Category Archives: Re'eh

Pilgrimage of Friends (Reeh)

Pilgrimage of Friends (Reeh)

The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself. -George Bernard Shaw

A fun and curious commandment is the requirement which is known as the Second Tithe. The Second Tithe was only practiced in the days of the Temple. It involved the entire family journeying to Jerusalem together with a tithe of their produce and livestock. Once the family reached Jerusalem the requirement was for them to eat from their bounty. That was it, have a fun meal in town, certainly one of the easier and more physically pleasurable commandments on our list.

What is curious about the commandment is that at the end of the pronouncement, its stated purpose is given as “so that you will learn to revere God.”

The Meshech Chochma on the verse in Deuteronomy 14:23 wonders as to the correlation between a festive meal in Jerusalem and reverence of God.

He explains that it’s referring specifically to the Sabbath and Holidays in Jerusalem. When a pilgrim would come to Jerusalem in the times of the Temple, he would see his brothers, the Kohens, busy with divine service and involvement in Torah laws. It would inspire him likewise to dedicate himself more to divine service and study of the Torah.

During the weekdays this was less effective as everyone is busy making a livelihood, but on the Sabbath and Holidays, when we are prohibited from working, then a person has the time, the attention, and the freedom to take note of the divine service. The pilgrim is encouraged to emulate his friend and give more importance to the Torah and its precepts.

All that just from a festive meal.

May we have many occasions to partake of inspiring, celebratory feasts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz z”tl, a true Torah giant.

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

Daily Clarity (Reeh)

In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration. -Ansel Adams

Moses, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River is addressing the nation of Israel in his epic swan song. Before they enter the land of Canaan, to conquer it under the leadership of his disciple, Joshua, Moses continues his final lecture that we know as the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Five Books of Moses.

Moses has delved into our history, our sins, as well as God’s deliverance. Moses discusses the laws we need to keep, the ethics that underlie God’s commands and now, in the Torah reading of Reeh, he touches on a recurring theme, that of free-will, where he implores us to choose wisely.

In the first verse of the reading of Reeh, Moses declares: “See, I place before you, today, blessing and curse.”

The Berdichever wonders as to the emphasis in this verse on the word “today.” He explains that God renews all of creation on a daily basis. The world we are living in on Tuesday is a completely different world than the one we inhabited on Monday. Likewise, the world we experience on Tuesday is different from the world we will encounter on Wednesday. God, in His infinite power, somehow recreates, rebuilds, reanimates the entire cosmos every single day. Every star, every planet, every molecule and every subatomic particle is brought into existence again and again by God’s will every day.

And just as the universe is renewed on a daily basis, we humans are also granted a daily renewal. That daily renewal includes the capacity of greater clarity. We are given the ability to see the world with a new set of eyes every single day. We have the capacity to see better, deeper, clearer than we did yesterday.

That in and of itself is a recurring blessing. We can perceive, apprehend and understand what we couldn’t understand the day before. By realizing the newness, the freshness of the new day, we also concretize the new blessings that accompany that day. “Today” and every day is a blessing. Each and every day is a new blessing. Each and every day we receive new blessings. Each and every day God is personally bestowing on each and every one of us new blessings.

The more we realize the extent of the blessings, the more we receive, the more we appreciate, the more we enjoy.

May our days be filled with ever-growing clarity and blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the weddings of my nephews: Saadya (Stephen) to Addi, and Avrumi to Liba Ahuva. Mazal Tov!!

Secret Jerusalem (Re’eh)

Secret Jerusalem (Re’eh)

The first rule in keeping secrets is nothing on paper. -Thomas Powers

There is an ancient Jewish tradition regarding an eternal, concentrated divine connection to the city of Jerusalem, and more specifically to the Temple Mount. What was known as Har Hamoriah (Mount Moriah) within Jerusalem is attributed as a focal point of God on earth going as far back as Adam, continued with Abraham and the binding of Isaac, and formalized when King David bought the land as the site of the Temple which his son Solomon would build.

However, if we look in the Five Books of Moses, Jerusalem is not mentioned in that regard. Instead, we repeatedly get the mysterious phrase “the place that God will select.” Only after King David’s conquest of Jerusalem and the building of the first Temple, do the other prophets of the Bible refer to the holy city with love and yearning.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 12:5 (Re’eh) wonders as to the flagrant and consistent absence of “Jerusalem” throughout Moses’ books and the presence of the vague and prophetic “the place that God will select.” He answers that the hiding of the identity of God’s focal point in the world was purposely kept hidden for as long as possible, for at least three different reasons, as follows:

  1. If the nations of the world would have known that prayers and sacrifices made in Jerusalem are accepted, they would have gone to battle for it, causing great bloodshed.
  2. If the Canaanites living in Israel at the time would have known that the Jewish nation were to conquer its land and worship God from Har Hamoriah, they would have destroyed the place with every means at their disposal.
  3. If the tribes of Israel would have known of the supreme importance of Jerusalem, they would have fought amongst themselves to claim that area. Even though they had known of the spiritual importance of Jerusalem and Har Hamoriah, they didn’t realize that that would be “the place that God will select.”

Subsequent history did prove that Jerusalem became a place of great bloodshed and destruction as well as a point of contention between the tribes of Israel, with the Temple on Har Hamoriah being the pivotal point of the conflicts.

However, the many prophecies about Jerusalem also promise that it will become a city of peace, a city of brotherly love, a city of wisdom, of justice, of light, of instruction. Its spiritual power is indisputable and a source of inspiration and longing for more than just the Jewish people.

May we live to see all of the prophecies of Jerusalem fulfilled, and get to enjoy and bask in its spiritual light.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son Elchanan, on staring his active military service.

Blessings and Curses come from within

Blessings and Curses come from within

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. -Thomas Jefferson

God prefaces many of His commandments with the line “when you enter the land,” meaning, many of these commandments need to wait until we’re in the Promised Land or are somehow dependent on the land itself. However, after one of these common introductions God goes on to give an unusually specific location and direction as to where the people of Israel should go and what they should do there.

He orders them to congregate at the twin mountains of Gerizim and Ebal next to the city of Shechem. There, in what turns out to be a massive natural amphitheatre, the assembled nation of Israel are to proclaim the blessings that will be accorded to themselves and their descendents should they listen to God’s commandments, as well as the curses that will befall them should they choose to ignore God’s directives. What is physically unusual about the setting is that although the two mountains are almost identical in their shape, size, location and elevation, Mount Gerizim is verdant and alive; Mount Ebal is barren and desolate. Not surprisingly, the blessings were uttered upon Mount Gerizim, the curses on Mount Ebal.

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 11:29 elaborates:

“Both of them rise from the same soil, both are watered by the same precipitation – rain and dew. The same air passes over them both; the same pollen is blown over them both. Yet Ebal remains starkly barren, while Gerizim is covered with lush vegetation to its very top.”

“Thus we see that blessings and curses are not dependent on external circumstances. Hence, whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on the superficial conditions that are imposed upon us, but on how we deal with them – on our attitude…”

Whether we are blessed or cursed is not dependent on any outside force. Our fate doesn’t rely on good or bad luck. Happenstance should not determine our inner reality. The opposite is true. Our attitude, how we see the world, how we perceive things, how we react, how we internalize the reality around us, that will determine whether we are blessed or cursed. It is completely in our hands.

May we be grateful for the blessings in our lives and see it as such.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the tail end of summer. It is beautiful and blessed.

 

Surviving Calamity

 

Surviving Calamity 

To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. -Roberta Flack 

sufferingContinuing his farewell speech, Moses declares that God places before each of us blessings and curses. The blessings are stated as rewards for what we do right. The curses are punishments for what we do wrong. They both come from God. There are a multiplicity of ways and explanations as to how to understand divine reward and punishment and the related age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.

The Sfat Emet in 5635 (1875) advises us to understand our personal mishaps as messages from God. God is trying to get our attention. Hence, once we understand and incorporate the divine message into our lives, the “curse” has done its job. However, if we wallow in our suffering, if we blame God or the world for the undeserved ill that befalls us, if we don’t learn the lesson, if we don’t move on – the likely outcome is that the curse will continue to run its course, or in some cases become more severe.

But if we accept God’s will, the Sfat Emet continues, if we understand deeply that both the good and the bad come from God, if we seek to improve ourselves after our calamities, then there is a higher probability that we will grow due to our misfortunes, that we will gain the compassion, the empathy, the resilience that we may have been lacking.

May we withstand our trials and get through them stronger, wiser and kinder.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication 

To the memory of Gene Wilder.

 

 

 

The Metaphysics of Charity

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Reeh

The Metaphysics of Charity

There never was a person who did anything worth doing, who did not receive more than he gave. -Henry Ward Beecher

giving saplingBeing charitable is a Jewish value that is recorded already from the stories of our Patriarch Abraham. In the time of Moses it is codified as law, including the requirement to tithe. The Rabbis give further clarification as to the percentage and measurements of different agricultural donations that each farmer was expected to contribute.

The Baal Haturim on this week’s Torah portion provides a number of pointers as to the metaphysical reality of charity. He states in Deuteronomy 12:19 that the act of giving charity leads directly to increased wealth. In Deuteronomy 15:8 he explains that if a person listens to and provides for the poor, God in turn will listen to and provide for the charitable person. The inverse is also true. If a person ignores the plea of the poor, God is likely to ignore the potentially charitable person.

Finally, the Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 15:10 details that we should be careful to provide the solicitant what they need. He brings as an example the story of King David who when he was seeking refuge from the ire of King Saul escaped to the Cohanic city of Nov where they provided him with bread and a sword, two things he was in dire need of.

May we have the capacity and opportunity to be generous to those in need and may we see our generosity divinely and abundantly rewarded.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rachel and Shalom Berger on their abundant celebrations.

Inseparable Pair

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reeh-inseparable-pair/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Reeh

Inseparable Pair

There is one evident, indubitable manifestation of the Divinity, and that is the laws of right which are made known to the world through Revelation.” -Leo Tolstoy

The Bible details and repeats the account of the divine revelation of God to the entire people of Israel, where He, in His Awesomeness, speaks the famous Ten Commandments in front of the multitude of the Jewish nation who heard and accepted and survived the direct and powerful encounter with God. The giving of the commandments at Mount Sinai was probably the most extraordinary moment in all of human history.

However, Jewish tradition tells us that much more than ten commandments were conveyed at Sinai. In fact, the entire corpus of what we know as the Five Books of Moses, including all 613 commandments were transmitted directly to Moses at Sinai. Moses painstaking writes down, verbatim, the words of God to the world.

Yet there is even more. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 12:1 explains that not only was the Written Torah given to Moses at Sinai, but also the Oral Torah was delivered. There is an entire field of knowledge, much more expansive, deeper, filled with mysteries and secrets, that was given over to Moses during his personal encounter with God. The Oral Torah explains the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is inseparable from the Written Torah. The Written Torah cannot be understood, and in places does not make sense, without the explanations of the Oral Torah.

While it is true that the Written Torah is a fundamental, sacred document for us, it is just one part of the puzzle. It is incomplete, even defective, when studied alone, without the complementary Oral Torah. Parts of the Oral Torah were eventually committed to writing. The process started around 2,000 years ago with the Mishna, followed a few centuries later with the Talmud and subsequently with the written codes of law and rabbinic commentaries and explanations.

Both the Written and Oral Torah are our tradition. If we are to embrace our tradition, we should do so fully, completely, understanding it holistically, keeping the inseparable pair united.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the new banim and bnot sherut (young volunteer teachers from Israel) that have arrived in Montevideo. May they have much success in transmitting our written and oral traditions and having a positive impact on our community.

Divine Entrapment

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reeh-divine-entrapment/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Divine Entrapment

“One must be aware that one is continually being tested in what one wishes most in order to make clear whether one’s heart is on earth or in heaven.” -Pir Vilayat Khan

The Bible presents a thorny theological issue with the case of a false prophet. The false prophet is someone, usually charismatic, eloquent and powerful who may have the ability to read divine signs and even foretell the future. He would seem to be someone with the authority of God, but there is something off about him, something that just doesn’t add up.

The false prophet changes something. It may be a little thing, it may seem inconsequential. What the false prophet changes is the law. He reinterprets the Law of Moses against the structure and tradition of the sages. We don’t know his reasons, but the bottom line is that he is wrong.

How can God allow a being such as a false prophet to exist? How can God bless an individual with prophetic ability that will mislead the people of Israel from their faith, beliefs, traditions and rules?

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 13:4 explains very simply, based on the verses, that God sends the false prophet to test us. He wishes to test us and demonstrate that we overcome. We should not be swayed by the charismatic leader. We should not be fooled by holy charlatans. We should not be tricked by apparently divine signs. We need to think for ourselves. We need to understand the laws and traditions and not rely on magical incantations or otherworldly promises. We must remain strong in our faith, in the unbroken traditions and the chain of law that has kept us as a people to this very day.

May we see tests of faith for what they are and pass them with flying colors.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all of the people who guided us in our voyage to Buenos Aires. They were each true prophets that led us to a wonderful trip and fantastic food.

 

Prophetic Frauds

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Prophetic Frauds

 “The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” –Horace Walpole

In the summer of 1503, over the course of his fourth and last voyage, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves stranded on the island of Jamaica. His ships were damaged by a major storm and no help was forthcoming. After six months of native hospitality, Columbus’ crewmen had overstayed their welcome and the locals refused to provide the Europeans with any more food.

[the rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/prophetic-frauds/]

Wear Sunscreen

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Wear Sunscreen

“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” Mary Schmich

There is a story of a man who is shown a vision of Hell. It is a roomful of people with their elbows locked straight. They have forks in their outstretched arms and tables brimming over with all the food they would want to eat. But their forks can’t reach their mouths and so they live in eternal torment and hunger, not being able to feed themselves, though surrounded by food.

The room next door is Heaven. The people in Heaven have their elbows equally locked and are also surrounded by food, yet they’re eating merrily. One person feeds his friend. Simple and effective, yet a solution those relegated to Hell can either never think of or bring themselves to do so.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 11:26) quotes a similar interpretation as to the equivalence between Heaven and Hell (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim 8b). According to the Talmud, Heaven and Hell are exactly the same “place” (not even separate rooms). In that common afterlife, the spiritual strength of the sun will be released. The wicked will be burned by it, while the righteous will rejoice in its splendor.

Somehow our actions in this world build a sort of ‘spiritual sunscreen’. Those that develop it will enjoy the spiritual sun of the afterlife. Those that don’t build up such a sunscreen will suffer in the world-to-come.

May we figure out how to get that sunscreen, and put it on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To conventional sunscreen that lets us enjoy the summer sun (in the northern hemisphere — though the southern hemisphere gets its fair share of the sun even in their winters).