"And I implored G-d." (3:23)
QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (11:10) the word "Va'etchanan" which has the numerical value of five hundred and fifteen, teaches us, that Moshe prayed five hundred and fifteen prayers to Hashem to be permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael.
Why specifically five hundred and fifteen?
The spies returned with their evil report against Eretz Yisrael
on the ninth of Av
. Since the people cried bitterly and refused to go to Eretz Yisrael
, Hashem decreed that the entire nation between the ages of twenty and sixty would die in the wilderness. Annually, on the ninth of Av
, graves were dug and the people would sleep in them. In the morning those who were alive would climb out of the graves, and those who had expired would be buried where they were. This went on for all the years of the sojourn in the wilderness.
On the fortieth year graves were dug for the people to sleep in, but surprisingly, they all emerged alive. The people began to wonder, "Perhaps we have miscalculated and yesterday was not really the ninth of Av." Therefore, they continued sleeping in graves on the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth. When they noticed a full moon on the fifteenth of Av, they were certain that the ninth had already passed, and obviously the punishment was completed (see Bava Batra 121a).
Thus, on the fifteenth of Av the Jewish people celebrated the fact that no one else would be punished for the spy episode, and Moshe thought that it was an opportune time to pray to Hashem to permit him to enter the land.
The Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar system, normally has six months of twenty-nine days and six months of thirty days. From the month of Elul (which follows Av) till the month of Adar, in which Moshe passed away, there are six months. Counting three of them as full months (thirty days) and three as incomplete ones (twenty-nine days), there is a total of one hundred and seventy-seven days. Adding to this, sixteen days from the fifteenth to the thirtieth of the month of Av, and seven days of the month of Adar until Moshe's passing, there is a total of two hundred days.
A Jew is required to pray three times a day. In each prayer he may include personal requests, except on Shabbat, when personal needs may not be mentioned (see Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 15:3, Orach Chaim 294:1. However, on Yom Tov it is permissible, see Magen Avraham 128:70). Since in a two-hundred-day period there are twenty-eight Shabbatot, one hundred and seventy-two days remain, in which a person prays three times a day and may include personal requests, which totals five hundred and sixteen prayers.
On the night of the fifteenth, after seeing the full moon, they realized their sins were forgiven, and they thus celebrated the following day. Hence, Moshe started praying from the morning of the fifteenth of Av, till Minchah of the seventh of Adar, uttering exactly a total of five hundred and fifteen prayers before his passing.
"I implored G-d at that time saying." (3:23)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that with the words, "at that time," Moshe meant that "after I conquered the land of Sichon and Og, I thought that perhaps Hashem's vow forbidding me to enter Eretz Yisrael had been annulled."
What is the connection between the conquest of Sichon and Og and Moshe entering the promised land?
Moshe received his punishment forbidding him to enter Eretz Yisrael
because he struck the rock in order to bring forth its water instead of speaking to it. Moshe actually did this out of concern for the welfare of the Jewish people. He feared that if he would speak to the rock and it would obey, it would give Satan an opportunity to prosecute the Jewish people. He would come before Hashem and say, "Even an inanimate rock listens and fulfills Your command, while Your 'intelligent' people violate Your commandments — the Torah." Nevertheless, Moshe was punished, which shows that although his intentions were good, he was held accountable for his disobedient action.
When Sodom was at war against the four powerful kings and Lot was taken captive, the Torah relates that, "The fugitive came and told Avraham that his relative was captured" (Bereishit 14:13). The Midrash Rabbah (42:8) identifies the "fugitive" as Og, and explains that although his act of notifying Avraham was beneficial, ultimately leading to a consecration of Hashem's name, his intention was evil. He meant to influence Avraham to go to war to rescue Lot, hoping that Avraham would be killed in battle so that he could marry Sarah.
Since Moshe was punished for not speaking to the rock, he concluded that Hashem was more upset with an evil action than an intention. However, after conquering Og, Moshe concluded that Og's downfall was due to his evil thoughts, although his action was good. Thus, he thought that his case would now then be favorably reconsidered, and because of his good intentions the vow forbidding him entry to Eretz Yisrael would be annulled.
"I implored G-d... But G-d became angry with me because of you." (3:23, 26)
QUESTION: According to the Ramban (3:24), Moshe concluded his rebuke to the Jewish people with this statement. He was telling them, "Not only did your forefathers cause trouble for themselves, but I was also punished because of them, to be barred from Eretz Yisrael.
Why was it necessary for him to tell them of his prayers for permission to enter? He should have just said that it was because of them that he was denied entry to Eretz Yisrael.
During their forty year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people often provoked Hashem's wrath. Whenever Hashem expressed His disappointment and anger, Moshe would intercede on their behalf. Not only did he pray and plead for them, but he even risked his life, telling Hashem, "And now if You would but forgive this sin! — But, if not, erase me from the book that You have written" (Shemot
When Moshe realized that his end was near, he prayed and beseeched Hashem for the opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael. He offered a total of five hundred and fifteen prayers. As he was delivering his parting message to his beloved people, he exclaimed in exasperation, "va'etchanan el Hashem — I [alone] implored Hashem — I hoped that the entire community would raise an uproar on my behalf, just as I was ready to give my life for the community. You should have said to Hashem, 'We will not go without Moshe.' Unfortunately, your feelings for me did not match my love for you."
"Let me go over, I pray, and see the good land." (3:25)
QUESTION: The word "na" — "I pray" — seems extra. The pasuk could have said, "Let me go over and see the good land"?
King David says, "The years of our life number seventy" (Psalms 90:10). At this time Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old. Thus, he exceeded the normal life-span by fifty years. Consequently, he said to Hashem, "Since you have already permitted me to exceed the normal life-span by fifty years, 'e'ebrah'
— let me go over (exceed) the normal life-span a bit more, and enter 'na'
— the fifty-first year so that I will be able to see the good land."
Hashem told him, "Rav" — "Let it suffice to you that you have 'lach' — fifty additional years (3:26). I cannot give you any more years because it is already written in the Torah (Bereishit 6:3), 'My spirit shall not abide in man forever — beshegam hu basar — since he is but flesh — therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.' "
Incidentally, the word "beshegam" — "since [he is also flesh]" — has the numerical value of three hundred and forty-five, which is also the numerical value of the name "Moshe," and is hinting that a mortal man — Moshe — will be born who will live one hundred and twenty years.
"G-d said to me, 'It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter.' " (3:26)
QUESTION: King Shlomo says, "Tachanunim yedaber rash ve'ashir ya'aneh azot" — "The poor use entreaties, but the rich respond roughly" (Proverbs 18:23). The Midrash Rabbah (2:4) compares Moshe to the poor man who uses entreaties and Hashem to the rich man because of his harsh response, "It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me."
How does the Midrash justify describing Hashem in such a way?
Jewry eagerly anticipates the ultimate redemption through Mashiach
. He will be a descendant of King David, whose ancestors are Ruth and Boaz. Had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael
, he would have brought the ultimate redemption and the Jewish people would not have experienced any destruction or exile (Megaleh Amukot
, see Likkutei Sichot
vol. 19, p. 346).
The word "rav" is an acronym for the names Rus and Boaz. In addition to the acronym, in order to spell out the name Boaz in full, an additional ayin and zayin are necessary, and to spell out Rus, an additional vav and taf are necessary. These missing letters compose the word azot.
The Midrash was questioning the need for the words "rav lach," since the pasuk could have excluded them. Therefore, the Midrash explains that it is alluding to Ruth and Boaz. While Moshe delivered a heart rending plea to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael, Hashem's response was with "azot," which means that the word "rav" together with the letters of "azot" should serve as a message to Moshe that the ultimate redemption must come through Mashiach, the descendant of Ruth and Boaz.
"Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter." (3:26)
QUESTION: Why was Hashem so harsh with Moshe?
According to the Midrash
, 4) Moshe said to Hashem, "You called me 'Moshe My servant' (Bamidbar
12:7). In Your Torah it states that 'if the servant shall say, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I shall not go free...' (Shemot
21:5), then there are special provisions by which 've'avado le'olam'
— 'he shall serve him forever.' Since I am your servant and You are my Master, I am letting You know that I love You, Your Torah, and Your children, and I do not want to be free — I do not want to die, for once a person dies, he becomes "free" of Torah and mitzvot
, insofar as he can no longer study Torah or perform mitzvot
30a). I want to go to Eretz Yisrael
and be Your servant there forever."
The Gemara (Kiddushin 22a) says that in order for a servant to remain forever with his master, he must repeat his statement twice. This is derived from the words of the Torah, "ve'im amar yomar ha'eved," which contain a double form of the verb "to say." Hashem realized that Moshe had an excellent argument, and therefore He immediately told him, "Do not continue to speak to me further on this subject; do not repeat your statement so that I will be bound to honor your plea."
"Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter." (3:26)
QUESTION: The Gemara (Yevamot 64a) says that Hashem has a special desire to hear the prayers of the righteous. Why did he forbid Moshe to offer elaborate prayer?
The Jews were ready to enter Eretz Yisrael
but first Moshe had to die in the wilderness. The Gemara
54b) says that if one prays at length, Hashem reciprocates with long life. If Hashem had let Moshe extend his prayer, he would have merited long life, thus delaying the Jewish people's entry into Eretz Yisrael
"You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it." (4:2)
QUESTION: Not subtracting is easily understood, but what is wrong with adding?
There was a person who would borrow dishes and silverware from his neighbor whenever he had guests, and then return double the amount he borrowed. If he took a dish, he would return two. If he took two spoons, he would return four. The first time this happened his neighbor asked in amazement, "Why are you giving me back more dishes than I gave you?" The lender responded, "When I brought your dishes to my house, they became pregnant and gave birth."
Once, he came to his neighbor and told him, "Tonight, I will have very prominent people at my house. Please be kind enough to lend me your beautiful silver candelabra and I will return it to you tomorrow." The neighbor quickly agreed, thinking that tomorrow he would get back two.
"Tomorrow" passed and the neighbor did not come back with even the one candelabra. He called to ask when he could expect the candelabra returned. The lender sighed and said, "I feel terrible to tell you this, but when I came home with your candelabra, it suddenly had a heart-attack and died."
Angrily, the lender said, "Whoever heard of such a foolish thing? You're a thief! I demand the immediate return of my property!"
Calmly the borrower said, "If you were able to believe that your spoon or dish could give birth, then you must also believe me that your candelabra died."
The Torah consists of six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. Hashem chose this number because He knew exactly how much man could handle (see Avodah Zarah 3a, Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 12:3). If people are permitted to add mitzvot of their own and attach holiness to them, ultimately they will also rationalize not doing mitzvot.
"But you who cling to G-d, your G-d, you are all alive today." (4:4)
QUESTION: Since the previous pasuk states, "For every man that followed Ba'al Pe'or, Hashem destroyed him." This pasuk should just have said "but you are all alive today" without mentioning "hadeveikim baHashem Elokeichem" — "who cling to G-d, your G-d"?
Concerning the pasuk "Rifut tehi lisarecha"
— "It will be health to your navel" (Proverbs 3:8), the Zohar
) says that in the Shema
there are two hundred and forty-eight words corresponding to the limbs of man, and when one reads the Shema
properly, each word heals a limb.
Actually, there are only two hundred and forty-five words in the entire Shema, and to attain the number two hundred and forty-eight, the chazan repeats the words "Hashem Elokeichem," adding the word "emet." Hearing it from the chazan is considered the equivalent of saying it individually, and thus, everyone brings health to his body through the two hundred and forty-eight words of the Shema (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 61:3).
The letters in the word "atem" can be rearranged to spell the word "emet." Hence the pasuk is alluding to the teaching of the Zohar, namely "ve'atem" — by taking the word "atem" which spells "emet" — "hadveikim baHashem Elokeichem" — and attaching it to the words "Hashem Elokeichem" (the final two words of the last portion of the Shema), "chaim kulchem hayom" — "you are all alive today" — since all your limbs will be blessed with good health.
"But you who cling to G-d, your G-d, you are all alive today." (4:4)
QUESTION: Instead of "Elokeichem" it should have just said "Elokim"?
The Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah
6:2-3) rules that one who erases any letter of Hashem's seven holy names receives lashings. A prefix to the Name (e.g. ba
'Hashem' or la'Hashem
) may be erased; however, a suffix such as "chem"
at the end of "Elokeichem"
may not be erased.
The use of the word "Elokeichem" in describing the attachment of the Jewish people to Hashem emphasizes that the connection is like the "chem" added as a suffix, which receives the holiness of the Name itself, and which, thus, may never be erased. Likewise, the Jewish people will never be erased, G-d forbid, but will live forever.
"See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances, as G-d, my G-d, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you come, to possess it." (4:5)
QUESTION: Instead of "bekerev ha'aretz" — "in the midst of the land" — it could have just said "ba'aretz" — "in the land"?
There are people who properly observe Torah and mitzvot
at home, but when they are with friends or business associates, they make compromises. Some people maintain an observant home as long as they live in an observant community, but when they move to a modern "progressive" neighborhood, their home may lack Torah true orientation.
Moshe told the people, "I have conveyed to you Hashem's Torah and you are to live in accordance to it 'bekerev ha'aretz' — even when you will be in the midst of the land — not only in the confines of your home or neighborhood, but also when you are in the company of non-observant people or in a secularly oriented neighborhood." Regardless of where a Jew lives or with whom he comes in contact, he must adhere tenaciously to his Torah convictions and conduct himself accordingly.
"Beware for yourselves... and you make yourselves a carved image, a likeness of anything, as G-d, your G-d, has commanded you." (4:23)
QUESTION: The words "asher tzivecha Hashem" — "as G-d has commanded you" — can be misleading. Should not the pasuk have said, "as G-d has commanded you not to do"?
is a lifeless image carved into wood or stone. The Torah thus warns us not make a pessel
out of what Hashem commanded us to do, but to learn Torah and perform mitzvot
with warmth, vigor, and vitality.
"From there you will seek G-d, your G-d, and you will find Him." (4:29)
QUESTION: Why does the pasuk start "uvikashtem" — "you will seek" — in the plural and concludes "umatzata" — "you will find" — in the singular?
While it is permissible for one to pray individually, our sages (Berachot
8a) have emphasized the importance of praying with a quorum of ten men (minyan)
. Praying in a group is known as "tefillah betzibur."
The word "tzibur"
is an acronym for Tz
addikim (righteous), Bei
nonim (intermediate), and Re
One who prays individually is under much scrutiny in Heaven, but when he prays together with a group, even one who is a "rasha" can successfully "sail through" on the merit of the other congregants. The Torah alludes to this by telling us, 'uvikashem' — 'if you do your seeking together with the public' — and not individually, be assured that 'umatzata' — 'you will find' — that is, receive your desires from Hashem.
"From there you will seek G-d, your G-d, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." (4:29)
QUESTION: Since the pasuk says "uvikashtem" — "and you shall seek" — in the plural — instead of "umatzata" — "and you will find" — in the singular — it should have said "umatzatem" — in plural?
18a) says that two people may be ill with the same malady, or up for judgment for the same crime, but still only one will arise from his sickbed healthy, and only one will escape punishment. Why were one person's prayers answered and not the other's? The reason is that the one who was answered prayed with kavanah
— proper thoughts and concentration.
Our pasuk is alluding to this thought by telling us "uvikashtem" — many people may seek Hashem's help and intervention — but the reason why "umatzata" — you will find it — is "ki tidreshenu bechal levavcha" — "you searched for Him with all your heart."
"Then Moshe set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan, toward the rising sun." (4:41)
QUESTION: Instead of the future tense "az yavdil Moshe," — then Moshe will set aside — it should have said az hivdil Moshe — then Moshe set aside?
When the Jews came to Eretz Yisrael
, there were six cities of refuge: three on the eastern side of the Jordan, and three in Eretz Yisrael
proper. When Mashiach
will come, the territory of the Jewish people will be expanded to include the land of Kenites, Kenizites and Kadmonites and an additional three cities of refuge will be designated (19:8,9).
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) says that there is an allusion to the resurrection of the dead written in the Torah (Shemot 15:1) because instead of saying "az shar Moshe" — "then Moshe sang" — it says "az yashir Moshe" — "then Moshe will sing." Similarly it could be said that our pasuk was written in the future tense to hint to us that when Mashiach will come and the resurrection of the dead takes place, Moshe will set aside three additional cities of refuge.
It is interesting to note that the Yalkut Shimoni (829) draws a parallel between our pasuk, which says "az yavdil" — "then Moshe will set aside" — and the pasuk, "az yashir Moshe" — "then Moshe will sing," and learns from it the following: When Hashem told Moshe to set aside cities of refuge, Moshe asked, "why?" Hashem told him, "in the event one kills a person unintentionally he shall run to them." Moshe said, "If so, I have to sing (I can personally appreciate this concept) because this also happened to me, I killed the Egyptian [and fled to Midian]" (see Midrash Rabbah 2:27).
"This is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel." (4:44)
QUESTION: The preceding pesukim discuss Moshe's setting aside three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan. What is the connection between this pasuk and establishing cities of refuge?
Many people are reluctant to start things which they do not expect to complete. However, our sages teach us that if a mitzvah
comes to hand, "al tachmitzenah"
— "do not allow it to become 'leavened' by delaying its performance" — that is do as much of it as you can, although you may not be the one to ultimately complete it (see Shemot
12:17, Rashi). This also implies that one should do as much of it as you can though you may not be the one to ultimately complete it. For example, King David knew that he who would not build the Beit Hamikdash
, yet he amassed gold in order to facilitate its eventual completion. (See I Chronicles 22.)
In addition to the three cities of refuge that Moshe designated, an additional three were to be established after the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael. Since the three in Jordan did not serve as refuge until the three in Eretz Yisrael were established (Makkot 10a), one might suppose that Moshe would be reluctant to prepare the first three cities. Nevertheless, he did whatever part of the mitzvah he could do, although he would not be the one to ultimately complete it (see Rashi 4:41).
The Torah is telling us that, "This is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel." With the act of setting aside the three cities which, at the time served no purpose, he taught an important lesson to Klal Yisrael regarding Torah and mitzvot: Always endeavor to do good deeds and mitzvot, even if you know you will not complete them and receive the full credit.
Alternatively, when the Jews were in Eretz Yisrael, the cities of refuge would protect someone who killed his fellow unintentionally. Even the one who committed premeditated murder would run to these cities of refuge and be protected until he was brought before the beit din for trial (see Makkot 9b).
Once the Jews were exiled, they no longer had cities of refuge. However, our sages (Makkot 10a) tell us, "Divrei Torah koltin" — "The study of Torah provides refuge." Hence, one who committed a transgression intentionally or unintentionally, thereby causing spiritual damage to his soul, can heal it and find refuge for it by entering into Torah study.
By juxtaposing Moshe's setting aside the cities of refuge with the words, "Vezot haTorah asher sam Moshe lifenei B'nei Yisrael" — "This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel" — the Torah is alluding that Torah study provides refuge from the spiritual harm caused by iniquities.
"I was standing between G-d and you." (5:5)
QUESTION: Instead of "anochi omeid" — "I was standing" — Moshe should have said "amadeti" — "I stood"?
5a) says that Hashem so despises arrogant people that He cannot dwell together with them. Moshe is telling the people that when Hashem descended upon Mt. Sinai He became united with the Jewish people through Torah. However, they must always remember that "anochi"
— "I" — being egoistic and conceited — "omeid"
— "stands" — is a barrier — between a person and Hashem.
A chassid once visited his Rebbe and spoke very arrogantly about himself. The Rebbe looked sternly at the chassid and said to him, "The prophet says 'Im yisateir ish bamistarim va'ani lo arenu ne'um Hashem' — 'Can any man hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? says Hashem' (Jeremiah 23:24). I suggest that the prophet's message can be read as follows: 'Im yisateir ish bamistarim va'ani' — if a person thinks he can hide himself and dwell on 'ani' — 'I' — I am a scholar, I am righteous, etc., — then 'lo arenu ne'um Hashem' — Hashem says 'I do not want to see this person.'"
Upon hearing the Rebbe's words, the chassid fainted. After he was revived, he asked the Rebbe how to rectify his improper behavior, and the Rebbe said, "The prophet is also teaching us, 'Im yisateir ish bamistarim va'ani lo' — 'if a person hides in secret and the "I" does not exist' — that is, he is humble and unassuming — then arenu ne'um Hashem' — 'Hashem says: This person I want to see.' "
"You shall not take the Name of G-d, your G-d, in vain." (5:11)
QUESTION: The Gemara (Shavu'ot 39a) says the entire world trembled when Hashem said, "You shall not take the Name of G-d, your G-d, in vain." What message was the Torah conveying that caused the entire world to tremble?
A story is told of a group of brothers who came to America and went into business together. A few years after arriving, they arranged for their parents to emigrate. The father was a pious, G-d fearing Jew, with a beard, peiyot
, and chassidic
garb. After a short time, the father shaved off his beard and peiyot
, and traded his chassidic
garb for modern attire. Puzzled by their father's behavior, they consulted his Rabbi.
When the Rabbi asked the father why he changed so drastically, he told him the following, "My sons have a large meat market. They had me sit at a table in the market and when people saw me, it encouraged them to make their purchases with confidence that everything is kosher. However, I soon realized that the meat they were selling was not kosher and they were using me to deceive the public. I therefore decided to shave off my beard and peiyot, so that my beard and peiyot, which represented my Yiddishkeit, should not help them sell non-kosher meat."
Unfortunately, throughout history, the nations of the world have persecuted and tortured Jews under the guise of doing it for the "sake of Heaven (G-d)." They claimed that the Jews are to be blamed for society's problems and deserve to be oppressed. Also, among Jews it is common for one person to hurt another while claiming that it is a "mitzvah" to do so.
Hashem's command "Do not mention My Name in vain," may be interpreted as, "Do not exploit My 'Name' " — Torah and religion — as a means of justifying your iniquities. Do not attempt to cover them up with a veil of righteousness and virtue.
This poignant Divine message put a shiver through everyone, and the entire world trembled in fear.
"Safeguard the Shabbat day to sanctify it, as G-d, your G-d, has commanded you." (5:12)
QUESTION: Rashi writes that the phrase "as G-d has commanded you," means that the command to safeguard the Shabbat was already given at Marah (see Shemot 15:25). Why in the repetition of the Ten Commandments is it necessary to inform us that this commandment was already previously given?
Resting one day a week makes sense to many people, since even a machine needs rest, and how much more so a human body. Moreover, thanks to the rest period, the person functions better when he works, compensating for any loss caused by the day of rest. While this makes sense, Shabbat
was not given to the Jewish people as a mere day off. In the wilderness the Jews did not have to work to earn a livelihood since their food and all their basic needs were provided. Nonetheless, at Marah, Hashem already gave them the commandment of Shabbat
In our pasuk Moshe is addressing the Jewish people immediately prior to their entering Eretz Yisrael, where they would have to engage in mundane tasks in order to earn a livelihood. Therefore, he is telling them, "We do not rest on Shabbat because we need to recuperate from our tedious labor, but because it is a holy day and reminds us of the Omnipotent Creator and Master of the universe, and of the miracles Hashem performed on our behalf in Egypt. This holy day must be sanctified and utilized as a time of Torah study and prayer."
"Safeguard the Shabbat day to sanctify it... You shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt..." (5:12, 15)
QUESTION: In the Amidah (Shemoneh Esreih) of Shabbat there is a prayer, "Yismechu bemalechutecha Shomrei Shabbat" — "Those who safeguard the Shabbat shall rejoice in Your kingship." Why, in the Nusach Ari Siddur, in the Amidah of Maariv and Musaf does it conclude with the words "zeicher lema'asei bereishit" — "a remembrance of the work of creation" — which are omitted in Shacharit?
There is a twofold purpose for the observance of Shabbat
- To remind us that Hashem created the entire world in six days and rested on the seventh day.
- To remind us that we were freed from Egyptian bondage by Hashem in order to keep His commandments.
The command to observe the Shabbat
was first given to the Jewish people when they encamped in Marah, prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. (See Shemot
56b.) The commandment for Shabbat
in Marah and in the first version of the Ten Commandments is to commemorate the creation of heaven and earth in six days (see Shemot
20:8). In the version of the Decalogue in Devarim
, the explanation for observing the Shabbat
is to remember our slavery and exodus from Egypt.
Consequently, in the evening Amidah when we say, "You have consecrated the seventh day for Your Name's sake, for the purpose of the creation of heaven and earth...The heaven and earth and all their hosts were completed..." we appropriately conclude, "You called it the most desirable of days, 'zeicher lema'asei bereishit' — 'a remembrance of the work of creation.' "
The middle blessing of the Shabbat Shacharit Amidah starts with, "Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion...as he stood before You on Mount Sinai and brought down two Tablets on which is inscribed shemirat Shabbat — the observance and safeguarding of Shabbat." The prayer continues "Veshameru b'nei Yisrael et haShabbat" — "And the children of Israel shall safeguard the Shabbat..."
In the two versions of the Ten Commandments different terms are used in reference to Shabbat. In Shemot it says "zachor" — "remember the day of Shabbat" — and in Devarim it says "shamor" — "safeguard the day of Shabbat." Since in the Shacharit Amidah the concept of shemirat Shabbat — safeguarding the Shabbat — is emphasized, obviously it is referring to the version in Devarim in which "shamor" is used. And in the Ten Commandments in Devarim, the explanation for Shabbat is the commemoration of the slavery and exodus from Egypt. Thus, the words "zeicher lema'asei bereishit" — "in remembrance of the work of creation" — are omitted.
In the Musaf prayer there is a discussion of Hashem's establishing the Shabbat and it says, "az miSinai nitztavu" — "already before Sinai they were charged with the precept concerning its proper observance." Since the commandment at Marah was in order to commemorate creation, it is appropriate to conclude "zeicher lema'asei bereishit" — "in remembrance of the work of creation."
"Honor your father and mother as G-d, your G-d, has commanded you." (5:16)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that, "as G-d has commanded you," means that the commandment to honor parents was first given at Marah (see Shemot 15:25). Why is it necessary to tell us this in the Ten Commandments?
Many mistakenly interpret the commandment of honoring parents as reciprocation for the care the parents bestowed upon their children. Torah, however, regards this as an erroneous rationale.
In the wilderness, everyone, young and old, children and parents, were sustained through the manna which fell from heaven. Their clothes miraculously grew with them and were cleaned and pressed by the clouds of heaven. The parents did not have to work to earn a livelihood in order to be able to provide for their children. Nonetheless, under such circumstances Hashem commanded the honoring of parents. Thus, honoring parents is not an act of reciprocity in which the parents are "paid back" by the children, but even when parents do nothing for their children, they must be honored merely because of who they are.
"You shall not kill." (5:17)
QUESTION: When studying Torah alone the word is read "tirtzach" with a "patach." In communal reading (keriat hatorah) the word is pronounced with a "kamatz." What is the significance of the two pronunciations?
22a) explains that the pasuk
, "Ki rabim chalalim hipilah"
— "For she has felled many victims" (Proverbs 7:26), refers to a disciple who has not attained the qualifications to decide questions of law, but nevertheless decides them. "Ve'atzumim kol harugehah"
— "The number of her slain is huge" — refers to a disciple who has attained qualifications to decide questions of law and does not decide them. ("Atzumim"
is from the root word of "otzem"
— "closed up.")
In order to pronounce a "patach" one has to open his mouth wide, and the word "patach" is similar to the word "petach" — "opening." To pronounce a "kamatz," (in the Ashkenazi pronunciation) by comparison, one has to form a more closed mouth shape, and the word "kamatz" is like the word "kemitzah" — "closing."
With the different vowels the Torah is alluding to other forms of killing in addition to the physical murder. The "patach" is a reference to the one who opens his mouth and says the wrong thing, and the "kamatz" is for the one who keeps his mouth closed when he is really qualified to take a stand on an issue. Either way, irreparable harm can be committed.
"Who can assure that this heart should remain theirs, to fear Me and observe all My commandments all the days." (5:26)
QUESTION: The word "lahem" — "theirs" — is superfluous?
The Midrash Rabbah
34:10) says that "The wicked stand in subjection to their heart, but the righteous have their hearts under their control." The heart is the source of desires and passions, which the wicked are not able to resist, but which the righteous withstand.
The evil inclination attempts to distract man from fearing Hashem and observing His commandments. Therefore, the Torah advises those who wish to overcome temptation that "vehaya levavam zeh lahem" — "this heart should be theirs" — controlled by them and not controlling them.
"Hear O Israel G-d is our G-d, G-d is the One and Only." (6:4)
QUESTION: Instead of "shema" — "hear" — it should have said "da" — "know, understand"?
The word "shema"
is an acronym for Se'u Marom Eineichem
— "raise your eyes on high." [To whom?] To Sha-dai Melech Olam
— A-mighty King of the world. [When?] Shacharit, Minchah, Arvit
— morning, afternoon, and evening. One who heeds this dictum will merit to acquire Ol Malchut Shamayim
, absolute submission to the yoke of heaven.
The Jewish people are sometimes referred to as B'nei Yaakov and sometimes as B'nei Yisrael. The name "Yaakov" stems from the word "akeiv," which means "a heel" and the name "Yisrael" is connected to the word "rosh" — "head." ("Yisrael" can be rearranged to spell "li rosh.") When the Jews are on a low spiritual level, they are called "Yaakov." When they elevate themselves to a higher level, they deserve the title "Yisrael."
Rabbi Shmuel Schneerson, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, once told a chassid in a private audience that Shema — se'u marom eineichem — "raise your eyes on high" — is the essence of Yisrael — the purpose of a Jew.
With this he meant, that when a Jew says the Shema with every fiber of his being, that is, meditates on the greatness of the Creator, he thereby elevates himself and becomes worthy of being called Yisrael.
"Hear O Israel G-d is our G-d, G-d is the One and Only... and when you lie down" (6:4,7)
QUESTION: The first mishnah in Berachot asks, "Mei'eimatai korin et hashema be'arvit" — "At what time may the evening Shema be recited?" — and answers, "From the time a Kohen who was defiled is permitted again to eat terumah." Why does the mishnah link the recital of Shema with the Kohen's eating terumah instead of simply saying, "From the time of tzeit hakochavim — when stars appear in the sky"?
Reciting the Shema
is a mitzvah
in the category of bein adam laMakom
— between man and G-d. In the Shema
a Jew declares his "kabalat ol malchut shamayim"
— acceptance of the yoke of heaven — and declares the Oneness of Hashem. Unfortunately, there are some very pious Jews who are meticulous in their relationship with Hashem, but are lacking in their inter-human relationships. The mishnah
is, therefore, teaching us that before a person can pursue his relationship with Hashem, he must make sure that the Kohen
— the Jew who is dependent on others — has enough to eat for himself and his family.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, once said that ahavat Yisrael is superior to ahavat Hashem and it is the gate through which one can come and stand before Hashem to pray. In its merit the prayers of the individual are accepted.
"Hear O Israel G-d is our G-d, G-d is the One and Only... and when you lie down and when you rise up" (6:4,7)
QUESTION: Why is the Shema read in the evening and repeated again in the morning?
"Night" represents dark and difficult times and "day" represents good and pleasant periods. In the Shema
the Jew accepts upon himself absolute submission to the yoke of heaven. The recitation of Shema
in the evening and again in the morning is a message that under all conditions, regardless if things are good or difficult, pleasant or gloomy, a person should never forsake his attachment to Hashem.
The daily recitals of Shema start in the evening to emphasize that, while it is easy to praise Hashem when things are going well, one must also praise Hashem "in the evening" when things seem dark and difficult.
The first Mishnah of the Talmud begins with the words "mei'eimatai korin et hashema be'arvit" — "From what time may one recite the Shema in the evening?" A story is related that when Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritz, it was arranged for him to study with the Maggid's son, Rabbi Avraham, known as the "Malach" — "the Angel." Rabbi Shneur Zalman would teach Rabbi Avraham niglah — the revealed Torah — and Rabbi Avraham would, in turn, teach Rabbi Shneur Zalman nistar — the hidden, esoteric Torah teachings.
They began with Berachot, the first tractate of the Talmud and begins with the Mishnah "Mei'eimatai korin et hashema be'arvit." Rabbi Shneur Zalman explained it according to the simple meaning, "From what time may one recite the Shema in the evening?" Rabbi Avraham listened carefully and after meditating somewhat, he said that the word "mei'eimatai" stems from the word "eimah" which means fear and trepidation. This is the first tractate of Torah she'ba'al peh — the Oral Torah — which is studied with "havanah v'hasagah" — "human knowledge and understanding." Our sages have given us a directive at the very beginning of the Oral Torah that the proper approach to Torah study should always be "mei'eimatai" — "with fear of G-d" — just as the Torah was given "be'eimah u'beyirah u'bereset u'bezei'ah" — "in dread and fear and trembling and quaking" (see Berachot 22a).
A similar story is told about Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli who once approached Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg to teach him Torah. Rabbi Shmelke suggested, "If you teach me the esoteric teachings of Torah, I will teach you the revealed teachings of Torah," Rabbi Zusha agreed. Then Rabbi Shmelke asked him, "What would you like me to study with you?"
He replied, "Zusha is an 'am ha'aretz' — 'very illiterate.' Please start with Mishnayot and explain each word."
They started with the tractate of Berachot and Rabbi Shmelke explained "Mei'eimatai" — "From what time" [may one recite the Shema in the evening?]. Rabbi Zusha turned to him and said, "How do you know that 'mei'eimatai' means 'from what time'? Perhaps it means 'from fear,' that is, a Jew should recite the Shema permeated with fear of Hashem."
"Hear O Israel, G-d our G-d, G-d is the One and Only." (6:4)
QUESTION: Why is the Shema recited in the Kedushah of the Musaf Amidah on Shabbat?
There was a Persian king named Yusgader (see Zevachim
19a) who issued a decree forbidding the daily recital of the Shema
. In order that it not be forgotten entirely, the sages inserted it into the Kedushah
prayers. The Talmudic sage Rav Ashi prayed for the abolishment of the decree, and miraculously a crocodile appeared in the king's bedroom and swallowed him up in broad daylight, and the decree was nullified.
The recital of Shema was thus reinstated, and removed from the Kedushah of Shacharit. However, in order that this miracle be remembered, it was left in the Kedushah of Musaf, since there is otherwise no reciting of the Shema during the prayer. It is also not mentioned, however, in the Rosh Chodesh Musaf Amidah, because Rosh Chodesh is often on a weekday when the attendance for public prayer is not so large and there would not be such a publicizing of the miracle.
"You shall teach them to your children and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." (6:7)
QUESTION: It should have first said, "vedibarta bam" — "you shall speak of them" and then "veshinantam levanecha" — "you shall teach them to your children"?
It is the fervent wish of all parents to see their children immersed in Torah study. The Torah therefore tells us, "veshinantam levanecha"
— if you want to teach Torah to your children and inspire them to study it diligently, the way to do this is through, "vedibarta bam"
— "you shall speak of them" — when they see you studying Torah "when you
sit in your house and when you
go on the way and when you
lie down and when you
rise up," they will be encouraged to do likewise.
Parents must always remember that they are a model for their children and that their children try to emulate them.
The Written Torah starts with the word "Bereishit" — "in the beginning." The Oral Torah starts with the word "Mei'eimatai" — "From what time." Thus the first letters of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah spell the word "bam" — "in them." Hashem's instruction is that at all times one should be engaged in "bam" — the Written and Oral Torah.
"And you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." (6:7)
QUESTION: What is the significance of these four periods of Torah study?
In Torah study itself there are many gradations, and all these gradations are explained here:
"When you sit in your house," refers to the soul's occupation with Torah when it is in the treasury of souls, before its descent to this lowly world.
"When you go on the way," refers to the time during which the soul descends from world to world, from plane to plane, until it comes down to this lowest world to be invested in a physical body. There the soul "goes in the way" of this world until the time of old age, until —.
"When you lie down," — when man's appointed time arrives to leave this earthly world. Then, too, the Torah will protect him as explained in Avot (6:9), and continues to do so until —
"When you rise up," — Techiyat Hameitim — the resurrection, as it is said, "When you awaken [it shall be your discourse]" (Proverbs 6:22).
"You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and they shall be frontlets between your eyes." (6:8)
QUESTION: The prayer of Tachanun is omitted on holidays and also when a wedding or brit is celebrated. Why is it not omitted on the day when one becomes Bar-Mitzvah?
It is stated in Scriptures, "But man is born for toil" (Job 5:7). The Gemara
99b) explains that this means, "Man is created for the toil of Torah, for ceaseless review of one's learning." One of the major distinctions between holidays and weekdays is that on holidays work is forbidden, and on weekdays it is not only permitted but encouraged.
When a boy searches Bar-Mitzvah age, he becomes a full-fledged member of Klal Yisrael, who is obligated to study Torah and perform all the mitzvot. The saying of Tachanun on the day of the Bar-Mitzvah indicates that a Bar-Mitzvah does not initiate a period of relaxation and recreation, but from then on commences the obligation for "active work" in the field of Torah and mitzvot, serving Hashem with all one's heart and soul.
"They shall be frontlets between your eyes." (6:8)
QUESTION: Rashi explains, "Because of the number of 'parshiyoteihem' — 'their [Torah] portions' — they are termed 'totafot,' and the word 'totafot' indicates four, since 'tat' in Coptic is 'two,' and 'fot' means 'two' in African." The identical word "totafot" appears also in Shemot (13:16), and Rashi offers the identical explanation, but with a slight variation. "The word 'totafot' was chosen because it alludes to the four 'batim' — 'compartments' — of the head — tefillin."
Why does Rashi change from "batim" — "compartments" — in Shemot, to "parshiyot" — "portions" in Devarim?
Both the hand tefillin
and the head tefillin
contain four parshiyot
of the Torah. The first two are from Shemot
, "Kadeish Li kal bechor"
— "Sanctify to Me every firstborn..." (Shemot
13:1-10), and "Vehaya ki yevi'acha..."
— "It shall come to pass when G-d will bring [you to the land of the Canaanites]" (ibid. 13:11-16). The second two are from Devarim, "Shema Yisrael"
— "Hear O Israel" (6:4-9), and "Vehayah im shamo'a"
— "It will be that if you hearken" (11:13-21). The difference is that the hand-tefillin
consists of one compartment and all four portions are written together on one piece of parchment, while in the head-tefillin
they are written on separate pieces of parchment and placed in individual compartments.
The Torah which Hashem conveyed to the Jewish people through Moshe was compiled over the forty-year sojourn of the Jewish people in the wilderness. The first two parshiyot of the tefillin, which are in Shemot, were given at the beginning of the forty-year period, and Devarim was compiled at the end of the forty years, immediately prior to Moshe's passing. Thus, when they were told in Shemot, "It shall be a sign upon your arm and frontlets between your eyes," the tefillin only contained two portions, and these were the tefillin that the Jewish people wore throughout the forty years of the wilderness. If so, to explain why they were called "totafot," which alludes to the number four, Rashi says, "Because of the four 'batim' — 'the compartments.' " Two compartments contained a portion of the Torah, and the other two were empty.
Once the Jews reached the end of the forty years and learned of the other two parshiyot, the Torah again instructed them, "They shall be for frontlets between your eyes," and Rashi now explains that the word "totafot," which alludes to the number four, refers to the four separate parshiyot contained in the tefillin.
In the two parshiyot of the tefillin taken from Shemot, "Kadeish" and "Vehayah ki yeviacha," it says "Vehayah le'ot al yadecha u'letotafot bein einecha," and the word "vehayah" — "it shall be" — is in the singular (13:9,16). In the other two parshiyot of the tefillin, "Shema" and "Vehayah im shamo'a," it says "vehayu letotafot" — "and they shall be for frontlets" in plural (Devarim 6:8, 11:18). Why the inconsistency?
The reason for this change is the following: Only the parshiyot in Shemot mention Yetziat Mitzraim — the exodus from Egypt — but not the two parshiyot of Shema. The word "vehayah" — "it shall be" — in the singular refers to Yetziat Mitzraim, and is instructing that it, — the remembrance of the exodus of Egypt — shall be placed in the tefillin upon your arm and head. However, the words "vehayu letotafot" — "they shall be for frontlets" — are a reference to the four parshiyot which were in the tefillin from the fortieth year of the sojourn in the wilderness and thereafter, and therefore "vehayu" is in the plural.
"Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes." (6:8)
QUESTION: There is a Midrash Peliah — wondrous Midrash — that says, "Ein manichin tefillin ela baShabbat" — "Tefillin are worn only on Shabbat." How does this coincide with the halachah (Orach Chaim 31:1) that tefillin may not be worn on Shabbat?
As part of the service in the Beit Hamikdash
, the Levites would chant a special Psalm every day that was suited to that day (see Mishnah, Tamid
7:4). As a remembrance of this, at the end of the morning prayers, we recite the "Shir Shel Yom"
— "Song of the Day" — and preface it with the sentence, "Hayom yom rishon baShabbat, Hayom yom sheini baShabbat"
— "Today is the first day of the Shabbat
, today is the second day of the Shabbat
, etc." On Shabbat
the introductory sentence is "Hayom yom Shabbat kodesh"
— "Today is the holy Shabbat
The Midrash is saying that tefillin are worn only baShabbat on the weekdays when we say "baShabbat," but not on Shabbat day when we say "Hayom yom Shabbat kodesh" — "Today is the holy Shabbat day" — and not "Hayom yom shevi'i baShabbat" — "Today is the seventh day of the Shabbat."
"And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates." (6:9)
QUESTION: What is the significance of the shin on the exterior of a mezuzah and why is the mezuzah affixed to the doorpost in a slanted position? (See Yoreh Dei'ah 289:6.)
On the exterior of every mezuzah
is a "shin"
which connotes Hashem's name Sha-dai
. This name is written on the mezuzah
because it is an abbreviation for "Shomer daltei Yisrael"
— "the Protector of the Jewish [doors] homes." The mezuzah
protects the home and its inhabitants not only when they are at home, but even when they are away. (See Yoreh Dei'ah
285:2, Zohar Vayikra
For a home to have the proper atmosphere, shalom bayit — harmony and peace — must prevail among all those who dwell in it, and this is achieved by promoting a spirit of cooperation. Putting the mezuzah on an angle instead of upright is thus a message that all those who enter the home must be willing to bend in conflicts with other people.
It is related that when the famous Onkelos, son of Kallonymos became a proselyte, it aroused the wrath of the Roman Emperor and he sent a group of Romans to influence him to change his mind. When they started disputing with him, he convinced them of the truth of his ideas, and they, too, became proselytes.
The emperor then sent another company of soldiers, ordering them to seize him without discussion. They had him in custody and were about to bring him before the emperor, when, leaving the house, he put his hand on the mezuzah and smiled. Asked for an explanation, he said, "It is the custom of the world that a king sits in his palace and his servants guard on the outside. Our King, the King of the universe, lets his servants sit inside, while He guards them." The soldiers were so impressed that they, too, became proselytes.
A prominent Jew named Artabun sent a precious stone as a gift to Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) and asked that he reciprocate with something of equal value. Rebbe sent him a mezuzah. Artabun was upset and sent a message to Rebbe, "I sent you an item which is priceless and you sent me an item which is worth very little." Rebbe responded, "It is worth more than anything you or I can desire. Moreover, you sent me something which I will have to protect, and I sent you something which will protect you at all times."
"Rather, so shall you do to them: Their altars shall you break apart; their pillars shall you smash; their sacred trees shall you cut down; and their carved images shall you burn in fire." (7:5)
QUESTION: The words "ki im" — "rather" appear to be superfluous. The pasuk could have started with the words "ko ta'asu lahem" — "so shall you do to them"?
Water has the ability to extinguish fire, but only when the two mingle together. However, if the water is near the fire, but not in it, the fire causes it to evaporate. The nations of the world are compared to water (see Song of Songs 8:17, Rashi), and the Jews to fire (Obadiah 1:18). When the Jews — fire — mingle with the nations of the world — water — the Jews are in danger of assimilation and turning away from the ways of Hashem, G-d forbid. However, if Jews separate themselves from the nations and maintain their unique identity, all the efforts of the mighty waters (nations of the world) cannot extinguish the fiery core of the Jewish soul.
The pesukim preceding this pasuk stress maintaining Jewish self-identity and avoiding intermarriage. Thus, the Torah concludes, "ki im — if only — ko ta'asu lahem — This you shall do to them" — i.e. if you will keep them distanced from you and not permit intermarriage — then you will be able to "destroy their altars" — all their attempts to assimilate you will evaporate.