לא תחנם

The end of Parshat ואתחנן has the Pasuk, לא תכרות להם ברית ולא תחנם, that we are not to make a covenant with them, nor are we to grant them חן.

This is a very problematic Pasuk in the days of political correctness. The first part warns us against becoming too friendly and making treaties with our non-Jewish neighbors. The overriding fear was that we will learn from their evil ways.

The second phrase of לא תחנם is a further warning that we need to keep a distance in our interaction with the Gentile. One interpretation of לא תחנם is that we are not to even praise the beauty that a non-Jew might possess. Even though it might seem harmless to point out such beauty, the Torah is very strong in how we need to keep a distance.

The second translation of לא תחנם is that we are not allowed to give the non-Jew ownership of any land in Israel. On a national level, this is the source prohibiting any land for peace arrangement. And on an individual level, we are only allowed to sell property to a Noachide or to a Jew.

This is clearly a controversial Pasuk, but we never go wrong, when we follow the Torah.

Seven Laws of שמע

The first paragraph of the שמע is found in yesterday’s Parsha. Aside from the first line being a strong affirmation of faith, the first paragraph has seven important Torah laws.

The words ה׳ אחד , teaches the Oneness of Hashem. This refers to His uniqueness like nothing in the universe.

We are commanded to love Hashem learned from the word, ואהבת.

The ושננתם לבניך teaches that we must study Torah on a regular basis. How are we to teach our children, if we don’t study ourselves?

The recitation of the שמע in its proper time in the morning and evening, is also a Torah commandment.

The תפילין של יד and תפילין של ראש, are considered as two separate Mitzvot.

And the commandment to have Mezuzot on our doors and our gates, is also a Torah commandment. So we see that the שמע has an added importance because of the seven Torah laws, it contains.

Two Shabbat Messages

Shavua Tov. In today’s Parsha, we read the Ten Commandments for the second time. The first reading was in Parshat Yitro.

There are slight differences between the two in reference to Shabbat. Aside from זכור, remember, in Yitro, and שמור, observe or anticipate, in Va’etchanan, there is another difference.

In Yitro, we are told to observe Shabbat because Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. If Hashem, who does not need rest, rested, then certainly we, who need rest, should rest.

In Va’etchanan, we are told to keep Shabbat because we were slaves in Egypt and Hashem took us out in order to make us free men. The cessation from work one day a week as well as disconnecting from the technological world, is what shows that we are truly free.

The two important messages of Shabbat are clearly pointed. We need rest one day a week and we need to demonstrate that we are truly free.

מצוות התלויות בארץ

As we get into the beautiful Parshiot of the Book of Devarim, there is a constant repeated theme.

“These are the Mitzvot that you are to observe IN THE LAND.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye makes the point very clearly. He writes, ״עיקר עשיית המצוות בארץ״. The principle place where we observe the Mitzvot, is in Eretz Yisrael.

Many commentators felt that the main reason why Moshe Rabbeinu wanted to enter Israel was because of the numerous Mitzvot that could only be observed in the Land,

We call these, מצוות התלויות בארץ, the Mitzvot that depend on the Land. Even today when we do not have a Beit Hamikdash, there are many Mitzvot that apply only in Israel.

Simply put, the Torah intended that all Jews live in the Land. And a side benefit of living in Israel, is that we get to observe more Mitzvot here.

Only Judaism is True

Moshe Rabbeinu warns the Jewish people that they should be careful not to get complacent when living in the Land. He wanted them to remember the special events that they had witnessed when they became a nation.

Specifically, Moshe was referring to what was seen on Mount Sinai and Egypt. There is a Pasuk that follows that shows how Judaism is the only true religion. The Pasuk says, או הניסה אלוקים לקחת לו גוי מקרב גוי. Can any nation make the same claim as the Jewish people? Was there ever a people who were taken out from the midst of another nation with signs and wonders as the Jews were?

All other religions began with a leader and a handful of disciples claiming to have been ordained by G-d. The Jewish religion began with the entire nation witnessing great miracles that culminated with all of the people hearing Hashem speak.

The Kuzari says that what makes this proof even more convincing is the fact that the nations of the world accept that these events actually did happen.

The Torah itself shows that only Judaism is true and the other religions are false.

No Opinions of Our Own

Parshat ואתחנן continues with Moshe’s charge to the עם before his death. He attempts to instill in them the proper way of observing Hashem’s commandments and having the right priorities in life.

Rabbeinu Bechaye commented on a specific Pasuk worth noting. The Torah says the following: ראה למדתי אתכם חוקים ומשפטים כאשר צוני ה׳ אלוקי, “Observe the laws and statutes that I taught you as commanded to me by Hashem, my G-d.” What Moshe is saying is that nothing that he told the people to do, came from himself. Everything was exactly as Hashem instructed him.

This is a very important lesson for us. We are to realize our own insignificance as compared with the greatness of Hashem. Any opinion that we express, should have its basis in the Torah.

This is also expressed in Pirkei Avot where it says that we are to make our will like His will. We need to study more Torah so that we will know what is Hashem’s will. This idea was taught to us by Moshe Rabbeinu. This is the correct philosophy to bring us peace of mind and contentment.

Fear G-d as We Fear Man

When Moshe recounts the years of the desert, he reminds the עם how difficult and rebellious they were. He needed to appoint judges and to form a Sanhedrin.

Moshe took the opportunity to speak about the responsibilities of being a judge. They were obviously not allowed to take a bribe, nor were they supposed to show favoritism to the rich or the poor.

There is one Pasuk that stands out regarding judges. The Torah says, לא תגורו מפני איש, that the judge should not be afraid of any man. This should apply to all of us. We should go about our lives with the confidence that we are walking in Hashem’s ways, and we need not be afraid of any man.

This was the advice of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai on his death bed to his students. They were to fear G-d just as they fear man. He felt that this was the most important message to give to his students. It certainly is an important one.

Time for Geula

Now that Tisha B’Av is behind us, we enter a new phase of the שבעה דנחמתא, the seven weeks of comfort before Rosh Hashanah.

We are leaving the heaviness and sadness connected with grieving over what we once had. We were to have focused on that which caused the destruction and Galut, and learn its lessons.

Now we focus on rebuilding and look forward to the Geula, the Redemption. We are given these three weeks to rest, regroup, and collect our thoughts.

We are to approach the month of Elul with new vigor and resolve to work on ourselves and do Teshuva. We must realize that it is in our hands to make this happen.

We are living in truly amazing times where we witness great miracles daily. Now Hashem is only waiting for His people to return to Him. Enough grieving and sadness. The time for the גאולה is now!

Tisha B’Av Rebuke

The Jewish calendar is set so that פרשת דברים is always read on the Shabbat before תשעה באב. This Shabbat is also called שבת חזון because of the Haftarah that begins with the words, חזון ישעיהו.

What the Parsha and Haftarah have in common, is that they both are filled with תוכחה, rebuke.

In פרשת דברים, Moshe Rabbeinu reviews the numerous places the Jewish people traveled during their forty years in the desert. He reminds the nation of the various places where the Jewish people rebelled. Moshe was one of several leaders who used their impending death to rebuke the people.

The Prophet Isaiah similarly rebukes the nation by telling them that even their animals show more obedience to their masters than the Jewish people were to Hashem.

It is very difficult to know how to give תוכחה. But it might even be more difficult to be able to receive תוכחה. The Tanna, רבי טרפון, once said that he was amazed if anyone ever accepted rebuke.

The reason why there is a Tisha B’Av, is because we did not pay attention to all of the warnings, and we rebelled against Hashem. In order for the Redemption to come, we must learn the lessons from our past, and sincerely return to Hashem and the Torah. Shabbat Shalom

Some Tisha B’av Laws

There are a few interesting Halachot that apply to Tisha B’Av this year, when the ninth of Av is on Shabbat, and the fast is נדחה, or pushed off to Sunday.

There is a general leniency to nursing or pregnant women. They should try to fast but if there is any discomfort, they are allowed to eat.

Another point to remember is that Havdala is said on Sunday night with only wine. We say Havdala in שמונה עשרה at Maariv and we also say בורא מאורי האש. If someone needs to break their fast early, they should also say Havdala.

Even though Shabbat is actually Tisha B’Av, the מנהג ירושלים is that there is no אבלות, mourning, at all, on Shabbat. Some say that we should not even sing לכה דודי to the tune of א-לי ציון. Therefore, no סעודה המפסקת or eggs in ashes. The fast begins before 7:29.

The Levites

The Torah looked after the Leviim, who were generally very poor. The Kohanim did not receive a portion of land as was the case of the Leviim, but they did receive twenty four special gifts.

We are told that there were a total of forty eight cities of refuge scattered all over Israel. Every city in Israel had a rule that they were to measure 2000 אמות (cubits) outside of the city limits. The first 1000 אמות were to be left empty, to add to the beauty of the city. The second thousand אמות was given to the Leviim which they could use for planting.

The Leviim also received מעשר ראשון from the entire nation. So although they did not achieve great wealth, the Torah did provide the Leviim with a source of sustenance.

תלתא דפורענותא

We are in the middle of the תלתא דפורענותא, the three Haftarot of rebuke that are read during the Three Weeks. The first two Haftarot come from the Book of ירמיהו and this coming Shabbat is called שבת חזון from the Book of ישעיהו.

If we look at some of the words of the prophet, we get an idea of the extent of the rebuke. Jeremiah speaks in the name of Hashem. He wonders how it was possible for עם ישראל to distance themselves from Him. How could they forsake the G-d who took them out of Egypt and led them into the wilderness. How could they have defiled the beautiful land that they were promised. They distanced themselves and pursued futility and became futile.

These words are so appropriate today. We mourn the destruction of our two holy Temples and so many of our people have become so distant from Judaism and Jewish values. All of the foreign ideas and lifestyles that have no resemblance to Judaism at all, are a result of the destruction of the Temples and our going into exile.

The end of איכה says it all. השיבנו ה׳ אליך ונשובה חדש עלינו כקדם, “Bring us back to You Hashem, and we shall return, renew our days as of old.”

Aliya According to Rashi

Rashi has a different approach to the Mitzva of living in Israel. He points to the specific wording of the Pasuk.

In verse 33:53 it says והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה, that “You should inherit the Land and dwell in it.” Rashi interprets ״והורשתם״ to mean והורשתם אותה מיושביה, that you should inherit it of others who dwell in it.

He is very clear that our right to Eretz Yisrael depends on our ridding ourselves of the other nations living there. One is dependent on the other. We are only entitled to the Land if we drive them out.

We cannot effectively settle the Land if other nations are there who could have a negative influence on the spirituality of the Jewish people.

It is quite clear from both Rashi and the Ramban, that living in Israel is a very important and basic Mitzva for the nation of Israel.

Aliya According to Ramban

Shavua Tov. According to the Ramban, the Mitzva to make Aliya and settle the Land of Israel, is learned from today’s Parsha.

In verse 33:53, the Torah says, והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה, that “You shall inherit the Land and dwell in it.”

The Ramban says the following: “It is my opinion that this is a positive commandment. We are commanded to settle the Land and inherit it, as it was given to us. And we must not belittle the inheritance of Hashem. And if one should consider conquering and settling another land, has transgressed the Mitzvot of Hashem.”

The Ramban continues, “The Rabbis demonstrated the importance of this Mitzva by making it clear that a woman who refuses to live in Israel, is a rebellious woman. And the same by the husband. Such a refusal is grounds for divorce. This is a מצות עשה, a positive commandment that is re-emphasized in פרשת דברים.”

It is always good to know the source of a Mitzva. And it is similarly important to realize the gravity of the sinfulness of one who speaks badly of the precious gift that is Israel!

Desert Challenge

This Shabbat is unusual in that we read פרשת מסעי separately from פרשת מסעי. Outside of Israel, it is a double Parsha. For the first time since Pesach, all of the Jews around the world will read the same Parsha.

Moshe recounts the forty two journeys that בני ישראל traveled during their forty years in the desert.

Rabbeinu Bechaye says that we are to acknowledge the פלא, wonder of the desert. It was a dangerous place filled with scorpions and dangerous snakes. Yet, the Jewish people followed Moshe into the desert with the belief that Hashem would protect them from all of the obstacles that lie ahead.

It is a simple message for all of us. There are times when we experience our own type of enslavement and manage to have our own יציאת מצרים, (especially for those Jews smart enough to move to Israel.)

We are often thrust into a מדבר of uncertainty, when we are confronted with life’s challenges. But we must never forget that our blind faith and trust in Hashem, will get us past all of the obstacles along the way. Shabbat Shalom

Halachic Human Nature

The fascinating aspect of Halacha, is how the Rabbis incorporate human nature into Jewish Law. There are three general rules that is brought in the Talmud regarding a Jew’s interaction with his fellow Jew.

The first such rule has to do with loans. The Rabbis say that no Jew would dare deny that he received a loan from another Jew. He might lower the amount of the loan but would never deny it completely.

The second and third rules deal with an individual’s private property. It is not possible that a Jew would enter another Jew’s field or orchard, and start picking or eating fruit without permission.

Similarly, a Jew would never enter another’s property and begin cutting down trees without permission.

Some question whether or not Jews still have that level of integrity today. Nevertheless, the three cases mentioned, did apply in Talmudic times, and helped solve problems regarding loans and property ownership.

Honesty

Rav Shlomo Mann זצ״ל, took the section of the Torah that discusses vows and oaths, to emphasize the importance of honesty and integrity.

This all begins with keeping our word. If we promise to do something, we must do what we promise. The same is obviously true when one makes an oath or a vow. The Torah says, ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה, whatever leaves a person’s mouth, he must fulfill.

This idea of honesty is to apply in all aspects of life. When doing business, our word needs to be our word. We must fulfill contracts that we sign, to the letter. When there are expectations to make payments at a specific time, our determination to do what is right, always makes us pay on time.

We also need to be careful to always tell the truth. Even when we relate a story that we hear, we should relate it accurately, without exaggerations.

We should never mislead people. It is wrong to give people false hope. It is also important to be punctual. This is also a demonstration of one’s integrity. He shows respect for the other person’s time by not keeping him waiting.

It is a good idea from time to time to simply take a few moments to remind ourselves the importance of honesty, integrity, and keeping our word.

אסמכתא

There is a concept in Judaism called אסמכתא. This refers to certain Mitzvot that are based on the Torah, but are still considered rabbinic laws. These commandments have a different status than other commandments because they are usually based on an incident mentioned in the Torah.

In פרשת מטות, there is an example of אסמכתא. When the Torah describes the war with Midyan, we are told that there were a great deal of spoils taken after Israel’s victory with zero casualties.

They were told that all cooking utensils that were taken, needed to be dipped in a Mikva. This refers to the Mitzva of טבילת כלים.

When we purchase new dishes and pots and pans from non-Jews, they must be immersed in a Mikva. The source for this Mitzva is simply called, ״כלי מדין״.

This is classified as an אסמכתא that it is not listed among the 613 commandments, but it is an אסמכתא, that almost has the status of a Torah law.

Keeping Morale High

In פרשת מטות we learn of the request of the two and a half tribes of ראובן גד וחצי מנשה. They requested that they not enter Eretz Yisrael and remain on the other side of the Jordan.

Moshe was devastated at first upon hearing of their intentions. He understood how important keeping up the morale of the people was.

Moshe had still not recovered from the damage done by the spies. They epitomized what it was to hurt the morale. The hopes of entering the Promised Land were shattered when the spies said that it was a land that devours its inhabitants.

The lesson here is to remind us the power that words have. We must never shatter people’s dreams by discouraging them and telling them they will not succeed. This is true on a personal level as well as on a national level. We must always remain positive and optimistic and put our trust in Hashem.

Do Mitzvot Without Delay

Shavua Tov. An interesting point made in today’s Parsha, is the instructions Moshe received regarding taking vengeance against Midyan.

Moshe is told that this is the final task he is expected to do, before he is taken from this world. The Midrash tells us that many of the nation tried to convince Moshe to “take his time” before fulfilling this task. This way, they would be able to spend a little more time with their great leader.

Moshe refused and wanted to teach the Jewish people that when there is a Mitzva to be performed, we are to do it without delay.

Yehoshua’s task was to conquer thirty one kings before he was to die. We are told that he was a bit lax in this commandment. Because of this, ten years were taken from his life. He died at 110 instead of 120. ( It is remarkable that in 1967 with Hashem’s help, we fulfilled in six days what it took Yehoshua seven years to accomplish!)

In any case, the message learned from Moshe is to act with alacrity that which Hashem commands us to do.