Category Archives: Dvarim

Multilingual Torah (Dvarim)

Multilingual Torah (Dvarim)

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. -Oliver Wendell Holmes

With the people of Israel camped on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from the Promised Land, Moses gives what is likely the longest and most important sermon in history. The sermon lasts weeks. Moses, knowing his preordained death is near, delves into the recent history of the Jewish people, the future, and the divinely mandated laws, the heart and soul of the Torah, in exquisite detail that we still have, word for word, in the Fifth Book of Moses, the Book of Deuteronomy.

Rashi, the premier rabbinic commentator, tells us that when Moses explained the Torah, he did so in seventy languages. The Berdichever asks why. The entire nation of Israel spoke Hebrew. What reason could Moses have for taking the painstaking effort of translating the Torah, not just to one other language, but to seventy other languages?

The Berdichever answers his own question and explains that specifically in that place, outside of Israel, there was a vital importance in Moses translating the Torah into all the languages of the Earth. The very survival of the nation of Israel depended on it.

Moses knew, through divine prophecy, that the Jewish people would eventually be exiled from the land they were about to conquer, and would wander throughout the world, reaching all corners of the planet. They would be adrift in a sea of languages. God needed to provide some “hooks,” some linguistic connection to keep the bond between the Torah and the Jewish people going. The Torah itself has a handful of foreign words, including some of Aramaic, Egyptian and African origin. However, a full (oral) translation was required to really serve the Diaspora that has spanned millennia and continents.

Somehow, this early translation of the Torah, outside of Israel, is what has sustained the nation of Israel in its long exile.

May our exile end and may we witness the rebuilding of our Temple in Jerusalem, speedily and in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the amazing Yemei Iyun – Bible Study program of Herzog College.

The Judge behind the Judge (Dvarim)

The Judge behind the Judge (Dvarim)

Men in general judge more from appearances than from reality. All men have eyes, but few have the gift of discernment. -Niccolo Machiavelli

The fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, is in essence a long, detailed, yet powerful and prophetic speech by Moses, given during his final days on earth. It is filled with history, laws, articles of faith, as well as a vision for the future. Moses describes, among a plethora of items, the creation and comportment of a judiciary. In a profound statement, he exhorts judges to “fear no man, for judgment is God’s.”

However, for a human judge, that is easier said than done. Communal Rabbis, for example, are often called upon to adjudicate between members of their community. These are people with whom he generally has an ongoing relationship. Some may be important and influential leaders of the community. The Rabbi’s livelihood and position may well be in jeopardy if he rules against such a person. Who knows what vengeance a disgruntled plaintiff may take against the Rabbi who ruled against him? Even more dramatic and well publicized are the cases involving members of organized crime networks. Judges of such high-profile cases must be of a particularly strong constitution. When such powerful men threaten a judge, they know their lives are in danger.

To complicate matters further, no judge can ever know the full extent of circumstances behind a case. Are there ameliorating factors? Who is telling the truth? Is there fabricated evidence or testimony? How does one interpret the law in this particular case? No two cases are ever exactly the same and precedent, while helpful, can’t always make the ruling and capture the nuances of a case in front of you.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 1:17 (Dvarim) elaborates further on Moses’ command to “fear no man, for judgment is God’s.” He explains that judges should fear no person, even if they are violent or dangerous. We should try, within the realm of our human capacity and faculties, to see that justice is done. However, even if we should err, ultimately God is the one who ensures that justice is served. If a judge wrongfully fined a plaintiff, the judge has sinned, and God will make sure the plaintiff receives what is owed to him through other means.

We must always do our very best, without fear. God will take care of the rest and make sure that ultimately, justice is served.

Shabbat Shalom and may we have a meaningful fast of Tisha B’Av,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the next US Supreme Court Justice. May he serve the people well, with honor, dignity and justice.

Israel the Non-Imperialist

Israel the Non-Imperialist

Sovereignty over any foreign land is insecure. -Seneca the Elder

Historically, Israel was blessed with fearsome warriors. The ancient near east quaked in their sandals as the Children of Israel approached the borders of successive nations. There was the miraculous Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea, which basically destroyed the mighty Egyptian empire.  Forty years later, there was the lightning-fast conquest of the lands of Sihon King of Emor and Og King of Bashan. The other nations learned that God was with Israel and that the new generation of Israelites was fearless.

However, what the non-Canaanite nations did not know was that God had given an express command for Israel not to attack the neighboring nations, not even to threaten them. This included not attacking Israel’s distant cousins, the Edomites, the Moabites and the Amonites.  Had Sihon and Og left Israel alone, if they would have let Israel pass through to Canaan peacefully, they too would have remained unscathed and unconquered.

Rabbi Hirsch (in the 1800s) on Deuteronomy 2:5 details:

“Israel is to take its place among the nations with a God-fearing respect for their possessions. Israel must not see itself as a nation of conquerors from whom no nation on earth will henceforth be safe. Rather, Israel must limit its military actions and prowess to the task of occupying that one sole land which God has intended for it and promised to it from the very outset of history.”

Israel has its Promised Land. Every other land is off-limits to Israel. Just as God assigned a particular land to the Jewish nation, so, too, He assigned other lands to other peoples. The Torah goes out of its way to detail the conquests of other lands that God facilitated for other nations.

There are people in the world who imagine that Israel has imperialistic designs or “Zionist plots.” Often these people and their theories are anti-semitically motivated and are disengaged both from reality, as well as from our very nature and founding as a people. In the end, they are either distorting reality for their own purposes or just clueless.

What we will fight for is to defend the land that God has finally returned us to, but we have no designs or interest in anyone else’s land.

May we remain steadfast in protecting our people and our land and may our enemies learn again to fear us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of the recent victims of terror. God will avenge their blood.

 

Multi-lingual Torah

Multi-lingual Torah

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. -Nelson Mandela

languages2Different languages have different expressions; different concepts and even different ways of thinking that are not easily translated to other languages. Nevertheless, God spoke to Moses in Hebrew. The Torah is written in Hebrew and that is what our ancestors spoke. The modern world has witnessed the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language and the common tongue of the State of Israel.

Ideally, every Jew should understand Hebrew. There is nothing like reading our sources in the original. Much is lost in translation. However, the reality is that vast numbers of the Jewish people today don’t understand Hebrew. They need to rely on translations. They can only learn Torah in a foreign language.

The Sfat Emet on parshat Devarim in 5635 (1875) explains that the multiplicity of languages in which one can learn Torah is purposeful. He explains that there are certain aspects of the Torah, certain lessons, which can only be transmitted in a different language. While Hebrew is the main language of transmission, the main river that carries the knowledge of millennia, there are other distributaries, other streams that branch off from the main Hebrew one, with their own unique and important lessons.

May we learn those lessons, in whatever language we can.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Mr. Lenny Bolnick.

 

Sufficient Scholars?

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/devarim-sufficient-scholars/

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Sufficient Scholars?

Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments. -Plato

one-in-a-crowd

There is a belief in Jewish tradition, that the merits of a Torah scholar, of a “Talmid Chacham”, that dedicates himself exclusively to studying Torah the entire day, provides a physical protection to the Jewish population around him. The mere act of profoundly and deeply reading and reviewing the ancient texts, of immersing oneself in the sea of Torah scholarship affords to others a divine safeguard against the evils of the world.

While this is an old, long-held belief, in recent decades it has become a more popular and underlying philosophy for growing segments of the Jewish nation. One question that may be asked is what is the ideal required ratio of these “spiritual defenders” as compared to the population being protected. How many of our sons should dedicate themselves to what otherwise might be considered activities that don’t contribute materially to society? How many Torah scholars do we require as compared to active soldiers? How many people should be working for a living and how many should confine themselves to the four walls of the study hall as a career path?

Interestingly enough, the Baal Haturim provides an answer. He states on his commentary to Deuteronomy 1:3 that one “Talmid Chacham”, one true Torah scholar, has the capacity to “protect” 40,000 people. For every 40,000 residents, one Talmid Chacham is enough. So for example, for a population of 8,000,000, the math would indicate that we would want 200 full-time professional Torah scholars.

One would therefore hope that the quality, commitment and seriousness of thousands upon thousands of men who ostensibly dedicate their lives exclusively to Torah study will afford us great protection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the true Torah scholars out there.

Striking While Hot

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/dvarim-striking-while-hot/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Striking While Hot

“There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

Millennia ago, perhaps the first technological profession, blacksmithing, taught us to strike iron while it’s hot. If you wait too long, if you wait until the red-hot metal has cooled down, your blows will be ineffective, your effort wasted, your resources spent, your time lost.

On the retelling of the journey of the tribes of Israel from Egypt towards Canaan, there is a curious statement which claims that the Jewish nation was only eleven days away from their destination, if they crossed into Canaan from the south. For a journey that eventually took forty years, it is an unusually short amount of time, making the decades-long trek particularly tragic, especially to an entire generation of soldiers that died in the desert and never merited to see the Promised Land. Furthermore, the direction the Israelite people finally entered Canaan was from the eastern border and not the southern one. So why does the Torah include this ironic and geographically misleading reminder of our wasted opportunity?

The Netziv on Deuteronmy 1:2 explains that at the time of the Exodus, the nations of the world were terrified of Israel. They had all heard of the ten plagues, the parting of the sea and the miraculous and complete destruction of the armed forces of the Egyptian Empire, the mightiest nation on the planet. The countries on the border of Canaan, specifically the nation of Seir on the southern border, would have scattered out of the way to let the Children of Israel cross through their territory. However, forty years later, Israel was no longer feared. Seir stood fearlessly in the path of Israel. Israel had to take the long road. They needed to march all the way around, eastward and northward and then to head back west towards the Jordan River and only then start their long withheld conquest of the land.

May our leadership and our soldiers strike well, strike hard, strike fast, and may all enemies of our people be destroyed quickly and thoroughly.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Captain Roni Kaplan for his own work against the media terrorists, to all our troops and to the entire family of Israel that supports them.

Home Protection

[First posted at The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/dvarim-home-protection/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Home Protection

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”  -Charles Dickens

Most people have a visceral connection, not necessarily to the physical construct, but rather to the emotional reality that they call home. It may be good, it may be bad, (it is rarely indifferent), but it is clearly emotional.

And whenever that home is threatened, in whatever form, the reaction is often instinctive, unthinking, responding from our guts and hearts.

The Bible recounts how after the sin of the spies and the punishment of wandering, a feisty group of men arose that defied the edict and ventured to conquer Canaan. Moses uses unusually flowery language in describing the result of the ill-planned attack: “And they chased you like bees.”Deuteronomy 1:44

Ibn Ezra explains that the moment someone attempts to harm a bee’s home they will immediately attack and sting the aggressor. They have a natural, healthy, correct response to a threat to their family’s dwelling.

May our homes ever remain safe from all harm and threats.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To those expelled from Gush Katif on the eighth anniversary of that crime. May they continue to rebuild their homes and lives.