us by Moshe Rabbeinu and Shlomo HaMelech.

ואצוה את שפטיכם בעת ההוא לאמר שמע בין אחיכם ושפטתם צדק בין איש ובין אחיו ובין גרו (1:16)
Even in his youth, the great Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was known for his remarkable diligence in his studies. While his peers idly passed their free time playing games and acting their ages, Rav Yonason utilized every spare moment for the study of Torah. Somebody once asked him about his behavior, questioning whether he wouldn’t be happier if he spent at least a portion of his free time engaged in more age-appropriate extracurricular activities.
Rav Yonason, demonstrating the sharp mind for which he later became world-famous, explained his conduct based on a Gemora in Sanhedrin (7b). One opinion in the Gemora cites our verse as the source of the law that a judge may not listen to the claims of one of the litigants if the other party isn’t present to challenge his arguments. This is hinted to by the words שמע בין אחיכם – you shall listen between your brothers – which teaches that a judge may only listen to the accusations of one party if the other is present at the time.
The Gemora in Sanhedrin (91b) teaches that a person receives his yetzer hara (evil inclination) at birth, whereas his yetzer tov (good inclination) doesn’t enter him until his Bar Mitzvah, at which point he is held accountable for his actions. Even a person who never becomes a judge in a Jewish court still serves as a judge every moment of his life, as he must constantly listen to the arguments of the two “litigants” inside of him – his yetzer hara and his yetzer tov – and sort them out to reach a judgment about the proper course of action to choose.
“While closing my books to indulge in the hobbies and games enjoyed by the other boys may seem quite tempting,” concluded the wise-beyond-his-years Rav Yonason, “this is the opinion of only one of the litigants – my yetzer hara. As a judge, I am forbidden to listen to his claims until my Bar Mitzvah, at which time the other party will be able to present its counter-claims, and I will be able to reach a judgment regarding the proper course of action. However, until that time, the ‘law’ gives me no choice but to ignore him and to diligently continue with my Torah studies!”

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) As the entire Torah and its laws had been taught in their entirety to Moshe, why are so many important mitzvos, such as Shema, mentioned only in the book of Devorim?
2) Rashi writes (1:3) that Moshe waited to rebuke the Jewish people until close to his death. What purpose was there in rebuking the Jews who were alive at this time for sins committed by their parents and of which they themselves were innocent? (Darash Moshe Vol. 2)
3) Masechta Sofrim (1:7) relates that the day King Ptolemy ordered five of the Jewish elders to translate the Torah into Greek was as painful and difficult for the Jews as the day on which they sinned with the golden calf. In what way was this worse than Moshe’s translation of the Torah into all 70 languages (Rashi 1:5), which presumably includes Greek? (Mishmeres Ariel, Ye’aros Devash quoted in Shiras Dovid, HaK’sav V’HaKabbalah)
4) Rashi writes (1:13) that one would never entertain the possibility that a woman is eligible to serve as a judge. On what basis is it so clear that one could never even consider the possibility that a woman may serve as a judge, especially in light of Tosefos in Niddah (50a d.h. kol), which discusses whether we may derive from Devorah (Shoftim 4:4-5) that women may indeed serve as judges? (Rinas Yitzchok, M’rafsin Igri, Ee’bayei L’hu)
5) Moshe commanded the judges (1:17) not to fear any man (i.e. any potential litigant). If a judge fears that one of the litigants may actually kill him, is he permitted to recuse himself from the trial in order to protect himself? (Kli Chemda, Bishvilei HaParsha, Rambam Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Sa’aseh 276, Shaarei Teshuvah 3:33, Bach Choshen Mishpat 12:1)
6) If a judge mystically recognizes from the faces of the litigants that one of them is guilty, is he permitted to use this knowledge when ruling on the case? (Doveiv Sifsei Yeshonim 1:17)
7) Why did Moshe devote significantly more time to rebuking the Jewish people for the sin of the spies than for the sin of the golden calf?
8) Why did Moshe approve of the people’s suggestion to send spies to scout out the land of Israel (1:22-23) instead of responding that they should trust in Hashem and there was no need to do so? (Kometz HaMincha, Taima D’Kra Parshas Shelach)
9) Rashi writes (2:17) that for the duration of the 38-year period in which the Jewish nation was in Divine disfavor due to the sin of the spies, Hashem didn’t speak to Moshe in the manner in which He was accustomed. Did Hashem communicate with Moshe at all during this time, and if so, in what fashion did He do so? (Rashi Taanis 30b, Rashbam Bava Basra 121b, Rabbeinu Bechaye)
10) There are four blessings which – in the Diaspora, where Yom Tov is observed for two days – are recited exactly once annually, one of which is associated with this time of the year. How many of them can you identify?

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to

No comments: