“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu




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Man shall live by his faith

Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber

Our Torah portion opens with G-d’s saying to Israel, “Observe that I am placing before you today both a blessing and a curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26). The wording of this address arouses several questions: (1) The verse begins by using the singular form “Re’eh” [observe]. Why then does it switch to the plural form “lifneichem” [before you]? (2) Why did the verse have to say the two words “anochi noten” [I am placing], when it could simply have employed the past tense form “natati” [I have given], which would include both subject and verb? (3) And why does the Torah have to say “placing BEFORE you” rather than simply say “I am giving you.” (4) Finally, what does the word “today” add? In a word, how would the verse have suffered if it had simply stated, “Observe, I have given you a blessing and a curse”? It is explained in the name of Rabbi Elijah of Vilna that this verse has no superfluous words. Rather, every word has significance and offers a special lesson for man’s benefit.

One of the factors that disturbs a person from pursuing the upright path is his taking into account “public opinion” and “societal norms.” People avoid doing many good deeds so as not to appear different from everyone else. The Torah addresses such people in the singular: Observe! You, the individual who follows the path of goodness -- the Torah’s words are addressed to you, and you should not take into account the behavior of the public.

If after someone succeeds in overcoming his isolation, he is still struggling, and he says to himself, “How will I succeed alone in overcoming the temptations of the evil impulse within me, which is relentlessly trying to lead me astray?” the Torah then says, “Anochi” [I], as if to say: Man is not alone in this war against temptation. Rather, Scripture states, “I am with him in his trouble” (Psalms 91:15). As our sages taught, “Each day, a man’s evil impulse assails him, and if not for G-d assisting him, he could not withstand it.” One might suppose that man is only given free-will when he first faces temptation, as a one-time opportunity that does not return. Hence, if, G-d forbid, at that first moment man chooses the evil path, there will be no way of making rectification, and his decision will be irreversible.

In response to this the verse states in the present tense: “noten” -- “I am placing.” The choice is not just in the past, but applies every single second. With every passing moment, a person has a second chance, all the way to the day of his death. Yet even after someone knows that henceforth he can chance direction and start a new path, his past will still trouble him. He will ask: What will be with all the many sins that I committed from then until today? The verse therefore says, “Today.” When someone sincerely and truthfully repents, he is like a newborn infant who is opening up a new leaf, as though he is starting off today.

As for the use of the expression “lifneichem,” [before you], rather than simply “you,” that is because the choice is not given to man by force, neither does a man do anyone else a favor when he chooses the path of goodness. Rather, the choice lies before him for his own good, and whichever way a person wishes to go, Heaven leads him.

From this verse and Rabbi Elijah of Vilna’s deductions, we derive several principles regarding the role and behavior of man. The first is that man’s success depends chiefly upon himself. His choosing between good and evil is the result of his own personal initiative alone. Likewise, in every situation, he has a second chance. Even if he fails, his situation is not irreversible. Rather, he has the opportunity to go back and try again. Moreover, one should not cease his efforts in the face of society’s negative behavior. Even if someone feels that he is alone in his faith, he should not become distraught, nor should he set aside the deeper truth in the face of societal norms. Quite the contrary, let there stand before him the image of our father Abraham, who although the whole world stood on the opposite side of the ideological fence, was willing to stand alone and face them. This is all especially so considering that the individual believer is never really alone on earth. Divine assistance will be offered to him, thus fulfilling our sages’ words: “Whoever sets out to be purified will receive divine assistance.”

For the Sabbath Table

“In the multitude of people is the King’s glory” (Proverbs 14:28)

Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel

There is no doubt that from G-d’s point of view it makes no difference where we worship Him: “The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you would build for Me?” (Isaiah 66:1). As human beings, we would be liable to fall prey to a grievous error if everyone were allowed to worship G-d on an altar on his own roof.

When man serves G-d by himself, he operates in accordance with his personal style, driven by his own personal longings. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself. Quite the contrary, the worship of G-d requires personal motivation. Yet we must make a fundamental distinction between personal motivation and between a private, limited perspective.

From a private perspective, a person sees only himself and ignores everyone else.

Sometimes he might even view others with scorn. He is probably serving G-d out of an exalted spirit and a pure heart, and it is precisely because of that that he is unwilling to share with others who appear to him -- perhaps accurately -- as inferior to himself. Their intent is not as pure as his is, neither is their spiritual level as high. They are liable to jeopardize his spiritual elevation and his devotion.

Precisely in this lies his error. There is a place and a need for private worship of G-d, but not as a substitute for communal worship. The main worship of G-d is communal and not individual. This is so even though the community is divided up into different types of people.

In fact, it is precisely this diversity which makes communal worship the perfect form of worship, with each individual investing in it all of his strengths, his personality, his will and his intent.

G-d’s absolute Oneness requires that there be an infinite number of possible ways to understand G-d and to draw near to Him. Likewise, everyone must realize that he is only one facet of this great infinity. He must sense that he is part of a complete aggregate, a single limb in a large organic corpus. Only someone who senses this can truly serve G-d, not as one who walks along a side path, but as one who goes along the main highway, in the public thoroughfare. Within this domain, he can follow his own pathway. Yet the awareness that there are many paths leading to G-d, and all the same, all of them are concentrated together in one place, enriches and adds profundity to the personal worship of every separate individual. Each person clearly feels that there are different modes of expression to the same worship, varied forms to the same faith. An openness to all of this eclectic wealth facilitates more profound personal development, and spells out for the individual that Hashem is the Gd of all spirits, that He is truly the One G-d. All this is so despite the fact, and indeed because of the fact that so many people are all, in accordance with their individual talents, tendencies, spiritual levels and personal situations, worshipping G-d, together

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHh

3 - NCYI

NCYI Weekly Divrei Torah, From: http://www.youngisrael.org/

Rabbi Elisha Weiss Associate Member, Young Israel Council of Rabbis

The Torah in its description of Arei Miklat, the City of Refuge says: You shall prepare a way, and divide the border of your land, which the Lord your G-d gives you to inherit, into three parts that every slayer may flee there. Rashi explains that part of the mitzvah of arei Miklat was to set up road signs along the way to point the inadvertent murderers to the right place, so they can arrive in a swift manner.

Another place where the Torah seems to require directions to get to the right place is this week’s Parsha’s description of a person who has taken upon himself to give a Korban, a sacrifice to the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem. The Torah uses the words: LeShichno Sidreshu, You shall seek his presence. The Ramban explains that an individual will be compelled to inquire of others along the way as to which direction to go, which will generate interest in others resulting in their joining the pilgrimage. Accordingly, one has to focus on both his own religious development, as well as that of others. Perhaps the lesson of both of these Halachos can be explained by its symbolism. We know that a person who kills inadvertently has to stay in a city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. In other words, the death of the Kohen Gadol accomplishes total atonement for the individual who committed this act. With this we can understand the message behind the road sign, “this way to atonement,” find your way to the city and create a new life for yourself filled with Avodas HaShem.

When it comes to the Beis HaMikdash we find a very beautiful pattern. There are two parts to the mitzvah of Aliyah HaRegel. On the one hand the Maaseh (act of the) mitzvah is to come to the Beis HaMikdash with korbanos in hand three times a year. An extension of this is donating korbanos to the Beis HaMikdash so you will be obligated to come, even when it is not Yom Tov.

There is a second more significant part of this mitzvah that is to seek out directions. In other words, enlighten people to the importance of coming to the Beis HaMikdash. Perhaps we could suggest that this mitzvah is incomplete unless you have inspired someone else to come as well.

The Midrash describes the special trait of Elkanah the father of Shmuel Hanavi, that each year when he would travel to the Mishkan he would take a different route. It seems that in his time this mitzvah had been neglected. While traveling he would be asked what the nature of his journey was, and he would then explain to the people, what he was doing and invite them to join him and go to the Mishkan. It was Elkanah who was a living example of the Pasuk Leshichno Sidershu seek out the presence of HaShem by bringing other people in as well.

The second message of this requirement is how we ourselves can come closer to HaShem. The road signs are a message to the right path that a person must take. A person must reflect on his personal needs and find the right way to come to the Beis HaMikdash. But we are not referring to the Bais HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, but to the one in his heart.

We come now to the month of אלול (Elul), and really, a lot of emotions should interrelate with us: On the one hand, excitement, as the יום טוב (yom tov) season approaches. On the other hand, it has to be a serious time of retrospection, both as an individual and how much have I done for my community and Shul. Have I come “ריקם” (“raykam”, “empty”) in violation of the edict of פרשת ראה (Parashas Reah)? Have I rejected the Torah or those that give guidance through the eyes of the Torah?

The Ramban in the second perek of the laws of Tshuvah shares keen insight on how we can accomplish this goal. He writes that a person must cry out to HaShem and perform acts of kindness. He must distance himself as far as he can from the item that is the source of his sin and he then assumes a new identity. “I am no longer the person associated with that sin.” He changes all his actions for the sake of good.

In other words, the Rambam speaks of road signs in our heart. If we recognize our weaknesses and are prepared to make changes, we can accomplish the goal. In the end we become a different person committed strictly to Avodas HaShem on every level. This also starts by reading a road sign or a desire to grow through the inspiration of others.

May we all be Zocheh to a Kisiva v’chasimah Tovah and may we all be inspired to choose the right path and be Mikabekl Pnei HaShechinah in the Beis HaMikdash, bemeheira biyameinu. Amain.

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHh

4 – RAV RISKIN

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin http://www.ohrtorahstone.org.il/

Efrat, Israel – "Behold, I give before you this day a blessing and a curse…” (Deut. 11:26).

This portion opens with the third Covenant that God establishes with the Israelites just as they are about to enter the Promised Land of Israel. This is a re-emphasis of the earlier national Covenant with Abraham whereby God committed to make his seed into a nation with a national homeland. It also re-emphasizes the religious Covenant expressed to all of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Almighty is defining the dual relationship He has with Israel, a unique nation as well as a unique religion.

On the one hand, herein lies a great strength: “Lapsed” and even atheist Jews with strong Jewish national ties and feelings remain Jews. In the words of the Sages of the Talmud, “A Jew even though he has sinned (wandered astray from Jewish religious practice and values) still remains a Jew.” On the other hand, despite close to 2,000 years of exile from our national homeland, we continued to mourn its loss within our religious traditions, keeping alive our desire to return, and – against every rule of history and sociology – we managed to return to it.

However, this unique and hybrid dual role makes any clear-cut division between religion and state in Israel, similar to the church-state division in America, a virtual impossibility. While it is perfectly logical to forbid teaching the Christian Gospels in American public schools, it would be inconceivable not to teach the Bible – the matrix of our national culture – in Israeli secular schools.

Undoubtedly, the most knotty conundrum to emerge from this complex, hybrid status is “Who is a Jew?”

Traditional Jewish law considers one to be Jewish only if he has either been born to a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism before a religious court of three Orthodox rabbis. These three religious judges oversee a process comprising circumcision for males (entering into the Covenant of Abraham), a general acceptance of the commandments (the religious covenant) and ritual immersion in a mikve (the national covenant) for both males and females.

Additionally, Israel’s Law of Return, a fundamental statute of the Jewish state, grants automatic citizenship to any individual who would have been considered Jewish enough to be sent to Auschwitz under the Nazi regime: anyone who had one Jewish great-grandparent, even from a paternal line.

Miraculously 1.5 million people from the former Soviet Union were freed to seek haven in Israel, including more than 350,000 who are not halachically Jewish but whose children study in Jewish schools, and serve in the IDF, even risking their lives for the Jewish state.

If allowed to remain demographically as is, our intermarriage rate in Israel will rival the intermarriage rate in the Diaspora in only one more generation. As a result of Israel’s coalition democracy, the religious high court of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has been “taken over” by haredi religious judges. These judges are generally not “user-friendly” to would-be converts and many of them are strict constructionalists regarding the criterion of “acceptance of the commandments.” As a result, only a paltry number of these Israeli citizens have succeeded in converting over the last five years.

Enter Rotem, last year, with a conversion bill which will enable every “city rabbi” to open religious courts of conversion and facilitate the marriage of the successful converts. Several of these city rabbis will be more user-friendly and more lenient in their interpretation of the law, and their conversions will not be subject to annulment by external courts. Indeed, the only grounds for annulment would be if it is proven that the conversion was made on the basis of fraudulent or deceptive information.

This bill certainly appears to open the door for a more sensitive and responsible conversion policy which will give a more welcoming face to the laws of conversion. So what caused the international storm of protest?

The Conservative and Reform leadership in America objected vociferously to the “Rotem Bill” because it would place within the corpus of Israeli law the fact that conversions within the State of Israel are to be conducted under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate. Here, however, nothing has changed; the chief rabbinate has been the de-facto imprimatur for conversions since the founding of the state. This was done to ensure the ability of every Jew to marry any other Jew within the State of Israel.

David Rotem's conversion bill will ameliorate a tragic situation for the 350,000 Israelis from the FSU, without worsening the situation for Diaspora Jewry. I do not believe the objection of Diaspora Jewry is fair to those Israeli citizens whose situation will only be helped by the Rotem Bill.

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHh

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