Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parshat Ki Tavo (Rabbi Sedley)

Our Torah reading gives the commandment for the Jewish nation to recite the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, after they have entered the Land of Israel. The Mishna (Sota 7; 5) describes how this took place: "Once the Jews had crossed the Jordan river and come to Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival which are in the Shomron; Six of the tribes ascended Mount Gerizim, and six ascended Mount Eival, while the Cohanim, Levi'im and the ark remained in between at the bottom. They turned towards Mount Gerizim, and began with the blessing, 'Blessed is the person who shall not make a graven or molten image' and all the people answered 'Amen'. Then they turned toward Mount Eival, and recited the curse 'Cursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image' (Deuteronomy 27; 15), and all the people answered 'Amen'. This continued until they had completed the blessings and the curses."
The problem with this Mishna is the fact that the Torah doesn't actually list the blessings that are mentioned. In our Torah reading we only have the curses. We have to rely on the principle (Nedarim 11a) that from a negative we can infer the positive to work out that we should recite the blessings also.
The Torah always tries to use positive language. Why in this case did G-d only give us the curses? Would it not have been better to list the blessings and leave us to deduce the curses on our own?
We know that there is nothing which remains stationary, either physically or spiritually. Anything which is not moving upwards is decaying downward. This is explicit in several places in the Mishna, e.g. "Hillel said ...He who does not increase his knowledge decreases it" (Chapters of the Fathers 1; 13). Using this concept we can explain why the Torah only listed the curses. Had we been given only the blessings, we might have thought that keeping the Torah led to blessing, but not keeping the Torah had no consequences. However, since the Torah lists the destructive results of transgression, we can infer the blessings that come into the world through observance. The Torah is teaching us that there is no such thing as taking 'time out', and doing actions which have no consequence whatsoever. Every act that we do either brings blessing into the world, or the opposite, there is no such thing as a 'pareve' action.
The Kli Yakar gives another two explanations. Firstly he explains (verse 12) that the main blessing which is promised will only occur in the World-to-Come, which is hidden from us now. As a sign that the real reward is not in this world, G-d chose to hide the formulation of the blessings, so that they are not explicit in the Torah. The reason that the reward must be in the World-to-Come is in keeping with the Talmudic maxim that the reward from G-d is always far greater than the punishment. Though G-d will "visit the sins of the fathers on the sons and grandsons for four generations" (Exodus 33; 7), the reward is for one thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7; 9). The consequences of Mitzvot are thus 250 times more powerful than the results of sin. Thus, though a sin could be punished in this world, reward for Mitzvot occurs only in a world which is infinite. Since it has no physical constraints there is no limit to the effects of the Mitzvah.
Alternatively the Torah tells us the curses, because we know that through the repentance process sins and curses can be turned into merits and blessings. "Reish Lakish said, 'how great is repentance, for through repentance premeditated sins are accounted as merits, as it is said (Ezekiel 33; 19) "When a wicked man returns form his wickedness and practices justice and charity, he shall live because of them"" (Yoma 86a). Therefore the Torah gives us the curses, not only to infer the blessings from them, but to teach us that through repentance the blessings can actually be contained within the curses.

Ki Tavo summary

When the Israelites enter the Land of Israel, they should bring the first fruits from their trees each year to Jerusalem and offer them at the Temple. As they place the fruits before the altar they recite a paragraph which mentions the origins of the nation as slaves in Egypt, and that G-d in His goodness brought them out of slavery and into the Land of Israel. One tithe (ten percent) of the crops from the third and sixth year shall be given to the poor. This replaces the normal tithe which is to be eaten by the farmers in the city of Jerusalem. These tithes may not be eaten when in a state of mourning, nor used to pay for funeral expenses.
Because the Jews accepted these commandments upon themselves, and dedicated themselves to serving G-d, He has also chosen them as His treasured nation. Moshe and the elders command the nation that when they enter into Israel they must renew their covenant of Torah. They shall take rocks from the Jordan river, set them up as monuments and inscribe the whole of the Torah on them. After this, six of the tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim and six on Mount Eival. The Cohanim and Levi'im shall stand in between these two mountains and read out the blessings and curses for the nation. After each blessing or curse all the people shall answer 'Amen'. The curses are listed, as are the blessings. If the Jews observe all the laws in the Torah they shall receive material and spiritual blessing and success. They will be invincible in the face of their enemies, and shall be a major world superpower. If they fail to keep the commandments then they will be beset by the curses. They will not prosper materially, and will be conquered by their enemies. They will perish from famine and thirst, and will not know where to turn. Their children will be taken away and they will go mad from the pain and suffering that will surround them. All the nations of the world will talk about how far they have fallen and the calamities that have befallen them. They will be sent into exile, and their numbers decimated. And even in exile there will be no rest, but still they will suffer and be persecuted. These are the words of the covenant which G-d commanded Moshe to seal with the Children of Israel before entering the Land of Israel.
Moshe gives final encouragement to the people, and reminds them of all that they have been through and all that G-d has done for them. He urges them to keep the covenant.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Ki Tetzei

“You shall take her for yourself as a wife” (21:11)

The Talmud in Kiddushin (21b) says regarding this marriage: The Torah spoke (and gave this leniency) only to a man’s evil urge. If it would not be permitted he would come to marry her anyway in a forbidden manner.
We can ask on the usage of the word ‘only’, which is not usually used in this context. It is coming to teach a limited leniency because of certain factors. The normal Talmudic word to mean this is ‘because’. For example, ‘because she wouldn’t be able to remarry otherwise, they were lenient’ (Yevamot 88a); ‘because she should be attractive to her future spouse’ (Ketuvot 84a); because the land of Israel should be settled’ (Gitin 8b); ‘because he needs something to live on’ (ibid. 59a); ‘because people need an option of repentance’ (Bava Kamma 94b) and many other such cases.
Here the Talmud should have said ‘because of the evil urge’. However our text reads ‘the Torah spoke only because of the evil urge’, which is too wordy, and it means to say something specific.
Perhaps we can explain this use of the words based on the story in Yevamot (63a): Rabbi Chiya’s wife was very cruel to him. Despite this, whenever he would find something that he knew she would like he would purchase it and give it to her. Rav asked him, ‘why do you do this, since she is so cruel to you?’ He replied, ‘it is enough that they raise our children (in the proper way) and save us from sin’ (from thoughts of sin – Rashi).
It is clear from here that the purpose of married life is twofold. To raise children in the proper way, and to save the husband from thoughts of sin.
Later in our portion, in verse 18, it explains the laws of the rebellious son. Our Sages said about this (Sanhedrin 107a), ‘why does the portion of the rebellious son follow the section of the wife captured in war (which is the section we began writing about)? To teach you that anyone who marries a woman captured in war will eventually have a rebellious son.
With this we can understand that in every marriage there are two purposes – to raise children in the way of the Torah, and to be saved from thoughts of sin and the trials of the evil urge. However, in the marriage to the woman captured in war there is only one goal – to be saved from the evil urge. In this case the purpose is not to raise children and to educate them in the proper way, since the Torah says that eventually they will have a rebellious son.
In this way we can understand the intention of the Talmud that we cited in the beginning: ‘The Torah spoke only to a man’s evil urge’. In other words, being saved from sin. But without the second goal of raising children in the correct way, since the man knows that this will not happen. It is decreed from the Torah that his son will be rebellious, as we have explained.
We also find a practical halacha in this explanation. Since the Torah spoke only to a man’s evil urge, we understand that if a person is not being attacked by the evil urge and wishes to marry a wife in order to build a home as is the way of the world, he may not capture a wife in war. The entire leniency is only for someone who is being attacked by the evil urge, as is implicit in the verse “and he craves her”.
In the Torah Temima we discussed the basic reason for this leniency of a woman captured in way, ‘that if we don’t permit her, he will marry her in a forbidden manner’, as cited above. If that is true, then we have undermined the whole purpose of mitzvot which is to distance a person from sin. A person could always say ‘better that I do it in a permitted way than in a forbidden manner’. This is certainly not correct. Why in this case did the Torah permit something because of the evil urge, more than in any other mitzvah where the same reason may apply?
The answer is that this leniency is given only during the time of war, so that a man should not cause himself pain, and weaken his battle abilities. For this reason, if soldiers enter a town and don’t find kosher meat available they are permitted to eat non kosher meat (Chullin 17a). Rambam also brings this law in chapter 8 of the ‘Laws of Kings and their Wars’. But during peace time and in places where there is peace there is no basis for this leniency for the reason of ‘better to do it in a permitted way’. This is obvious and clear.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Parshat Ki Tetzie (Rabbi Sedley)

The last Mishna in Chullin (142a) says, "For a Mitzvah as simple as shooing away the mother bird the Torah promises 'In order that things go well for you and you will have length of days' (Deuteronomy 22: 7), how much more so for a Mitzvah which is difficult to perform". The Talmud (ibid.) comments "Rabbi Ya'akov taught about honouring one's parents the Torah says, 'In order that you have length of days, and it go well for you', and in regard to sending away the mother bird it states, 'In order that things go well for you and you will have length of days'. If a person's father were to ask them to climb up to a nest and bring down the chicks, and he went, and sent away the mother bird and took the chicks, and on his descent he fell and died, in such a case where is the length of days, where is the good that he will receive? Rather, 'length of days' refers to the World-to-Come which is infinite, and that 'It shall things go well' refers to a world that is only good".
One of the leading personalities of the Mishnaic period was Elisha ben Avuha, a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud (Chagiga 14b) tells how he, Rabbi Akiva, Ben Azai and Ben Zoma once entered the Pardes (metaphor for the deepest esoteric wisdom of the kabbalah). Despite the warnings of Rabbi Akiva, the others were unable to deal with the knowledge that they had gained. Ben Azai died, Ben Zoma became crazy, and Elisha ben Avuha gave up his religious beliefs. He acted in a manner so unbecoming with who he was that people at first refused to believe that it was him, and he gained the nickname of 'Acher' (Another). Though the reason that he cast off the yoke of Torah was because he delved too deeply into the kabbalistic secrets, the Talmud also explains the immediate trigger of his actions.
"Rav Yosef said, 'If Acher would have understood the verse [of sending away the mother bird] like Rabbi Ya'akov he would never have sinned'. What did he see? One opinion is that he saw an incident of a child sending away the mother bird and falling to his death. Another opinion is that he saw the tongue of Rabbi Chutzpit the interpreter lying in a rubbish heap. He said 'How could the mouth that spoke pearls of wisdom should come to lick the dust?'. Acher didn't realise that 'length of days' refers to the world to come which is infinite, and that 'it shall go well' in a world that is only good." (Chullin ibid.).
How could one of the greatest Sages of the time come to make such a basic mistake about the simple meaning of the verse? Surely it is clear that any reward promised refers to the World-to-Come.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 8; 8) tells us that when Moshe wrote the verse "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1; 26) he asked G-d why he allowed a verse which may cause people to think that there is more than one god. G-d replied "One who wants to sin will sin". Ultimately any sin is motivated by a subconscious desire to sin. Though different events may be the trigger for rebellion against G-d, or give us an excuse for sin, the blame lies solely in ourselves, for if we would not want to sin, we would not.
This is the reason that Elisha ben Avuha could not understand a simple explanation of the verse. Though he had scaled the heights of Torah knowledge, and reached greater insights than almost anyone else, deep down in his subconscious he must have been looking for an excuse for departing from the path. This is a message for all of us as we approach Rosh HaShana. If even the greatest of the sages could be led so easily into sin, how careful must we be in examining the depths of our souls to search out any imperfections, or traits that may lead us to sin.

Ki Tetzei summary

During battle against an enemy nation, a man may capture a woman as a wife, but must give her a month to mourn her family. If at the end of this time he still wishes to marry her he may do so, provided that she converts to Judaism. If either he or she refuses, she must be set free and may not be sold into slavery.
The eldest son receives a double portion of his father's inheritance. A rebellious son who refuses to listen to his parents or any other authority, but steals to obtain food and alcohol, should be put to death by the courts1. The corpse of someone who has been put to death by the courts must be hung on a tree, but must be taken down and buried before night fall.
Lost objects must be returned to their owner. If the finder cannot contact the owner he must care for the found object until the person who has lost it can reclaim it. If someone sees an animal fallen under the weight of its burden they must help the owner to reload the animal properly. Men may not wear women's clothing nor vice versa. The mother bird must be shooed away before taking the eggs from her nest. We are commanded to build a safety fence from any accessible roof to prevent injury. We may not plant grape vines and other plants in close proximity. We may not plough with an ox and a donkey together. We may not wear a garment which contains both linen and wool. We must wear tzitzit on all four cornered garments.
If a man falsely accuses his wife of having had an extramarital affair while they were betrothed he shall be fined 100 silver shekels. If the accusation is true the woman shall be put to death by stoning. If a married woman commits adultery both she and the and the adulterous partner shall be put to death. If a man rapes a woman he shall be put to death. If a man seduces an unmarried woman he shall be fined 50 silver shekels.
A man may not marry his father's wife. A man whose reproductive organs have been damaged so that he is impotent may not marry2. A mamzer (the child of a relationship which is incestuous or adulterous) may not marry into the nation. A male Ammonite or Moabite may not marry into the nation even after they convert to Judaism because their nation was inhospitable to the Jews during the exodus from Egypt. We shall not reject an Edomite or Egyptian convert. The third generation may marry into the nation.
When the Jews go out to war their camp must remain holy. Any man who has a seminal emission must leave the camp and not return until the evening after immersion in a Mikva. A latrine should be made outside the camp, with a shovel to cover over the refuse.
We must not force a slave who has escaped to return to his master. There shall be no promiscuous men or women amongst the Children of Israel. We may not charge interest on loans to other Jews. Any vow of a sacrifice to the Temple must be fulfilled without delay. The workers have the right to eat from the produce that they are harvesting.
If a man and woman get divorced the man must write a bill of divorce and present it into his wife's hand. If she remarries, her first husband may not later remarry her. Any man is exempt from army duty for the first year of marriage. He must remain at home and make his wife happy. We may not take something needed for livelihood as collateral on a loan. Someone who kidnaps another and sells him as a slave must be put to death. We are commanded to beware of Tzora'at (a spiritual malaise brought about through speaking slander about another) and to not speak slander. Someone who loans money may not enter the house of the debtor to take collateral. Workers must be paid immediately, and must not be cheated. Each person is responsible for their own actions, and will not be punished for the sins of others. There is an explicit prohibition on perverting the judgement of a convert, orphan or widow. The corners of the field must not be harvested, but left for the poor people to glean.
The punishment for breaking a negative prohibition which has no other explicit punishment is forty lashes. An ox must not be muzzled while it is threshing. If a man dies without any children, one of his brothers should marry his wife to keep his name alive. If the brothers refuse to do this, they are publicly humiliated by the widow in the chalitza ceremony, after which she is free to marry someone else. In any other case, it is forbidden to humiliate another and compensation must be paid for causing embarrassment. It is forbidden to own dishonest weights or measures.
We are commanded to always remember what the tribe of Amalek did to the Jews as they left Egypt, and when we have the opportunity G-d will command us to utterly destroy their descendants.

1)This is in order to save him from committing murder when he gets older, which he will certainly do in order to maintain his addictions. In fact the Talmud understands that the requirements for killing a rebellious son can never be met, and this entire section is only for study, but has no practical application.
2) If the impotency came about through natural means such as a birth defect or illness this prohibition does not apply.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Shoftim

“So that he not elevate his heart from his brothers nor to depart from the mitzvot right or left” (17:20)

The connection between these two attributes – prevention of pride and observance of mitzvot – can be explained based on the well known story in Shmuel 1. When Shaul sinned by not completely destroying Amalek and all his possessions, he tried to excuse himself before Shmuel “For the people took pity on the best of the flocks”. Shmuel said to him, “If you are small in your own eyes, nevertheless you are the head of the tribes of Israel” (Shmuel 1 15:16). The meaning of these words of chastisement is to say that even though a simple, private individual may take into account that “the people took pity”, and that would be sufficient excuse, because he would not be able to go against the will of the people. But before the head of the nation, that is the king, this is not an excuse, because he should have stood up to the people with strength to fulfil the mitzvah of G-d.
This is the meaning of this mitzvah here, that his heart should not become elevated. Even though he also doesn’t have permission to elevate himself above the people – ‘to trample on the heads of the holy nation’, yet despite that he must know how to use his authority when it is required for the honour of G-d, to not “depart from the mitzvah”.
Based on this explanation I also understood the meaning of the words regarding Yehoshafat king of Yehuda. “He raised his heart in the ways of G-d and removed the altars from the high places and the asheiras” (Divrei Hayamim 2 17:6). The connection between the raised heart in the ways of G-d and removing the altars is that Yehoshafat was modest and humble, as the verse in Melachim (22:43) testifies about him, and the Sages (Ketubot 103b) explained based on the verse in Tehillim (15:4) “Those who feared G-d were heavy upon Yehoshafat”. The Sages said that when he would see a Torah scholar he would stand up from his throne and hug and kiss him, and call him ‘my master, my master, my teacher, my teacher’. And he instructed the judges that he established in the cities of Yehuda and Yerushalayim in the fear of G-d with faithfulness and a full heart (Divrei Hayamim 2 19:6-9). He was very far from any kind of feeling of pride. Nevertheless, when it came to a matter of G-d’s honour, then he conducted himself with haughtiness and did what had to be done for this purpose, to remove the altars form the high places and the asheiras. He didn’t use his modesty as an excuse.
It is also possible with this explanation to understand the continuation of the verses in Tehillim (51:19) “the offerings to G-d are a humble spirit, a broken and lowly heart won’t reject G-d”. The meaning is that even though a person offers sacrifices to G-d though feeling humility and lowliness before G-d, and not becoming proud, since “G-d hates anyone who is proud” (Mishlei 16:8), and “Haughty eyes and proud heart, he will not eat” (Tehillim 101:5), and there are many other bad character traits connected to this trait of pride.
Nevertheless, this verse says that even though “an offering to G-d is a humble spirit, a broken and lowly heart”, yet they “won’t reject G-d”. In other words, despite all this, they may not use this character trait to become so attached to the trait of humility that it comes to degrading the word of G-d, to desecrate the holy things, or to desecrate the Torah and mitzvot.
This verse comes to teach and to limit the trait of modesty. With every trait there is a time to use it and a time to abandon it. As the Sages said (Shabbat 119b) ‘Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t reprove one another’. The explanation is that the Sages were so strong in their trait of modesty, to an extreme degree, that they felt that they were not worthy of reproaching others. This path of theirs led to the destruction of Yerushalayim and the exile of the Jewish people.
We find a similar concept in Gitin (55b): ‘The humility of Rabbi Zechariah destroyed our city’, and everything that is explained there, with the results of those events.
In the Talmud Sotah (5a) the Sages said: ‘A Torah scholar must have a tiny fraction (and eighth of an eighth) of pride’. Rashi explains the reason is that they should not allow the fools to mock them. And they should ensure that their words are heard by others. This explains the Talmud in Brachot (34b) that the king bows (at the beginning of the Amida and doesn’t straighten up until the end). Rashi explains that the greater a person is, the more they must humble and lower themselves. There it is referring to humility before G-d while praying. But this is not relevant to our discussion here. Look what we wrote about this on the last verse of the Torah.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Parshat Shoftim (Rabbi Sedley)


This week's Torah reading contains the commandment to appoint a king over Israel. The king is to be not only the economic and military advisor and leader, but also is to set a spiritual and religious example to the nation. The Torah places extra prohibitions on a king, in order that he should not lead the rest of the nation astray. One of those extra commandments is to write himself an second Sefer Torah. The last of the 613 commandments (according to the order in which they appear in the Torah) is the instruction for each person to write themselves a Sefer Torah. As the Sefer HaChinuch states: We are commanded that each person should have a Sefer Torah for themselves. If he is able to write it by himself that is very praiseworthy, and if not he should hire someone to write it on his behalf. This is the meaning of the verse "Now write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel." (Deuteronomy 31; 19).
[Based on the explanation of the Rosh, many contemporary halachacists have written that this commandment is also fulfilled through purchasing Jewish books such as Chumashim and Siddurim. However, anyone who is in a position to write themselves a Sefer Torah could fulfil this commandment in its best form.]
One of the extra laws which applies only to the king is to write himself a Mishne Torah (ibid. (17; 18), which is translated literally as 'a repetition of this Torah'. Amongst the commentators there are three different explanations of this phrase, teaching us three necessary approaches to studying Torah, which we learn from the example that is to be set by the king.
Onkelos (the 5th century Aramaic translation of the Chumash) translates the phrase Mishne Torah as 'Patgeshen Oraita', meaning 'A Torah which is constantly repeated and spoken'. The key to observing the commandments is to constant review the laws, and be immersed in study day and night. This is both in order that none of the laws be forgotten, and more importantly, so that he not lose sight of the goal of Torah observance at any time. This is why the Torah adds the word 'all' (He will read it all the days of his life), which comes to include the nights as well as the days, in fulfilment of the dictum "This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate upon it day and night" (Joshua 1; 8).
Rambam (Hilchot Melachim chap. 3; 1) defines the Mitzvah further. He says that if the king already has a Torah which he inherited from his father, that one remains in his treasure house, and he only has to write himself one more Torah. This seems to be allegorically referring to the transmission of Torah, traditions and customs. A king should ideally have a solid foundation in the Torah which he has learnt from his parents, with which he grew up. Once that has become his inheritance, he can place that in the palace, and carry second Torah with him, one which he has written himself. This symbolises his own personal approach to Judaism, building on that which he has learnt from the previous generation. This Torah that he has written, however, is only valid if it is something which he carries with him constantly, and lives by at all times.
Rav Yonasan Eibschitz gives a further interpretation. He says that the two Torahs represent the revealed Torah and the hidden Torah. Wherever the king goes, he should have access to the Halacha and p'shat which are the open meanings of the Torah. However, the hidden secrets of the Torah, the Kabbalah and mysticism of Judaism, should only be studied in the palace, in private. Though actions should primarily follow the Halacha of the revealed Torah, it is important for the king to know that it is all ultimately based on the Kabbalah and other spiritual sources. Though the actions we perform are a key to living in the physical world, they also have a tremendous impact on the spiritual worlds, and have far reaching consequences.
Through total absorption in Torah, through basing anything new on that which has come before, and with an understanding of both hidden and revealed aspects of Torah, the king will be able to act as a role model for the rest of the nation. As the verse concludes (Deuteronomy 17; 19), It shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, in order that he can learn to fear the L-rd his G-d, to observe all these laws and statutes in order to fulfil them".

Shoftim summary

G-d commands the Jews to set up courts of justice in each city. The judges must not be corrupt or accept any form of bribery. G-d forbids setting up any idolatrous tree or pillar. Any animal which is blemished may not be offered as a sacrifice. A Jew who worships idols and is seen by two witnesses must be brought to trial. If he or she is found to be guilty they shall be put to death by stoning. The Jew are commanded to follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin, or when there is no Sanhedrin, the Rabbis of their time. A rebellious elder, who teaches others to go against the ruling of the Sanhedrin shall be put to death.
G-d warns that when the Jews come into the Land of Israel they will want to appoint a king over themselves. The king has stricter laws that apply to him; he may not own too many horses, or marry too many wives. He must write a Sefer Torah for himself and carry it around with him at all times.
The tribe of Levi shall not receive an inheritance of land in Israel. Instead they shall receive a portion of each sacrifice that is offered.
In the Land of Israel there will be temptations to follow after omens and divination. However these are prohibited, as are consulting with the dead, charming animals and astrology. We must be wholehearted with G-d. G-d will send other prophets to the nation, and if they are true prophets, proven through signs and not coming to add to or contradict the Torah, then we are commanded to listen to them. If they are a false prophet, speak that which they have not been commanded, or prophesy in the name of another god, they shall be put to death.
The Jews must set aside six cities of refuge. Someone who accidentally commits manslaughter must flee to one of them and remain there until the death of the current High Priest. If he leaves the confines of the city, the next of kin of the victim may kill him. Someone who commits murder wilfully and flees to one of these cities shall be tried, and either sent away or put to death, depending on the nature of the evidence of the witnesses. The testimony of a single witness shall be inadmissible. Witnesses who conspire against another to falsely accuse him or her shall receive the punishment that they intended their victim to receive.
G-d promises that He will be with the people in their battles, and therefore they should not fear their enemies. A Cohen shall be appointed to encourage the people before the battle, and to send home those who are afraid. Anyone who has just built a new house, or planted a vineyard or betrothed a woman shall also return home and not fight. Before attacking the Jews must first make overtures for peace. Only if they are refused may they lay siege to their enemies. They may not chop down fruit trees while they are besieging a city.
If a corpse is discovered and the murderer cannot be found, then the elders of the nearest city must bring an atonement. It shall be a heifer which has never been worked, they must bring it to a barren valley, and there axe its neck. They shall wash their hands over the blood of the heifer and declare that they had no knowledge of the cause of the murder.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Reeh

“The blessing, that you will listen to the commandments of G-d” (11:27)

In the following verse regarding the curses it states “and you veer from the path that I command you this day, to go after other gods”. The contrast is clear and obvious. With the blessing the verse says “listen”, which implies merely hearing and accepting to keep the commandments even without any actual action to do so. Whereas in the curses the verse makes them contingent on “veering from the path”, only if a person actually goes and does something, but as long as they are only thinking about it, even though in their mind they have already veered, they won’t receive the curses.
In the Torah Temima we wrote that this can be explained based on the Talmud (Kidushin 40b), that G-d combines good thoughts to the actions (and gives reward already from the moment of thought), but with bad deeds He only considers it from when the deed is actually done. Therefore regarding the blessing it states “you will listen”, as soon as you have listened you already receive the reward as if you have already done the action, whereas with the curses it is only once you have actually veered from the path, to do actions, and the thought is not counted.
That was how we explained in the Torah Temima. However now I regret having written that, because the Talmud there explains that with the sin of idolatry even thought is included with the action. Here in the verse it states “and you veer from the path that I command you this day, to go after other gods”, which is idolatry. Therefore we have to explain based on the Talmud in Shabbat 105b which says that a person doesn’t commit the sin of idolatry with the first tempting of the yetzer hara. Rather it works gradually, from the small sin to the bigger sin. The first sins are not sins of idolatry, and therefore the thought and intent for them is not included in the punishment.
This is implicit in the verse: “you will veer from the path that I command you this day” – from ordinary mitzvot, and this will lead to “to go after other gods”. This is the meaning of the Talmud, initially the yetzer hara says to a person ‘do this small sin’. The next day it says ‘do this slightly worse sin’ until finally it leads a person so idolatry.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Parshat Reeh (Rabbi Sedley)

Search for Jerusalem

The Torah portion opens with the instruction to pronounce the blessings and curses on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival. The Torah gives the location of these two mountains very precisely: "They are across the Jordan, just beyond the Sunset highway, on the way to Gilgal, near the Plains of Moreh, in the territory of the Canaanites who lived in the flood plain" (Deuteronomy 11; 30). This is in sharp contrast to another mountain mentioned in the portion, to which the Torah gives us no geographical clues: "There will be a site that G-d will chose as the place dedicated to His name" (ibid. 12; 11). This is referring to Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, yet we find no explicit mention of Jerusalem anywhere in the five books of Moses. Several times it says "In the place that He will chose to dwell" (e.g. ibid. 16; 16). Since at the end of our Torah portion we find the commandment to appear before G-d at the place that He shall chose, why does He not tell us exactly where that place will be?
There are many answers given to this question (e.g. Tzena u'Rena on this week's portion) but the answer of the Birkas Mordechai seemed most appropriate.
The Talmud (Zevachim 54b) describes the great lengths to which King David and Shmuel went to in order to discover the exact place where the Temple was to be built. Only through days and nights without sleep were they able to finally arrive at the correct location.
We find elsewhere in the Torah that the site of the Temple Mount is only described in vague terms. When Avraham is told to go and offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice, G-d tells him "Go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you." (Genesis 22; 2). Rashi there explains that "G-d delays with the righteous, and only reveals to them their task later, in order that they should receive more reward." This seems strange, why should G-d withhold information from the righteous? And why would the lack of knowledge increase their reward?
Similarly with Ya'akov, the Torah says "He encountered that place, and slept there..." (ibid. 28; 11). Rashi (ad loc.) explains that 'that place' refers again to Mount Moriah, the 'place' mentioned earlier in the text (in connection to Avraham).
The Birkas Mordechai explains that the search for the location of the Temple is part of the Mitzvah of building the Temple. The location of the mountains upon which the blessings and curses are to be given is made explicit in the text, just as the blessings and curses are accessible to everyone through their actions. Blessings or curses are the automatic results of any deed, either positive, or the opposite. However the Temple, which symbolises the point of interaction between mankind and G-d, is not easily accessible. Before we can find the location of the Temple we must search for G-d in the world. When we find G-d, and recognise His interaction with the world, then we can begin to find the exact focus of that interaction. Only through the struggle of locating the Temple is it possible to fulfil the Mitzvah of building the Temple. This is actually implicit in the verse: "There you shall search for Him at His dwelling" (Deut. 12; 5).
This explains why G-d did not immediately reveal to Avraham the location where he was to offer his son. Through giving him the opportunity to search out the site himself, G-d allowed Avraham to take a greater share of the reward for the Mitzvah of listening to what he had been commanded.
Perhaps with this we can also explain the wording of the Halacha. The Shulchan Aruch (based on the Talmud Brachot 30a) states that "When a person stands up to pray, they should face the direction of Jerusalem, and the site of the Temple" (Orach Chaim 94; 1). However, "One who is unable to discern the correct direction should direct their heart to their Father Who is in Heaven." (ibid. 3). Why does the Shulchan Aruch not state that a person should at least direct their heart to Jerusalem? We can explain allegorically that unless they first direct their heart towards G-d, and commit themselves to searching for the Divine in this world, they will not be able to discern the site of the Temple.
Perhaps this is also the reason that the Temple is known as Beis HaBechira, 'the house of free choice'. It is the place which can only be discovered by one who has used their free choice to search out G-d in this world.

Reeh Summary

G-d offers two options, blessing or curse. The blessing is given to those who observe the commandments, and the curse to those who stray from the path that G-d has commanded, and worshipping false gods. When the Israelites enter the Land of Israel they should stand on the two mountains of Gerizim and Eival, six tribes on each, and proclaim the blessings and curses.
The Jews are commanded to thoroughly destroy any remnants of the idols of the nations who occupied Israel before them. Conversely they are prohibited from destroying G-d's name or anything that has been sanctified to Him. G-d will appoint a certain place where all the sacrifices and offerings should be brought. Though in the desert, and for the 14 years before the altar was set up in Shiloh (and later Jerusalem), it was permitted for people to bring offerings on private altars, once this Temple has been built and dedicated it will be forbidden for the Jews to offer any sacrifices outside of its boundaries. Any sacrifice which has become blemished may be redeemed and then eaten outside of Jerusalem, provided it has been ritually slaughtered like all other Kosher meat. However certain tithes and offerings may only be eaten within the walls of Jerusalem. During their time in the desert, the Jews only ate the meat of sacrifices, because everyone lived within close proximity of the altar. However once they enter Israel they will also be able to eat non-sacrificial meat.
The Israelites are commanded not to copy the ways of the Canaanites who occupied the Land before them. They are reminded of the horrific rites which they practised, including child sacrifice. Should a prophet arise amongst Israel and tell them to abandon any of the commandments which G-d has given them they should be put to death. Even if they performs miracles and signs, once they say something that contradicts the Torah they must be a false prophet. If someone tries to persuade others to follow false gods and to abandon the G-d of their ancestors they must be put to death. If there are rumours that an entire city has begun to worship false gods, the Sanhedrin (High Court) must thoroughly investigate the matter. If it is found to be true, all the inhabitants of that city must be put to death.
The Jews are considered by G-d as His children and His treasured nation, and therefore they must not make marks on their body as a sign of mourning. They must also be careful as to what they eat, and the Torah here reiterates the species of Kosher and non-Kosher animals. Ten percent of all the crops harvested must be set aside and only eaten within the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem.
At the end of the seventh year there shall be a remittance of all loans. However the Jews are commanded not to be reluctant to give out loans even knowing that if they are not repaid by the seventh year the loan will be nullified. G-d commands the Jews to be generous in making loans. A Jewish slave must be set free at the beginning of the seventh year. He shall also be given wages for the time that he has worked. Should he decide that he would rather remain a slave than return to his home, his master must take him to the courts and the judges shall pierce his ear as a sign that he refuses to be set free.
Every firstborn male animal is sanctified and must be brought as a sacrifice to G-d. However if it has a blemish it may be eaten by its owner. The Jews are commanded once again about the observance of the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succoth. When they come to Jerusalem at these three times they should also bring with them sacrifices to offer to G-d.