This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Devarim is being sponsored by Mattis and Marla Sklar of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a full and complete Refuah Shlaima for Matis’ Father Shmuel Chaim ben Shaina. To the Sklar family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
A number of years ago, Rav Aba Wagensberg spoke out in a shiur that Sefer Devarim represents Moshe Rabbeinu’s Mussar to B’nai Yisrael as the time of his death drew near.
Rabbi Wagensberg gave over the thought that the B’nai Yisrael, after all of the rebellions, all of the contention, all of the failures which the rebellions and contention wrought, after the blatantly false accusations of nepotism hurled by segments of the Am at Moshe and Aaron HaKohen and more, Finally: came to the collective, unequivocal realization that Moshe Rabbeinu, now in his final days on earth, was indeed Hashem’s anointed — the undisputed leader and that his words are the words of Hashem.
In fact, R’ Wagensberg wrote in an email vort last year on our Parshat Devarim:
The Yid Hakadosh (Rebbi Ya’akov Yitchak Rabinowitz, 1766-1813, Pshischa, Poland) said that his favorite Mussar sefer was Sefer Devarim. So attached was the Yid Hakadosh to Sefer Devarim that he read several verses from it each day of the year.
He explained the reason why. He said that Sefer Devarim has a huge advantage over any other Mussar sefer out there. This advantage can be understood in the following way.
It is more beneficial to hear rebuke from a living person than it is to read it from a book. This is because when a person admonishes another from a place of true care, love, and concern, we can then apply the age old adage which states, “Words which come from the heart enter into the heart” (preface to Likuttei Amarim).
This feeling is absent when reading reproof from a text.
This is why it more beneficial to study Mussar from Sefer Devarim than from any other source. This is because the Divine Presence spoke through Moshe Rabbenu’s throat (Zohar, Pinchas, pg. 232a). Since G’d is eternal, it is as if Moshe Rabbenu is still speaking to us right now. The words of Sefer Devarim are emanating from Moshe’s heart right now. As such, they are penetrating our hearts this very moment. This live rebuke is something which is missing from other Mussar books.
This is why the opening verse of Sefer Devarim says, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to ALL of Israel” (Dt. 1:1). This does not just mean that Moshe spoke these words to all the Jews that were alive at that time, but it means that Moshe spoke these words to ALL the Jewish people throughout the generations.
Every time we open a Sefer Devarim to study from, it is as if we are streaming it live, with Moshe Rabbenu speaking to us directly.
This is why the Yid Hakadosh preferred Sefer Devarim over any other Mussar work, to the point that he would study a few verses from it every single day. When a Jew studies Sefer Devarim, he will not walk away empty handed. Rather, it will have a positive impact on him by opening his heart.
Not only does Sefer Devarim have the capacity to open the heart, but it even has the ability of opening the heavens.
Shem Mishmuel (Selections on the weekly parshiyot and festivals rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski) comments on our Parsha (page 373):
This book is qualitatively different from the other four. Chazal tell us (in Megillah, page 31b) that the curses in Sefer Devarim were said by Moshe himself. We may assume… that the material in Devarim, while of course presented by Hashem to Moshe, contains more human input, however slight, than the previous four books.
Perhaps it can be considered an in-between stage, bridging the gap between the main Written Torah… and the Oral Torah. Devarim contains elements of both — it is the written word of Hashem…, but with an element of human content, like [oral] Torah.
R’ Wagensberg also related to Sefer Devarim, as distinguished from the previous four s’forim, in an analogy regarding the order in which one puts on and removes his tefillin. We learn that when one begins his morning tefillot, he dons the tefillin shel yad (tefillin for the arm) first, and only afterwards does he don the tefillin shel rosh (tefillin for the head). At the conclusion of davening, he removes the shel rosh first, and then the shel yad.
For forty years, Am Yisrael travelled through Bamidbar (the desert), and now they stood at the cusp of their entry into Eretz Yisrael and day-to-day living and applying Torah in Our Land. In the same way, when one begins to pray and to learn, he dons tefillin shel yad and then the tefillin shel rosh, when he leaves the Shul or Beit Medrash, he removes his shel rosh first and, only after, does he remove his shel yad, the significance being his application of the tefillot and learning of Shul and Beit Medrash to his actions and interactions with his fellows during the day-to-day living in the world outside.
The tefillin sequence equates with a person’s active learning of Jewish law (Halacha) and Jewish history in the previous four s’forim of Chumash, and then in Sefer Devarim, receiving Mussar concerning the practical, day-to-day real-time, real-life applications of what has been learned. In essence, the donning of the shel yad first, and the removal of it last equates with applying in the world outside what has been learned in Beit Knesset and/or the Beit Medrash.
Israel National News reported two years ago that a prominent politician and member of a so-called “religious party” asserted the following:
“Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew… A Reform Jew, once he does not follow the religion of Israel – then let us say, there is a problem. I cannot allow myself to say that he is Jewish”…
The report continues:
Orthodox Jews – who strictly adhere to the laws of the Torah – view Reform and other non-Orthodox theologies as illegitimate, due to its departure from Jewish law and even rejection of the Divinity of the Torah.
Even so, [the member] comments that Jews who merely identify as “Reform” should not be considered Jewish have no basis in any interpretation of Jewish law.
[The member] did attempt to reach out to Reform Jews in the same interview, adding: “These are Jews who took a wrong turn along the road and we need to ensure that every Jew will go back into the fold of Judaism and accept everyone with love and joy… we would like for all of those Jews to go back to Judaism according to halacha [Jewish law]. That is all.”
It seems that the politician’s comment, as reported, in the second paragraph can be taken in either of two ways: 1) That there is no basis in any interpretation of Jewish law for those who identify as “Reform” not to be considered Jewish, or 2) That Jews who merely identify as “Reform” should not be considered Jews. Given the poor quality of writing, editing and proofreading currently existing in this particular media platform, the report cited, under either interpretation, the politician’s attempt at clarification was kind of a lame caveat considering his initial statement — words which should never have been uttered in the first place.
And again, just a few weeks ago, another prominent politician and member of another so-called “religious party” spoke, during the heat of debate over pending Conversion Law legislation and the Reform movement’s criticism of it, as well as prime minister Netanyahu’s indefinite freezing of the planned addition of a mixed-gender prayer space at the Kotel, saying:
“Reform Jews are delegitimizing Judaism,” [the member] told Army Radio. “I would be willing to sit with a Palestinian, but not with a Reform Jew.”
[The member] argued that the Status Quo arrangement on religion and state was unworkable, and is in need of an overhaul.
“The Status [Quo] is bad, because it gets violated over and over again; the moment a religious Jew is unable to observe Shabbat, Judaism in Israel is undermined.”
Are these politicians representing their respective “religious parties” expressing that any Jew not Orthodox is not a Jew? This author always learned: “Born a Jew, Always a Jew.” Reform Judaism is an oxymoron. Yes, non-Orthodox theologies ARE illegitimate, delegitimize Judaism in the eyes of the nations and do not represent Judaism’s true form and mission, But Reform Jews, Chilonim (secular Jews) ARE still Jews.
In the years prior to Aliyah this author and his Jewish boss back in Philadelphia had several discussions about his having encountered certain of our fellow Jews who would make such an inference about a non-observant Jew. This author would always respond as never hearing of such a thing and not believing in it for a second. But then again, this author became Ba’al Teshuva at age forty-two. In this author’s humble opinion, the remarks of the aforementioned members of these so-called “religious parties” represent divisive sinat chinom unbridled, unchained.
The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, Shlita, z”l writes on Parshat Devarim in his sefer, “Inspiration and Insight” Discourses on the Weekly Parashah (page 252);
A prime method of uprooting this devastating trait [sinat chinom] is by striving to fulfill the mitzvah of V’Ahavta L’rei’echa Kamocha, to love one’s fellow Jew as oneself (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 19, posuk 18). Ramban… understands this commandment as instructing us to desire only good for our neighbor in all facets of his existence, just as we desire only good for ourselves, be it with regard to material needs and acquisitions, honor, or attainment of wisdom.
One who lives up to these words of Ramban, … will surely be found guiltless with regard to sinat chinom.
Every believing Jew, whatever his level, must take on day-to-day real-time, real-life reality application of his learning, and translate it into his own righteous leadership mantle within the body of B’nai Yisrael, but without the contentiousness of a million generals.
Application of this individual righteous leadership mantle and of spirituality and learning from Shul and from Beit Medrash to the world outside seems meaning to deal with one’s fellow Jews, at every level, sincerely, justly and righteously, and without bias and disdain.
But, even as we need to treat our fellow Jews sincerely, justly and righteously, without bias, sinat chinom and disdain, thus creating a national, cultural unity among all Jews of all religious strains, as well as with secular Jews, we can’t achieve this unity through a possible benign, look-the-other-way governmental attitude which enables communal, public desecration of Shabbos, whether by way of so-called “private” companies providing transportation on Shabbos to a public, or via any other action enabling such a desecration, as a public, by any segment of the population.. After all, we ARE and aspire to be a state of the Jews.
Similarly, creating a national, cultural unity among all Jews by treating our fellows sincerely, justly and righteously, without bias, disdain and sinat chinom does not mean governance condoning a certain group’s parade in the name of “solidarity” when that group’s appearance, actions and agenda are halachically abominable.
Yet a certain ex-government minister Gidon Saar tweeted this comment on last year’s Jerusalem gay pride parade…:
“The gay pride parade in Jerusalem is a symbol of solidarity, encouragement of tolerance, and protection of the freedom of every man,” Saar tweeted.
And national, cultural unity through treating our fellow Jews sincerely, justly and righteously, without bias, sinat chinom and disdain, is not achieved through physically or verbally abusing religious soldiers on the streets or in Beit Knesset.
These are lessons that many Jews, and particularly politicians claiming religious stripes, need to internalize and take deeply to heart if we are to indeed pray and hope for, that B’Ezrat Hashem, this Tisha B’av FINALLY be the last Tzom for B’nai Yisrael.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Good Shabbos, and Fast Easy on Yom Sh’lishi Haba — Tisha B’av!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.