לשון הרע

The term לשון הרע is well known as a basic rule in guiding our speech. We are to “guard our tongues” and take great care not to speak badly about people.

It is interesting to note that the words ״לשון הרע״ are not found anywhere in Tanach. Nevertheless, there is both a positive and negative commandment connected with forbidden speech.

The negative commandment is found in פרשת קדושים, where it says, לא תלך רכיל בעמך, that we are not to around as peddlers of gossip. And the positive commandment according to Rabbeinu Bechaye is learned from כי תצא where it says, זכור את אשר עשה ה׳ אלוקיך למרים, that we are to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. We are to actively take care not to speak לשון הרע as Miriam did. Needless to say how damaging negative speech can be. But we are also to be aware that such speech violates both a positive and negative Torah commandment.

Mother Instinct in Animals

Shavua Tov. Among the seventy four Mitzvot mentioned in today’s Parsha, several of them deal with animals.

We have the Mitzva of שילוח הקן, sending away the mother bird, while taking away the eggs or chicks. There is also the commandment to help the donkey who cannot hold the heavy weight on its back, and collapses. We have to help the animal to its feet and put back the load.

There is also the prohibition of muzzling an ox or donkey while it is plowing.

The Rambam in מורה נבוכים speaks about some of these laws, and addresses שילוח הקן as well as the prohibition of אותו ואת בנו, slaughtering a mother and her offspring on the same day. The wording of the Rambam is, ״כדי שלא תצטער האם בלקיחת בניו״, that we are not to allow the mother animal to feel sad when her children are taken away.

The Rambam seems to acknowledge that there is a real mother instinct in animals, and they experience the emotion of sadness.

All of this teaches the importance of צער בעלי חיים, not causing pain to animals, and treating them kindly.

כבוד הבריות

There is a principle learned in מסכת ברכות regarding כבוד הבריות, which means having respect for creations.

If someone will be offended or will have their feelings hurt, one is even allowed to violate an איסור דרבנן, a rabbinic law.

An example of this might be that there is a rabbinic prohibition against eating food cooked in the home of one who desecrates Shabbat publicly. However, in a situation where it may be close relative who went to the trouble of carefully cooking kosher food, because of כבוד הבריות, he may be allowed to eat such food.

The תורה תמימה says that although the Heter of כבוד הבריות applies to rabbinic law, there is an exception in this week’s Parsha.

The case of השבת אבידה, returning a lost article, is a Torah commandment. Nevertheless, כבוד הבריות could apply, where it might be difficult for an elderly person to reach the lost object. Or, a תלמיד חכם might need to crawl or degrade himself in order to reach the lost article, because of כבוד הבריות, he would be exempt.

As a general rule, considering people’s feelings and attempting not to insult them, outweighs rabbinic law. But in certain instances, it can even outweigh a Torah commandment. Shabbat Shalom

Overcoming תאוות

Parshat כי תצא has seventy four Mitzvot. This is the most Mitzvot of any Parsha in the Torah.Rabbeinu Bechaye writes that the theme of the Parsha is that we must overcome our תאוות, lusts.

King David said that he needed to direct his תאוות so that they not be an obstacle in serving Hashem.

If one’s heart is שלם, pure, he will not give in to these lusts. Hashem asks that לבך לי, your heart should be with Me and not giving in to your physical desires.

The connection to this idea comes from the case of the יפת תואר, the woman taken captive in battle. The Rabbis say, דיברה תורה כנגד יצר הרע, that the Torah is speaking opposite the evil inclination.

A marriage based solely on physical attraction cannot last. This was the hope in giving a thirty day separation. Perhaps the relationship could be elevated. Or, perhaps common sense will set in with the realization that this type of bond is destined to fail.

The lesson here is to be aware of that which we need to overcome. If one wishes to beat these תאוות, he will receive help from שמים.

Torah Command to Listen to Rabbis

The source from the Torah to observe the teachings of the Rabbis comes from פרשת משפטים. According to the ספרי, there are actually two Mitzvot involved in following the teachings of our sages.

The Pasuk is 17:11 in דברים and begins with the words, על פי התורה אשר יורוך, according to the Torah that they (the Rabbis) teach you. The verse continues with אשר יאמרו לך תעשה, that which they tell you, you should do. From these words, the ספרי tells us that this is the מצות עשה, positive commandment to follow the Rabbis.

From the end of the Pasuk that reads, לא תסורו מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל, that you shall not turn away from that which they tell you to the right or to the left, is the מצות לא תעשה, the negative commandment not to disobey the Rabbis.

So we see that the Oral Law and following Chazal, has its basis in the Torah.

No Sorcery

Parshat שופטים has a serious warning against practicing all kinds of witchcraft and sorcery. It includes soothsayers and talking to the dead.

The end of this section tells us that we are to be תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקיך, that we are to be “complete” with Hashem our G-d. We are to put our faith and trust in Him only.

It may be a little surprising to note that the Rambam counts no less than fifty-one laws out of 613 in the category of עבודה זרה.

There are forty-nine negative commandments and two positive. The two positive Mitzvot are that we are to destroy the עיר הנידחת, the condemned city. And the second is that we are to destroy all forms of idol worship in Israel.

The forty-nine negative Mitzvot include the prohibition to make idols or to pay attention to false prophets.

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that there is power to the צד הטומאה, the side of impurity. This is what might be the allure to such sorcery. Nevertheless, we are not to be drawn after the impure. We are to stay firm and unwavering in remaining close to the pure and holy.

על פי שני עדים

In Parshat שופטים there is a discussion regarding the testimony of witnesses. The Torah says, על פי שני עדים או שלושה עדים יקום דבר, by the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall a matter be established.

The question raised by the Rabbis is what is learned from the words, על פי, by the mouth of. There is a מחלוקת ראשונים on the matter.

According to Rabbeinu Tam in Tosfot, the על פי is coming to exclude the testimony of an אילם, one who cannot speak. As long as the witness is capable of speaking, he is also able to testify in writing.

The Rambam disagrees and says that according to the Torah, both cases of ממונות and נפשות, money matters and capital cases, must be done by way of oral testimony. The Rabbis made a leniency to allow written testimony in money matters, so that lenders will have an easier time getting paid back.

It’s important to recognize that every word of the Torah needs to be examined for its special meaning and significance.

Removal of Landmark

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parsha has the Mitzva of הסגת גבול, the removal of a landmark. This refers to one who moves a fence between two neighbors into the other person’s property.

The Halacha is that if one violates this commandment in Israel, he has two sins, לא תגזול, do not steal, as well as לא תסיג גבול, do not remove a landmark.

However, outside of Israel, one only violates, לא תגזול, do not steal. The reason for this is explained by the תורה תמימה as follows: In Israel, when one possesses land it is permanent and is meant to remain forever. Therefore, the removal of a landmark also applies to them. But in חוץ לארץ all possessions are temporary. Even when one owns property there, it will not last long. Property has the same rule as מטלטלים, movable objects. The law of הסגת גבול does not apply to מטלטלים, in which case, there is one transgression and not two.

Hashem is True King

Parshat שופטים contains the rules related to a king. Rabbeinu Bechaye emphasizes that even though the Torah gives specific rules related to a king, Hashem never intended that there be a king in Israel.

Hashem wanted the people to know that He is the King of the universe. There was no need for a king of flesh and blood.

The Prophet Shmuel was the one who was asked to appoint a king. Shmuel was very offended that the people made such a request. Hashem told him that it was not against him that the people rebelled, but it was against Hashem Himself.

There are different ways that we refer to G-d. At times we refer to Hashem as אבינו, our father. But at other times, we view Hashem as מלכנו, our King.

The aspect of אבינו shows Hashem as the G-d of mercy. The מלכנו shows Hashem as the G-d of true justice.

This is most appropriate as we are about to enter the holiday season. We are to serve Hashem as both father and king so that we approach both the positive and negative commandments with the same reverence and care. Shabbat Shalom

Family Nation

The book, “John Lennon and the Jews”, was written as a refutation of the famous song, “Imagine”. The author Zeev Maghen felt that this song represented ideas contrary to religion and religious beliefs. The book is a clever proof as to why being Jewish is special.

One of Maghen’s arguments about the uniqueness of the Jewish people is that we are all part of a family. We are a nation, not a religion. He correctly claims that the word, יהדות, meaning, “Judaism”, is not found in the Tanach or Talmud.

In addition, a Christian or Muslim can be removed from their respective religions, by rejecting that religion’s doctrine. That is not the case with Judaism. No matter how far a person may stray from Jewish practices, he will always remain a Jew.

We are part of a family-nation. That is why the pain of any Jew anywhere, is the pain of every Jew. The Universalists and Leftists try to take away the uniqueness of the Jewish people by saying everyone is special. But not everyone is part of our family with our special way of life and special destiny.

שחיטה תפילין גט אתרוג

Parshat ראה is the source for ritual slaughtering. It is learned from the words וזבחת כאשר צויתיך, that you shall slaughter as I commanded you. From these words, “As I commanded you,” we have an allusion to the Oral Law.

Such well known words in Jewish life as, שחיטה, תפילין, גט, and אתרוג, are understood even by Jews with a minimal background. Yet, these four words do not appear anywhere in the Torah.

The fact that practicing Jews know what these words mean, is a proof that the Oral Law works hand in hand with the Written Law.

Both were given on Mount Sinai and both have the strength of commandments with Hashem’s full endorsement. Just like we are not allowed to challenge the Written Law, we are equally obliged to observe the Oral Law.

כצבי וכאיל

There is an expression used several times in Parshat ראה that needs explanation. The Torah says, כצבי ואיל תאכלנה, that you shall eat it like the deer and the hart.

The צבי and איל are examples of חיות, non-domesticated animals. These animals are not fit to be offered as קרבנות. Only the animals that are defined as בהמה, domesticated animals, are permitted to be offered as sacrifices.

When the Torah tells us that an animal may be eaten like the deer and the hart, it refers to permission to eat meat that is not part of a sacrifice.

This is what is called, בשר תאווה, or lust meat. Originally, the only meat that was permitted in the desert, was partially offered as a קרבן. Later, all meat was permitted without any restrictions. This is why the expression כצבי וכאיל is mentioned. Just like their meat is permitted with the only restriction that it be slaughtered according to Halacha, now, even the meat of the בהמה can be eaten without restrictions.

במות

In פרשת ראה, the central place of the Beit Hamikdash is mentioned. This was the only place where sacrifices were permitted to be offered.

Based on this idea, there is a Torah commandment forbidding the building of במות, or temporary altars. From the time that the Mishkan was constructed, the קרבנות had to be offered either there or in the בית המקדש. The Mishkan changed locations when the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael. It was first in a place called Gilgal, which was not far from Jericho. For a time it was housed in Nov and Givon and finally in שילה, for 369 years.

There was a brief period, when the Mishkan was not available for sacrifices. During this period, there was היתר במות, permission to construct personal altars. The sacrifices called קדשים קלים, or lighter sacrifices such as תודה and שלמים, thanksgiving and free will offerings.

Through our Parsha, we learn how important the בית המקדש was in Jewish life. This realization and longing on our parts, will help us see the rebuilding of the third Temple. May it come speedily in our days.

אין שמחה אלא בבשר ויין

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parsha has a form of the word שמחה seven times. (As pointed out by Rabbi Sachs in Torah Tidbits)

The holiday of Succot has שמחה mentioned twice. It says, both ושמחת בחגך as well as והיית אך שמח. Both are instructions to be happy during this festival.

The תלמוד ירושלמי expands on this point and says, אין שמחה אלא בשלמים, that real joy comes from the offering of a קרבן שלמים. The תורה תמימה explains this statement by saying that the happiness that comes with the שלמים comes from the fact that the one who offers it, must eat from the meat of the sacrifice. And the way one achieves happiness on the Chag, comes from eating meat.

The obvious question is that we no longer have a קרבן שלמים, so we cannot experience that שמחה. The תורה תמימה claims that this is the reason why wine was added to help reach this level of exhilaration. This is how the expression, אין שמחה אלא בבשר ויין, there is no joy except with wine and meat, evolved.

Laziness

Rabbeinu Bechaye uses פרשת ראה as the opportunity to speak about the dangers associated with עצלנות, laziness. This is considered a very negative character trait that can cause great damage. One can be עצל בביתו, בגופו, ובנפשו, laziness at home, in his body, and with his soul.

Laziness at home can refer to an instance where one has a crack in his ceiling. If he fixes it immediately, he will incur a minimal expense. If he waits because of laziness, his expense will increase.

Laziness with גופו, refers to where one is lazy at trying to earn a living. If he works diligently, he will have פרנסה. If he sits back and relies on miracles, he will be left lacking.

And with נפש, refers to where one lacks diligence in the observance of Mitzvot and the study of Torah. He will not work on his Midot, and he will pay the ultimate price.

One needs to be aware that laziness is something that one should not take lightly. He needs to find the inner strength to motivate himself in all three areas mentioned. Shabbat Shalom

יראת ה׳

Parshat עקב has another extremely important Pasuk. It begins with the words, מה ה׳ אלוקיך שואל מעמך, “What does Hashem your G-d ask of you?”

Some say that ״מה״ is a hint to the word, ״מאה״ meaning 100 and the need to try to recite 100 blessings every day.

The bigger message that Moshe Rabbeinu is telling עם ישראל is the emphasis on יראת ה׳, loosely translated as fear of Hashem.

The ארחות צדיקים in its introduction points out that three of the greatest Jews, Moshe, David, and Shlomo, all saw יראת ה׳ as the starting point in worshipping G-d.

The Ramban in his famous letter to his son, told him that if he can conquer anger, he will be able to get to the level of יראה. And יראה is the key to other great things such as humility, love of G-d, and learning to be happy with one’s lot, שמח בחלקו.

The מסילת ישרים in its introduction, recommends that every Jew make a daily assessment of his אהבה and יראה. So we see the importance of יראת ה׳.

Remain Humble

A major theme of פרשת עקב, is the importance of remaining humble. One of the most well known verses in the Parsha is: כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה, “My strength and the strength of my hand, have brought me all of this success.”

Moshe rebukes the nation and warns them that one must never have such an attitude. He must attribute every success that he has, to Hashem’s abundant kindness.

The Prophet Yirmiyahu warns us about this very point. He tells us that we should not praise the wise man because of his wisdom. We should not praise the גבור, the powerful man because of his strength. Nor should we praise the rich man because of his wealth. Wisdom, strength, and wealth, are all G-d given gifts.

Jeremiah goes on to say that the one who is deserving of praise is the one who seeks to know Hashem.

We must always remind ourselves not to take anything for granted. There is a tendency to get carried away with our successes. The challenge for us is to keep our feet on the ground and remain humble. כחי ועוצם ידי was brought to remind us of this message.

Appropriate Speech

The book, שערי תשובה, written by Rabbeinu Yona, discusses the subject of speech. Generally, this falls under the category of a לאו שאין בו מעשה, a prohibition not accompanied by an action, but there are some exceptions.

Saying words of Torah in front of an immodestly dressed person, or when one is naked himself, is forbidden.

It falls under the category of והיה מחניך קדוש, that one must keep his camp holy.

Similarly, one must not speak דברי תורה where there is a bad odor, or in a dirty alley.

There are other types of speech where one could be subject to lashes. If one swears falsely, or curses his friend using Hashem’s holy name, are severe transgressions. In such situations, this is a חילול ה׳, the desecration of the name of G-d.

One should not make unnecessary oaths, as an additional negative commandment. And finally, one should not use speech to curse a Jewish leader, or any Jew, for that matter.

In short, we need to heed Rabbeinu Yona, and be extremely careful with our speech.

Fulfillment of Prophecy

Shavua Tov-

We are now in the middle of the שבעה דנחמתא, the seven weeks of comforting Haftarot after the rebukes connected with the three weeks.

The last Pasuk of the Haftarah of עקב is very powerful and very comforting. I will give my own loose interpretation.

“When Hashem will comfort ציון, He will comfort all of its ruins. And He will replace the desolation and abandoned territories, by turning them into גן עדן. Rejoicing and happiness will again return to these places. There will be expressions of thanksgiving accompanied with the sounds of song.”

What struck me about this Pasuk, is that we are witnessing its fulfillment in our own lifetimes as we see the miraculous State of Israel flourishing after so many years of abandonment . Happy are we that have been זוכה to witness this with our own eyes. May all of our Jewish brethren wake up and come home!

Do Not Bring an Abomination to Our Home

Rabbeinu Bechaye has a commentary on Parshat Eikev that is far from politically correct. He commented on the Pasuk, ולא תביא תועבה אל ביתך, that one should not bring an abomination in one’s home. (Some spell abomination, “Obamanation”. This is not a pc Dvar Torah today.)

By way of אסמכתא, to the prohibition of bringing עבודה זרה into one’s home, Rabbeinu Bechaye learns that one should not rent his home to a non-Jew. This is a form of bringing a תועבה into your home.

The Ramban adds that this also refers to the ישמעאלים, the Muslims.

This makes sense as the home is meant to be a מקדש מעט, a small sanctuary. Allowing Gentiles to take over our home would decrease the energy of sanctity that we try to create in our home. Aside from not keeping kosher, other practices of theirs are very distant from the ways of our holy Torah.

Rav Amnon Yitzchak says the word תועבה sound very much like the word TV or television. And this is a רמז, hint, not to bring one into our homes. Shabbat Shalom