• Dvar for Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    Parshat Devarim records Moshe recounting the story of the people, including the time we had camped at Har Seir for a while, and were instructed to move on. The Passuk says “you have circled this mountain a lot, now turn northbound” (2:3). Actually, the words literally mean “a lot for you, circle the mountain and turn northbound.” The Kli Yakar explains that Moshe was conveying a separate message. He was saying “when you have a lot, hide it” (“tzafon” means north, but “tzafun” means hidden.) Why does the directive include circling the mountain? 

    As the Jews prepared to enter a land of “plenty”, it was time to prepare for challenges never faced before. Among those challenges is staying low-key, avoiding provocations and conflict. However, that doesn’t mean being ashamed of who we are and what we represent. As we passed the mountain of Seir, where Esav lived, and as we pass those different from us today, we are instructed to maintain a balance between modesty in what we have and pride in who we are.

  • Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Torah is found in this week’s Torah portion – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the last letter of the Hebrew word for “Hear” (Shema) is enlarged in the Torah scroll (Ayin), as is the last letter of the Hebrew word for “One” (the Daled in Echad). Among the many possible explanations, one understanding of the combination of these two letters (Ayin and Daled) may reveal why the text calls specific attention to them: The letters Ayin Daled can be read “ade” which means “to bear witness.” In reading the “Hear O Israel” one is in effect testifying that God exists.

    This Shabbat being the first of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, one more thought comes to mind: Maybe the letters are large to teach us that even the smallest of changes could pervert the meaning of the text. For example, if one would read the Shema as having an Aleph as its last letter instead of the Ayin (after all the Aleph and Ayin are both silent letters) the word Shema would mean “perhaps” (sheh-mah). This would change this firm declaration of belief into an _expression of doubt. And if the Daled would be mistaken for a Reish (after all, there is only a slight difference in the writing of a Daled and Reish) – the word echad (One) would be read acher (other). This would change the critical Jewish belief in One God into a belief in two gods. If baseball is a game of inches, the Torah is a guide of millimeters – sometimes the smallest thing makes all the difference. As we move towards Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, all of us ought be careful with every word, every gesture and every action, because you never know where the smallest changes may lead you.

  • Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    Parshat Vaetchanan begins with Moshe pleading to be able to enter Israel. The Gemara (tractate) brings a question posed by Rav Simlai, who wonders why Moshe needed to go into Israel so much that he had to beg for it. He answers that there are many Mitzvot (commandments) that can only be performed in Israel, and Moshe needed to perform them. The Chassam Sofer, however, questions the wording of Rav Simlai. Who said Moshe needed to go into Israel? Couldn’t it be that he simply wanted to?

    The Chassam Sofer answers that Moshe saw an opportunity to do more Mitzvot, and although they weren’t in front of him (he had to go into Israel to perform them), he still felt the need to perform them, and did what he could to be able to complete them. In contrast, when was the last time we begged anyone to be able to do a Mitzvah? In fact, do we perform all the Mitzvot that we can? We should strive to be like Moshe, and work to appreciate, take advantage of, and especially learn about all the opportunities we are given, to do something good both for G-d, for each other, and ultimately for ourselves.

  • Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Torah is found in this week’s Torah portion – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the last letter of the Hebrew word for “Hear” (Shema) is enlarged in the Torah scroll (Ayin), as is the last letter of the Hebrew word for “One” (the Daled in Echad). Among the many possible explanations, one understanding of the combination of these two letters (Ayin and Daled) may reveal why the text calls specific attention to them: The letters Ayin Daled can be read “ade” which means “to bear witness.” In reading the “Hear O Israel” one is in effect testifying that God exists.

    This Shabbat being the first of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, one more thought comes to mind: Maybe the letters are large to teach us that even the smallest of changes could pervert the meaning of the text. For example, if one would read the Shema as having an Aleph as its last letter instead of the Ayin (after all the Aleph and Ayin are both silent letters) the word Shema would mean “perhaps” (sheh-mah). This would change this firm declaration of belief into an _expression of doubt. And if the Daled would be mistaken for a Reish (after all, there is only a slight difference in the writing of a Daled and Reish) – the word echad (One) would be read acher (other). This would change the critical Jewish belief in One God into a belief in two gods. If baseball is a game of inches, the Torah is a guide of millimeters – sometimes the smallest thing makes all the difference. As we move towards Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, all of us ought be careful with every word, every gesture and every action, because you never know where the smallest changes may lead you.

  • Dvar for Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

    Parshat Vaetchanan begins with Moshe pleading to be able to enter Israel. The Gemara (tractate) brings a question posed by Rav Simlai, who wonders why Moshe needed to go into Israel so much that he had to beg for it. He answers that there are many Mitzvot (commandments) that can only be performed in Israel, and Moshe needed to perform them. The Chassam Sofer, however, questions the wording of Rav Simlai. Who said Moshe needed to go into Israel? Couldn’t it be that he simply wanted to?

    The Chassam Sofer answers that Moshe saw an opportunity to do more Mitzvot, and although they weren’t in front of him (he had to go into Israel to perform them), he still felt the need to perform them, and did what he could to be able to complete them. In contrast, when was the last time we begged anyone to be able to do a Mitzvah? In fact, do we perform all the Mitzvot that we can? We should strive to be like Moshe, and work to appreciate, take advantage of, and especially learn about all the opportunities we are given, to do something good both for G-d, for each other, and ultimately for ourselves.

  • Daily Aliya for Vaetchanan, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Israelites are directed to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan along with their idols, and the prohibition against intermarriage is discussed.

    Finally, Moshe tells the People that the nations in Eretz Yisrael whom we will encounter are mightier than Israel. But G-d will give them over into Israel’s hands. We are required to destroy the “Seven Nations”, not to show mercy to idolaters in the Land, and certainly not to intermarry with them or any other non-Jews.

    Regardless of how secure one is in one’s belief, intermarriage and other close contact with alien cultures will have an adverse effect upon the individual Jew and on the Jewish People.

  • Daily Aliya for Vaetchanan, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    From chabad.org and ou.org: This Aliya begins with the first section of the Shema prayer. This paragraph contains the fundamental mitzvot of belief in G‑d’s unity, love of G‑d, tefillin, mezuzah, and Torah study (see previous blog for more color on this). The section continues with G‑d’s promise to give the Israelites a land filled with bounty and spoils. Moshe admonishes the people to never forget the Creator who provided them with this wealth. Moshe instructs the nation what to respond to their children who might inquire why they observe all the commandments: “We were slaves in Egypt, and G‑d took us out in order that we serve Him, so that we could reap the rewards for doing so.”

    The Mitzvah (commandment) of learning and teaching Torah can be fulfilled with one’s head/intellect. Tell someone a Dvar Torah and you both have fulfilled the same Mitzvah. But, tell that same Dvar Torah in an animated way that shows love of G-d and that ignites the emotion of the listener, so that he not only adds to his knowledge of Torah, but his excitement and enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvot has increased, then you have fulfilled an additional Mitzvah of “V’ahavta”, to love G-d with all your heart. (Sefer HaChareidim)

  • Daily Aliya for Vaetchanan, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe describes the fright which gripped the nation following the revelation on Sinai. The leaders of the tribes approached Moshe and pleaded that he be the intermediary to transmit G-d’s words to them, and G‑d agreed.

    Twice in this Aliya it mentions the Mitzvah (singular commandment), statutes and ordinances (plural) that Moshe will convey to the people, rather than them hearing it from G-d Himself (Passuk 5:28 and 6:1). The discrepancy between singular and plural references can be explained by Passuk 5:25, which also contains anomalies. Verse 25 says that G-d heard the sound of the words of the people when they asked Moshe to act as intermediary between them and G-d, and G-d was pleased. Why the strange phrasing of “sound of the words”? Why the discrepancy in noun grammar?

    I believe one way to understand this is that G-d heard in the Jews’ voice that they really wanted to hear the Torah and all its commandments, but truly felt they couldn’t hear it directly from G-d. Rather than give up, the found a solution by having Moshe as the conduit. This now creates an extra layer of education and instruction that needs to exist in order to learn the many ordinances and statutes of the Torah. This new layer is the one Mitzvah added: the commandment to learn and teach, which incidentally is what Lelamed.com is based on, and what our lives should be filled with.

  • Daily Aliya for Vaetchanan, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe repeats the Ten Commandments, reminding the Israelites that the Sinai covenant was not limited to those who were physically present at Mount Sinai.

    The very first of the ten commandments is very unique. It doesn’t just say “I am the Lord your G-d”, which would have been sufficient. In case we forget, it continues “… who took you out of Eqypt…”, and as if that wasn’t enough, “…out of the house of slavery”. It’s pretty obvious that knowing G-d also requires appreciating the correct context with which to know Him, and I think the following two phrases offers two different depths of appreciation: On a basic level, G-d physically took us out of Egypt, performing many miracles in the process, and for that we are forever indebted to Him. But we were also in a situation where we were slaves to the slave-masters, who were slaves to their superiors, who worked for theirs, on their way up the hierarchical ladder to Pharaoh. We weren’t just slaves, we were slaves in a house of slaves, drowned in meaning and purpose diluted at every mired level of slavery. G-d took us from that situation to one where we interact directly with G-d himself, where meaning and purpose is clear, pure and undiluted, and part of the first commandment is for us to understand and appreciate G-d on all these levels.

  • Daily Aliya for Vaetchanan, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Moshe designates three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River. These cities provided refuge for an individual who inadvertently murdered another.

    The Gemara explains that although the cities wouldn’t become active refuge havens until the Jews settled in Israel, Moshe saw this as an opportunity to do something positive and would not pass up the chance. It’s not just that he seized the opportunity to perform a Mitzvah (positive commandment), he took this opportunity to prepare to do a Mitzvah! In modern day, that would be the equivalent of us waking up earlier than normal to daven (pray), or going out of our way so we can be asked to do Chessed (a kind act). It’s looking for circumstances where opportunities might exist.

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