Friday, August 15, 2014

Life Lessons and Overview

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Weekly Torah portion - Ekev

How Israel was apportioned to the 12 tribes
1.    Reward for Listening -Moshe Rabbeinu tells us that if we listen to Hashem's laws He will bless us and make us numerous.  He will bless our produce and flocks.  We will be blessed above the other nations and all sickness will be taken away from us.  He warns us not to show pity to our enemies, and not to worship their gods.  This is a Mokesh - trap for you. 

What exactly is the trap here?  Avodah Zarah is one of the most serious sins in the Torah.  The Ohr HaChaim explains that the word "trap" actually modifies the previous point of showing mercy.  Showing the enemy mercy will end up in our showing cruelty to ourselves.  This is an important lesson especially in contemporary times.  

2.    Bitachon - Moshe further instructs us not to be fearful on account of the numbers of the nations.  Hashem will uproot these nations little by little.  We should not be desirous of their gold and silver statues.  We may not bring abominations in our homes, it is Chairem - forbidden.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 429) explains that the verse telling us not to bring abominations into our home also includes mixing ill-gotten financial gain with moneys that Hashem allowed us to earn.  Ultimately, the ill-gotten gain will taint everything and cause all one's possessions to become tainted - Chairem.

3.    Everything Comes From Hashem and Bentsching - Moshe tells the Bnie Yisroel that all the Mitzvos that Hashem commands you, you must guard.  Hashem sent trials to test us.  But He gave us manna and our clothing was not tattered.  He is bringing us to a good land with wheat barley grapes, figs, pomegranates, oil from olives and honey of dates.  When we eat and are satisfied we must bless Hashem.

The Kli Yakar points out that the word you in the verse "that I command you" is singular, yet the word "you shall guard" is conjugated in the plural.  He explains that this shows how the actions of a mere individual can effect the entire world.  One person can and often does matter.  He or she can make matters as if an entire group of people  was involved.  

4.    Warning Against Avodah Zarah - Hashem's warns us against Avodah Zarah. He says that you will be destroyed just like the nations that Hashem is destroying now before you.

The Seforno points out that this is to demonstrate to us that adopting Avodah Zarah will lead to our loss of both worlds - this world and the world to come.  We see from this Seforno that had only one warning have been issued, we would have rationalized things away.  The nature of man is that he needs to be reminded both of the short term and long term affects.  One is not sufficient.

5.    Warning Against Being Self- Righteous - Moshe tells us that we are entering the land with great cities and towers up to the sky.  He adjures us not to think that it was because of our virtue that Hashem brought us to the land, rather their wickedness.  He reminds us of what we did when we received the luchos and the sin of the golden Aigel.  Moshe reminds us that Hashem wished to destroy us for this and that Moshe begged Hashem not to do so.

In this section Moshe Rabbeinu describes "towers up to the sky."  The Gemorah in Chullin (90b) derives from this description that hyperbole is a proper rhetorical device that does not constitute lying.  It can evoke stronger feelings than a mere description in order to make a point.  We see from Moshe Rabbeinu's use of this rhetorical device that great effort must be placed in our spoken and written words in order to inspire others toward more passionate feelings about important issues we are discussing.

6.    The Second Set of Dibros - Moshe explains how he had fashioned an ark and had placed the second set of luchos there.  He tells us of our travels and how Aharon had passed away.  The tribe of Levi carried the Aron Hashem.  Hashem then said to get moving to take over the land.

In the second set of Luchos we find the command to place them in an Aron (ark) of wood - something that we do not find in regard to the first set of Luchos.  The Chezkuni explains that this was in order that they not be easily within Moshe Rabbeinu's reach to destroy again.  We see from this Chezkuni an extraordinary insight.  Everyone, even a Moshe Rabbeinu, could benefit from protective steps designed to ensure deliberation and careful consideration and to discourage spontaneous decisions.

7.    Following Hashem's Ways - Moshe explains that Hashem only wants of us to 1] fear Hashem 2] Walk in all His ways 3] Love Him 4] Serve Him with heart and soul 5] Observe His Mitzvos.  Moshe tells us to safeguard everything so that we will be able to remain in the land.

In walking in all His ways, the word "all" seems to beg attention.  The Ohr HaChaim explains based upon the Midrash in Vayikra that the Torah is giving a means for even those who are very distant from Hashehm to come back.  "If you have amassed an entire slew of Aveiros, you can make up for it by amassing an entire slew of Mitzvos."  Thus the word "all" is addressing sinners who have sinned in many ways.  We see here that the Torah shows concern for all of Hashem's children - not just for the very best or even those in the middle.

8.    Eretz Yisroel Demanding but Beneficial - Moshe Rabbeinu explains that Mitzrayim was easier to plant and irrigate.  Eretz Yisroel is a land of mountains and valleys dependent upon rain.  Hashem is always scrutinizing the land from th beginning of the year until the end.

The Torah describes Eretz Yisroel positively as a land of mountains and valleys.  How is this a positive description?  The Sifri explains that the fruits of mountains have different beneficial tastes than the beneficial tastes of fruits from valleys.  Food scientists today speak of the firmer tannins in mountain fruits and the natural acidity of valley fruits brought about by the greater and constant humidity of valleys.  Rashi points out that even Ramses, the best venue in Mitzrayim, would not yield fruits like the valleys and mountains of Eretz Yisroel.  

9.    The Yoke of the Mitzvos - Moshe tells us that if we carefully listen to the Mitzvos and serve Him with all our heart and soul, Hashem will grant the early and later rains in their time.  We will have great harvests.  If we worship other gods the land will not give crops.  We must place these words on our hearts.  If we do this, we and our children will endure in the land.

Rashi asks why the Torah repeats the words "and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" here after having written so in the Krias Shma already.  He answers that the former was an admonition for individuals while here it is for the public.  This is strange because the public is made up of individuals.  How can a tzibbur have intentions?  We see from here that people act differently when they are in a group than when they are alone.  There is a mob mentality that can take over.  It is one, however, that we can also control.  It can be controlled if we are aware of it.  By the same token, we can act nobly and morally when in a group, but if we are alone, we may act differently.  This Rashi teaches us that we must act nobly always.

10.    Promise of Victory - Moshe tells us that if we keep all this and cleave to Him, Hashem will drive out the nations, we will have broad borders,  and no man will stand up to us.  Hashem will put the fear of us on the entire area as He has promised.

The victory is contingent on the words "Ul'davka Bo" and to cleave to Him.  How is it truly possible to fulfill this Mitzvah of Dveikus?  The Ramban explains that it means developing ourselves to be worthy of cleaving to Hashem.  This includes constantly being aware of Him and having our thoughts pertaining to Hashem and Torah values.

Sponsored l’Ilui Nishmas the author’s mother Sara Bas HaRav Eliyahu, Yartzeit 22 Av
There are ten Parshios in this Sidrah. 

Parsha sheet written  l'ilui nishmos the three murdered Yeshiva students: Gilad Michael ben Ophir, Yaacov Naftali ben Avraham, and Eyal ben Uriel, HY"D.

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