The summer season we pined for on those dreary, shivery winter days is all but coming to a close. What better way for reality to sink in than the call of the shofar that wrests us from our repose on the first of Elul, reminding us that we have serious work ahead. Luckily we get thirty days to pull ourselves together, so that we have a leg to stand on when we petition Hashem on the Yom HaDin to grant us mechila for our shortcomings of the past year.
Our rabbis teach that the first step of repentance is ackowledging our sins and errors. If we feel that our behavior is on the right track then by definition we will fail to identify our shortcomings. Sadly, then our repentance will never leave the start gate.
In this week’s parshah the Torah writes about the mitzvah to destroy avodah zarah. At the same time, the Torah says not to do avodah zarah to Hashem your God. As the pasuk says: “va’avaditam es shemam min hamakom hahu, lo sa’asun kein la’Hashem Elokeichem.”
For forty years in the midbar the Jewish people ate mon. Guided by Moshe Rabbeinu, engaged in constant Torah study with every physical need taken care of, Klal Yisrael lived on a lofty spiritual plane. Now that they were being ushered into a different era – entering Eretz Yisrael where they would begin living in a natural manner – they were given many directives to retain their status as an exalted nation.
Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber zt’l was a legendary leader of Russian Jewry for over three decades. He remained resolutely firm in his faith and practiced Torah and mitzvos throughout his arduous years behind the Iron Curtain, even in the brutality of a Russian Labor Camp. His autobiography, To Remain a Jew is his incredible account of how he remained faithful to G-d even under the most trying circumstances. The following is just one anecdote recorded in the book:
In this week’s parshah we derive the mitzvah of birchas hamazon from the pasuk of “v’achalta v’savata u’veirachta” (Devarim 8:10). This mitzvah is to recite three berachos mi’de’oraisa and one mi’de’rabbanan after one eats bread made from the five grains (wheat, spelt, oats, rye, and barley).
Ah, Shabbos Nachamu! Finally the three weeks of mourning have finished, and the seven-week period of comforting, of nechama, has begun. We breathe a sigh of relief and life goes back to normal. But wait a minute – it doesn’t seem like anything has changed!
In this week’s parshah and in Parshas Re’eh the Torah commands us not to add to the mitzvos or lessen them (bal tosif and bal tigra). For example, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 88b says that one may not have five parshios in his tefillin or five different species together with his lulav. The Ramban in Parshas Re’eh says that the pasuk in this week’s parshah is the main prohibition and the pasuk in Re’eh is referring to the korbanos.
Why do we call this Shabbos, Shabbos Chazon? The word chazon is the first word of the haftarah and it means to see, to experience a vision. If that is the reason we have to ask what is so special about this word?
תשעה באב always falls between the parshiyot of Devarim and V’etchanan. This is very appropriate, because in the parsha of Devarim we read of חטא המרגלים, and the gratuitous crying which prompted the Almighty to say that He would one day give us good reason to cry; while the parsha of V’etchanan which contains within it the passage of כי תוליד בנים ובני בנים, which we read on תשעה באב - speaks of exile, teshuvah, and redemption.
This week we begin reading Sefer Devarim. The Gemara in Baba Basra 13b says that four blank lines must be scratched onto the parchment between each of the sefarim of a Sefer Torah (i.e. between Sefer Bereishis and Sefer Shemos).
“The ox knows its owner; the donkey the stall of its master; Israel doesn’t know, My nation doesn’t contemplate.” – Yeshayah 1:3 With these words, Yeshayah HaNavi begins the rebuke of his generation, a generation that strayed, that has left the ways of the Torah and turned to other gods and foreign ways.
Louis XVI hoped that July 21, 1791 would be a turning point in the French Revolution. It was, but not quite the way he had hoped it would be. Louis had planned to cross into Austria, raise an army and invade his home country of France to crush the revolution. In fact, Louis and his family nearly made it to the border. They were a mere thirty miles away from putting his grand scheme into action. But a stable master recognized him when the carriage stopped to rest. The National Guardsmen were alerted and intercepted his carriage forcing him and his family to return to Paris embarrassed and humiliated. The French Revolution was about to take a dangerous and radical turn.
On this coming Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masai we bentch Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. Rosh Chodesh (on Yom Sheini - Monday, July 8) marks the start of the mournful “nine days” during which we restrict many activities normally taken for granted, such as eating meat and drinking wine (Shabbos is an exception), the purchasing and wearing of new clothes, doing laundry (the washing of children’s clothing may be permitted; consult your halachic authority), listening to music, swimming and participating in joyful pursuits.
In parshas Masei the Torah discusses the halachos regarding when one person accidentally kills another. The Torah says that a relative of the victim (goel hadam) may avenge the death of his relative by killing the murderer who acted accidentally. According to the Torah, the perpetrator must go to one of the arei miklat (city of refuge). While in the ir miklat the goel hadam may not kill the murderer who acted accidentally. If he does kill him while he was in the ir miklat, he will be liable for murder.
A friend recently related the following personal story: “A few months ago I was invited to a wedding of close friends. Though the bride and groom were from New York they were celebrating their wedding in a resort village in Mexico, south of Cancun. I, and other guests who were Shomer Shabbos arranged all the food.
In this week’s parshah the Torah lists the different korbanos that we are to bring on the various different days of the year. In perek 28, pasuk 11 the Torah commands us as to which korbanos we must bring on Rosh Chodesh. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, Rosh Chodesh was determined by the actual birth of the moon. Witnesses would testify before beis din that they saw the rebirth of the new moon, and beis din would pronounce that that day was Rosh Chodesh.
“Just one Shabbos and we’ll all be free!” We all know MBD’s classic song, which swept the Jewish music scene in the 80’s, and it is actually based on the following midrash (Shemos 25:12): “If Klal Yisroel will keep one Shabbos properly, Ben-Dovid (a reference to Moshiach, not MBD…) will immediately come.” However, this requires explanation – why is it that we will be redeemed through keeping Shabbos? Let us discover an amazing new aspect of Shabbos that will also help us to properly utilize the upcoming “Three Weeks” – the days of mourning over the Bais HaMikdash.
Parshas Balak ends with the daughters of Moav enticing the young Jewish men to sin. .. This quickly led to idol worship, and many Jewish men served Baal Peor.
In this week’s parshah Bilam decides to approach Balak with the intention of cursing the Bnei Yisrael. En route his donkey refused to continue on the path, continuing to veer to the side of the road. At one point the donkey smashed Bilam’s leg into the wall. Bilam hit his donkey three different times. The reason that his donkey would not proceed is because it saw that there was a malach standing in the road with his sword drawn.
The Rambam, therefore, adds a second component: by getting angry, Moshe misled the people as to the nature of God. The masses felt that Moshe's anger was reflective of God's anger.
One of the most complex Tanach personalities is the central figure of this week’s Haftorah: Yiftach, the Shofet, Judge.
In this week’s parshah the Torah discusses many halachos of tumah. One halacha is that a person who is tamei may not enter the Mikdash. Doing so makes him liable for kareis.
In this week’s parshah the Torah tells us that Hashem told Aharon to redeem every firstborn child. This is known as pidyon haben. The Rema, in Yoreh De’ah 305:10, rules in the name of the Rivash that one may not appoint a shaliach to perform pidyon haben. Many Acharonim argue with this ruling and posit that one can appoint a shaliach to perform pidyon haben.
Korach, carried away by jealousy, led two hundred fifty men in rebellion against Moshe and Hashem. These were all great individuals; they had all witnessed Moshe going up to Har Sinai to accept the Torah, and they all heard Hashem speak through Moshe. Yet they willfully and intentionally set out to depose Moshe – to prove he had veered off from that which Hashem had told him. Moshe, recognizing the danger they were placing themselves in, did everything he could to get them to back down. Nevertheless, they remained steadfast in their revolt, and marched to their destruction. In the end the entire congregation – man, woman, infant and child – died a terrible death.