By now Moses had given 612 commands to the Israelites. But there was one further instruction he still had to give, the last of his life, the final mitzvah in the Torah: “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31: 19).
Rosh Hashanah memories take us to our shuls, homes and families. They remind us of promises made about how we would change our lives and rearrange our priorities. There may also be memories of the delicacies we ate when we were children – the chicken soup, gefilte fish and great desserts. And one sound, the sound of the shofar blasting away with its shrill notes of tekiah, shevarim... and finally the long, very last sound – the tekiah gedolah.
Wandering from town to village, the Holy Brothers neglected their physical needs and were sustained by meager coins or scraps of food that were donated along the way.
The incident occurred during The Three Weeks when work at my place of employment for the summer months came to a standstill. I was to meet with a couple of high school buddies of mine at the train shelter in Cedarhurst, from where we had planned to walk to the park.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a kind of clarion call, a summons to the Ten Days of Penitence that culminate in the Day of Atonement. The Torah calls it “the day when the horn is sounded,” and its central event is the sounding of the shofar.
The five-year-old boy was in a church in Puerto Rico with his parents. As they and his grandparents were Catholics, that made him Catholic – as far as his young mind could figure.
It would be reasonable to assume that a language that contains the verb “to command” must also contain the verb “to obey.” The one implies the other, just as the concept of a question implies the possibility of an answer. We would, however, be wrong. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but there is no word in biblical Hebrew that means “to obey.” When Hebrew was revived as a language of everyday speech in the nineteenth century, a word, letsayet, had to be borrowed from Aramaic. Until then there was no Hebrew word for “to obey.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness...” (Dr. Martin Luther King).
I felt ill at ease in a strange way when our daughter drove off in our old Dodge Caravan to pick up my son from yeshiva. She was new at the wheel, and there was plenty of traffic to maneuver around in Lakewood on Friday afternoons. An innocent, precious neshamah in my eyes who didn’t belong on the busy roads, she wanted to help out. So when I was called later to the scene of the accident, the One Above seemed to confirm that my assessment had been totally accurate.
There is a fascinating detail in the passage about the king in this week’s parshah. The text says that, “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll before the levitical priests” (Deuteronomy 17:18). He must “read it all the days of his life” so that he will be God-fearing and never break Torah law. But there is also another reason: so that he will “not begin to feel superior to his brethren” (Kaplan translation), “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Robert Alter). The king had to have humility. The highest in the land should not feel that he is the highest in the land.
The other night, after having a truly bad day where nothing seemed to go right, I jokingly changed my Facebook status to “I have had one of those awful, miserable, terrible days! And there is NO chocolate in the house!”
Having set out the broad principles of the covenant, Moses now turns to the details, which extend over many chapters and several parshiyot. The long review of the laws that will govern Israel in its land begin and end with Moses posing a momentous choice.
I was preparing a shiur to honor the memory of my father, Paul Magill, a”h, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, and I was looking at that week’s sedrah, Parshas Re’eh. I was struck by the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”
On the sad day that Eliezer Lipman, Reb Elimelch and Reb Zusha’s father, passed from this world, his children gathered for the week of mourning. At the conclusion of the shivah the sons divided their father’s inheritance in the following way: Avraham received the cash and the house was given to Nosson. The jewelry and housewares went to Elimelech and the outstanding debts were to be collected by Zusha.
I was going crazy. I couldn’t stand it another minute. Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself. I had been blessed, b’li ayin hara, with children very close in age. Surely having one child after the other was a blessing to be grateful for. I knew there were many people who would give a million dollars to have such a “problem.” But still, it was very stressful. But that wasn’t the hardest part, and it wasn’t the main reason for my feelings of despair.
Something implicit in the Torah from the very beginning becomes explicit in the book of Devarim. God is the God of love. More than we love Him, He loves us. Here, for instance, is the beginning of this week’s parshah: “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love [et ha-brit ve-et ha-chessed] with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers” (Deuteronomy 7:12-13).
Near the end of Parshas Va’etchanan, so inconspicuously that we can sometimes miss it, is a statement with such far-reaching implications that it challenges the impression that has prevailed thus far in the Torah, giving an entirely new complexion to the biblical image of the people Israel:
The day following our oldest daughter’s wedding in Eretz Yisrael was the day we had planned for my husband to return to his job in the U.S. I was staying for another week in Israel with the rest of our children and my dear mother in order to participate in the remaining wedding celebrations.
I know what you’re thinking. You have already concluded that this is one of those heartwarming stories about the anonymous tenth man who completes a minyan in some far-off region, under mysterious, if not downright miraculous, circumstances. Likely as not, he turns out to be Eliyahu Hanavi.
During The Three Weeks between 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, as we recall the destruction of the Temples, we read three of the most searing passages in the prophetic literature, the first two from the opening of the book of Jeremiah, the third, next week, from the first chapter of Isaiah.
I’d like to believe that I at least have average intelligence. And when in need of inspiration or to learn something to facilitate my personal growth, I gain much from adult tapes and books. I’m greatly inspired by the words of the plethora of writers and speakers who target their words to adult audiences; their sentence structure and vocabulary meant only for us grownups. Their valuable lessons are often arrived at through a series of logical steps any adult with reasonable intelligence should be able to follow. And follow I do.
To the misnaged-opponent, chassidus was not perceived as a different strand of normative Judaism, nor as a movement to uplift downtrodden Jews – but as an existential threat to Judaism itself. And the threat was no longer viewed as a futuristic potentiality; it was a real and imminent danger, for the movement was no longer limited to just the commoner but had infiltrated the ranks of scholars.
Feeling more alone than at any time since arriving in New York, I looked inside myself for anything that could anchor me to bring me back to who I was, to move away from illusions of romance to my central sticking point. Suddenly and unexpectedly, being a Jew meant more to me than anything else in the world.
You don’t become a ba’al teshuvah overnight. There were many events in my life that contributed to the deepening of my religious commitment, including a party I attended with young, beautiful church members who tried to make me one of them, and how I met their “Jewish priest.” (I’ll discuss both experiences during the course of this continuing column.)
It is a scene that still has the power to shock and disturb. The people complain. There is no water. It is an old complaint and a predictable one. That’s what happens in a desert. Moses should have been able to handle it in his stride. He has been through far tougher challenges in his time. Yet suddenly he explodes into vituperative anger: