• Dvar for Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

    Parshat Nitzavim starts by proclaiming that “you are all standing here today” (29:9), and then proceeds to use the words “this day” two more times in the next three verses, none of which were actually needed for their corresponding sentences to be complete. What significance is the Torah placing on “this day”?

    Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out that there are two natural roadblocks placed before us as we endeavor to become better people and better Jews, and both of these roadblocks can be overcome by focusing on “this day”: The first natural roadblock is our inclination to look ahead at temptations and hurdles we will encounter, and our feelings of frustration and helplessness in overcoming those collective obstacles. The Torah therapeutically empowers us to focus on one day at a time, and leave tomorrow’s worries for another day. The second natural roadblock we face is the guilt of our past, which can sometimes make us feel depressed and unworthy.  We have today to repent for those things we shouldn’t have done.

    With the past behind us, and a whole new year ahead of us, it’s nice to know that we don’t have to wait to become better people… the time is right now, and “this day” just became our present.

  • Dvar for Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

    Of the many sub-topics in Parshat Ki Tavo, one especially noteworthy expression is when the Torah says, “G-d has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear until this day” (Deuteronomy 29:3). Tradition (and Rashi) has it that Moshe gave Shevet Levi (the tribe of Levi) a Torah scroll, and the rest of the nation justifiably complained that they didn’t get one. Their complaint wasn’t that they didn’t get a scroll, but that future generations might have a problem with it. Upon hearing this complaint Moshe rejoiced. As Rabbi Liebowitz explains, Moshe was actually happy about a complaint because it showed how much the Jews valued the Torah and their bond with G-d so much, that they even thought about the future of that bond.

    If we look closer at the Passuk (verse) we’ll see it even clearer: G-d gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel. Why does the Torah say that our hearts will KNOW? The answer is that if we feel something strongly enough, in our hearts we know it to be true. The Jews knew in their hearts that they had to protect the future of the Torah by safeguarding against potential diversions, perversions and distractions. The Torah is telling us that we must look into our hearts and do whatever it takes to preserve, maintain and grow as Jews, until our hearts know what’s right. And if we don’t know exactly what we need to do, we can use our eyes to look at customs of the past, our ears to listen to the existing rules and leaders, and our minds to develop our own Jewish niche, until our heart knows we’ve found it.

  • Dvar for Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

    There is a Passuk (verse) in Parshat Ki Tetzei that reads “And if you desist from vowing, no sin (fault) will be found with you.” This implies (and confirmed in a Gemara in Nedarim) that one that does vow will be found at fault, even if he/she fulfills the vow. Why is this true? What if someone vows to do a good deed, what could possibly be wrong with doing that?

    Jonny Gewirtz in his weekly publication Migdal Ohr offers an insightful answer: Since one could have fulfilled the mitzvah without the vow, the vow merely serves as a potential obstacle because if they do not fulfill the act they have committed a sin by transgressing their vow. On a deeper level, though, one who desists from making vows will not be found sinning because they are aware of the power of the tongue. They know that speech, once uttered, cannot be retracted, and thus is careful about what they say. This awareness applies not only to vows but lashon harah, hurtful words, falsehood, etc. which encompass so many other sins they will be able to avoid.

    At the culmination of Elul on Erev Rosh HaShana, and again at Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur, we annul any vows we have taken and declare our intention not to vow again. This is the hope of the new year, that it will be one in which we will be cognizant of the power we have in our tongues and in our actions, and speak/act appropriately. This undertaking to be careful with vows is not the ultimate goal, it is just the beginning.

  • Dvar for Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

    In this week’s Parsha, Re’eh, we start off with the immortal choice:, “Behold I place before you today the blessing and the curse,” i.e., good vs. evil, life vs. death. Why create evil? Wouldn’t we be happier and better off without it?

    Elisha Greenbaum (Torah.org) suggests that removing evil, temptations and the possibility of failure is like removing goal posts from soccer fields and putting everyone on the same team. With no winners or losers, the exercise becomes pointless. G-d could have easily created angels who perform commandments perfectly every time, but instead He made us: We strive, we try. We win, we lose. When we get it right, we move up, closer to G-d, and when we fail, we climb back up. Rewards and growth wouldn’t happen without pitfalls and failures. Ultimately, we hope to grow through what we go through.

  • Dvar for Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

    Parshat Ekev is where we learn of the benefits and rewards, punishments and consequences, of following and not following the Mitzvot (commandments) set forth for us in the Torah. Among those commandments is a famous one (8:10), which says that “you will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.”  If you just ate food, why are you thanking G-d for land? You should be thanking Him for the food itself. Why be indirect? The answer lies in understanding the true difference between animals and people…What separates us from animals is our ability to choose, and our exercising of that choice. Our nature tells us what we need to do, while our mind (and religion) tells us what we should do. Therefore, the more things we do simply because of habit and without thinking, the less free will we’re exercising, which makes us more like animals. Conversely, the more restraint we exercise, the more freedom we’re expressing, because we weren’t slaves to our nature. What makes being a Jew so special is that we have so many ‘choices’ of commandments we can perform, and each of those positive choices make us less like animals and more like G-d.

    With this in mind, even if we already ‘perform’ Mitzvot now, if we do it out of habit and without thinking and actively deciding to do it, we’re just as guilty of doing it ‘naturally’. For Jews, deciding to do something is just as important as doing it, because then we think about why we do it, and the source, reason, and meaning of it all become part of the action. Now we can understand why we thank G-d for the land, when we merely eat its bread: We not only thank G-d for the bread we eat, but we also think of the land that it came from, because we’ve thought it through to its source, instead of taking bread at face value. The lesson of the Parsha is for us to think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and realize how much control we have. Perhaps we should think of at least one habit we have (positive or negative), and use this lesson to push us to overcome our natural tendency to blindly surrender to that habit.

  • 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 Devarim (1:1-3:22)

    In Parshat Devarim Moshe recounts placing “ministers over thousands, over hundreds, ministers over fifties, and ministers over tens..”(1:15). If there were leaders governing thousands and hundreds, isn’t it obvious that they would govern fifties and tens? What does the Torah add by including those specifications?

    The Sforno says that there is an implied rebuke in the appointment of judges over Israel, because they could not stop bickering and arguing to the point that every group of ten needed its own personal judge. While the Sforno implies that each person was overly concerned with his own property, in order for an argument to reach the courts, there also needs to be a lack of communication and an inability to reconcile differences.

    If needless hatred begins with a lack of communication, then increased communication can remove the hatred and divisions that remain between us. With proper communication, we can not only properly mourn the Temple’s destruction, but we can also make our own best efforts to ensure that it is rebuilt.

  • Dvar for Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

    One of this week’s Parshiot, Parshat Maasei, lists the many places where the Jews in the desert traveled through and camped. Since the Torah doesn’t waste any words or letters, it would seem strange to list places that the Jews visited, if it meant nothing for us today. As commentaries help explain, when you love someone, you want to remember everything you did together, and G-d’s love for us is no different. This love that G-d has for us is the reason why the Torah spends so many Pessukim (verses) listing the places the Jews visited. As Rabbi Twerski asks, though, at each point the Torah says (33:1-12) that they “traveled from A and camped at B. They traveled from B and camped at C”, when it could have saved words and simply said that they camped at A, B, and C?

    Commentaries help us understand this by explaining that the forty years that the Jews spent in the desert was filled with spiritual growth, and the “travels” represented that growth. The Torah attests to the fact that not only did the Jews travel to point A, but they camped/grew there. The lesson for us is simple and true: If you want to “travel” through Torah growth, make sure you not only travel along a solid path, but make sure you “camp” at every stage, and make sure you’re comfortable with it, before you move onto another level. For example, you can’t jump to Kaballah (mysticism) before you know Halacha (law) and Talmud. There’s a  process that requires “camping” at every step of the way. So before we venture off to see the wonderful sites the Torah has to offer, make sure you take a road map (Torah), a guide (Rabbi), and patience. Only then will you truly enjoy the life camping adventure.

  • Dvar for Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

    Parshat Pinchas relates the story (27:1-12) about the daughters of Tzlafchad, descendants of Yosef (Joseph). These daughters wanted and loved the Land of Israel so much that they wanted a piece of it. As Rav Moshe Feinstein asks, why do they have to have a claim in the land, just because they love it? Wouldn’t entering or living in the land be fulfilling enough?

    Rav Moshe thus concludes that if a person truly loves something, they’d want it to be theirs, and no one else’s. This is why the daughters wanted to actually own a piece of the land, rather than simply living in it. This logic applies to marriages, as well as the Torah’s preference that every Jew writes their own Torah (or a portion of it). In our terms, it’s not enough to borrow and read Jewish books. We need to love the Torah we read so much that we feel the need to own it. As this week’s Parsha urges, we should not only seek, read and enjoy words of Torah, but we should own those books, and live those words.

  • Dvar for Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    After a whole ordeal trying to curse the Jews, Bilam finally ends up blessing the Jews instead. So what does a person whose power lies in his word utter, after so much suspense? He says “How good are your tents, O Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel” (24:5). Is it Yaakov or Israel? Is it the tents or the dwelling places (assuming they’re different) that are good? It’s a pretty ambiguous statement for someone presumably articulate.

    To understand this, we need to analyze the context of the three blessings he imparted in the following Pessukim (verses): 1) You should stay near water (reference to Torah), 2) G-d will help you crush your oppressors, and 3) Those that bless you will be blessed, and those that curse you will be cursed. It seems that there is a natural progression throughout these blessings: If we 1) stay close to the Torah, 2) G-d will help us defeat our enemies, and 3)we will be blessed upon blessings. That’s why the blessings start with the statement that it’s all because of our homes (tents), that leads to our communities (dwellings), from Yaakov as an individual to Israel as a nation. Conclusion: If we introduce the Torah in our own controlled-environment homes, it will not only help us and our communities, it will also lead to the many blessings that follow.

Back to top