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Why didn’t Moshe send non Jewish scouts? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 July 2023

In Parshat Dvarim (Dvarim 1:22-25), we read about the process that Moshe went through in sending the scouts:

All of you approached me and said: “Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land and bring word back to us: the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.” The idea pleased me, so I took from you twelve men, one man per tribe. They turned and went uphill and arrived at Nachal Eshkol, and they spied it out. They took in their hand some fruit of the land and brought it down to us. They brought back word to us and said, “Good is the Land that HaShem, our God, is giving us.”

Why did Moshe have to say “I took from you twelve men” rather than “I took” or “I sent”?

The Netziv, Rabbi Natali Zvi Yehuda Berlin in his commentary Ha’amek Davar answers:

Since the stated goal was to see how to conquer the Land, it would have been better to hire non-Jewish spies like members of the “Erev Rav,” the mixed multitude (Egyptians and members of other nations who left Egypt with B’nai Yisrael at the time of the Exodus), who were experts in war and conquest. In addition, such people would have been less apprehensive about traveling through the Land, and would not have been recognized as agents of the Jews.

However, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that by the laws of nature, it would be difficult to conquer the Land without strong faith and trust in God along with a desire to inherit the good Land. None of this could have been done by foreigners, only “from you”, because Jewish scouts would see the pleasantness of the Land and its special fruit. This way, the Land would find favor in the eyes of her children.

Moshe also thought that that scouts would become strengthened like Kalev when he entered Chevron. They would have felt confident that they could conquer the Land. Had all of the scouts done so, it would have greatly enhanced their trust in God as well as Israel’s fortitude. This could not have been accomplished through foreigners, who see only the physical walls and the people inside.

We see from here that checking out the Land was not a job that could be outsourced. There was an element of spirituality to the mission to help the people feel closer to God and the Land of Israel that needed to be accomplished by Jewish scouts.

Unfortunately, aside from Yehoshua and Kalev, the rest of the scouts did not feel enough of a connection with God or the Land and we see in Parsha Shlach that they even tried to scare B’nai Yisrael off from entering the Land.

Although sending Jewish scouts was important, it wasn’t enough to make the mission successful. It takes more than just being Jewish to be the right candidate for the job.

Is Tisha B’Av a Holiday? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 August 2022

Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Originally, Tisha B’Av was supposed to be the happiest day of the year. How did it happen that the happiest day became the saddest day?

The first calamity that fell on the 9th of Av is Chet HaMiraglim, the Sin of the Scouts which is recounted in Parshat Devarim (in addition to Parshat Shlach, the parsha dedicated to the Sin of the Scouts in the Book of Bamidbar).

The scouts came back from their 40 day tour of the Land and instead of giving rave reviews and words of encouragement to the soon to be olim (immigrants to the Land of Israel) they brought back a negative report which caused the rest of the nation to lose interest in moving there. It was then decreed that they would wander the desert for 40 years and only the new generation would enter the Land.

In Dvarim 1:41 we see the nation’s response: “We have sinned to God. We will go up and wage war in fulfilment of all that HaShem, our God commanded us.” They then got their weapons ready to fight.

In Dvarim 1:42, God said to Moshe: “Say to them, ‘Do not go up and wage war, for I am not in your midst; so that they will not be shattered by your enemies.’”

Even though they repented, it was too late for them to be able to enter the Land at that time. Their plan to conquer the land failed and they were beaten back with great losses.

According to Rav Moshe Lifschitz, based on the teachings of Rav Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Volume 2), Tisha B’Av is a tikun (correction) for the Sin of the Scouts. When the scouts returned from visiting the Land, they caused B’nai Yisrael to cry for no reason. The nation had to live in the desert for a generation until their desire for the Land was fully restored. On Tisha B’Av, we are crying for a reason. By crying for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, we are transitioning to the next step of rebuilding. We are showing that we truly desire to be in the Land of Israel and in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem.

We learn in the Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Tisha B’Av 559:4 that Tisha B’Av is referred to as a moed, a holiday and therefore Tachnun is not recited.

Why would Tisha B’Av be considered a holiday?

In Megillat Eicha 1:15 the word “moed” is mentioned: “God has trampled all my heroes in my midst; he proclaimed a ‘moed’, a set time against me to crush my young men. As in a winepress, God has trampled the maiden daughter of Yehuda.”

The Shelah, HaRav Yishayahu HaLevi Horovitz, taught that the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash is part of the process of rebuilding. Destruction brings us to the point where (Eicha 4:22) “the punishment of your iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion.” After which the eternal Beit HaMikdash will be built and it will never be destroyed. Therefore we give honor to the destruction as we give honor to the rebuilding.  

The Shelah continues: It is taught in Zecharia 8:19, “...The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Yehuda, therefore love the truth and peace.” The Torah hints to us in the words of Aharon which were said on the 17th of Tamuz (Shmot 32:5), “a festival for HaShem tomorrow,” that in the future the 17th of Tamuz will be a holiday of joy and gladness. And Tisha B’Av is called “moed” since it too will be a holiday.

The Shelah adds that Tisha B’Av always falls out of the same day of the week as the first day of Pesach, when B’nai Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt which is the precursor to the future redemption as it says in Micha 7:15: “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I will show it miracles.”

We conclude Eicha with the hope that the redemption will come soon: “Turn us to you O God that we may be turned! Renew our days as of old.”

May we merit to celebrate Tisha B’Av as a holiday in the Third Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim.

The Three Eichas Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 July 2020

Within the span of less than a week, we will read the word “eicha”, “how”, from three different books of TaNaCh. This Shabbat it will be read in both Parshat Dvarim and in the Haftara from Yishayahu and on Tisha B’Av night it will be read in Megillat Eicha, Lamentations.

In the Midrash, Eicha Raba 1:1, we learn that there were three prophets who prophesied using the word “eicha”: Moshe, Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu.

Moshe said (Dvarim 1:12) “How can I myself alone bear your care, your burden and your strife?”

Yishayahu said (Yishayahu 1:21) “How the faithful city has become a harlot! She had been full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers!”

Yirmiyahu said (Eicha 1:1) “How does the city sit in solitude. The city that was full of people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations, the princess among provinces, has become a vassal.”

Rabbi Levi taught an allegory: An important woman, the daughter of kings who had three friends. The first friend saw her at the beginning, when she was calm, things were going well for her and she was happy. The second friend saw her at her next stage, when she was rash, mischievous and wild. The third friend knew her after, in her defilement, failure, embarrassment and punishment.

This can be compared to Israel and the prophets:

 Moshe saw B’nai Yisrael at the beginning, in their glory and tranquillity. He asked how he can bare the yoke alone of leading this large and honoured nation.

Yishayahu saw them afterwards in their rash behaviour and sin while enjoying happiness in their land. He asked how it is possible that a city that was so loyal and straight would turn out to be full of wild and sinful behaviour.  How did their behaviour turn upside down?

Yirmiyahu saw them at the last stage, at the time of their punishment, destruction and exile. He asked how this happened. He is astonished and surprised. He calls out in surprise, laments and rebukes to increase the pain of the destruction that happened to them. He questions why these bad things had to happen.

This Shabbat, we read the verse from Dvarim 1:12 “How can I myself alone bear your care, your burden and your strife?” to the sad tune of Megillat Eicha to remind us that the troubles already began in the days of Moshe. According to Sfat Emet, they didn’t follow Moshe’s leadership and the result ended being what we read in the Haftara that “the faithful city has become a harlot!”

Now is our chance to pick up the pieces. We are back in Jerusalem. We need to find the good leaders with good values like Moshe and follow their lead. We need to bring back justice and righteousness to the State of Israel. When we see wrongdoing we need to call out in pain. On Tisha B’Av, while sitting in isolation, we can reflect on how these three stages affect us today and what we need to do to make life in Israel better for everyone.

Take the trip and explain later Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 July 2018

In Parshat Dvarim (Dvarim 1:22), Moshe recounts: “You approached me, all of you, and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us to spy out the Land for us, and let them bring back word to us, the route that we are to go up on and the cities that we will be coming to.’”

The Midrash, Sifre (20-1:22) quotes Rabbi Shimon: The people were wretched in the fact that they asked for spies. Moshe said to them, when you went into the wilderness, you didn’t ask for spies, now that you are going into the “good and spacious land, the land flowing with milk and honey” you are asking for spies?

Sifre d’Bei Rav elaborates: When you emerged from the Red Sea and went out into the large wilderness, you didn’t ask to send spies to see how it would work out. Rather, you followed along without asking any questions, because you believed in God and trusted in Him. And now that you are on the verge of entering the good land, you ask to send spies- you didn’t believe that it was a good and spacious land.

We still have this problem today. Only about 30% of American Jews have visited Israel. A small percentage of those who have not visited can’t afford the trip, are unable to fly or can’t leave family members behind. Yet a large portion of those who don’t go to Israel fly to other destinations so it is not that they can’t get away. Either Israel is not on their radar screens at all or they are afraid to visit based on what they have heard or seen on the news.

Jews who have never visited Israel may feel alienated. They only know about what they have seen in the media such as violence and politics so they don’t get the whole picture of what is really going on.

Birthright has been helpful in getting more American Jews to Israel with free trips. Yet lately there have been participants who have been taking advantage, skipping time that they are supposed to be with the group and going to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Also, how much commitment to Israel do people getting a free ten day trip have in general?

Longer term, five and ten month programs have more potential as a student has more time to live and study in Israel and see what is really happening as opposed to quickly touring the country.

Israel is a place that each person must experience for themselves. We see this from the story of the spies and how they scared off the rest of the nation. The only way to know for sure what a place is like is if you go and visit. Once you have seen the land with your own eyes you can go back and describe what you have seen.

The Path to Rebuilding the Temple Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 July 2017

On Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, we read the third Haftara of affliction (Yishayahu 1:1-27). According to Rabbi Mendel Hirsch, the prophet is not lamenting the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Rather he is lamenting the causes for the destruction. It is our job to figure out what went wrong so that we can correct the wrongs of the past.

The question is asked in the Talmud, Yoma 9b:

Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three evil things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality and bloodshed. But why was the second sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, mitzvot and charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed together.

The Meshech Chochma points out that the First Temple was rebuilt within approximately 70 years, while the Second Temple is still in ruins. This proves that if the community is corrupt in its human qualities it is worse than being guilty of concrete sins. Concerning the sin of the golden calf (idolatry), God forgave the Jewish people, but for the sin of the Twelve Spies (slander and ingratitude), God never forgave them. Their fate was sealed and they all died in the wilderness.

The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin called Breisheet Sefer HaYashar, the Book of the Just as Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were not just Tzadikim (righteous) they were Yesharim (just). Avraham prayed for Sdom, Yitzchak was respectful to Avimelech and Yaakov spoke nicely to Lavan despite how they treated them. It is not enough to observe mitzvot, we must interact properly with those around us.

In the Fall of 1947, half a year before the founding of the State of Israel, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook wrote a piece called “Et Achai Anochi Mivakesh”, “I am looking for my brothers and sisters”. While the Jews in the Land of Israel were trying to stand up to the British, there was a lot of fighting between the Hagana, Etzel, Lechi etc. Rav Kook pleaded with them not to desecrate God’s name through infighting. He explained that there is more that unites us than divides us. If we work together rather than fight each other we will bring about peace and success.

This message rings true today as well. There are many diverse religious and political groups in Israel that would do much better trying to find common ground, work together to enhance Israeli society rather than attack each other.

If we want the Beit HaMikdash to be rebuilt, first we will have to work on getting along with each other. At that point Jerusalem can be called “City of Righteousness, Ir HaTzedek, Faithful City, Kirya Ne’emana” (Yishayahu 1:26).

We Have the Power to Fulfill Yishayahu’s Prophecy Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 August 2016

In Honor of My 12th Aliya Anniversary

The Haftara for the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, Yishayahu 1:1-27, the third of the Haftarot of affliction, puts us in the somber mood of Tisha B’Av. In fact some of the words of the Haftara sound like they are right out of Eicha (Lamentations) which is read on Tisha B’Av .

Yishayahu 1:21-23 states: “Eicha hayta l’zonah”, “How she (Jerusalem) became a harlot! – faithful city that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious and associates of thieves; every one loves bribes and follows after illegal rewards; for the orphan they do not do justice, the cause of the widow does not reach them.”

Unfortunately these sentences sound a lot like what one will find if they pick up a Hebrew newspaper in Israel today. Politicians who were caught conducting themselves in an illegal manner, accepting bribes, looking out only for themselves and not caring about the poor.

How can these problems be corrected?

At the end of the Haftara, in 1:26-27 God promises: “Veashiva Shoftayich Kivarishona, Veyoatzayich Kivatchila”, “I will return your judges as in earliest times and your counselors as at first, after that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. Zion will be redeemed with justice and her returnees with righteousness.”

We recite almost the exact same quote in the Shmoneh Esrei three times a day, “HaShiva Shofteinu Kivarishona, Viyoatzeinu Kivatchila”, “Restore our judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first.”

We need to pray for better leaders to guide us. Of course there are many upstanding Knesset members and former Knesset members but we need more of them in order to turn Jerusalem back into the City of Righteousness.

According to Daat Mikra, “Zion will be redeemed with justice and her returnees with righteousness” refers to the fact that those who left the Land of Israel when it was desolate will return knowing that now it will be run with righteousness.

We have seen this in our time with olim returning to Israel and trying to make a difference in the Knesset. Some of these politicians bring with them values and a drive to make Israel a better and just place.

Instead of sitting and complaining about Israel, those who are interested in politics can get involved and make changes from the inside.

Those who do not live in Israel can take this opportunity as I did twelve years ago to make aliya, return home to Israel and together we can work on making our country a better place to live.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice! Print E-mail
Thursday, 31 July 2014

Parshat Devarim opens with the story of the Meraglim (spies). Why do we need to review the story of the spies? After all, we just read about it a few weeks ago in Parshat Shlach.


The review of the story of the spies reminds the new generation that is about to enter the Land of Israel about the mistakes that their parents made and the reason that B’nai Yisrael had to wander in the desert for forty years. Their parents didn’t trust in God and were afraid to enter the land. Their punishment was that they in fact would not enter the land and only their children would enter the land after the older generation passed away.


Why is this so important that it has to be emphasized twice, both in Parsha Shlach and in the beginning of Parshat Devarim?


This story teaches us that there is a real problem with the concept of the Jewish people rejecting the Land of Israel.


Today, there are about 6,135,00 Jews living in Israel, almost half of the Jewish population of the world.


Aside from those living in Israel, many of the Jews who live outside of Israel support the Jewish state in some way. They understand that even if they are unable to move to Israel at this time they are willing to do what they can to help out. We have seen this the past few weeks with Jews from abroad making donations to help the soldiers in the IDF, sending toys to children who are spending most of their summer in the bomb shelters, participating in rallies throughout the world in support of Israel as well as those who are getting on the plane to Israel to be part of solidarity missions.


Jews from all over the world are showing that they care about the Land of Israel and they will not reject it the way that the spies and their generation rejected the land.


The date that the spies gave their evil report was on the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), the first tragedy of many which occurred on that date, including the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.


As Tisha B’Av approaches we must remember that in order to hold on to the Land of Israel, Jews from throughout the world must embrace it.

Even Chief Rabbis Need to Repent Print E-mail
Friday, 12 July 2013

As I read through this week's Haftara (Yishayahu 1:1-27) I feel like I am reading a prophecy that was directed towards the religious leadership in Israel today.

God is telling the Jewish people that He is not interested in their sacrifices, prayers or holiday celebrations as they behave in a corrupt manner. They are told in sentences 16-17: “Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes; desist from doing evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the victim, do justice for the orphan, take up the cause of the widow.”


God tells them that if they do Tshuva (repent) then they shall “eat the goodness of the Land”, but if they refuse and rebel they will be “devoured by the sword”.


In sentence 23 we read: “Your princes are wayward and associates of thieves; the whole of them loves bribery and pursue illegal payments; for the orphan they do not do justice, the cause of the widow does not come unto them.”


In the past month we have seen a Chief Rabbi accused of money laundering, fraud, bribery, embezzlement, stealing money from a number of charities and breech of public trust.


We have also seen a former Chief Rabbi curse a potential candidate for the chief rabbinate by calling him an “evil man who is dangerous to Judaism and the Torah”. A day after the former Chief Rabbi’s comments, the potential chief rabbi was attacked at a wedding by people who don’t agree with his policies.


All Rabbis, especially those in the public eye have to realize that these types of behavior are unacceptable. They cause a desecration of God’s name and distance people from our religion. They must follow the words of the Prophet Yishayahu and repent.


Luckily we have many wonderful Rabbis and leaders but they are not the ones who usually make the headlines!


We hope and pray that the end of the Yishayahu’s prophecy will be fulfilled (sentences 26-27): “And I will return your judges as in earliest times and your counselors as at first, after that you shall be called ‘Ir HaTzedek’, City of Righteousnes, Faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice and her returnees with righteousness.”

Eilat The Biblical City Print E-mail
Friday, 27 July 2012

When thinking of Biblical cities, what usually comes to mind? Jerusalem, Chevron, Shechem…Eilat?


Although you may not think of Eilat as a holy city, it is in fact a Biblical city mentioned in Parshat Dvarim 2:8: “We passed over from our brothers the descendents of Esav, who live in Seir, from the Arava road, from Eilat and from Etziyon Gaver…”


Eilat is also mentioned in the Book of Melachim, Kings I, 9:26: “And King Shlomo made a ship in Etzion Gaver, which is beside Elat on the shore of Yam Suf in the land of Edom.”


In Kings II, 14:21-22 we see that Eilat was in Jewish hands: “And all the people of Yehuda took Azarya who was sixteen years old and made him king instead of his father Amatzyahu. He built Eilat and restored it to Yehuda after the king slept with his fathers.”


Unfortunately, it was taken away in Kings II, 16:6: “At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Eilat to Aram and drove the men of Yehuda from Elat and the Adomim came to Eilat and dwelt there to this day.”


In 1949, Eilat became part of Israel once again.


When we trace the original Biblical borders of Israel we actually find that Elat and part of the Arava desert were below the Biblical borders and may not be considered part of the Land of Israel.


Why is it important for us to know if Eilat and the Arava desert were actually part of the Land or not?


If they are not considered part of the Land then the agricultural mitzvoth such as Shmitta would not apply, meaning that one would be able to grow produce there during the Shmitta (Sabbatical) year.


If they are considered part of the Land then all of the mitzvoth that apply to the Land of Israel would also apply there.


According to the book Katif Shviit which outlines the laws of Shmitta:

 “One may not work the Land that had already been conquered in the time of the First Beit HaMikdash (Temple). According to most authorities, these borders include the entire Modern State of Israel and beyond.”


HaGrim Tokchinsky in his book Sefer Eretz Yisrael states: Eilat and its surrounding areas are included in the borders of Olei Mitzrayim (from when B’nai Yisrael first entered the Land of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt) and there is no leniency to work the land there during the Shmitta year. The proof is found in Shmot 23:31: “And I will set thy bounds from the Sea of Suf (Red Sea) even to the Sea of Plishtim (Mediterranean) and from the desert to the river…”


There are other Rabbis who are lenient on this issue.


We see from here that Eilat is not just a city of snorkeling and sunbathing. It is a Biblical city which is at the center of Halachic debates and now boasts many synagogues, mikvas and Kosher hotels and restaurants.


The next time you find yourself planning a vacation, why not consider Eilat?


Shabbat Shalom and Have a Meaningful Tisha B’Av

Sharona Margolin Halickman

Nobody Said That Living in Israel Would Be Easy! Print E-mail
Friday, 05 August 2011


Sponosred by Sharona Halickman Celebrating Seven Years of Aliya!


When we announced our plans to make aliya seven years ago, many people came over and congratulated us. As well, there were those who confronted us with the following responses:


1. It is so dangerous.

2. How are you going to make a living?

3. Everything there is so expensive.

4. Many of the products that you are used to aren’t available.

5. The salaries are much lower than in the US.


Unlike some immigrants who may move to Israel with rose colored glasses on, we knew full well that these were the realities that we would have to face yet we felt that it was worth the trade off in order to fulfill the mitzvah of “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael”, “Settling the Land of Israel”.


When the meraglim (spies) scouted out the Land of Israel, they said that there were good things such as: “a land flowing with milk and honey” and “a fruitful land” yet they also reported that there would be enemies and difficulties.


The difference between our attitude and the attitude of the meraglim was that we knew that we would try as hard as we could as well and we had faith that God would help us with the rest. Some immigrants come in hoping that God (as well as the Israelis) will take care of them without them doing their fair share. The attitude of the meraglim was that moving to the Land of Israel would be too difficult a task to handle on their own and they had little or no faith that God would help them during the difficult transition of conquering and settling the land.


Was everything that people told us to watch out for true?


  1. There are dangerous places (just as everywhere else in the world) yet there is a lot more security (guards, police and soldiers).
  2. The economy isn’t great anywhere right now and it is very difficult to break into the Israeli job market but if you come with a plan and you are willing to work hard there are opportunities.
  3. Some things are more expensive, some things are less expensive (cucumbers and tomatoes are much less expensive and taste much better!)
  4. The reason why people making aliya take a lift with them is so that they can take their beloved products from home and ease the transition until:

a. they find an equivalent product that they like

b. they have a family member who can bring it for them

c.  it finally becomes available in Israel

  1. The salaries may be lower- depending on who you are, what your job was before you made aliya and what your job is now. However, the healthcare plans are almost free (and no copayments), the rents are lower, the “public schools” here are Jewish- you can even select a “religious public school” and kindergarten is free!


The last few weeks in Israel there have been protests against the government since the prices of food, rent and gasoline keep going up. The protesters have discovered that many products are a lot more expensive in Israel compared to other countries. This is not news to us. We knew full well what the prices would be (for better or for worse).


The protestors have been successful in lowering some of the prices. If the prices do go down will more people make aliya? We will have to wait and see. In the mean time, since I arrived seven years ago you can now buy Swiffers and good quality paper towels in the supermarket, you can shop in the Gap and H&M in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, elderly residents of Jerusalem and those with special needs can study Torah at no charge with Torat Reva Yerushalayim and young women from abroad can spend a year in a Modern Orthodox environment at Midreshet Devora. All that I am waiting for now is powdered Ajax (we already have the liquid).

Reaching New Spiritual Heights Print E-mail
Friday, 16 July 2010

In Devarim 1:22 we are reminded of the sin of the spies. Moshe recounts: “Vatikrevun elai kulchem…”, “All of you approached me and said: ‘Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land and bring word back to us: the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.’”


Here we see that B’nai Yisrael approached Moshe in a negative way, showing a lack of trust in God.


A few chapters later, Devarim 5:20, after Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments to B’nai Yisrael he reminded them: “It happened that when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness and the mountain was burning in fire, that all of the heads of your tribes and your elders approached me- Vatikrevun elai kol roshei shivteichem vezikneichem. They said ‘Behold! Hashem our God has shown us His glory and His greatness and we have heard his voice from the midst of the fire; this day we saw that God will speak to a person and he can live. But now, why should we die when this great fire consumes us? If we continue to hear the voice of God any longer we will die! For is there any human that has heard the voice of the Living god, speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You should approach-krav atah- and hear whatever God will say and you should speak to us whatever God will speak to you- then we shall hear and we shall do.”


In Chapter 5 we see that B’nai yisrael approached God in a more appropriate manner, with humility and awe.


Rashi points out that the approaching in Chapter 5 was in a proper order. The children were honoring the elders, sending the elders first. The elders were honoring the heads of the tribes by letting the heads of the tribes go first. In Chapter 1, they approached as an unruly crowd , children pushing the elders and elders pushing the leaders.


Nehama Leibowitz points out that the behavior of the delegation was in each case suited to the character of the mission. The approach in Chapter 1 shows a lack of trust in God’s powers, a reliance on moral evidence, gleaned from the report of the spies rather than faith in the Divine promises made to B’nai Yisrael that they would possess the Land flowing with milk and honey. The approach in Chapter 5 is the opposite, an attitude of humility and awe in the presence of Divine revelation.


We see here that there was a change in the spiritual character of B’nai Yisrael.


The Hebrew month of Av, the time when we remember that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed is a time of introspection, a time to work on our character traits. When we see in our Parsha that B’nai Yisrael were able to change and eventually merit inheriting the Land of Israel, it gives us hope that if we work on ourselves we can rise to new spiritual heights and ultimately rebuild the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim.

Seeking Out Peace Print E-mail
Friday, 24 July 2009

In Devarim 2:26 we see that Moshe sent out messengers to Sichon, King of Cheshbon with words of peace.


Why did Moshe try to make peace after God already told him in sentence 24 “Behold I have given into your hand Sichon the Emorite, King of Cheshbon and his land: begin to possess it and contend with him in battle.”


According to Midrash Tanchuma on Parshat Chukat, it says in Tehilim 34:15 “Sur Me’Ra V’Aseh Tov Bakesh ShalomV’Rodfehu”, “Depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”


Usually, if a mitzvah comes our way then we are obligated to perform it. For example: “If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones or eggs and the mother bird sitting upon her young or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother bird together with the young: but you shall surely let the mother go and take the young to you, that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days (Devarim 21:6-7).”


Another example of a mitzvah coming our way would be “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again (Shmot 23:4).”


A third example would be “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow: that HaShem your God may bless you in all of the work of your hands (Devarim 24:19).”


Peace is the only mitzvah that we are actually commanded to pursue. We are told to seek peace and pursue it.


Although God told B’nai Yirael that they could fight the Emorites, first they tried to seek peace. It was only after the Emorites refused to make peace that B’nai Yisrael went into battle.


Today as well, the Israeli’s go out of their way to seek peace and pursue it as much as possible. However, true peace will not come at the cost of the safety of Israeli civilians and soldiers. Our safety cannot be compromised in the pursuit of peace.

Torah Study in the Land of Israel Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 July 2007

The book of Devarim opens with the words “elu hadevarim asher diber Moshe b’ever hayarden…”, “These are the words that Moshe addressed to all of Yisrael on the other side of the Jordan…”

According to the Sfat Emet, when B’nai Yisrael were on the other side of the Jordan, they already felt the holiness of the Land of Israel and the wellsprings of wisdom opened up. In Breishit Raba 16:4 we learn the following concept: “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael and no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael”. Just as Mount Sinai was the right mountain to receive the Torah, The Land of Israel is the right place to study and explain what the Torah is all about. On the other side of the Jordan, Moshe began to explain the Torah. Moshe begged God for the opportunity to enter the Land of Israel so that he would have the opportunity to fully teach Torah to B’nai Yisrael.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook points out that not only is the Land of Israel holy, the air is holy too. The atmosphere in Israel is pure. In Israel the connection between the individual Jew and God is direct. As it says in Devarim 11:12: “The eyes of God are always upon the Land of Israel…” The purity of this direct attachment brings wisdom.

Once Rabbi Kook was asked how he enjoyed learning in the famous Volozhin Yeshiva with the Netziv, Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1817-1893) author of HaEmek Davar. Rabbi Kook answered: “It is like being in Eretz Yisrael”, however Torah study outside of the Land of Israel is only “like” being in the Land of Israel, it is not the same as really being in the Land of Israel.

Midrash Tehilim 105 teaches: “If you wish to see the Shechina in the world, learn Torah in the Land of Israel”.

Moshe got close to the Land of Israel, the other side of the Jordan. However, God did not grant him the opportunity to study and teach Torah in the Land of Israel.

Today, we are fortunate to have a range of opportunities to study Torah in the State of Israel.

Let’s seize these opportunities!



In the Month of Av We Curtail Joy Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 July 2006

In the first chapter of Devarim, the story of the Meraglim (spies) and the fact that they were hesitant to inherit the Land of Israel is summarized.

The Gemara in Taanit 29a recounts: Rabbah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: The meraglim returned from their forty day tour and spoke Lashon HaRa (slander) about the Land of Israel on the 8th of Av and the Jewish people cried in the evening, the ninth of Av as it says in Bamidbar 14:1 "And all of the congregation raised their voices and cried out, and the people wept on that night". God said, you cried without a cause, therefore I will establish for you a weeping for generations on this day.

The other calamities that are recounted in the Gemara which occurred on the ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av) are: the first and second temples were destroyed (586 BCE and 70 CE), the city of Betar was conquered and the city of Jerusalem was plowed under.

The expulsion from Spain in 1492 took place on the Ninth of Av as well.

The Gemara in Taanit continues: Rav Yehudah the son of Rav Shmuel Bar Shilat said in the name of Rav: Just as when the month of Av comes we curtail joy, so too when the month of Adar begins we increase joy.

This year, the month of Av is an extremely difficult month for the Jewish people. With the clouds of war upon us we hope and pray that God spares us through these trying times and that we will be victorious.

Am Yisrael Chai!

The Ideal Biblical Borders of Israel Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 August 2005

In Parshat Devarim we see a reaffirmation of God’s gift of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. “Turn and travel for yourselves and arrive at the Emorite hill region and at all its neighbors- on the plain on the mountain in the lowland in the Negev and on the sea coast; the land of the Lebanon up to the great river, the Euphrates River. See, I have set the land before you; come and inherit the land that God promised to your forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov to give them and their descendents after them”.

According to Sifrei, the seacoast includes Ashkelon, Gaza and Caesarea.

The borders listed here including Lebanon and Jordan and extending all of the way to the Euphrates are the ideal borders of the land of Israel.

As Tisha B’Av and the planned disengagement from Gaza approaches, let us hope and pray that the time will come speedily in our day that we will all take part in the mitzvah of inheriting the Land of Israel and that the ideal borders outlined above will be restored.

On the one year anniversary of my Aliya to Israel, I am proud that I have come to inherit the land and I hope that through Torat Reva Yerushalayim we can make a difference for all who live here.