This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Va’etchanan is being sponsored by Ari and Rifka Stern of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in honor of of their children, their new grandson and their sons-in-laws — that they should all be matzliyach to do the Ratzon Hashem. To the Stern 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 the 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.
The Haftorah for our Parshat begins:
“Nachamu, Nachamu Ami yomar Elokeichem” — “Comfort, comfort my people — says your G’d.” (Yishaiya,40:1)
This sentiment seems to be silent, but yet a theme of Parshat Va’etchanan.
In the beginning of our Parshat, Moshe Rabbeinu recalls for the B’nei Yisrael how he entreated Hashem for permission to cross the Jordan River but that his request was denied. Instead, he was consoled by viewing the Land from Mount Pisgah. (L’lmod Ul’Lamed – Parsha Va’etchanan, page 161).
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim renders to English the opening posukim of our Parshat Va’etchanan (page 33):
“And I beseeched Hashem…, saying: ‘My Lord, Hashem, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand…. Let me now cross and see the good the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.’ But Hashem turned angrily against me… and He did not listen to me; and Hashem said to me: “It is too much for you! [Rav Lach = as it appears in posuk 26] Do not continue to speak to Me concerning this matter. Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see with your eyes, for you will not cross this Jordan.'” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 3, posukim 23-27)
This author always understood Hashem’s response to Moshe: “It is too much for you!” as a reply, or something of a rebuke for Moshe’s earlier response to Korach and his assembly:
“….Then the man whom Hashem will choose — he is the holy one. It is too much for you [Rav L’chem = as it appears in the posuk], O offspring of Levi.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 16, posuk 7)
R’ Goldin cites The Da’at Zekeinim Miba’alei HaTosafot which seems to share that understanding. However, R’ Goldin notes that many Rabbinic sources are troubled by Hashem’s repeated rejection of Moshe’s pleas (Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, pages 34-40):
These authorities note the use of the term “lachen” (therefore) in Hashem’s original verdict at Mei Meriva. According to Midrashic tradition, the presence of this term invariably indicates that an oath has been enacted. At the scene of Mei Meriva, Hashem actually swears that Moshe and Aaron will not enter the land. That Divine oath, once taken, cannot be abrogated. (Rashi, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 12, Sefer Devarim, Perek 3, posuk 23; Chizkuni, Bamidbar Perek 20, posuk 12; Abravanel, Devarim Perek 3, posuk 23-26)
To recall, Mei Meriva (the waters of strife) was the scene where, upon Miriam’s passing, the water ceased flowing from the rock.
The previous generation of B’nei Yisrael who, at Refidim shortly after Yetziyot Mitzrayim, R’ Goldin notes, (“Unlocking The Torah Text,” page 37), “related to Hashem only through the… emotion of fear,” Moshe was instructed by Hashem to strike the rock to bring water for B’nei Yisrael. In the succeeding generation who were about to enter Eretz Yisrael, Hashem commands Moshe to talk to the rock. But Moshe, as this author has learned through the years, seemed unable to locate the exact rock, and, perhaps perceiving this generation of B’nei Yisrael, as with the previous generation, as complainers and rebellious, again struck the rock. (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posukim 1-11)
In turn, Torah relates:
“Hashem said to Moshe and to Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in Me to Sanctify Me in the eyes of the B’nei Yisrael, therefore [lachen] you will not bring this Kehal [congregation] to the land that I have given them.'” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 12 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)
R’ Goldin continues citing other Rabbinic sources:
The Sifrei suggests that Moshe’s entreaty to Hashem… [“Let me now cross…”] is based on a misapprehension of the extent of Hashem’s original vow. Once Moshe sees that he has been allowed to participate in the battles for the conquest of the Transjordan, he assumes that the Divine Oath Decreeing his fate has been abrogated and that he would now be allowed to participate in the subjugation of Cana’an as well. Hashem… Informs him that the vow remains in place and that Moshe’s entry into the land remains prohibited.
Moshe argues: Master of the universe, please release Yourself from Your Vow — as You have released me from my vows, in the past. Hashem responds: Moshe, Rav Lecha, you have a master, Someone above you Who can release you from your vows. I, in contrast, have no master. No one, therefore, can annul the Vows that I take upon Myself. They must remain in place. (Da’at Zekeinim, Miba’alei HoTosafot, Devarim, Perek 3, posuk 26)
…. Abravanel maintains, contrary to the apparent evidence of the text, that these great leaders [Moshe and Aaron] are actually punished for for earlier offenses: Aaron for his involvement in the sin of the eigel zahav [the golden calf] and Moshe for his participation in the sin of the miraglim [spies]. In each of these cases, the actions of these great leaders are well intentioned; and yet in each case the inadvertently contribute to the national disasters that ensue.
Hashem therefore, calibrates His responses carefully. In order to protect the reputation of both Moshe and Aaron, He does not punish them immediately, together with those guilty of intentional rebellion. He instead waits for them to to commit an intentional sin, however minor in order to punish them for their original transgressions. When Moshe deviates from Hashem’s Commandment at Mei Meriva, by striking the rock instead of speaking to it, Hashem seizes the opportunity to exact retribution upon these leaders or their previous, more substantial failings. (Abravanel, Bamidbar, Perek 20, posukim 1-14)
The Sforno and the Kli Yakar… maintain that Moshe wants to prevent, through his towering presence and personal involvement in the conquest of Cana’an, any possibility of the nation’s exile from the land. Moshe’s plan, however, runs counter to Hashem’s intentions. Hashem knows that, in the future, the people are destined to sin and that their ultimate exile will be both unavoidable and necessary. He therefore ensures that the conquest of Cana’an takes place only after Moshe’s death, under the weaker leadership of Yehoshua.
Consequently, the B’nei Yisrael’s continued possession of the land of Israel will not be assured but will forever remain dependent upon their on merits. (Sforno and Kli Yakar, Devarim, Perek 3, posuk 26)
When the nation, through the sin of the spies, tragically demonstrates itself unworthy of Hashem’s Supernatural Intervention, Hashem has no choice but to ensure that Moshe will not enter the land. He Decrees that the generation of Yetziyot Mitzrayim will perish in the desert, …excluding Yehoshua and Caleiv from the Decree. (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 14, posuk 30)
If the next generation, the generation which matures in the wilderness, can prove the strength of its commitment to Hashem, the Decree sealing Moshe and Aaron can yet be reversed….
These final hopes, however are dashed at the scene of Mei Meriva. There, once again, as they “gather against Moshe and Aaron,” the people prove unworthy of Hashem’s trust. Moshe, in addition, affected by the turmoil, misses the opportunity to fully Sanctify Hashem’s name by speaking to the rock. Consequently, the original Decree against Moshe and Aaron is reaffirmed and raised to the status of a Divine Oath that cannot be subsequently reversed.
R’ Goldin provides one final take on why the Divine Decree prohibiting Moshe’s entry in Cana’an:
Adapting the insights of Rabbi Harold Kanatopsky, “a brilliant teacher and..community Rabbi…, [who]… suggested that Moshe’s failure at Mei Meriva consists of an inability to transition from the leadership of of one generation to the leadership of the next. (ibid., (Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, page 37)
Rav Goldin now discusses the role of Tefillah and Moshe’s consolation:
Finally, in a telling observation elaborated upon by many later authorities (Kli Yakar and others, Devarim, Perek 3, posuk 25), the Talmud overturns our original assumptions concerning the opening narrative of Parshat Va’etchanan. From the point of view of the Talmudists, the text does not emphasize Hashem’s rejection of Moshe’s prayers, but, rather, His acceptance of those prayers, at least in part:
The power of prayer is greater than the power of good deeds — for no one was greater than Moshe in good deeds, yet he was only answered through prayer. As the text relates: “Do not continue to speak to Me concerning this matter. Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes…” (Talmud Bavli Brachot 33b)
Moshe’s prayers are answered… His words do have an effect as Hashem relents. Although this great leader will still be prohibited from entering Cana’an, he will now be allowed to view the land from afar. Hashem’s allowance to Moshe regarding the viewing of the land is actually recorded in a prior passage in Bamidbar (Perek 27, posuk 12)…, apparently the Midrash believes that passage as well, reflects Hashem’s response to Moshe’s prayers.
R’ Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” (page 390), comments citing Ibn Ezra:
Ibn Ezra (verse 24) writes: The purpose of this section of Torah is to enable us to cherish The Land of Israel. If the Land of Israel will be dear to us, we will observe the Almighty’s commandments to prevent our being exiled from it.
….Failure to keep the Torah’s commandments in Eretz Yisrael implies a lack of love for the land.
And after the destruction of the First and Second Beit HaMikdash, the starving, the famine, the persecutions, the expulsions and inquisitions, the Sho’a: there was comfort and consolation that one day, the B’nei Yisrael would be redeemed and returned to our former state; a people in it’s land with it’s Beit HaMikdash for all time.
But it would seem that this comfort, hope and consolation would have had to be an evolution as Jewish life, in whatever venue that they resided, in whatever generation, eventually stabilized.
Back in Philadelphia, years ago in the old country, a Holocaust story was told of how Nazis confronted a group of Chassidim:
The Nazis rousted and harrassed the Chassidim, telling them “dance Chassidim, dance and sing!” And the Chassidim were silent. Again, the Nazis accosted them, “Chassidim, dance and sing!” Then, the Nazis aimed their rifles, “Chassidim, dance and sing, or we will kill you!”
At first, slowly, muted, nervously, a niggun with words was heard faintly. The niggun and the words grew in volume as the Chassidim began to dance. “Mir Villen zei Ibber Leiben, Ibber Leiben, Ibber Leiben, Mir Villen zei Ibber Leiben…” “We will outlive you!”
Yes, we have outlived every nation, every vile personality which put upon B’nai Yisrael and so, we should, in theory, be comforted. And we have outlived the presidency of Hussein Obama and will outlive his Iranian Ayatolah buddies and Iran’s nuclear machinations, the EU, the BDS movement, the “extremely careless”, possibly traitorous, self-enriching Clintons etc., as well as the rashayim among us.
But we must take strength from the Torah’s enunciation of the Irei Miklat and never despair or lose hope that we can rise above contemporary challenges, despite the despots — externally or within, and feel consolation.
Rav Zev Leff provides a lesson for all Observant Jews with his citing of Michtav Eliyahu and his comments in a Machon Daniel “MD Torah Weekly” on our Parshat a number of years ago about why Gedolim are taken from us, and how this could provide hope and consolation for us after the mourning of Tisha B’Av:
We must ask ourselves: Why are the gedolim taken? If Hashem wants to teach us… and not hurt us, then leave the Gedolim. We need them to lead us, to teach us. Michtav Eliyahu says that’s exactly the reason:
People do mitzvot by rote, approaching Torah superficially, without seeing the holiness of Torah and life. They rely on the Gedolim to think and feel for them. …to get a bracha from [them]…. So Hashem takes the Godol, and then we no longer have anyone to do it for us. We are forced to think for ourselves. Then there’s hope that we can be cured. You have to learn from the Godol how to be a godol yourself.
The greatness of a Godol is that he’s flesh and blood. Where are the places… we go to remember them? …Their graves, not… their batei midrashim. Why? To know that they were flesh and blood. But that flesh and blood was a Moloch Hashem… And if I know that another human being like me became a Moloch Hashem, then why can’t I become one too? But if I make him into a superhuman, what does he have to do with me? I am not super human. I cannot apply it to my life. If the Chofetz Chayim was a human being, with the same tongue and teeth, the same mouth for speaking loshen hora that I have, and he could control it, then maybe so can I. But if he was not an ordinary human being like me, then it has nothing to do with me.
The point that Rav Leff seems to be making which is both pertinent to our Parshat Va’etchanan and to Shabbos Nachamu is that our hope and consolation must come from within our collective, unified selves. We need to do mitzvot, from the heart and with consistent fervor, as Aaron HaKohen served in lighting the Menorah daily in the Beit HaMikdash. Our tefillot need to be with intent — whether in an Aliyah b’Torah or with the thrice daily Aleinu — each and every word carefully pronounced. We need to look to Tzadikkim as a paradigm of how we must act and interact with each other — V’ahavtah L’rei’cha Komocha: wanting for our fellow Jew as we would want for ourselves, rather than looking our noses down at our fellow observant Jew as being less so because he is a chayal in Nachal Hareidi — in the infantry or in tanks or a pilot, or that his Rabbanim and learned traditions may not be precisely like ours, or by defaming secular Jews as “gentiles” or by preferring to sit in government with Arabs rather than seculars who are their brethren.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his Sefer “Growth through Torah” cites from our Parsha Sefer Devarim Perek 4, posuk 5:
“See that I have taught you statutes and laws as Hashem, My G’d, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land.”
R’ Pliskin adds (“Growth through Torah”, page 390-391):
That is, you should live an elevated life among other people…. True sanctity and perfection is to live among people and behave both towards Hashem and towards your fellow men in a manner consistent with Torah values. (Arvai Nachal)
…The true test… is when you have to deal with others. Only when you are in the company of other people can you fulfill all the aspects of Torah.
And so we see, just as with the Chassidim, who under Nazi duress, began to dance and sing, the Jews will yet survive the downfall of vile, corruptible post-zionist governance. The Jews will yet survive and bring the sanctity and elevation of the Beit Medrash outside, into interactions with their fellow Jews b’derech, throughout Eretz Yisrael:
“Mir Villen zei Ibber Leiben, Ibber Leiben, Ibber Leiben, Mir Villen zei Ibber Leiben…” “We will outlive you!”
However, it seems to stand to reason that nachama: consolation, hope is insufficient of itself, without acting in real, concrete Jewish ways — spiritually with kindnesses, mitzvot of intent, and as a national unity for the protection, security and preservation of the kedusha and sanctity of Jewish lives on the entirety of OUR Land, and wherever Jews reside throughout the rest of the world. Ultimately, with Hashem’s Help, the righteous will prevail.
“Nachamu, Nachamu Ami yomar Elokeichem” — “Comfort, comfort my people — says your G’d.”
B’Ezrat Hashem, as we pray and hope for each year, that the Tisha B’av just past 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 twice 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 the MIAs be liberated alive and returned us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four 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!!!
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.