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Festivals of Faith: Rosh HaShana – Three Who Cried

Excerpted from Rabbi Dr. Norman J. Lamm’s Festivals of Faith: Reflections on the Jewish Holidays 

Three Who Cried*

Ours is an age which has forgotten how to cry. Whether at Rosh Hashanah services or Tish‘ah be-Av kinot, whether at a funeral or a theater, tears are conspicuous by their absence. Once upon a time, the mahzor was stained with tears; today, it is so white and clean—and cold. Not, unfortunately, that there is nothing to cry about. A generation which saw the finest of its sons and daughters destroyed in the most terrible massacre in recorded history; a generation which, the more it probes the heavens, the more it ignores the heart—a generation of this sort has much to cry about. How many people here today do not have their private woes, their secret sorrows?

It is rather that we have embarrassed ourselves into silence. It has become a style of the times to restrain our tears on the theory that maybe that way the pain will go away, that by refusing to display genuine emotion, the agonizing facts of our lives will be altered. But we are, nevertheless, human beings. And so the unwept tears and unexpressed emotions and unarticulated cries well up within us and seek release. What insight the Kotzker Rebbe had when he said that when a man needs to cry and wants to cry but cannot cry, that is the most heart-rending cry of all.

Granted that crying is an experience we ought not to deny ourselves. But is there not a difference in how and why people cry? Is there not a vast difference between the various types of weeping and what motivates them?

I believe there is. And Rosh Hashanah suggests three separate causes for tears, two that are vain and unfortunate, and a third that is heroic and constructive.

The three types are symbolized by three biblical characters, all women, whose tears are recalled on this holiday. They are the mother of Sisera, Hagar, and Rachel.

Sisera was a Canaanite general, leader of an army that was, so to speak, highly mechanized compared to the peasant people of Israel which it attacked. This arrogant pagan warlord was defeated by the Israelites, who were led by Deborah. In Deborah’s song of triumph, she paints the picture of Sisera’s mother, usually overconfident, this time anxiously awaiting the return of her son (Judg. 5:28): Be-ad ha-halon nishkafah—she peers intently out the window, a nagging question burning within her; maddua boshesh rikhbo lavo—why is his chariot so late in coming, why do the wheels of his chariot tarry? She answers, soothing herself: My son and his soldiers are busy dividing the spoils of their great victory; they are splitting up the dyed cloths, the embroidered garments, the damsels of conquered Israel. But the delusion cannot last forever. The truth must emerge. Her son is dead. Va-teyabbev—the mother of Sisera breaks out into uncontrolled sobbing. There were one hundred sobs, tradition declares (Tosafot Rosh ha-Shanah 33b, citing the Arukh), and for this reason, we Jews on Rosh Hashanah sound a total of one hundred notes on the shofar.

A beautiful, compassionate story. A shining example of historical generosity and forgiveness—we relive the pain and anguish of the mother of our enemy. But were there no Jewish mothers who were bereaved of their sons in the same war? Was no Jewish blood spilt in our long history, no Jewish tears shed by grieving mothers?

What the Rabbis intended, I believe, was a moral of great significance: The mother of Sisera lived in a dream world. She refused to face reality and contemplate its bitter side. And when you live in a dream world, you must expect nightmares. She had imagined that her exalted position as mother of a successful conqueror inured her to pain and tragedy—that was reserved only for the contemptible enemy, Israel. She was guilty of an immoral optimism, the kind of outlook that characterizes the unthinking and arrogant of all ages. Hers was a strutting and pompous dream which collapsed under the weight of its own illusions. And this indeed is what the shofar and Rosh Hashanah remind us of: there is a Yom ha-Din, a day of judgment and accounting. Al titya’esh min hapur‘ anut (Avot 1:7)—do not go through life, says one interpretation, blithely ignoring consequences which you dread. He who sits on top of the world has no assurance that his world will not collapse under him. Absolute security is a myth. Life is not as certain, as guaranteed, as the haughty, unreflective mentality of the mother of Sisera lead her to believe. Beware of such vain and dangerous illusions.

Do we not know in our own lives the kind of mentality that discovers its smugness and self-confidence punctured only when it is too late? We see it in international affairs, as when our government naively assumed that Communism could never gain a foothold on this continent, so we neglected the masses of Cuba, we supported tyranny, we ignored the oppressed population—and now we have Castro and his Russian allies ninety miles off our coast. Va-teyabbev. . .

The couple who neglect to seek advice for their serious problems, the man who ignores medical symptoms he inwardly fears, the mother who notices her children going off on the wrong path and says and does nothing—all of them lull themselves with false balm, assuring themselves that all is really well and nothing will be wrong. Va-teyabbev—how pitiful the tears that are so futilely shed when, later, there is divorce, and incurable illness, and a child gone astray. Broken homes, broken bodies, broken hearts—all in the inglorious tradition of Sisera’s mother. Rosh Hashanah reminds us of this, tells us that nothing in life is guaranteed, that by ignoring danger, you invite it, and that better face reality now than cry vainly later.

Hagar was the second of the three who cried. We read about her in today’s Torah portion. You recall that she was the servant of Sarah whom Abraham, at Sarah’s behest, banished from his home. She took her child, Ishmael, into the desert, and when the water in her jug gave out, she cast the child away, pathetically saying she did not want to see him die. And va-tissa et kolah va-tevk (Gen. 21:16), “she raised her voice and cried.” No attempt to save the child, no looking for an oasis—which factually was there, before her eyes—no real effort at changing her dangerous situation. She merely raises her voice and cries; it is the cry of desperation, a morbid, fatalistic pessimism. Hers is a “realism” that leads to resignation. Unlike Sisera’s mother, she sees the “facts” only too clearly. Hagar beholds the great desert of life—and submits to it.

Rosh Hashanah reminds us of this weeping too. Just as it discourages us from harboring the dangerous illusion of total security, so it warns us off from the equally dangerous fatalism of a Hagar, the hopelessness that paralyzes all will and initiative. By recalling these tears, we learn to avoid living so that we too will be forced to shed them.

And how important that advice is. Take the matter of the danger to the future of humanity from nuclear war. Most of us are under the impression that the majority of people are indifferent to its ghastly possibility, that they never consider such horrors as real.

I believe, however, that the reverse is true. Contemporary man’s attitude to the H-bomb is not that of the em Sisera but of Hagar. If they do not discuss it, it is because inwardly, psychologically, they have already given up and accepted it. They have surrendered and have the feeling that they are living in the end of time.

The results, morally speaking, are disastrous. If there is no future, then the present loses all value. If there is nothing to build for, there is nothing to live for. If death is certain and universal, then, like Esau, let us sell our birthright to fill our stomachs. If, as the cynics quoted by Isaiah said, mahar namut, “tomorrow we die” (Is. 22:13), then indeed, “let us eat and drink and be merry”—and forgo any serious purpose in life.

This, then, is the result of the Hagar mentality in its fatalism, its absolute hopelessness in the face of adversity. It is the type of mind which, seeing before it the midbar, is so overwhelmed by it that it stretches out and prepares to die with a whimper. And in that interval between despair and death, is it worth being temperate or sober or chaste or law-abiding or pure? The tears of Hagar and her whole frame of mind suggest a despair of which is born delinquency.

Both these approaches are dangerously wrong. A society, like an individual, which alternates between the moods of exhilaration and depression, em Sisera and Hagar, shows symptoms of moral mania and spiritual psychosis. Neither the one weeping nor the other is for us. Rather, it is the tears of a Jewish mother which inspire us this day.

The third woman who cried is Rachel. We read of her in tomorrow’s haftarah, in what is one of the most moving passages and most stirring images in all literature. Jeremiah describes Mother Rachel crying from her grave over her children who are banished from their homes into exile: “Thus saith the Lord, kol be-Ramah nishma, nehi, bekhi tamrurim, a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel mevakkah al banehah, it is Rachel weeping for her children; me‘anah le-hinnahem, she refuses to be comforted” (Jer. 31:14).  Here is a woman whose tears have moved history. Unlike Sisera’s mother, they do not come from living an easy life and deluding herself into imagining that a day of reckoning will never come. Rachel lived a hard life and a brief one; she knew trouble and anguish. She sees her children going into exile and recognizes the bitterness of reality. But unlike Hagar, she refuses to bow to these realities. Me‘anah le-hinnahem, she refuses to submit, she refuses to adjust, she refuses to accept exile and destruction as the last word. Her cry, her tears, and her protest to God are the characteristic of the Jew throughout all time. The Jewish soul beholds reality in all its ugliness but sets out to transform it. The tears of Rachel are the tears of a gallant soul who will not yield to the world but makes the world, though it take centuries, yield to it. They are not the tears of vain sentiment and self-pity, but of powerful protest; they are a sign not of weakness, but of strength; not of resignation or frustration, but of determination. The tears of an em Sisera or a Hagar are the end of their story; for Rachel, it is a beginning. To Rachel’s cry there comes an answer: Koh amar Hashem, “thus saith the Lord,” min‘i kolekh mi-bekhi ve-einayikh mi-dim‘ah, “refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears, for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord, and thy children shall come back from the land of the enemy; and there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord, and ve-shavu banim li-gevulam, thy children shall return home” (Jer. 31:15–16). The Jewish attitude, symbolized by Rachel’s crying, is one which steers clear of the extremes of ignoring facts and of surrendering to them. Judaism teaches, in the language of the Kabbalah, that the it‘aruta di-le-Eila, the impulse from Above, or divine assistance, can only come in response to the it‘aruta di-le-tatta, or human initiative. For God helps those who help themselves—and God help those who don’t.

Has not this Rachel mentality distinguished the authentic Jew throughout the ages? Are not her heroic tears our saving grace even today? We did not rely on Britain or the United States or the League of Nations or the U.N. to take care of us, assuming with naive and idolatrous optimism that all would be well with us. We knew the harsh realities of creating an old people anew on a renewed land—with ancient enemies waiting to devour us. But Jews fought. They went into battle inspired by the tears of a Rachel who me’anah le-hinnahem, refusing to accept defeat, refusing to acknowledge surrender, refusing to submit to overwhelming odds. That is why ve-shavu banim li-gevulam; that is why there is an Israel today.

Fourteen or fifteen years ago, the great question was Palestine or the State of Israel. Today, two other central questions present themselves to us Jews, questions equally as significant as that of Israel.

The first is Russian Jewry. There is, at present, not too much we can do about it. We must recognize the brutal facts, the wily and cunning enemy we are dealing with, and the incalculably tragic results of a generation of Russian Jews denied any and all Jewish education. But we must vow never to give up hope. Me‘anah le-hinnahem. We must apply pressure. We must talk of them and inquire about them. We must never despair, but rather prepare for their eventual release and return to the House of Israel.

But the second is one we can do much about—and that is the most momentous issue in the Jewish life of this generation—the future of American Jewry. Here the attitude we take can determine whether we shall survive and thrive or, Heaven forbid, eventually vanish without a trace.

If we adopt the genuinely Jewish approach of a Rachel, then there is hope for us. We dare not consider the complacent ideas of those who foolishly tell us that all is well and there is no cause for worry—those who, imbued with the same opiate that dulled the mind of Sisera’s mother, are blind to the densely negative features of American-Jewish life: intermarriage, vast ignorance of the most elementary aspects of Judaism, a desire to mimic the non-Jews, and a growing vacuum in the lives of our children.

Yet, at the same time, we dare not take a Hagar-like attitude and assume that things are so far gone that nothing will avail. The pessimists are blind to the resurgence and growing independence of Orthodoxy; the spreading Jewish Day School movement; the growing and developing Yeshiva University; the flourishing Hebrew book industry. Either attitude—ignoring the problems and ignoring the promises, thoughtless optimism and hopeless pessimism— paralyzes all initiative and must result in national mourning.

Ours must be the tears of Rachel. Knowing reality, let us proceed to transform it to a better reality. Let everyone here decide to come to shul at least once a week instead of making a perfunctory three-day-a-year visit. Let every parent send his or her children to a yeshivah or day school or at least Hebrew school. Let every thinking adult leave this synagogue today determined to learn more about Judaism, about the Jewish people—about yourselves. Tears of determination, of me‘anah le-hinnahem—the tears of Rachel—these shall save us.

Ha-zore‘im be-dim‘ah be-rinnah yiktzoru (Ps. 126:5). Those to whom tears are not the distillation of vain illusions or morbid resignation, but the dewdrops of creative moral heroism, they shall sow the seeds of hope with these tears—and reap a harvest of joy, of happiness, of nahas and unending blessing.

*5723 (1962)

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Parashat Ekev: Making Hay Out of Religion

Excerpted from Rabbi Dr. Norman J. Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages – Deuteronomy, co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books

Making Hay Out of Religion*

One of the great paradoxes of human nature is the meeting of opposites, the fact that two conditions which are contrary to each other in the extreme can produce the same effects. How frequently are we amused to find the Vatican and the Kremlin toeing, with characteristic dogmatism, the same line; occasionally we are astonished at the coincidence of view of The Wall Street Journal and the Daily Worker. Both extreme Right and extreme Left are alike in condemning the liberal center, and in demanding blind obedience of their followers. Both were equally hostile, for instance, to the Marshall Plan.

In the same vein, we find that affluence and plenty often produce the same results as do adversity and poverty. It is no secret that indigence breeds immorality and corruption. In the Middle Ages, the Black Plague and universal poverty combined to cause the greatest crime wave in the recorded history of Europe. Murder, violence, and theft were the immediate results of pestilence and destitution. In our own day, starvation and privation are bound to unleash the tidal waves of immorality and degeneracy whether in Nablus of Arab Palestine or in Harlem of enlightened New York. Sociologists usually blame low standards of morality on low standards of living.

But the astounding fact is that there are people who would behave  immorally and irreligiously and unethically when they earn $200 a week, whereas they did not do so when they barely eked out a living at $25 a week. Somehow, prosperity will sometimes produce worse effects than will poverty. The recent basketball scandals have shown that boys from wealthy homes are not necessarily immune to the temptation of the fixer. Today, when America is enjoying comparatively high prosperity, the record for narcotics, sports scandals, and government bribery is as black as ever. It is a well-established phenomenon that the nouveau riche, the man who has suddenly become wealthy, leaves his house of worship and forgets his religion. Even political immorality is practiced by the extremely wealthy. There are some millionaires who are known sympathizers of American Communism, an “ism” which usually preys only on the poor and dejected.

This principle or paradox was already formulated in the Torah and explained by our Sages. In today’s sidra we read, “And you shall eat and be satisfied…take heed and beware lest your heart be deceived and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 8:10-11). And the Rabbis of the Midrash (Sifri, 43:17) infer from the sequence of the texts that there is a refinite relationship between satiety, eating until you’re full, and idolatry – namely, that it is only out of satisfaction and satiety that one takes to idolatry. Was not the Tower of Babel, the symbol of rebellion against God, built during a period of affluence? Did not the wickedness of Sodom flourish among a wealthy people? And, in our own time, was not Berlin, the city which admitted only wealthy “schutz-juden,” the center of assimilation? Only when people are satisfied and content with themselves do they go hunting for other gods, whether the money god or the entertainment god or the god whose first commandment is “Thou shalt keep up with the Joneses.”

Well, we can understand that satiety and contentment would result in laxity of morals and religion. After a heavy gluttonous meal, one’s metabolism rate drops, one’s pulse and respiration go down and energy is sparse. One feels lazy, and if he forgets his Grace after Meals, or skips a mitzva or two, or commits a sin or two, it is a result of negligence and indolence rather than rebellion against God. Why then do the Rabbis insist that eating to satisfaction is the precursor of the worst of all sins, idolatry?

Idolatry, no matter what kind – ancient or modern – is easier than true religion. And because it is easier to practice, success is more readily attainable in idolatry than in monotheism. First of all, it requires less mental exertion. True religion is more abstract, more difficult conceptually than belief in a tangible idol. The invisible is harder on the intellect than the visible. Thus, idolatry is less emotionally taxing than Judaism. It is easier to offer your overt devotions to or embrace a slab of concrete or a totem pole or a Rembrandt or a moneybag or a rabbit’s foot than it is to fall in love with an unknown God whom your senses cannot even detect. And idolatry places fewer restrictions upon your behavior than does our religion. The creed of Moloch or Baal never demanded strict Sabbath observance. The religion of the moneybag certainly places no restrictions on corrupt business practices. And the faith in the sacred cow of science requires ethical conduct of no one. All sources indicate that idolatry has frequently sanctioned murder, immorality, and downright degeneracy.

Why do normal people fall prey to the curse of idolatry? Why do they succumb to this opiate of easy living? Let us read the verse preceding the one we have previously quoted: “And I will give grass in your fields for your animals and you shall eat and be satisfied,” and then, “beware of worshipping other gods.” Certainly! If a person is satisfied with eating the grass reserved for his cattle, if that individual is satisfied to thrive on straw and hay, then certainly his goals are so low that he will be satisfied with the easily attainable idolatry. If this person’s noblest goals are not as high as the stars in heaven, but as low as hay in the field, and if he is satisfied with this grass, then this individual’s loftiest aims and ambitions in his entire religious life will be not the dedication to one God in heaven but the worship of a dozen cheap clay and wooden statues. “I will give grass in your fields for your animals and you shall eat and be satisfied.” The danger of idolatry rears its ugly head when people’s aims are level with the ground, when they strive for straw and are content with their success in obtaining it.

The great American ideal is “success.” But “success” can apply as well to a well-executed murder as to the amassing of a fortune. I have two friends who intended to accelerate their reading this summer. One decided to read ten important novels published during the past year. The other friend was less ambitious and selected three best-sellers for his summer reading list. By today, I hear, the second fellow has well completed his list of three books. He is by all American standards a success. The first fellow finished only eight of the ten books he had set out to read. Again by American standards, he is a dismal failure. Yet who has accomplished more? Is success really a measure of achievement? Is it really necessary for a meaningful life? In this same vein, idolatry is easier to succeed in than Judaism. It all depends on what your original goal is. “I will give grass in your fields for your animals and you shall eat and be satisfied.” People who are satisfied with straw are ripe for idol worship.

Look around you in your places of business and in the streets, and you will meet the typical American Jew of 1951. How high are his goals? Doesn’t he seem to think that an insignificant check to a charity is the summum bonum of Jewish life? Isn’t this person satisfied with a Sunday school education for his children? Isn’t this person’s highest religious ideal to visit the synagogue on the High Holy Days? Isn’t this person’s standard for kashrut two sets of dishes in the home and one set all over the rest of the world? In short, our typical American Jew is often satisfied with straw. A bellyful of hay is sufficient to pacify this person’s spiritual hunger, and a thimbleful of ersatz-religion satisfies his cultural requirements. “I will give grass in your fields for your animals and you shall eat and be satisfied.” He is unfortunately satisfied with the grass for his cattle, and that means that he is prepared to bow and kneel to the next idol. What the American Jew needs is not a face-lift but a lifting of his level of vision. He must learn to aim higher.

One of the reasons that the Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b) gives for the destruction of the Temple is that the people did not act lifnim mishurat hadin, they only did what was legally expected of them, and no more. They followed the letter of the law, but failed to rise to the spirit of the law. This view of the Talmud was given a modern slant in plain English when Senator Fulbright, commenting on the sad state of American political morals, said that it was “setting a low level” for our national development if “our only goal for official conduct is that it be legal instead of illegal.” Indeed, he was expressing the popular fear that our country, the sanctuary of democracy, is endangered because its sights are as high as the din, the strict Constitutional law, and not lifnim mishurat hadin, the spirit of the law, the unwritten moral code. A diet of hay and straw is bad for the spiritual health of our nation. We must raise our sights.

Y. L. Peretz, the famous Yiddish and Hebrew writer, has immortalized the type of Jew whose goals were no higher than “grass in your fields for your animals,” the animal’s straw, in his story “Bontche Schweig.” When Bontche died, he was tried by the divine tribunal, and the heavenly court decided that he merited any reward he would choose. Bontche could not believe it. “Takeh? Really?” he asked in wonder. He was reassured. When Bontche announced his decision, the court and angels looked down, a little ashamed, and the prosecutor laughed. For Bontche had answered, “Well, if it is so, I would like to have every day, for breakfast, a hot roll and fresh butter.”

In the same way, a leader who prods his people on to higher goals and loftier ambition is a leader who loves his people. And, conversely, the leader who lulls his people into complacency and self-satisfaction is a traitor. Some of the most laudatory and flattering of epithets were bestowed upon Israel by Balaam, the gentile prophet. Oh, how he praised us! Just compare what he told the Jews to the sermons that Isaiah preached at them. Balaam told them that God saw no sin or evil in them; Isaiah said that they were repulsive to God and rebellious sons. Balaam told them that glory would be theirs without a struggle; Isaiah warned of impending doom if they would not mend their ways. But who would you say loved Israel more? Certainly, the strict and critical Isaiah! For he set higher and finer goals for his people – goals more difficult to achieve, if success was at all humanly possible. He demanded of them exertion and initiative, while Balaam told them that they could rest on their laurels, that they were successful and nothing else of great import was worth striving for. Balaam was not a friend – he was a bitter enemy. The leader who loves his people will give them not a pat on the back, but a shot in the arm. He will teach them that if they can digest and be satisfied with hay and straw, then they are bound to wind up prostrating themselves before pagan idols.

Our good friend, ex-Ambassador James G. McDonald, warns us in his recent book that “the spiritual future of Israel is not without danger.” We can keep our aims low and become another banana republic on the shore of the blue Mediterranean, or we can press forward towards the mark, the prize of our high calling. Success is assured to us if we will be content with hay; but the rewards will be greater if our ideals will be loftier.

Today we welcome the month of Elul. During this month, reserved for penitence and introspection, we will reevaluate and possibly reset our present standards and ideals. We can make them as low as the grass upon the fields for the cattle, or as high as the stars in the infinite heavens above.

Which shall it be?

*August 25, 1951

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Parshat Va’etchanan: Second Edition?

Excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Unlocking the Torah Text – Devarim, co-published by OU Press and Gefen Publishers

Second Edition?


Moshe’s recollections bring him back to the pivotal moment at Sinai, when, amidst thunder, lightning and the sounding of the shofar, God conveyed the Ten Declarations to the Israelites (see Shmot: Yitro 4).

As Moshe repeats these declarations in retrospect, a series of variations upon the original text recorded in the book of Shmot emerge. These textual discrepancies are inconsistent in nature. While the first and third declarations are repeated without any change at all, the other eight contain variations ranging from the nuanced to the substantial.


We have repeatedly noted (see Bereishit: Bereishit 3; Chayei Sara 3; Miketz 1) that whenever the Torah replicates a conversation or event, we are challenged to carefully compare the two versions presented. Invariably, the differences that emerge are important and instructive.

The passages before us, however, are uniquely problematic. With Moshe’s retrospective recording of the Ten Declarations, we are effectively confronted with a “second edition” of the divine communication that launched Revelation and changed the world.

How can we explain the textual discrepancies between the two versions of the Aseret Hadibrot? These declarations are, after all, God’s own words. A perfect God must have fashioned a perfect text through which to introduce His law to His people. Communication shared by such a Deity should need neither further editing nor improvement.

Our questions are further complicated by the singular nature of the book of Devarim as a whole. We have previously noted (see Devarim 1) that a spectrum of rabbinic opinion exists concerning the authorship of this volume. While all traditional scholars accept the divine nature of Devarim, they argue over Moshe’s role in the narrative. Does Devarim, they ask, uniquely consist of Moshe’s words, agreed to by God in retrospect; or does Moshe continue in the role that he has played until now, faithfully recording a text dictated by his Divine Master? Our position on these issues will
clearly affect our posture concerning the “dueling editions” of the Aseret Hadibrot. Numerous possibilities emerge. Did the textual emendations found in Devarim originate from God, from Moshe or from a partnership between the two? Is the source of all these variations consistent; or were some changes determined by God and others suggested by Moshe?

Faced with these glaring issues, the rabbis accept as a given that the second version of the Aseret Hadibrot is neither an improvement upon nor a replacement for the first. Both versions are authentic. The changes that appear are, instead, designed to convey critical lessons and ideas that could not be derived from one consistent text.

Armed with this understanding, the scholars painstakingly study the differences between the two versions of the Aseret Hadibrot and offer explanations for each.

Our discussion must, of course, begin with a review of the textual discrepancies themselves.

The Ten Declarations:

Version I (Shmot)

The Ten Declarations:

Version 2 (Devarim)

1. I am the Lord your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 1. I am the Lord your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
2. You shall have no other gods in My presence. You shall not make for yourself a graven image nor any likeness of that which is in the heavens above or on the Earth below or in the water beneath the Earth. You shall not bow down to them nor shall you serve them, for I am the Lord your God, a jealous God, Who visits the sin of fathers upon

children to the third and to the fourth generations of those who hate Me; and Who shows kindness to thousands of those who

love Me and to those who keep My commandments.

2. You shall have no other gods in My presence. You shall not make for yourself a graven image of any likeness [the letter vav is omitted] of that which is in the heavens above or on the Earth below or in the water beneath the Earth. You shall not bow down to them nor shall you serve them, for I am

the Lord your God, a jealous God, Who visits the sin of fathers upon children and to the third and to the fourth generations of those who hate Me; and Who shows kindness

to thousands of those who love Me and to those who keep My commandments.

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord, God, in vain, for the Lord will not absolve anyone who takes His name in vain 3. You shall not take the name of the Lord, God, in vain, for the Lord will not absolve  anyone who takes His name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you labor and perform all your work; but the seventh day is Sabbath to

the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, and your son, and your daughter, your slave, and your maidservant, and your

animal, and your convert who is within your gates – for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that

is within them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.

4. Safeguard the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days shall you labor and perform all

your work; but the seventh day is Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, and your son, and your daughter, and your slave, and your maidservant, and your ox, and your donkey, and your every animal, and your convert who is within your gates;

in order that your slave and your maidservant shall rest like you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God took you out from

there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to make the Sabbath day.

5. Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be lengthened upon the land that the Lord your God gives to you. 5. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that your days may be lengthened and so that it

will be good for you, upon the land that the Lord your God gives to you.

6. You shall not murder. 6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery. 7. And you shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal. 8. And you shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your fellow. 9. And you shall not bear vain witness against your fellow.
10. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow. 10. And you shall not covet your fellow’s wife, and you shall not desire your fellow’s house, his field, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow.


The textual variations between the two versions of the Aseret Hadibrot can be summarized as follows:

1. On six occasions the conjunctive letter vav is added to the text (second, fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth declarations), while on two occasions that letter is omitted (second and fifth declarations).
2. On two occasions the Torah substitutes one word for another (fourth and ninth declarations).
3. On three occasions the Torah adds a totally new phrase to the text (fourth and fifth declarations).
4. On two occasions the Torah substantially changes a passage of existing text (fourth and tenth declarations).
5. On two occasions slight written variations appear in the text, but are not vocalized (second and fifth declarations). [Note: As these variations do not result in a change in meaning, they are not reflected in the above translation. One of the variations results in the omission of another letter vav from the Devarim text, in a variant spelling of the word ya’arichun (shall be long; see below).]

In predictable fashion, the rabbis approach these textual variations from all ends of the interpretive spectrum, offering explanations that range from the mystical and Midrashic to the pragmatic and halachic. Differing perspectives concerning the divine or human origin of the emendations found in the Devarim text can also be discerned.

At one end of the spectrum, a fascinating Midrashic source takes note of an easily missed transformation in the Aseret Hadibrot as a whole. The first “edition” of the declarations, the rabbis point out, contains the entire Hebrew alphabet with the exception of one letter, the letter tet. This omission is subsequently rectified in the second “edition” through the insertion of two phrases: u’vizro’a netuya, “and with an outstretched arm” (third declaration) and u’lma’an yitav lach, “and so that it will be good for you” (fifth declaration). The words netuya and yitav, each containing the letter tet, provide one such letter to compensate for the original omission and one to complete the alphabet in the second edition of the dibrot. These nuanced distinctions, the rabbis explain, hardly occur by chance.

God intentionally omits a letter of the alphabet when the Aseret Hadibrot are first given at Sinai in order to protect the Israelites from the full consequences of their impending sin – the sin of the golden calf. By rendering His contract with the people incomplete and thereby technically “invalid,” God deliberately minimizes the impact of their subsequent betrayal of that contract.

A corrected version of the Sinaitic covenant, complete with all letters of the alphabet, is granted to the next generation of Israelites, as they stand poised to enter the land of Canaan and to succeed where their fathers failed.

A second Midrashic tradition attributes yet another omission in the initial version of the Aseret Hadibrot to potential consequences of the sin of the golden calf. The word tov (good), the rabbis note, is absent from the declarations inscribed on the tablets at Sinai. Had those tablets – ultimately smashed by Moshe in response to the sin of the golden calf – contained the word tov in any form, God would have been compelled to strip away all future “goodness” from the fledgling Jewish nation.

Any direct allusion to the concept of “goodness” must wait until a new, more deserving generation receives its version of the declarations. This condition is fulfilled when the phrase l’ma’an yitav lach, “so that it shall be good for you,” is incorporated into the fifth declaration recorded in the book of Devarim.

Finally, a third Midrash focuses on the addition of a total of four conjunctive letters, vavs, in the Devarim text. The numerical value of the letter vav is six. The inclusion of these four vavs, therefore, carries the cumulative effect of symbolically adding the number twenty-four to the dibrot. Twenty-four is also the number of volumes contained in Tanach, the Jewish scriptural canon. The entire corpus of Torah She’bi’chtav, the Written Law, is thus alluded to within the text of the Ten Declarations.

It should be noted that, as is often the case with Midrashim, all these sources ignore the literal significance of the additions in question, choosing instead to see the inclusions as “carriers” of divine lessons that are external to the straightforward meaning of the text.

While the Midrash offers countless other observations concerning these textual variations, we now turn our attention to the opposite end of the interpretive spectrum. Here, numerous scholars struggle to discern logical explanations for the emendations to the dibrot. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the general approach of Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague.

As previously noted (Devarim 1, Approaches A), the Maharal maintains that Moshe’s role is transformed with the advent of the book of Devarim. The first four books of the Torah, the Maharal explains, are designed to reflect God’s perspective, as the transmitter of the law. The text of those volumes is therefore transmitted by God directly, literally speaking through Moshe. The book of Devarim, however, is different. This text is devised to more closely parallel the perception of man, the recipient of the law. Now Moshe serves as a prophetic messenger, receiving God’s messages and recording them in his own words. Devarim presents God’s truths – seen through Moshe’s eyes.

The emendations found in the Devarim version of the Aseret Hadibrot thus reflect Moshe’s desire to add “commentary” to the text. Upon receiving God’s word and perceiving its thrust, Moshe sets out to shape the text as necessary, so that all of God’s messages will be clear to the nation.

While the Maharal’s overall approach to the variations in the dibrot is rooted in logic, however, this scholar’s explanation of the individual emendations remains somewhat esoteric.

As a case in point, the Maharal notes that the phrase l’ma’an yitav lach, “so that it shall be good for you,” is added to the fifth declaration in the Devarim edition of the dibrot. This phrase is omitted from the first edition, the Maharal explains, because of the unique nature of Revelation at Sinai. In that setting, God speaks to the nation “face to face,” addressing the divine dimension of the Israelites’ souls. The heavenly dimension in mortal man, however, is by nature incomplete and cannot be referred to by the term tov (good), a term that uniformly connotes wholeness and completeness. The phrase l’ma’an yitav lach, therefore, with its reference to “goodness,” can only be included in the second edition of the dibrot, when Moshe addresses the Israelites as earthly equals, one mortal speaking to another.

The Maharal also observes that in contrast, the next phrase, u’l’ma’an ya’arichun yamecha, “so that your days will be long,” is included in the fifth declaration of both editions of the dibrot. Strangely, however, the word, ya’arichun (shall be long) is written incompletely in the Devarim edition, with a vav omitted and a smaller letter, yud, added. This emendation, the Maharal explains, is created by Moshe to reassure the nation. Generally, when the Torah speaks of a lengthy period of time, the connotation is one of sorrow. The time period involved may actually be short, but it  “feels endless,” due to the difficult nature of its passage. Conversely, when the text speaks of a short duration of time, the days spoken of are pleasurable.The Torah thus informs us that Yaakov toiled seven years in expectation of marrying Rachel, yet the time period “seemed to him a few days because of his love for her.”

Moshe, recognizing the negative connotation associated in the text with a lengthy period of time, deliberately shortens the word ya’arichun. The reward for performing the commandment of kibbud av va’em, he conveys, will be “long days” that don’t possess the usual character of “long days” in the Torah. An individual who honors his parents will be rewarded by God with a long yet gratifying life. He will be blessed with an abundance of pleasurable days that will not seem endless.

Numerous other commentaries follow the Maharal’s general approach to the text in Devarim, yet offer specific explanations that cleave closer to the pshat.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, for example, maintains that Moshe tailors the dibrot in Devarim in order to address the unique challenges faced by a generation about to enter its Promised Land.

By adding the phrase l’ma’an yitav lach…al ha’aretz, “so that it shall be good for you…on the land,” to the declaration concerning obedience to parents, Moshe conveys that “every contemporary generation in Israel [will only achieve] happiness and prosperity if it takes over, with honoring obedience, the tradition of its history and laws from the hands of its parents, as a heritage to be carried on forever…”

Hirsch also offers a logical explanation for Moshe’s joining together of the last five dibrot – the prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, false testimony and coveting another’s property – into one long collective statement in the Devarim text. He does so, Hirsch argues, in order to include and prohibit all crimes against the property of others “in one and the same utterance of God.” In addition, by connecting these transgressions, Moshe consciously roots all such crimes in the last declaration, the ban on “coveting” the property of another. Envy towards others, Moshe emphasizes to the people, inexorably leads to greater sin. Such emphasis, Hirsch explains, is particularly necessary at this juncture, as the people prepare to leave behind the controlled, centralized authority of the desert encampment in favor of a scattered existence over the whole of a country.

Once we accept Hirsch’s suggestion that Moshe tailors the dibrot in Devarim to suit the needs and perceptions of a new generation, we can offer other explanations for some of the variations found in the declarations.

Moshe adds, for example, the phrase “as God commanded you” specifically to the fourth and fifth declarations dealing with the observance of Shabbat and kibbud av va’em, obedience to parents, respectively. Based on a Talmudic tradition, Rashi and others explain that this phrase references the fact that the mitzvot of Shabbat and kibbud av va’em were actually introduced to the nation shortly after the parting of the Reed Sea, before the Revelation at Sinai.

If these commandments preceded the Sinaitic Revelation, however, why is the phrase “as God commanded you” not included in the first edition of the dibrot communicated at Sinai, as well? By the time Revelation occurred, these imperatives had already been shared.

We might argue, perhaps, that, for the generation of the Exodus, Revelation at Sinai was a stand-alone event, designed to impress the people with its power and strength. As we have noted before, this generation, shaped in the cauldron of Egyptian slavery, relates to God through the primitive dimension of yira, fear (see Bamidbar: Korach 6, Approaches B, Points to Ponder; Chukat 2, Approaches D; Chukat 3, Approaches H). Immediacy and power, rather than slow, painstaking processes, speak to the erstwhile slaves. The Ten Declarations are therefore presented in isolation to the generation of the Exodus, as a powerful independent statement of binding law.

Their children, however, come to see God through the continuing prism of ahava, love. Raised for almost four decades under God’s watchful eye, surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, nurtured on the heaven-sent manna, patiently traveling towards a destiny and a destination, this generation now understands that a true relationship develops over time, in incremental fashion. Against this backdrop they are able to view the unfolding of the law itself as a process, with Sinai as a dramatic but by no means isolated event. This generation has witnessed laws enacted following the Revelation at Sinai during their own wilderness travels. They can readily understand that the development of law could have preceded Sinai, as well.

The shift of generations potentially explains the greater emphasis on material possessions in the second edition of the dibrot, as well. In the fifth declaration, as recorded in Devarim, the commandment of Shabbat applies not only to “your animal,” but to “your ox, and your donkey, and your every animal.” In the tenth declaration the list of possessions that we are forbidden to covet expands to include “your fellow’s house” and “his field.” Additionally, while the Israelites are prohibited from “coveting” another’s possessions in the first dibrot, in the second version they are also warned not to “desire” those possessions. The generation of the wilderness has begun to comprehend the reality of personal ownership in a way that their parents, raised in slavery, could scarcely imagine. Moshe therefore specifies material possessions in greater detail, including “real estate” where applicable. He also warns this new generation not only against “coveting”
that which is clearly beyond their reach, but against “desiring” prohibited possessions that they believe they could potentially attain.

Finally, the shifting emphasis in the fourth declaration from creation to the Exodus as the philosophical foundation for Shabbat observance may also reflect generational change. Momentous events can only be fully appreciated and understood in retrospect. To the generation of the Exodus, therefore, Shabbat is presented as a remembrance of the creation of the world. To the wilderness generation, however, Shabbat also becomes a remembrance of the Exodus itself.

No discussion concerning the variations between the two editions of the Aseret Hadibrot would be complete without mention of the most famous distinction: the transition from “Zachor (remember) the Sabbath day to keep it holy…” in the first edition to “Shamor (safeguard) the Sabbath day to keep it holy…” in the second. Rabbinic commentary on this glaring shift is extensive. One basic approach, however, stands out, weaving Midrashic and halachic analysis into a fascinating interpretive tapestry.

The rabbis begin with a foundational Midrashic suggestion: “‘Remember’ and ‘safeguard’ were delivered in one utterance.”

These two imperatives, the rabbis suggest, were miraculously communicated at Sinai simultaneously. Rashi and others explain this claim to mean that the two words were somehow pronounced by God as one, yet each word was separately and distinctly discerned by the assembled Israelites.

What, however, is the import of these two separate imperatives? What specific obligations do the commandments of “remembering” and “safeguarding” the Sabbath entail?

While various suggestions are offered within rabbinic literature, one basic approach is of particular significance. The commandment to “remember” the Shabbat obligates us to perform the positive acts that underscore the significance of the Sabbath day, such as the recitation of Kiddush (the blessing proclaiming the sanctity of Shabbat recited over a cup of wine). The commandment to “safeguard” the Shabbat, on the other hand, obligates  us to observe the restrictions that define the day. By refraining from thirty-nine basic prohibited activities and their derivatives on Shabbat, we effectively “safeguard” the sanctity of the day.

Combining the legal distinction between these two imperatives with the Midrashic tradition that they were transmitted in “one utterance,” the rabbis arrive at a practical halachic conclusion. Although women are normally exempt from time-bound positive biblical commandments, they are nonetheless obligated in the biblical mitzva of Kiddush. This exception to the rule, the rabbis explain, emerges from the divinely ordained connection between zachor and shamor: “All those who are included in the commandment to ‘safeguard [the Shabbat]’ are also included in the commandment to ‘remember [the Shabbat].’ ”

Since women are obviously as responsible as men in maintaining the sanctity of the Sabbath through refraining from prohibited activity, they are also obligated in the positive acts, such as Kiddush, that underscore the holiness of the day.

Taken together, the rabbis maintain, the imperatives of zachor and shamor summarize each Jew’s relationship with Shabbat. Shamor directs our attention to the restrictions through which we create the behavioral boundaries that define the circumference of the Sabbath day. Zachor commands us towards the positive actions through which we fill the newly created circle with meaning.

Our search for answers concerning the two editions of the Aseret Hadibrot has been extensive but hardly exhaustive. Numerous other sources comment on these textual emendations, and further insights remain to be revealed through continuing study and analysis.

Points to Ponder

How does a divinely ordained legal system transcend the ages? We examined this question in depth in our review of the structure and process of the Oral Law (see Shmot: Yitro 5). In short, however, the secret lies in the delicate balance between continuity and change – in immutable foundational laws that remain open to constant interpretation and application across the generations.

Can it be that the Torah hints at this essential balance through the differing editions of the Aseret Hadibrot? No section of text would seem riper for rigidity than these declarations, pronounced at Sinai by a powerfully present God. Nonetheless, the Torah allows for controlled transformation even in this divinely transmitted code. While the laws remain unchanged in the second version, new ideas are added and the text is consciously shaped to better address a new generation.

Apparently, the balance that preserves the law is embedded in the law from the outset.




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Parshat Balak: Why Bother

Excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Unlocking the Torah Text – Bamidbar, co-published by OU Press and Gefen Publishers

Why Bother


Fearing the apparent strength of the Israelites, Balak, the king of Moav, attempts to secure the services of Bilam, a Midianite sorcerer, to curse the nation.

God eventually allows Bilam’s participation in Balak’s plot, but warns the sorcerer: “Only the thing that I shall speak to you – that you shall do.”

Bilam’s repeated attempts to curse the Israelites are thwarted as God transforms the sorcerer’s curses into blessings.


No story in the Torah is stranger then the story of Balak and Bilam.

Why does God find it necessary to intervene in order to prevent Bilam from cursing the Israelites? We can certainly understand a divine move to preempt a physical threat against the nation. What danger, however, is potentially carried by a verbal threat such as Bilam’s curses? Why does it matter what this sorcerer says? Why can’t God simply choose to ignore him?

Deepening the puzzle is a fascinating fact concerning the story of Balak and Bilam: this is the only story in the Torah – since the patriarch Avraham enters the historical stage – that takes place totally out of view of the Israelites, their emissaries or their ancestors.

This narrative is comprised of a series of events, interactions and conversations at which no Israelite is present. Had God not informed us of these events, we would never have even known that they happened. Bilam would have pronounced his curses, God would have simply ignored them, and the Israelites would have gone blissfully on their way, forever unaware of Bilam’s words. Who knows how many other unnoted verbal threats were directed against the Israelites during the biblical era, their echoes fading into the mists of history. What makes this episode worthy of God’s or our notice? Why is the narrative of Balak and Bilam included in the Torah at all?


One perspective on the issues we raise is reflected in our discussion concerning Bilam’s power to bless or curse (see previous study). According to this approach, the threat posed by Bilam’s words emanates from God’s own decision to grant strength to man’s speech.

At the dawn of Jewish history, at the launch of Avraham’s journey, God promises the patriarch: “And you will be a blessing.” This statement is understood by the Midrash to mean “Blessings are given to your hand. Until now they were in My hand. I blessed Adam and Noach. From this time on you will bless whom you wish.”

As a result of this heavenly decree, every word spoken by man about another, for good or for bad, acquires power. God therefore moves to abort Bilam’s curses before they can acquire the power of spoken words.

We further suggested that Bilam’s words might have carried singular strength, either due to his close, albeit mysterious relationship with God, or as a result of his singular ability to tap into preexisting conditions in his environment and direct them against his enemies (see previous study, Approaches G).

God’s own self-imposed limitations in the face of man’s speech and/or Bilam’s ability to manipulate the very rules created by God to govern His universe may well have enabled the sorcerer to seriously threaten the Israelites through his words. God therefore moves to stop those words from ever being spoken.

This approach to Bilam’s threat is underscored in the Midrashic pronouncement “There were no days, from the day that the world was created, when the Holy One Blessed Be He needed to be with [the people of] Israel as much as the time when Bilam wanted to destroy [them] from the world.”

Other commentaries are unwilling to consider the possibility that Bilam’s words could have directly threatened a people protected by “the righteousness of the patriarchs and the merit of the Revelation at Sinai.” God is compelled, these scholars argue, to change Bilam’s words for other reasons.

The Ibn Ezra, for example, suggests that God acts to prevent the surrounding nations from arriving at an erroneous conclusion that would damage the nation’s honor. In the aftermath of Bilam’s efforts, the Israelites endure a devastating plague as a result of the sin of Ba’al Pe’or. Had Bilam been allowed to curse the nation, observers would have mistakenly concluded that this plague had actually been caused by the sorcerer’s curses.

Similar explanations are offered by later authorities who, likewise, maintain that God intervenes so that observers will not attribute later failings of the Israelites to the effect of the sorcerer’s curses. The Abravanel, however, rejects the Ibn Ezra’s approach, failing to see within it any compelling threat against the Israelites. How then, the Abravanel asks, are we to view the textual sources clearly testifying that, had it not been for God’s merciful intervention, Bilam’s curses would indeed have had devastating impact upon the people?

The Abravanel therefore posits a real, albeit indirect, threat potentially presented by Bilam’s words. As Balak himself clearly testifies, by the time the story begins, Bilam has earned public renown for his perceived powers in the area of blessing and curse. Had the sorcerer been allowed to pronounce his intended curses, surrounding nations would have heard and would have been encouraged to attack the “newly vulnerable” Israelites. “Open season” would have been called on the fledgling nation. Once God transforms Bilam’s curses into blessings, however, the special status of the nation in God’s eyes becomes readily apparent to all, rendering the people safe from attack.

A similar interpretation is suggested by Rabbi Meir Simcha Hacohen of Dvinsk, who maintains that God intervenes in the Balak/Bilam story in order to “thrust the fear of Israel upon all the kings of the nations.” Once someone of Bilam’s stature blesses the Israelites, surrounding nations will be fearful of moving against them in any way.

A creative approach to the impact of Bilam’s words is offered by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the pivotal rabbinic leader of nineteenth-century German Jewry whose emphasis on the universal role of the Jewish nation serves as a foundation of his religious philosophy. God visits specific individuals, whether Jewish or Gentile, with prophetic vision, to enable them to bring forward His message to the world. In this case, God wants Bilam to bless the Israelites in his role as a prophet, not for their sake, but for the sake of the surrounding nations. He wants the world to recognize that this is a “blessed people,” whose very character and mission reflect God’s will for mankind as a whole. When Bilam attempts to subvert this prophetic mandate by cursing rather than blessing the Israelites, God steps in to ensure that the intended divine message to mankind will be properly transmitted and received.

Another possible approach to the significance of Bilam’s words can be gleaned from a puzzling rabbinic observation that, at first, seems only to deepen the mysteries before us. In the book of Devarim, as Moshe recounts the Bilam-Balak episode in retrospect, he relates: “And God transformed, on your behalf, the curse into a blessing.”

Why, ask the rabbis, does Moshe speak of a singular transformation of “the curse into a blessing”? Weren’t multiple curses transformed into blessings during this episode?

The answer suggested by the scholars threatens to undermine the thrust of the entire Balak/Bilam narrative:

Rabbi Yochanan stated: From the blessings pronounced by Bilam, one can determine what was in his heart…. Rabbi Abba bar Kahana [further] maintained: [due to the sins of the Israelites] all of them [the blessings] reverted back to the original curses [my italics], with the exception of the blessing concerning synagogues and houses of study, as the Torah states, “And God transformed, on your behalf, the curse into a blessing”: “the curse” and not “the curses” [my italics].

How astounding! The rabbis would have us understand that, in the final analysis, God’s intervention in the Bilam story has limited effect. After God “troubles Himself” to change the sorcerer’s curses into blessings (an act whose necessity we have already questioned), almost all of those blessings turn back into curses. Perplexingly, the Balak/Bilam story now seems to make even less sense. Why does God bother to transform Bilam’s words if, in practical terms, those words are not truly “transformed” at all?

Perhaps the rabbis, in their own inimitable style, answer all of our questions at once. Fundamentally, they maintain, God’s message through the Balak/Bilam narrative is surprising but clear: It does not matter what Bilam says!

Phenomena like Bilam’s words ultimately have no independent power. Although God may grant credence to words spoken by man, such words are not the primary determinants of an individual’s fate.

This sorcerer can curse you or bless you; it makes no difference. Your destiny will be decided not by outside forces, but by your own merit. Your own actions will determine whether you are “cursed” or “blessed.”

Had God allowed Bilam to proceed with his intended curses, the Israelites, upon hearing of the sorcerer’s words (or barring that, upon learning of similar phenomena) could have claimed them as justification for their failings: How could we be blamed? Were we not doomed from the start?

God therefore decides to use the Balak/ Bilam episode as a teaching opportunity. He intervenes, changes the sorcerer’s curses to blessings and reveals the entire episode to the Israelites from the start. In doing so, He effectively proclaims: Now I have removed any possible excuse. The words pronounced upon you by the sorcerer are positive. The final significance and impact of those words, however, like so much else in your lives, is in your hands. If you are meritorious, Bilam’s blessings will remain intact. If not, those very “blessings” will be turned against you.

Always remember that your story will be defined by no one else. You can blame no outside force. Ultimately, it’s all up to you….

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Birkat Yitzchak – Shlach

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

פרשת שלח


המרגלים ומצות ציצית – החטא ותיקונו

פרשת שלח פותחת בענין המרגלים וחטאם, וסופה נחתם במצות ציצית. והמעיין בלשון הכתוב יראה ששני ענינים אלו שייכי אהדדי. הנה במרגלים כתיב: “ויתורו את ארץ כנען” (יג, ב) ובציצית כתיב: “ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם” (טו, לט). במרגלים כתוב: “וראיתם את הארץ” (יג, יח), ובציצית כתוב: “וראיתם אותו” (שם טו, לט). ובדברי רש”י מבוארת ההשוואה אף יותר, שהביא מהמדרש תנחומא (ד”ה ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם), וז”ל: “כמו ‘מתור הארץ’ (לעיל יג, כה) הלב והעינים הם מרגלים לגוף, ומסרסרים לו את העבירות, העין רואה, והלב חומד, והגוף עושה את העבירות”, עכ”ל.

ונראה ביאור הדברים, שמצות ציצית היא התבלין והתיקון לחטא המרגלים והקב”ה נתן את מצות ציצית בעטיו של חטא המרגלים. חטא המרגלים היה שהביטו על ארץ ישראל, בראיה מצומצמת ושיטחית, ולא ראו את חמדת הארץ, שהיא ארץ סגולה, ומנגד תכליתה של מצות ציצית היא לרומם את ראיית האדם. ולכן הלשון ‘ציצית’ הוא מלשון ‘ציץ’, דהיינו לראות, וכמו “מציץ מן החרכים” (שה”ש ב,ט), שמשמעותו ראיה חודרת ועמוקה [וכ”פ במצודת ציון (יחזקאל ח,ג) את המילים “בציצית ראשי – ר”ל שער ראשי כי כל דבר היוצא מן הגוף קרוי ציץ, וכן תנו ציץ למואב (ירמיה מח,ט)”. והיינו: יציאת דבר לגילוי קרויה הצצה], ובמיוחד זוהי מצות תכלת שמרוממת את הסתכלות האדם. כי תכלת דומה לעשבים, ועשבים לים, וים לרקיע, ורקיע לכסא הכבוד (ירושלמי ריש ברכות).


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Parashat Shelah: Does It Pay to Be Good?

Excerpted from Rabbi Dr. Norman J. Lamm’s Derashot Ledorot: A Commentary for the Ages – Numbers, co-published by OU Press, Maggid Books, and YU Press; Edited by Stuart W. Halpern

Does It Pay to Be Good?*

Does it pay to be good? This is a question one often hears – and asks – as a sign of frustration. Usually, it is just an expression of momentary disappointment and serves a cathartic function. But sometimes, and with some people, and especially if repeated often enough, it is elevated from a query of complaint to a philosophy of life, and from a passing mood to a firm moral judgment. So let us ask ourselves the question rather seriously: Does it pay to be good?

We must first divide the question into two parts by posing a counter-question: “pay” for whom?

“Does it pay to be good?” may refer to the benefactor, to the one asking the question; or it may refer to the beneficiary, the one who is the recipient of my goodness and generosity.

The first question – does it pay for me to be good – probably should be answered, for most cases, in the negative. If you expect dividends from your ethical investments, you are seriously in error. The good life is not necessarily the happy life. John Kennedy, born into a wealthy family, high society, and catapulted into historic political prominence, decided that “life is unfair.” Much earlier, the Rabbis broodingly concluded that the reward for virtue simply is not in evidence in this world (Kiddushin 39b). I myself, being professionally engaged a good part of the time in doing favors for people and arranging for some people to be kind to others, learned long, long ago that one thing I must never expect (if I wanted to lead a life free from constant minor disappointments) is gratitude. I now never expect anyone to show gratitude. Therefore, when, as often happens, I meet people who are possessed of that noble virtue, I am delighted beyond words at the great discovery of a genuine human being. But ingratitude neither overwhelms me nor surprises me any longer because, truth to tell, and without the least trace of cynicism,  it is the rule rather than the exception. Were a person to be good only because it pays, or because it will be recognized and acknowledged, he would have to stop being good!

But essentially the question does not even deserve an answer – for, no matter what the answer may be, our immediate reaction must be to ask: “So what?” Who says that it has to pay in the first place? An individual who plans to be moral because it pays to be good will end up either an evil person or one who will suffer constant frustration. Judaism taught us, “Do not be like servants who serve the master only in order to receive a salary or a wage” (Avot 1:3). Don’t be good merely because it pays. Judaism never urged upon us that old maxim, “Honesty is the best policy.” A Jew must be honest even when it is not a good policy. Morals and goodness are matters of principle, not prudence. Yes, we believe that ultimately there is spiritual reward – but this must never become the motive for being good in the first place.

The real question that is worth pondering is the second one: Does it pay to be good for the beneficiary of my kindness? At first glance, it is a simple matter of definition – obviously it is good for someone if I do that person good. Yet it is not quite that simple. We must consider such factors as excess, timing, and short-term indulgence which may lead to long-term damage. And here there can be no uniform answer. Here what is required is wisdom and maturity and deliberation in order to foretell whether our benefaction will ultimately prove helpful or harmful.

The incident of Moses and the spies he sent into Canaan provides an illustration of a case where it did not pay to be good. God told Moses, “Send for yourself people to spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2). But according to the way the Rabbis (as cited by Rashi ad loc.) interpreted this incident, the relations between God, Israel, and Moses were quite complex, and the role of Moses was anomalous. Thus Rashi states:

God said to Moses, “Send a delegation of spies if you wish. But do it on your own responsibility. For Myself, I am not commanding you to do so.” For the Israelites themselves demanded such a delegation, and when Moses consulted the Divine Presence, He replied: “But I have already told them that it is a good land! Therefore, if you wish you may let them have their spies, but not without great risk.”

In other words, the sending of the spies was a concession, like the permission to appoint a king over themselves, or the granting of permission for the eating of meat to the children of Noah, or the law of the beautiful captive. And, while we may be grateful to God for being an understanding Father, it is not always clear that such indulgence is for our own ultimate good.

Obviously, here Moses was being too good. He submitted to pressure by the Israelites, when perhaps he should not have done so. He was too good – and it didn’t pay!

The commentators are undecided about the moral qualities of these spies. Some say they were truly just, some say merely innocent, and some say they were wicked. But I prefer a fourth interpretation, that of Midrash Tanĥuma, which declares them “kesilim” – a word which means both knaves and fools, primarily the latter. The spies were immature and childish. And Moses over-indulged them, pampered them and babied them, like a father who is too good to his little children.

In Deuteronomy 1:23, Moses, in recollecting the story of the spies, said: “Vayitav be’einay hadavar,” which usually is explained as, “And the plan found favor in my eyes.” But if Moses admitted that the plan was valid in his opinion, how does Rashi tell us here that Moses did not really favor it, and that he consulted with the Divine Presence which discouraged him? I submit that, perhaps, the expression of “vayitav be’einay hadavar” means, in essence: I, Moses, considered the matter and decided to be good to you. And of course – Moses erred. For to be good is not always the same as to do good. It is sometimes better to be hard-headed than soft-hearted.

Indeed, Moses already knew the harm that can come from excessive softness. After the sin of the Gold Calf, when Moses acts as the great advocate and defendant of his people, he tries to shift part of the blame for the making of the calf on God Himself! He maintains that God helped to spoil this people. “Moses said to the Almighty: O God, the gold and the silver which You gave them to excess [when they left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea], so much that they had to exclaim, ‘enough!’ – that is what caused them to make a golden calf ” (Yoma 86b); You spoiled them and led them to think that such material valuables are a true criterion of greatness, and so they deified them!

So, all of us must learn in our personal and professional and especially family lives that it does not always pay to be good. Sometimes we intend to be kind and generous, and are only inviting trouble later on for the very one whom, out of love, we seek to benefit.

We tend to sin in this respect especially as parents. It is an old Jewish syndrome of which the Bible records numerous examples: Eli with his sons, Samuel with his sons, David with his sons. In our days, we often try to give our children what we did not have, and so we fail to give them what we did have. Our generation of affluence is over-pressing material good on the younger generation, and thereby denying them a sense of discovery, of self-worth, of the achievement of earning and deserving the goods of the world. We think, “vayitav be’einay hadavar,” we are being good to them, when we are really helping them build a Golden Calf. We send teens on a trip around the world but then there is nothing for them to look forward to other than ennui and boredom. We saturate them with luxuries until they are sated and cry, “Enough!”

What else is there left for them to live for, especially since non-material values were never seriously considered? We send our children to the best universities with only the minimal attention to Jewishness, Jewish society, and the opportunity for Jewish observance. And later, even the finest Orthodox families wonder where they went wrong and why they now suffer from the problems of intermarriage.

But this idea of short-term kindness leading to eventual harm has to do not only with individuals but applies to collectivities as well.

One such case is the problem of the priorities that our liberal Jewish community sets for itself. We are generally a kindly people, and therefore concerned with the well-being of all peoples. And that is as it should be. But we have sinned in the area of priorities. We have tried to be good to others and denied our kindness from our kin. We have acted politically, socially, and economically on behalf of all the underprivileged – except for the Jewish poor; on behalf of all political causes – except our own; on behalf of all marginal people – except for those of our own people who have not yet “made it.” And so it did not pay for us or for them to be good.

A second such instance concerns the hijackings which now proliferate in the world. The policy of most governments has been to be soft, accommodating, and gentle with hijackers. Most nations told themselves, obviously in sincerity, that they were protecting the passengers on the immediate plane endangered. Yet they failed to see that in this way they were inviting further hijackings and endangering the lives of untold numbers of other, future passengers. Apparently, only the government of Israel took the right attitude: no concessions, no submissions, no negotiations. They realized that it does not pay – even for the passengers of an endangered jet – to submit to the criminals.

In this respect, I wish to single out for special condemnation and censure a recent editorial that was distinguished by viciousness and inanity rolled into one. A week or ten days ago, The New York Times, in an editorial after the Lod massacre, had the temerity and audacity to suggest that Israel itself must accept part of the blame, because when it decided to storm the Sabena jet some time earlier, this provoked the terrorists to attempt the Lod massacre.

What unmitigated gall! While the Times was pontificating in its editorial columns, its news columns were informing us that the Lod massacre had been planned long before the Sabena jet incident. Now we know, factually, that this was the case. Furthermore, this week the airline pilots of the world set June 19th as a deadline for a new policy against hijackers – once more in consonance with that of the State of Israel – and that they will strike if this policy is not worked out.

Perhaps it is a consolation for us to recall that The New York Times was usually wrong on Israel, from the beginnings of the Zionist movement until this very day. Thank the Lord that, with all our reverence for the sage advice given to us from the Olympian heights of the Times editorial room, we have been wise enough to disregard it and ignore it. Perhaps it is a measure of the justice and rightness of Israel’s cause that it evoked the displeasure of the Times editorial writer. When we satisfy the Times’ standards, perhaps then we ought to question whether we are on the right track.

To summarize, we respond to the question, “Does it pay to be good?” as follows: If the question is asked whether it pays for me to do good, the question is invalid – it is a pseudo-question because it really makes no difference what the answer is. It is irrelevant. I do not do good because it pays, but because as a Jew I am commanded to do good.

But if it means: “Does it pay to be good toward the beneficiary?” the answer is that it depends upon that individual, upon his maturity and sense of proportion, upon that person’s absorptive capacity for kindness and goodness. It is a question which demands wisdom and knowledge of the particular case in order to know how to act properly.

For, as we indicated, it is so very difficult to know when we are truly doing good and when we are going to excess, that even God was faulted by Moses in this respect. Yet, we must always rely upon Him and pray that He be good to us without overindulging us and causing us eventual harm. So we pray, in the blessing of Rosh Ĥodesh, for “ĥayim sheyimalu mishalot libenu letova,” a “life in which the desires of our hearts will be fulfilled” – but not all of them, not everything we want, not without measure, but only: “letova,” for what is truly our real good. Amen sela.

*June 10, 1972.

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Parshat Beha’alotcha: A Divine Misfire?

Excerpted from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Unlocking the Torah Text – Bamidbar, co-published by OU Press and Gefen Publishers

A Divine Misfire?


Folded into the dramatic story of Kivrot Hata’ava (see previous study) is a short narrative detailing one of the strangest events in the Torah.

Responding to Moshe’s complaint that he can no longer bear the burden of leadership alone, God commands him to assemble seventy of the nation’s elders outside the Sanctuary. When Moshe complies, God miraculously increases Moshe’s ruach hakodesh (prophetic spirit), allowing it to be shared with the elders. The elders respond with an eruption of prophecy (see following study).

The rabbis view this event as the establishment of the first Sanhedrin, the high court of seventy-one (in this case, seventy elders plus Moshe) that will serve across history as the highest legal body in the world of Jewish jurisprudence.

Suddenly, the unexpected occurs. Eldad and Medad, two individuals who are not among those gathered outside the Sanctuary, are strangely affected by these miraculous proceedings: “And the spirit rested on them; and they had been among the recorded ones, that they had not gone out to the tent, and they prophesied in the camp.”

When word of this phenomenon reaches the ears of Moshe and his protégé, Yehoshua, Moshe’s student advises swift action against the “renegade prophets.” Moshe, however, responds with equanimity: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that God would make His entire people prophets, that God would place His spirit upon them.”


Who are Eldad and Medad? Why does the Torah describe them as being “among the recorded ones”?

God carefully orchestrates the inauguration of the seventy elders into leadership. He underscores the divine source of their new powers by insisting that they gather around the Sanctuary. He demonstrates that their leadership flows from and is subordinate to Moshe by increasing Moshe’s own power so that it can be shared.

What, then, goes wrong? Why are Eldad and Medad granted a gift that should have been reserved only for participants in the inauguration ritual? Can it be that we are witnessing a “divine misfire,” that somehow God’s miraculous bounty is accidentally extended to individuals who should not receive it? Such an eventuality would seem clearly impossible when dealing with an all-powerful God, Who, by definition, cannot make mistakes. What is the intent of the Eldad and Medad narrative and what are we meant to learn from it? How, as well, does this story relate to the overall lessons learned at Kivrot Hata’ava?


According to the Talmud, the key to the story of Eldad and Medad lies in the Torah’s statement that they were “among the recorded.”

The rabbis explain that Moshe faces a difficult political dilemma as he moves to obey God’s instructions concerning the creation of the first Sanhedrin. Recognizing the importance of the step he is about to take, Moshe struggles to find a balanced leadership model that will satisfy all twelve Israelite tribes.

What shall I do? If I choose six elders from each of the twelve tribes I will end up with seventy-two candidates, two above the required number. If on the other hand, I choose five elders from each tribe, I will fall ten candidates short of the necessary seventy. Finally, if I choose five representatives from some tribes and six from others, I will create jealousy among the tribes.

As a solution, Moshe selects six elders from each tribe, for a total of seventy-two, and then sets aside seventy-two corresponding lots. He inscribes seventy of the lots with the word elder and leaves the remaining two lots blank.

When the contenders for positions on the first Sanhedrin gather around the Sanctuary, Moshe instructs each candidate to draw one lot. He informs those who select lots inscribed with the word elder: You have already been sanctified by the heavens. To those who draw blanks, on the other hand, he avows: What can I do? The Lord has not selected you. Through this procedure he allows the selection process to be clearly guided by God’s will, thus avoiding disputes between the tribes.

Eldad and Medad are “among the recorded,” originally designated to be included in the group of seventy-two elders assembled outside the Sanctuary. They refuse, however, to participate. The Talmud offers two antithetical explanations for their refusal: According to an anonymous opinion, Eldad and Medad do not attend the ceremony because they are fearful of not being selected. Rabbi Shimon, however, maintains that they demur because they do not feel worthy of selection.

In spite of their absence from the proceedings, however, God grants Eldad and Medad prophetic vision.

Rabbi Shimon, true to his position, maintains that God further rewards Eldad and Medad for their humility. While the prophetic ability bestowed upon those who attend the ceremony outside the Sanctuary is fleeting, Eldad and Medad are divinely granted permanent prophetic vision.

Most later scholars accept Rabbi Shimon’s position that Eldad and Medad fail to participate in the selection for the Sanhedrin because they do not feel worthy of rising to leadership. God grants them prophetic vision specifically as a reward for their unassuming nature. Eldad and Medad’s story thus emerges as a moral tale, underscoring the merits of humility.

There is, however, another clear moral lesson that emerges from this strange narrative. Eldad and Medad are slated for leadership, whether they wish to accept it or not. Their attempt to avoid their fate is miraculously forestalled, as God seeks them out against their will. In doing so, He conveys a message that, at once, ties into Moshe’s wrenching realizations at Kivrot Hata’ava (see previous study) and, at the same time, resounds across the ages: No matter what your motivation, you cannot avoid your God-mandated responsibilities.


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Birkat Yitzchak – Beha’alotcha

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

פרשת בהעלתך

חצבה עמודיה שבעה

ויהי בנסוע הארון ויאמר משה קומה ה’ ויפוצו אויביך וינוסו משנאיך מפניך. ובנחה יאמר שובה ה’ רבבות אלפי ישראל (י, לה-לו)

“ת”ר ויהי בנסוע הארון ויאמר משה, פרשה זו עשה לה הקב”ה סימנים מלמעלה ולמטה לרמז שאין זה מקומה, רבי אומר לא מן השם הוא זה אלא מפני שספר חשוב הוא בפני עצמו, כמאן אזלא הא דא”ר שמואל בר נחמני א”ר יונתן חצבה עמודיה שבעה אלו שבעה ספרי תורה, כמאן כרבי” (שבת קטז, א).

והנה דברי הגמ’ צ”ב, דהוא דבר תימה מה שלרבי שני פסוקים חשובים כספר בפני עצמו.

ושמעתי ממו”ר הגריד”ס זצ”ל בזה דבר נאה מאד. כפי שכבר הבאנו לעיל (אות ד) מדבריו, מבואר בפסוקים שהקב”ה היה מתכוון להביא את בני ישראל בעוד כמה ימים לארץ, ולכן אמר משה ליתרו שיסע איתם שנא’: “ויאמר משה לחובב וגו’ נוסעים אנחנו אל המקום אשר אמר ה’ אתו אתן לכם לכה אתנו והטבנו לך” וגו’ (י, כט). הרי שהיו עומדים מיד להיכנס לארץ, ולכן בפרשה זאת מדובר על המסעות שכך יסעו לארץ, ולכן ניתנה מצות החצוצרות כדי להסיע ולהקהיל את העם, וגם להריע בהם בשעת מלחמה. ונראה שהיתה כונת ה’ להכניסם לארץ ישראל מיד, כמבואר בפסוק “ויסעו מהר ה’ דרך שלשת ימים וארון ברית ה’ נסע לפניהם דרך שלשת ימים לתור להם מנוחה” (י, לג), וברש”י שם כתב, וז”ל: “מהלך שלשת ימים הלכו ביום אחד שהיה הקב”ה חפץ להכניסם לארץ מיד”, עכ”ל. ואחר הפרשה של “ויהי בנסוע הארון”, נהפך הכל, ובאה פורענות אחר פורענות. מתחילה המתאוננים, ואח”כ האספסוף, עד המעשה של המרגלים שהיתה בכיה לדורות ונגזר שלא יכנסו כל הדור ההוא לארץ וימותו במדבר. ובמקום שיכנסו ישראל מיד, לא זכו להכנס לארץ עד אחר ארבעים שנה, מפני שלא היו להם האמונה והבטחון בה’. אבל אם היו נכנסים אז לארץ ישראל ומשה מלכם בראשם וארון הברית נוסע לפניהם, היה משה רבינו זה שבונה את בית המקדש, אזי מקדש שהיה נבנה ע”י משה רבינו לא היה נחרב, וכל ההיסטוריה של עם ישראל היתה שונה לגמרי, והיו נחסכים מעמנו החורבן ורדיפות הגלות.

וזוהי כונת רבי יהודה ששני פסוקים אלו הם ספר בפני עצמו. שני פסוקים האלו הם הראשון והאחרון של ספר שהיה עומד להכתב ע”י משה כשיכנסו לארץ, אלא שלא נכתבו כל הפסוקים האמצעיים שבספר שהיו מדברים אודות הנצחון והישועה הגדולה וגאולת ישראל מפני שלא זכו להיכנס לארץ ומשה רבנו בראשם. [עיין בספר כסא רחמים למרן הגאון חיד”א זצ”ל על מס’ סופרים (פ”ו הי”א בפי’ “התוס’ שלו”), וז”ל: “כתבו המקובלים שספר ויהי בנסוע הוא ספר גדול ככל התורה ולא זכינו אלא לשני פסוקים שלו, וכשתהיה הגאולה ב”ב אזי נזכה לכל הספר של ויהי בנסוע הארון”, עכ”ל. והוא תנא דמסייע לדברי רבינו].

ונראה להוסיף ע”פ דברי רבינו זצ”ל, שהנה בגמ’ בשבת (קטז, א) איתא: “ס”ת שבלה אם יש לו ללקט שמונים וחמש אותיות כגון פרשת ויהי בנסוע הארון מצילין ואם לא אין מצילין”. דזה מישך שייכא לדין ספר של שני פסוקים אלו שגם הם הינם שיורי פסוקים וכספר שבלה חשיבי, שהרי כל החלק האמצעי לא נכתב ונשארו מהספר רק הפסוק הראשון והאחרון של הספר.

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Birkat Yitzchak – Naso

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

פרשת נשא

מפליא לעשות

כל ימי הזירו לה’ על נפש מת לא יבוא. לאביו ולאמו לאחיו ולאחותו לא יטמא להם במותם כי נזר אלקיו על ראשו (ו, ו-ז).

א. הגאון ר’ יעקב קמינצקי זצ”ל העיר דבר נפלא. הנה באזהרת הכהן שלא להטמא למת והתירו ליטמא לקרובו כתובים בנו ובתו עם שאר הקרובים, ואילו כאן גבי נזיר לא הוזכרו בנו ובתו אף שאסור הוא להטמאות להם, וצ”ב פשר דבר. ועל כך השיב הוא, מדרך העולם מי הוא זה שמורד נגד תהליך העולם ומסיר עצמו ממנהג העולם לקבוע לו דרך לעצמו – בחור שדמיו רותחים מפני גילו הצעיר; וכמו המעשה בשמעון הצדיק (נדרים ט, ב) בבחור צעיר שהיה רועה צאן אביו ונסתכל בבבואתו במים וראה ביופיו והבין שיצר הרע רוצה לטורדו מן העולם ולכן קיבל על עצמו נזירות. ולכן לא מוזכרים בן ובת, כי המדובר במי שהוא עדיין צעיר ואינו נשוי ואין לו עדיין ילדים.

ב. והנה כתב האבן עזרא: “יפליא – הוא מלשון פלא, כי רוב העולם הולכים אחר תאותם”. והנה חז”ל (נזיר יט, א) אומרים שנזיר חוטא הוא כיון שציער עצמו מן היין. ופירוש הענין הוא, דנקרא ‘קדוש’ ונקרא ‘חוטא’; נקרא קדוש – שרוצה למעט בתאותו ולכן אוסר על עצמו היין; אבל נקרא חוטא – כי דרך התורה אינה להסיר עצמו מן העולם ולחיות בבדידות, אלא דרך התורה הוא לקדש את הרע, ולא להיות נפרד מן הצבור, אלא ע”י התעסקותו בעולם ולא בהבדלו ממנו, ובהתקשרות העולם הרוחני עם הגוף שם תמצא הקדושה.

והנה בהפטרת נשא, העוסקת בנזירות שמשון, כתוב: “ומפליא לעשות ומנוח ואשתו רואים”. ומכאן ראיה לפירוש האבן עזרא דהפלאה הוא מלשון פלא, שיש לומר שלכן השתמש בה הכתוב לגבי המלאך, כפי ענין הפרשה שם המדובר בנזירות שמשון, וגם הנה שם המלאך הוא ‘פלאי’.

ג. והנה הלשון שבברכת אשר יצר – “ומפליא לעשות”, לקוחה היא מכאן. ועיין באו”ח (סי’ ו סע’ א) ברמ”א, וז”ל: “יש לפרש שמפליא לעשות במה ששומר רוח האדם בקרבו וקושר דבר רוחני בדבר גשמי, והכל הוא ע”י שהוא רופא כל בשר, כי אז האדם בקו הבריאות ונשמתו משתמרת בקרבו”, עכ”ל.

הרי שמהות ה”מפליא לעשות” הוא הקשר בין הגוף והרוח, וזה ההיפך מדרך הנזיר שמתרחק לגמרי מהנאת העולם הזה ואוסר על עצמו את היין, ומגדל שערו פרע, כדי להתרחק מתאות הגוף, ולכן נחשב כחוטא; אכן משמעות ה”מפליא לעשות” הוא לחיות חיים של קדושה ורוחניות אף במסגרת הגוף. ולכן קבעו חכמים במטבע ברכה זו לשון “מפליא לעשות”, הלקוחה מפרשת נזירות שמשון, להראות שעיקר הפלא הוא לקשר עולם הרוח ועולם הגשמי, ולא כפי התפיסה הגויית, השוללת את העיסוק וההנאה הגשמית. ולכן בן נח מביא רק קרבן עולה, אבל לכלל ישראל יש גם קרבן שלמים, דיש בו חלק לה’ וחלק לבעלים.

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Birkat Yitzchak – Bamidbar

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Birkat Yitzchak Chidushim U-ve’urim al HaTorah

פרשת במדבר


השראת השכינה על הר סיני ולדורות עולם

הרמב”ן כותב בהקדמתו לספר במדבר: “אחר שביאר תורת הקרבנות בספר השלישי התחיל עתה לסדר בספר הזה המצות שנצטוו בענין אהל מועד וכבר הזהיר על טומאת מקדש וקדשיו. ועתה יגביל את המשכן בהיותו במדבר כאשר הגביל הר סיני בהיות הכבוד שם צוה והזר הקרב יומת כאשר אמר שם כי סקול יסקל, יצוה ולא יבואו לראות כבלע את הקדש ומתו כאשר הזהיר שם פן יהרסו אל ה’ לראות וגו’. וצוה ושמרתם את משמרת הקדש ואת משמרת המזבח כאשר אמר שם וגם הכהנים הנגשים אל ה’ יתקדשו וגו’ והכהנים והעם וגו’ והנה צוה איך תהיה משמרת המשכן וכליו ואיך יחנו סביב ויעמוד העם מרחוק והכהנים הנגשים אל ה’ איך יתנהגו בו בחנותו ובשאת אותו ומה יעשו במשמרתו וכבוד לו כמו שאמרו אינו דומה פלטרין של מלך שיש לו שומרין לפלטרין שאין לו שומרין”.

והנה דברי הרמב”ן כאן מבוססים על היסוד שכבר יסד בפרשת תרומה שהקדושה ששכנה על הר סיני הועברה למשכן, ועצם תבנית המשכן מראה על מעמד הר סיני, הכרובים של זהב מרמזים על האש שירדה על ההר, והפרוכת דומה לערפל שסיבב את ראש ההר, וכשם שבני ישראל חנו סביב להר סיני כן לדורות סביב המקדש הוי קדושת מחנות, מחנה שכינה, לויה וישראל – וכן כאן בהקדמתו הראה על הדברים המקבילים בין סיני למשכן, זה לעומת זה.

וביתר ביאור, הרי לשיטת הרמב”ן בכל החומש ישנו לבד מפרטי תרי”ג המצוות, תיאור ה’מפגש’ בין השכינה לעם ישראל [וראה מה שהרחבנו בזה בתחילת פרשת בראשית], לכן כתב בהקדמתו לספר שמות, שפרשיות בנין המשכן נכללות בספר שמות שהוא ספר הגאולה, ולא נשלמה הגאולה ממצרים עד שחזרו למעלת אבותם, שהשכינה היה שורה עלי אהליהם של האבות, שהם הם המרכבה. נמצא שספר בראשית שהוא ספר תולדות האבות מדבר על השראת השכינה באהליהם, וספר שמות גם הוא מדבר בענין המשכן, וספר ויקרא הוא כולו ענין של עבודת המקדש, וגם ספר במדבר הוא מאותו ענין וכפי שביאר הרמב”ן בהקדמתו.

ושורש דעת הרמב”ן בענין קדושת המשכן הוא, שלא יתכן שקדושת השראת השכינה שהיתה במעמד הר סיני תופיע לשעה קלה כאירוע חד פעמי, אלא שהיא יסוד וענין לדורות. ולכן קדושת המקדש, שהיא מפני השכינה – להרמב”ם (פ”ו מהל’ ביהב”ח הט”ז), הויא קדושה עולמית ששכינה אינה בטילה. ולכן להרמב”ן יש מצוה לדורות לזכור תמיד את מעמד הר סיני. ודו”ק. [וספר דברים הוא ענין אחר, דמשה מפי עצמו אמרו, ולכן הוי ‘משנה תורה’, ואינו מסדר זה.]

והנה לפ”ז יובן מדוע אנו נוהגים לקרוא פרשת במדבר קודם חג השבועות, כי יסודו של ספר במדבר הוא שענין מעמד הר סיני אינו כלה אלא מצוי לדורות, ואף בנסיעתנו והליכתנו במדבר הוא אתנו.