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Vaetchanan
Doing the right thing Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 August 2016

In Parshat Vaetchanan, we learn about many specific mitzvot and then we are told (Dvarim 6:18) “Perform the upright and the good in God’s eyes, in order that you benefit, arrive in and inherit the good land that God swore to your forefathers.”

Rashi teaches that there are compromises that we need to make that go “lifnim meshurat hadin”, beyond what is outlined in the law.

We learn from here that the Torah is not just a rule book. We also have to put thought into the performance of the mitzvot. Even though the Torah may allow us to act a certain way, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be nicer and go beyond what the Torah commands us and do someone a favor or give them the benefit of the doubt.

There is an account in the Talmud, Bava Metzia 83a where Rabbah bar bar Hanna’s porters broke the jars that they were carrying. In theory, according to the contract, they should have been liable for the breakages. The porters asked Rav to plead their case. Rav told Rabbah bar bar Hanna that they should not have to pay for the damages and since they are poor men who worked hard all day they should be paid for their work, as it says in Mishlei (Proverbs) “In order that you may go in the way of the upright” and “You shall keep the paths of the righteous.”

Not all proper behavior is listed in the Torah and we must therefore use our judgment.

For example, in Vayikra 19:2 we are commanded: “You shall be holy for I, God am holy.”

Ramban explains that even though certain things are allowed according to the Torah, like eating meat and drinking wine, that doesn’t mean that we should be a “naval birshut HaTorah”, “fool by authorization of the Torah”. We are holy when we drink a little wine, we are not holy when we get drunk as we see clearly in the accounts of Noach and Lot in Sefer Breisheet. We are allowed to eat meat but there is no reason to overdo it. The Torah does not list how many pieces of meat should be eaten at each meal, but each person needs to determine what is appropriate.

In the Talmud, Bava Metzia 30b we learn: “Said Rabbi Yochanan, Jerusalem was destroyed because they acted in accordance with the letter of the Torah and did not go beyond it.”

As we observe Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort after Tisha B’Av, let us remember what Rabbi Yochanan said and work on rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash by helping others above and beyond what the letter of the law requires of us.”

 
The “Aleinu” Controversy Print E-mail
Friday, 07 August 2015

In Parshat Va’Etchanan, as B’nai Yisrael are about to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe tells them (Dvarim 4:39): “Viyadata hayom vihashevota el levavecha ki HaShem hu haElokim bashamayim mimaal v’al haaretz mitachat ein od”, “You will know today and take to your heart that God is the only God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.”

We are familiar with this quote as it was later adapted into the Aleinu prayer which we recite three times a day.

According to Rabbi Yisrael Yehoshua Trunk of Kutna who lived at the end of the 19th century, when we look at our daily lives we can see God’s Divine Providence and all of the hidden miracles that He performs. Seeing what God has done for us, we must internalize in our hearts that He is our God. The reason that it says “today” is because each day, when we see God’s miracles we recognize that our God is the only true God.

Aleinu affirms our belief in one God. In the Middle Ages, many Jewish martyrs who were burned at the stake recited Aleinu as they were being executed in the hope that one day all of the nations would recognize God.

There is a line in Aleinu which the Church thought was an affront to Christianity: “For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which helps not.” This quote is from Yishayahu 45:20 and was actually part of the prayer before Christianity even existed. From the year 1400, Siddurim in parts of Europe were censored and those words were removed. In 1703 in Germany the Jews were forced to sing Aleinu out loud so that the authorities could make sure that the Jews weren’t quietly saying those words. Today, most Siddurim have put those words back, yet some Siddurim (such as the Artscroll) still have those words in parenthesis.

Outside of Israel, every synagogue that I have been to on Shabbat recited Aleinu out loud omitting the controversial words, yet in Israel the full Aleinu is almost always said quietly. Originally, I thought that it was because in Israel by the end of the service people want to get home to eat and rest as Shabbat is our only day off while in Chutz Laaretz (outside of Israel), people have time to sing as they still have a whole other day off on Sunday. I am now more convinced that in Israel the prayer is said quietly because in Israel there was no edict to force the congregation to sing it out loud. Rabbi Yosachar Yaakovson (1901-1972) heard that in Amsterdam in the late 1940s the first part of Aleinu was being sung out loud even though they never had a decree in Holland to sing it out loud. He believes that the minhag spread to more countries even though it was not forced upon them like in Germany.

It is time for Jews around the world to recite the full Aleinu as we wish and strengthen our belief in one God.

 
Visiting the Good Land Print E-mail
Friday, 03 August 2012

Sponsored by Daniel and Adina Yoe-Abramson In Honor of Their Birthdays

 

Visiting the Good Land

 

In Parhsat VaEtchanan (Dvarim 3:25), Moshe asks God “Please, allow me to cross over and see the GOOD Land that is across the Yarden, this good mountain and the Levanon.”

 

God’s answer was (Dvarim 3:27), Go up to the peak of the Pisgah (mountain) and look all around- west, north, south and east-see with your own eyes; for you will not cross the Yarden.”

 

Rashi comments: You asked Me- “and let me see the GOOD Land”; I will show you ALL of it, as it is said (Dvarim 34:1), “and God showed him ALL the Land.”

 

Rabbi Yechezkel MiKizmir points out that we learn in Masechet Rosh HaShana 18a that when God judges the Jewish people, He judges the entire Jewish people together, the people who have been good along with the people who have been bad. It is our hope that due to the merit of the good people, the Jewish people as a whole will be judged favorably.

 

It wouldn’t be fair for Moshe to go up to the mountain and only see the positive aspects of the Land of Israel. He needed to see everything, the full picture of the Land. It is the hope that the positives will outweigh the negatives but it doesn’t mean that the negatives don’t exist.

 

I have seen videos about Aliya where families claim that “their children adjusted into Israeli society and made all new friends in just one day”. What a culture shock it will be for other families who believe these videos when they actually come on Aliya. When the whole story is not presented, both the positive and negative aspects of living in Israel, a disservice is being done.

 

Since God will ultimately judge us as a group it is important for each and every one of us to set an example and reach for the highest standards, have a positive influence on others and serve as role models. When we see corruption in our society, we should not take the “If you can’t beat them then join them” approach but rather maintain our ethical standards no matter what.

 

It’s very easy to want to see the Land the way that Moshe envisioned, to just see the GOOD Land the way that a tourist does. When you are on vacation, staying in hotels, eating out and touring, you may not encounter many of the hardships that Israelis face such as poverty, crime, corruption etc. Some tourists take the opportunity to help out in a Soup Kitchen or visit the founders of the State of Israel who are now living in nursing homes. There was a story in last week’s Yediot Acharonot newspaper about an American boy who donated his Bar Mitzvah money to help a poor development town in Israel a few years ago. Now, as an older teenager, he decided to spend his summer teaching English to the children in that community. He felt that it was important to see where the money went and continue to help the community. He was actually pleasantly surprised with the level of English among the students that he worked with.

 

Those of us in Israel as well as those who are abroad must take it upon ourselves to serve as a light unto the nations and continue to help make Israel a better place.

 

We hope to see you soon in the GOOD Land!

 

 
Why Did Moshe Desperately Want to Enter the Land of Israel? Print E-mail
Friday, 19 August 2011

In Parshat Vaetchanan, Moshe pleads with God to be able to enter the Land of Israel.

 

In Maesechet Sorah 14a Rabbi Simlai asks the question: Why did Moshe Rabeinu desire to enter the Land of Israel? Did he need to eat of its fruit or did he need to sate himself with its bounty? Certainly not! Rather, this is what Moshe said to himself “There are many mitzvoth that the Jewish people have been commanded that cannot be fulfilled except in the Land of Israel. I will enter the Land so that all of the mitzvoth will be fulfilled through me.” God said to him, Do you seek anything other than to gain reward? Even if you will not enter the Land of Israel to have these mitzvoth performed, I will reckon it for you as if you had performed them.

 

When a person is in Israel, they are able to observe more mitzvoth than if they were living abroad. In Israel we have the agricultural mitzvoth of Trumot, Maasrot, Shmitah etc. which emphasize the holiness of the Land.

 

Living in Israel is also more conducive to mitzvah observance.

 

The mitzvah of “Remembering the Shabbat Day” is magnified in Israel since Saturday is our only day off. Everyone that you meet in Israel, regardless of religion or level of observance will wish you a Shabbat Shalom. Last week, we went to a soccer game in Tel Aviv and the security guard wished me a Shabbat Shalom as I was leaving the stadium!

 

This past week, Yediot Achronot (daily newspaper) ran a whole article on Erev Tisha B’Av about the importance of commemorating Tisha B’Av. The Rabbi of the Kotel encouraged parents to bring their children to Jerusalem to mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Many Israelis, even those who do not necessarily consider themselves observant fast on Tisha B’Av. The fast day even appears on the lottery calendar as a day that betting does not take place.

 

Moshe Rabeinu our greatest leader, observed as many mitzvoth as he was exposed to, yet he was still yearning for more. The fact that he could get “credit” for observing the Mitzvot that can only be performed in Israel was not enough for him.

 

We are fortunate to be living in an age where one can hop on a plane and visit Israel from almost anywhere in the world. There are even opportunities for young people to come on Birthright trips for ten days at no charge and there are many scholarships available for students to study in Israel at a price that they can afford. As well, there are organizations that run highly subsidized trips for adults to help bring them back to their roots.

 

Although Moshe never entered Israel, I’m sure that he would be happy that there are so many opportunities for Jews to come and visit Israel.

 
Asking Questions is Not Only for the Seder Night Print E-mail
Friday, 23 July 2010

 Sponsored in Memory of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Carmilly

 

In Parshat Vaetchanan we come across pesukim that we are very familiar with from the Pesach seder.

 

The first quote is from Devarim 6:20: “What are the testimonies (edot) and the statutes (chukim) and the laws (mishpatim) that the Lord your God has commanded you?

 

In the Passover Hagada, it is one of the four children, the “chacham”, the smart child that asks this question.

 

The Torah’s answer (6:21) is “Avadim Hayinu- We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God took us out of Egypt with a strong hand.”

 

The Torah’s answer, “Avadim Hayinu” has already been used in the Hagada after the Ma Nishtana so the Hagada has a different answer.

 

The Hagada’s answer comes from the Mishna in Pesachim, Chapter 10: “You must tell this child some of the laws of Pesach from the Mishna: ‘We do not proceed to any afikoman (dessert or after dinner celebrations) after eating the Pesach lamb.’”

 

Abarbanel wonders if this “chacham” may be more of a “Smart Alec” since he shows off that he knows that there are different types of mitzvoth- “edot”, “chukim” and “mishpatim”.

 

Israel Eldad (the street that I live on is named after him!) says that the “chacham” is a truly wise child as he knows when to ask genuine questions, not mockingly like the “rasha”, rebellious child, and not superficially like the “tam”, the simple child.

 

Questioning, if done with proper respect, is a good thing. It is often those who were not allowed to question anything when they were children who end up getting frustrated with religion.

 

The questions that children ask must be acknowledged all year long not only on the Seder night.

 

Asking a shailah- a question about Jewish law to a Halachic authority is not just for children, it is a practice that we must continue throughout our lives as different contemporary questions in Halacha arise.

 
 
The Power of Tachnun Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2008

Parshat Vaetchanan begins with Moshe’s pleading prayer: “And I pleaded to God at that time…” The Sifri comments that there are ten different words for prayer in the TaNaCh: Zaaka (Cry), Shava (Outcry), Naaka (Groan), Tzara (Distress), Rina (Cry), Pegia (Make Intercession), Nipul (Prostrate), Pilul (Prayer), Atira (Entreat), Amida (Stand), Chilul (Beseech),  and Chinun (Plead- the root of Vaetchanan).

 

According to Shem MiShmuel, there are ten levels of excitement in the heart which correspond to the ten terms of prayer. Techina which is number ten is prayer which truly comes from the depths of the heart.

 

Jewish liturgy has different prayers that come from the root “Chinun”, the most famous is “Tachnun” which is said every day except for Shabbat, holidays and special occasions. The Tachnun prayer is a serious prayer said immediately after the Shemoneh Esrei. The Talmud in Bava Metzia 59a teaches that if one submissively places their head upon their arm in fervent intense prayer, then their prayer will be warmly accepted. Tachnun is a heartfelt plea for God’s gracious compassion.

 

Unfortunately, many congregations rush through Tachnun, a prayer which should be said with full kavana and come from the depths of our hearts. Instead of finding excuses to skip this prayer, we should take the opportunity to recite it with true intent and pray for our needs.

 

In the Gemara in Bava Metzia 59b we find the story of Ima Shalom who tried to keep her husband, Rabbi Eliezer from saying Tachnun immediately after reciting the Shmoneh Esrei (when the prayer is most powerful) since she knew that he would pray with intense kavana for the death of her brother, Rabban Gamliel (who had excommunicated Rabbi Eliezer). Each day that Tachnun was recited, Ima Shalom would interrupt Rabbi Eliezer after he recited the Shmoneh Esrei so that the Tachnun prayer would not be as powerful. One day, Ima Shalom did not try to interrupt Rabbi Eliezer because she thought it was Rosh Chodesh (when Tachnun is not recited). However, it was not Rosh Chodesh. A beggar came to the door and Ima Shalom gave him bread. When she saw Rabbi Eliezer reciting Tachnun she said “Get Up! You are Killing My Brother!” Meanwhile, an announcement came out that Rabban Gamliel passed away. Rabbi Eliezer asked Ima Shalom how she knew about Rabban Gamliel’s death and she answered “I have received the tradition from the house of my grandfather (King David, author of Tehillim/ Psalms) “All of the Gates of Heaven are locked except for the gate of wrongdoing”. Rashi explains that a wronged person is often moved to tears. The emotional prayer spelled certain doom for her brother who hurt Rabbi Eliezer.

 

We see from this story the power of Tachnun, a prayer that should  be said with full intent and bring us to tears.

 

May all of our prayers be answered!

 
Israel: Smokey Joe's Cafe? Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 July 2007

In Parshat Va’Etchanan, Devarim 4:15 we read “v’neeshmartem meod l’nafshoteichem”, “watch your selves very carefully”.

The Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 427:8 states that it is a mitzvat aseh, a positive commandment, to remove deadly obstacles, as it says in our pasuk, “watch your selves” as well as in Devarim 22:8 “you will not place blood in your house”. One who does not follow this law is transgressing a Torah law. The chapter concludes with the words “those who are careful in these matters (of not endangering ourselves or others) will be blessed”.

Last year, the Committee of Jewish Law of The Rabbinical Council of America issued a unanimous opinion affirming that the smoking of tobacco products is prohibited by Jewish law. The decision calls on all Jews to make every effort to avoid smoking in the first place, and if already in the habit, to stop doing so.

A group of Rabbis including the current Gerer Rebbe has recently come out with a ruling in Israel that it is absolutely forbidden for a person to pick up their first cigarette. Smokers should do everything in their power to quit. One is never allowed to smoke in public due to the danger of second hand smoke.  This applies even if the other people around are smokers as well. One should not give another person lung cancer because of a habit they refuse to work on. Under no circumstances may one smoke in front of children.

Unfortunately in Israel today, smokers of all ages and levels of religious observance are everywhere. Even malls which claim to be “smoke free environments” have ashtrays on the tables of their cafes. Rabbis teaching in Yeshivot smoke with their students in front of them. I have even seen a “religious” father pushing a baby carriage with one hand and smoking a cigarette with the other hand.

Israel’s rabbis need to quit smoking themselves and teach the public about the dangers of smoking. Israel’s law enforcement officials also need to quit smoking and crack down on people smoking in public.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD sums it up best:  “A Torah-observant Jew does not smoke on Shabbat. If he can refrain from smoking one day, he can refrain from doing it every day.”

 
What Did Moshe See from Har Nevo? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 17 August 2005

At the beginning of Parshat VaEtchanan, Moshe pleads with God and asks to be allowed to cross over the Jordan River and see the “good land”, the land of Israel. God responds by saying that you will not physically be able to enter the land of Israel. You will have the opportunity to see the land, but only from the top of a mountain.

In fact, this is what happens at the end of the book of Dvarim. In Parshat VeZot HaBracha, Moshe went up on Har Nevo and God showed him the entire land.

According to Rashi who brings the Sifrei, Moshe was not only able to see what the land of Israel looked like, he was also able to see what would happen in the land of Israel from the time of Yehoshua until the days of the resurrection of the dead. As Rashi states “God showed Moshe all of Israel in its tranquility and the oppressors who are destined to afflict it”. Moshe had the opportunity to see the good times when the first and second temples stood as well as the bad times, when they were destroyed. God gave Moshe a glimpse into the ups and downs that would befall the Jewish people.

During these difficult days in Israel today, it is easy to lose hope and feel as if things are not going as we would like them to and that they are never going to get better. However, we see that each time throughout Jewish history there were ups and downs and we have to focus on the positives and strive for a brighter tomorrow.

Let’s take the time to appreciate the State of Israel, its culture, produce, language and holy sites. Israel is where all Jews anywhere in the world are welcome to come and visit and have the opportunity to immigrate.