"It will be when you enter the Land [Eretz Yisrael]." (26:1)
QUESTION: The word "vehayah" — "it will be" — seems extra?
The word "vehayah"
denotes happiness (Vayikra Rabbah
11:7). The Torah is teaching us that the Jews will experience true happiness when they are redeemed from exile and brought to Eretz Yisrael
. As King David writes, "When G-d will return the exiles of Zion... our mouths will be filled with laughter." (Psalms 126:2)
"That you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground... and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that G-d, your G-d, will choose, to make His name rest there." (26:2)
QUESTION: The Mishnah (Bikkurim ch. 3) describes in minute detail and picturesque language how these fruits were gathered, packed, and carried on the shoulders of the pilgrims all the way to the Holy Temple, and how the dignitaries greeted their brethren with music and song.
Bikkurim is included among the items that "ein lahem shiyur" — have no specified quantities (Pei'ah 1:1). One might observe this mitzvah by giving anything — one cluster of grapes, or a few dates or olives — for an entire orchard. Another contribution was ma'aseir sheini. This was also to be brought to Jerusalem, but quietly without pageantry and fanfare. No special tribute was paid to the farmer for his gift, and no music was played in his honor.
Why did the bringing of the first fruits arouse joy and excitement while the giving of tithes occurred without notice?
The farmer works very hard, tilling his land, pruning his trees, and trying to keep the insects from ruining his crops. Finally, after much anxiety and toil, he beholds the first ripe fruit. What joy floods his heart! He would like to taste the fruit or give it to his wife and children, but he cannot, for the first ripe fruits belong to Hashem. So he takes a blade of grass, ties it to the fruit and calls it "Bikkurim
." He then takes the fruit to the Beit Hamikdash
in Jerusalem, where special tribute is paid to him for having the strength of character and loyalty to Hashem to give even before seeing his full harvest.
Ma'aseir sheini, on the other hand, comes much later. At the conclusion of the harvest, when the produce of the land is stored safely in the storehouse, the tithe is given. Giving at so late a date, when the farmer's granaries and storehouses are packed to overflowing, does not deserve special recognition or tribute. It is a duty performed in accordance with the requirements of the law, but no more.
The lesson for us is; it is not how much one gives, but when and how.
"You shall take from the first of every fruit of the ground." (26:2)
QUESTION: Rashi writes, "A person goes down into his field and when he sees a ripe fig, he would wrap a 'gemi' — a blade of grass — around it, and declare, 'This is bikurim.' " Why particularly a gemi?
A farmer works hard plowing his field, tilling the soil, and seeding the ground. When he comes into the field and sees fruit beginning to grow, he may be carried away with his success thinking, "Kochi ve'otzem yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh"
— "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (8:17), and forget that the wonders of nature are in reality the works of Hashem.
The word "gemi" is an acronym for gedolim ma'aseh Hashem — "Great are the wonders of Hashem." When the farmer sees the toil of his hands reaching fruition and the fruit beginning to cover the ground, he should immediately tie a "gemi" to it — realize that it is the great work of Hashem and praise Him for it.
"And you shall come to whomever will be the Kohen in those days." (26:3)
QUESTION: The words "bayamim haheim" — "in those days" — seem superfluous. Obviously one can only come to a contemporary Kohen and not to one of a previous generation?
discusses bringing bikkurim
to the Beit Hamikdash
and giving it to the Kohanim
. Afterwards it discusses the giving of the tithes to the Levites. In contemporary times there are no Kohanim
or Levites serving in the Beit Hamikdash
. However, the Gemara
105b) says, "When someone brings a present to a talmid chacham
it is as though he brought bikkurim
The Rambam (Shemita V'yovel 13:13) writes "that it is not the tribe of Levi alone [that is dedicated to Hashem's service], but every person who dedicates himself to the service of Hashem is sanctified, and Hashem will be his everlasting inheritance and assure that he is provided for in this world, just as He has provided for the Kohanim and Levites." Consequently, the Torah scholars are the Kohanim of "bayamim haheim" — "in those days" — even when there is no Beit Hamikdash. Supporting them is equivalent to the bikkurim given to the Kohanim and tithes given to the Levites, and one may confidently demand that Hashem bestow His blessing in return.
"Then you shall call out and say... 'An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.' He ascended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became... G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong hand... He brought us to this place." (26:5-9)
QUESTION: According to Rashi the person bringing bikkurim mentions this "to recall the kindness of the Omnipresent." Why does he mention only these two things (Yaakov's encounter with Lavan, and the Jews stay in Egypt), and not other miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people, such as, the rescuing of Yaakov from Eisav, the crossing of the Red Sea, the victory over Amalek, supplying the Jewish people with manna and water during the forty year sojourn in the wilderness, etc.?
The obligation to bring bikkurim
commenced only after the Jews came to Eretz Yisrael
, conquered it, and divided it up (see Rashi). This implies that the purpose of bringing bikkurim
is not just to express our gratitude for receiving Eretz Yisrael
but also for the capability of dwelling there permanently in tranquility and enjoying its fruit in peace. Thus, to emphasize Hashem's great act of kindness, we cite in contrast, other places where we dwelled permanently for a considerable amount of time.
In those places such as Aram where Yaakov and his family dwelled for twenty years, and in Egypt where the entire Jewish people dwelled for two hundred and ten years, not only did we not enjoy peace and tranquility, but the native population wanted to destroy us. Fortunately Hashem with His great kindness saved us from their hands. Unlike these two, all other miracles and acts of kindness were not connected with permanent residency in a particular place, and are thus not mentioned now, because it would not demonstrate the contrast to our living permanently in Eretz Yisrael in peace and tranquility.
Rashi's explanation that the statement "An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather" refers to Lavan's pursuit of Yaakov does not contradict the above, but emphasizes that he pursued him for running away from his home in Aram where he wanted him to be at his ruthless disposal for more years. Moreover, since Lavan contemplated his chase after Yaakov while he was in Aram, he is charged as though he had carried it out in Aram, because regarding the nations of the world, Hashem considers their thoughts to be equivalent to deeds (see Jerusalem Talmud Pei'ah 1:1).
"An Aramean [Lavan] tried to destroy my forefather [Yaakov]. And he descended to Egypt." (26:5)
QUESTION: How did Lavan's evil intentions cause Yaakov to go down to Egypt?
When Yaakov came to the home of Lavan, he stated clearly that he was ready to work for him for seven years so that he could marry Rachel his younger daughter. Lavan fooled him and gave him Leah instead. After seven days of celebrating his marriage with Leah, he was given Rachel as wife and had to work an additional seven years. Leah was the first to bear children and afterwards Rachel gave birth to Yosef. Yaakov showed Yosef special love, and so the brothers were envious of him, finally selling him as a slave, which ultimately brought about Yaakov's descent to Egypt.
Had Lavan not fooled Yaakov and given him Rachel immediately, he would not have married Leah at all. Rachel would have been the mother of all his children and Yosef would have been the firstborn. Hence, his younger siblings would have had great respect for him, and no jealousy whatsoever would have prevailed.
"The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us." (26:6)
QUESTION: Instead of "vayarei'u otanu" — which literally means "they made us bad" — it should have said "vayarei'u lanu" — "they treated us badly"?
The Jewish people are exemplified by their character traits. They are known to be merciful, bashful, and kind (Yevamot
79a). In Egypt, under Egyptian bondage, the Jews were exposed to inhumane treatment, causing them to lose their unique instincts and emotions and ultimately transforming them into bad people. Thus, through affliction and hard labor — "vayarei'u otanu hamitzrim"
— the Egyptians made us
"He brought us to this place [Beit Hamikdash], and He gave us this land [Eretz Yisrael]." (26:9)
QUESTION: When the Jews left Egypt they spent forty years in the wilderness prior to entering Eretz Yisrael, and many years later they built the first Beit Hamikdash. Why does the pasuk reverse the order of events?
(19:4), Hashem says to the Jewish people, "You saw what I did in Egypt, I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to me." The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel
explains this to mean that on the eve on the fifteenth of Nissan
, when the Jews were commanded to eat the Pesach-
offering, He carried them on eagles' wings — clouds — and brought them to Mount Moriah, where the Beit Hamikdash
would be built, to eat their Pesach
-offering there. Later that night, He returned them to Ramseis. From there they left Egypt and traveled in the wilderness for forty years prior to entering Eretz Yisrael
Thus, the pasuk states the events in the correct chronological order in which they actually took place: First they were brought to "this place" (Beit Hamikdash) and many years later they were given "this land" (Eretz Yisrael).
"When you finish tithing... Gaze down from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel." (26:12,15)
QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 41:1) quotes the pasuk, "To You G-d hatzedakah — the righteousness — and to us is the shamefacedness" (Daniel 9:7), and explains it to mean that even when we give tzedakah, we are full of shame. The only time when we come with a strong demand is when we give our tithes, as the pasuk says, "When you finish tithing...Then you shall say... Gaze down from Your holy abode...and bless Your people Israel."
What shame does one experience in giving tzedakah?
10a) relates that the Roman governor Tornus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, "If Hashem loves the poor, why doesn't He support them?"
Rabbi Akiva answered that he is giving us an opportunity through which we shall be saved from the punishment of Geihinom.
"On the contrary," the governor said. "It is this that condemns you to Geihinom. I will illustrate this by a parable. An earthly king was angry with his servant and put him in prison, and ordered that he not get any food or drink. If someone gave him food and drink, wouldn't the king be angry? And you are called servants, as it is written, 'For the Children of Israel are servants to Me' " (Vayikra 25:55).
Rabbi Akiva answered, "I will illustrate the following parable. A king became angry at his son, put him in prison, and ordered that he not be given food or drink. If someone brought him food or drink, wouldn't the king send him a present when he found out? And we are called 'sons,' as it is written, 'Sons are you to G-d, your G-d' " (Devarim 14:1).
From this dialogue it is evident that the poverty-stricken person is someone who provoked Hashem's wrath and therefore became impoverished.
Consequently, when one gives tzedakah to a poor man, one experiences shame because it brings to mind that a Jew violated the Torah. However, the tithing to the Levites is not because Hashem punished them and made them poor, but because they are dedicated entirely to His service. Thus, it is our obligation and privilege to support such people, and we hope to see more people of their caliber. Hence, when we tithe, there is no shame, and we demand confidently, "Gaze down from Your holy abode, from the Heavens, and bless Your people Israel."
"Then you shall say before G-d, your G-d, 'I have removed the holy things from the house, and I have also given it to the Levite.' " (26:13)
QUESTION: The sages (Ma'aseir Sheini 5:10) call this statement made at the time of bi'ur — removal — "vidui ma'asrot" — "confession of tithes." Since "vidui" is usually associated with "confession of sins," why is this term applied to a statement of one's fulfillment of his obligation and careful observance of the laws concerning tithes?
Hashem's original intent was that the firstborn be the ones to serve Him. After the sin of the golden calf, this privilege and responsibility was transferred to the Kohanim
and Levites. Hence, had Israel not sinned, both terumah
would not have been given to the Kohanim
and Levites, but would have remained in each Jewish home, rightfully belonging to the firstborn of the household. Thus, the bi'ur
— removal — indicates that because of our sins and the wicked deeds of our fathers, the sacred service was denied to the firstborn (of Israel), who were originally deemed worthy to receive the terumah
. Since it is an acknowledgment of Israel's sin in worshipping the golden calf, this statement is called "vidui"
In the confession, one states "vegam natativ laleivi" — "I have also given to the Levite." The word "vegam" appears to be superfluous. It could have said "[I have removed the sacred things from the house] unetativ — and I have given it [to the Levite]." In this verse the word "gam" means "although," similar to "Gam hayiti halailah le'ish vegam yaladeti banim" — "Even if I should be this night with a man and even if I should bear sons" (Ruth 1:12).
Thus, in his confession, the Jew is saying, "Although I have given to the Levite — and my giving it to the Levite brings to mind the sin of the golden calf, and considering my transgressions and those of my ancestors as well, I may not be worthy to receive your blessings — nonetheless I beseech you, "hashkifah..." — "gaze down from Your holy abode and bless Your people."
A story is told about a wealthy, religious person who decided to give up his relationship with Hashem and sold his tallit, tefillin, and all holy items which he had in his house. At night he had a dream during which he continuously was shown the pasuk, "Bi'arti hakodesh min habayit" — "I have removed the holy things from the house." Puzzled, he went to the Rabbi for an explanation.
The Rabbi knew what the wealthy person had done, and told him that if he were to take the first letters of these four words, "Bi'arti hakodesh min habayit" — "I have removed the holy things from the house" — and put them together, it would spell the word "beheimah" — "animal." Thus, you dreamt at night about the way you acted by day.
"I have not transgressed any of Your commandments and I have not forgotten." (26:13)
QUESTION: What is the connection between giving ma'aseir — tithing — and not being forgetful?
The Midrash Rabbah
3:3) relates that Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair once visited a city where the mice were damaging the produce. The townspeople confronted him with their dilemma and he advised them to be extremely careful in giving ma'aseir
According to the Gemara (Horiot 13b), eating food which was nibbled by mice causes amnesia. Thus, the person is declaring: "Thanks to fulfilling the mitzvah of ma'aseir properly, I am sure that the mice did not attack my produce. Hence, when I eat it, I will not have to fear becoming forgetful."
"I did not give of it to [for the needs of] the dead." (26:14)
QUESTION: What is meant by "not giving to the dead"?
According to Rashi, it means that one did not use "ma'aseir sheini"
to purchase shrouds and a casket to bury a dead person.
The Ramban raises a difficulty with this because the Torah (14:25-26) states clearly that outside of Jerusalem the ma'aseir sheini may be exchanged only for money to be transported to Jerusalem, where it may be spent only on food. Thus, it is forbidden to expend it on items such as shrouds, so why bother to make such a declaration?
Rambam (Ma'aseir Sheini 3:10), offers an entirely different explanation: The fruits of ma'aseir sheini or items bought with the exchange money are to be used for human consumption, such as eating or drinking, or if it is oil it may be smeared into the flesh. However, the money of ma'aseir sheini cannot be used for the purchase of garments, utensils, etc.
That which is ingested internally is considered "live"; it sustains and enhances the life of a person. Any other expenditure which does not add to the sustenance of the body is considered a "dead" expense. With the above statement, the Jew is proclaiming: "I have followed the precepts of Torah and I did not spend any of my ma'aseir in a 'dead' way; I only bought food and the like."
Homiletically, it can be explained as follows: America is a country of chesed — kindness. The giving of charity is widely practiced and even encouraged by the government tax laws. Torah is the life-source of the Jewish people, and by supporting it one brings life and assures the continuity of our people. Unfortunately, some people give their charity to organizations whose goals are contrary to Torah and damaging to the interest of the Torah-observing Jew. Such organizations, instead of bringing life to the Jewish community, endeavor, G-d forbid, to extinguish it.
The Jew who comes to the Beit Hamikdash proudly proclaims that when I gave my charity, "Lo natati mimenu lameit" — I was careful to give it to causes which will enhance and bring life to the Jewish community and not to causes which will produce the reverse.
"You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah." (27:8)
QUESTION: Why on stone and not on any other material?
The great sage, Rabbi Akiva, was an illiterate shepherd up to the age of forty. He once came across a stone which water had dripped on for a long time, eventually boring a hole in it. From this he concluded that if water can penetrate a hard stone, surely Torah could penetrate his heart of flesh and blood (Avot DeRabbi Natan
By instructing Moshe to write the Torah on hard stone, G-d implied that even if a person possesses the poorest faculties (a head as hard as a rock), if he learns Torah diligently it will definitely have an indelible effect on him and refine him physically and spiritually.
"You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this Torah, well clarified." (27:8)
QUESTION: Rashi comments that the Torah was written in seventy languages. Where is there an indication of seventy languages in the pasuk?
In the study of numerology, known in Torah as gematria
, there are many different methods of calculation. One method is "cumulative calculation," in which the numerical value of the letter is added to the cumulative total numerical value of the letters preceding it.
Thus, the word "heitev" adds up to 70 as follows: hei=5, hei+yud, 10+5=15, tet+yud-hei, 9+15=24, beit+tet-yud-hei, 2+24=26. The total of 5+15+24+26 is 70. Consequently, the extra word "heitev" — "well clarified" — is an indication that it was "well clarified" by being translated into 70 languages.
Alternatively, there is a form of Gematria where the value of each letter of a word is multiplied by the amount of succeeding letters plus itself. Consequently, the hei, which is the first letter of the word "heitev" and which has the numerical value of five, is multiplied by the three succeeding letters in the word and itself, thus 4 x 5 = 20. The second letter is a yud, which has the numerical value of ten. From the letter yud till the end of the word there are three letters (yud, tet, beit), thus 10 x 3 = 30. The third letter tet has the numerical value of nine, and since there are two letters left (tet-beit), 9 x 2 = 18. The final letter beit has the numerical value of two, and it is the only letter left in the word, with no letters succeeding it; thus, 2 x 1 = 2. Consequently, with this method of Gematria the word "heitiv" adds up to 70 (20 + 30 + 18 + 2 = 70).
"Accursed is one who will not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them." (27:26)
QUESTION: Since it says "Arur asher lo yakum..." — "Accursed is one who will not uphold [the words of this Torah]" — is not the phrase "la'asot otam" — "to perform them" — redundant?
There are those who do not perform mitzvot
of the Torah and claim that they are good Jews since they are Jews at heart. The Torah is telling us that it is insufficient to merely respect and uphold the words of the Torah in one's heart. It is absolutely necessary and incumbent on everyone at all times, "la'asot otam"
— to actually perform them.
"All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you shall listen to the voice of G-d, your G-d." (28:2)
QUESTION: The word "vehisigucha" — "overtake you" — is superfluous?
Once a man was digging in front of the king's palace. A guard noticed what he was doing and asked him to explain his actions. The man replied that he had dreamt that there was a treasure buried in front of the king's palace and therefore had come to dig it up.
The guard said to him, "What you are doing is very foolish. For instance, I had a dream about a treasure buried under so and so's house — do you think that I will go to dig there?" Coincidentally, the name the guard mentioned was the man's own. Immediately, he ran home and dug under his house, and indeed there was a treasure there. The moral of the story is that at times people run all over seeking a treasure and do not realize that it is in their own back yard.
Often man does not realize what is really good for him. He may pursue silly goals, thereby fleeing from good fortune. Hashem is therefore promising us that His blessings will come upon us even if one attempts to run away from them: "Vehisigucha" — "they will overtake you" — and despite yourself, you will reap the benefit of Hashem's blessings.
Alternatively, often, as people become wealthier their piety weakens. Upward mobility may lead people to change communities, and the new neighborhood may be less compatible with Torah values than the old one. The new area at times lacks proper yeshivot, shuls, mikva'ot, etc., and this causes reduction in religious observance.
The word "hasagah" can also mean "understanding." Thus, the Torah is giving an added blessing that in addition to receiving all the material blessings you will be blessed with hasagah — understanding — "ki tishma bekol Hashem" — "that you continue to hearken to the voice of G-d."
"Blessed shall you be in the city." (28:3)
QUESTION: In the Gemara (Bava Metzia 107a) Rav says that this blessing means that one's house should be close to the shul.
Are all those who do not live close to the shul really lacking this blessing?
There are many people whose Torah observance is limited to the confines of the shul
. In shul
they conduct themselves very piously and are very friendly and congenial with everyone. Moreover, when a new shul
has to be built, they will insist that it be made strictly according to halachah
: There must be a proper mechitzah
between the men's and women's sections, the bimah
must be placed in the middle, and the Rabbi must be an authentic Torah scholar and a G-d fearing Jew. However, these same people's conduct at home leaves much to be desired. At times their kashrut
standards are not the highest, their Shabbat
observance needs improvement, and in general the atmosphere prevailing in the home is not permeated with Torah and mitzvot
Rav is teaching us that when a person's home is "close" (in spiritual proximity) to the shul, i.e. he conducts himself so that the holy atmosphere of the shul is also present in the home, he is indeed blessed.
The prophet says in the name of Hashem, "For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations" (Isaiah 56:7). In view of the above, his words can also be explained as follows: The nations of the world designate the house of prayer as a holy place, but their homes are mundane and lack spirituality. The prophet is informing us that Hashem will consider the home of a Jew as "beiti" — "My home" — if it will resemble what the nations of the world would call "a house of prayer" — a holy place.
"Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field." (28:3)
QUESTION: Why doesn't it simply state that you shall be blessed everywhere?
The patriarch Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav. Eisav was a skilled hunter and is described in the Torah as "ish sadeh"
— "a man of the field." On the other hand, Yaakov was a Torah scholar and is described as "yosheiv ohalim"
— "dweller in tents" — which means that he was a city dweller (Bereishit
Originally, Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav, but Yaakov managed to obtain the blessing instead. In response to his plea, Eisav was also blessed.
The Torah promises us that for listening to Hashem and observing His commandments one will merit all the blessings: Both those of "ba'ir," which were given to Yaakov — the city dweller — as well as those of "basadeh," which were given to Eisav — the man of the fields.
"Blessed shall you be when you come in." (28:6)
QUESTION: What shall be the blessing "bevo'acha" — "when you come in"?
57b) says that three things help a person achieve harchavat hada'at
— self esteem and contentment: 1) "Bayit na'eh"
— "a nice home." 2) "Ishah na'eh"
— "a nice wife." 3) "Keilim na'im"
— "nice vessels." The acronym for these three spell the word "bo'acha."
The Torah is promising us that if you will hearken to the voice of Hashem, then Baruch ata" — "You will be blessed bevo'acha — with "bo'acha" — a nice home, a nice wife, and nice vessels, and you will enjoy harchavat hada'at all the days of your life.
"Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you." (28:10)
QUESTION: Instead of the two words "veyar'u mimeka" — "they will revere you" — it could have said one word, "veyare'ucha"?
The actions of the individual Jew have an effect on the Jewish people at large. A single Jew's behavior can either cause a kiddush Hashem
— sanctification of Hashem's — or, G-d forbid, a chilul Hashem
— a desecration of His Name. When the peoples of the world see how the Jew conducts himself and how he is full of awe and reverence for his G-d, they, too, resolve to emulate him and fear and revere Hashem.
The pasuk is alluding to this fact by telling us, "all the peoples of the world shall see that the Name of Hashem is upon you," i.e. they will witness your respect and reverence for Hashem, then "veyar'u" — they too will begin to fear and revere Hashem, "mimeka" — through you.
This applies not only to Jews and the world at large but also among Jews themselves. The religious Jew is scrutinized by all other Jews, and when a flaw appears in his conduct, people make ridiculing remarks against Judaism and Torah. When the religious Jew's conduct is commendable, other Jews are impressed with the good influence Torah has upon the individual and often it encourages them to direct their lives according to the Torah.
"Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you." (28:10)
QUESTION: What is the Name of G-d that the nations will see upon us?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidut
, was imprisoned in Russia for disseminating esoteric Torah teachings. One morning a member of the judiciary committee, who happened to be Jewish, entered his cell. Upon seeing the Rebbe wearing his tefillin
, instead of becoming upset and angry, he left the room frightened and filled with awe. Later, he returned and asked the Rebbe to explain what had happened.
The Rebbe told him that the Torah says, "All the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you" and the Gemara (Berachot 6a) explains that this refers to 'tefillin sheberosh' — 'tefillin of the head' " Thus, when people see a Jew wearing Tefillin, they revere him. The officer then asked, "If that is so, why doesn't anyone fear me when I wear tefillin?"
To this the Rebbe replied, "The words of the Gemara — 'tefillin sheberosh' — are precisely chosen. It means, 'tefillin in the head.' When a Jew wears tefillin, they should not be merely 'al harosh' — 'on the head' — while the thoughts are elsewhere,' but 'sheberosh' — 'in the head' — i.e. the mind should be occupied with the significance of the tefillin. When the peoples of the world see a Jew wearing tefillin in such a manner, they revere him. Your tefillin are on your head, but not in your head."
"But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of G-d your G-d... And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as slaves and maid servants, but there will be no buyer." (28:15-68)
QUESTION: The tochachah contains frightening admonitions and curses that could befall the Jewish people, G-d forbid, for not observing Torah and mitzvot. What secret power is there in the tochachah to subdue and offset these potentially terrible events?
consists of 676 words. To offset this, the Tetragrammaton (Hashem's holy four letter name — yud-hei-vav-hei
which denotes rachamim
— mercy — has the numerical value of 26, and it is mentioned 26 times in the tochachah
. 26x26=676. With His mercifulness, G-d converts for His beloved children — Klal Yisrael
— bitter curses into sweet blessings.
King David alluded to the above in Psalms (34:20), when he stated: "Rabot ra'ot tzaddik umikulam yatzilenu Hashem" — "Many are the afflictions of a righteous person, but from all of them Hashem rescues him."
The tochachah in this parshah was said by the righteous Moshe Rabbeinu. To utter them he used 676 words, which is the numerical value of the word "ra'ot." Our salvation is that Hashem's Name of mercy, which has the numerical value of 26, is mentioned among these words 26 times, and this saves us from any harm.
"But it will be that if you do not hearken to the voice of G-d... then all the curses will come upon you." (28:15)
QUESTION: The word "vehayah" — "it will be" — seems superfluous, and also inappropriate since it is usually used to denote joy and happiness?
When Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi lived in Liozna, he was the ba'al koreih
— reader of the weekly Torah portion — on Shabbat
. Once, he was away for the week of Parshat Ki Tavo
, and someone else read in his stead. His son, Rabbi DovBer, who later succeeded him as leader of Chabad
, was not yet Bar Mitzvah
and fainted when the curses were read. He was so ill that it was questionable whether he could fast on Yom Kippur
. After being revived, he was asked why was he more affected now than in previous years. He replied: "When my father reads the Torah, one does not hear any curses."
To Rabbi Schneur Zalman the curses were not the ultimate Will of Hashem. On the contrary, Hashem loves His people and wants to shower them with blessings. These curses are only superficial; concealed in them are blessings which the Jewish people will eventually merit. Consequently, the term "vehayah" is appropriately used to emphasize the joy that will be experienced through these berachot.
An example of hidden blessings can be found in the following pasuk: "Shorecha tavu'ach le'einecha v'lo tochal mimeno, chamorecha gazul milefanecha v'lo yashuv lach, tzonecha netunot le'oyevecha ve'ein lecha moshe'a" — "Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat from it; your donkey will be robbed from before you, but it will not return to you; your flocks will be given to your enemies, and you will have no savior" (28:31).
When this pasuk is read backwards (from end to beginning), it is full of blessings:
"Moshe'a lecha ve'ein le'oyevecha" — "He will help you and not your enemies" — "yashuv lecha tzonecha netunot" — "Your flock which was given away will be returned to you" — "velo milefanecha gazul chamorecha" — "Your donkey will not be robbed from before you" — "mimeno tochal velo le'einecha tavu'ach shorecha" — "You will eat from it and your ox will not be slaughtered before your eyes."
"You will go mad from the sight of your eyes that you will see." (28:34)
QUESTION: What sight will you see?
In the admonition we read "you will betroth a woman, but another man will marry her. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat it. Your flocks will be given to your enemies, and there will be no one to save you. A nation unknown to you will devour the fruits of your ground, and you will be only cheated and down-trodden all the days." The admonition is directed equally to everyone. What affect will it have on the one who has no wife, no flocks, and no land?
Man has many enemies, but the worst are man's own thoughts and imagination. Through them he can haunt and torture himself endlessly. A wise man once said, "Tracht gut, vet zein gut" — "Think good and it will be good" — i.e. positive thinking will produce positive results. Unfortunately, more often people see the negative rather than the positive.
To such individuals the meaning of, "You will go mad from the sight of your eyes that you will see," is though you have none of the above, you will hallucinate that you have such possessions and that you are losing them. Such delusions can lead to complete madness.
"G-d will command the blessing for you in your storehouses and in your every undertaking." (28:8)
QUESTION: The word "itcha" — "for you" — is superfluous?
A person once sought a berachah
from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, and received it. Years later, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, succeeded his father-in-law as the leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, the person expressed to him his disappointment that the previous Rebbe's berachah
was not fulfilled. The Rebbe answered him that a berachah
is like rain. Rain is of value only when the farmer plows the ground, tills the soil, and plants seeds. Then, if Hashem showers the land with rain he may anticipate a bountiful harvest. But the farmer who neglects his land and just prays for rain is foolish because nothing will grow without effort.
The word "itcha" in our pasuk can be translated as "together with you." The Torah is telling us that Hashem will command His blessing "in your storehouses and in your every undertaking" providing there is "itcha" — your participation and sincere effort.
"All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you... all these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you." (28:2, 45)
QUESTION: Why in regard to the blessings is the word "vehisugucha" — "and they will overtake you" — written without a "vav," and with a "vav" in reference to the curses?
40A) says, "Machashavah tovah metzarfah lema'aseh"
— "A good thought is regarded as a good deed." Hence, if one contemplated fulfilling a mitzvah
and was unavoidably prevented from performing it, Scripture credits him as if he had fulfilled it. However, "Machashavah ra'ah ein Hakodosh Baruch Hu metzarfah lema'aseh"
— "If one contemplates sinning, Hashem does not regard the bad thought as a deed." Thus, Hashem will not punish one for a sinful thought alone, if it was not actually followed up with committing the sin.
With the missing "vav" in "vehisigucha" in regard to the blessings, Hashem is telling us that the blessings for observing Torah will come upon us even if our performance is incomplete. If only we had the good thought to do a mitzvah, though for some reason, beyond our control, we were unable to do it, we will merit His blessings. On the other hand, the "vav," which completes the "full" spelling of "vehisigucha" teaches us that the curses for violating Torah will come upon us, G-d forbid, only when our actions are complete, and not when the person merely contemplated sinning.
"Because you did not serve G-d, your G-d, amid gladness." (28:47)
QUESTION: Why is one punished so severely if one serves Hashem but is merely lacking gladness?
There are those, who due to uncontrollable circumstances cannot serve Hashem as they would like to, and are consequently filled with pain and remorse. On the other hand, there are those who audaciously violate the laws of the Torah and take pride in it. The Torah is speaking of the latter and saying that the admonitions will come, "Because you have not served G-d, your G-d," and instead of being remorseful, you were "besimchah"
— in a joyous mode — happy and proud of your behavior.
"Because you did not serve G-d, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart." (28:47)
QUESTION: According to the Midrash, the curse came upon the Jewish people for not properly enjoying the Shabbat. Where is there an indication of this in the pasuk?
The word "tachat"
literally means "under." If the letters of the alef-beit
are written in a vertical line starting with alef
on top, then beit
is under alef
, and taf
is under sin
, and shin
is under reish
. These three letters (beit, taf, shin)
can be arranged to spell the word "Shabbat."
The pasuk is hinting to us that the punishment will come, G-d forbid, since "tachat asher" — [on the day which is] under "asher" — i.e. "Shabbat" — you did not serve Hashem by celebrating it with gladness and goodness of heart.
"And any blow that is not written in this Book of Torah." (28:61)
QUESTION: According to a Midrash this refers to mitat tzaddikim — the passing of the righteous. How is this derived from the pasuk?
The prophet says, "Bechol tzaratam lo tza'ar"
(Isaiah 63:9). The word "lo"
is written with an alef
which means "no," and read with a vav
which means "to him." Thus, according to the written text, the prophet is saying, "In all the troubles [of the Jews], He was not troubled," and according to the way it is read, the prophet is saying, "In all their troubles, He was troubled," i.e. whenever the Jews experience a troublesome time, Hashem experiences it together with them.
The Gemara (Mo'eid Katan 25b) says, "When a tzaddik expires Hashem rejoices over the pure righteous soul which has come to Him." Thus, while Hashem Himself experiences all the troubles confronting the Jewish people, this is the one case in which He does not. Since the pasuk is referring to a blow "asher lo katuv besefer haTorah hazot" — "of which the word 'lo' with an alef is written in this Book of the Torah" — obviously it is referring to a blow for which Hashem does not share the agony of the Jewish people, namely, mitat tzaddikim — the passing of a tzaddik.
"You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance." (28:62)
QUESTION: Sometimes the number of the Jewish people is compared to the dust of the earth (Bereishit 28:14), and sometimes to the stars of the heaven (ibid. 15:5). Why, in our pasuk, is the analogy of the stars used?
The number of stars and the number of dust particles are both very large, but there is a major difference between them. The dust particles of the earth are mingled together and in close contact. The stars, however, are separated by vast distances. When there is unity among the Jews, they are compared to the dust of the earth, and when they are divided they are compared to the stars of the heaven.
The word "tachat" can also mean "because" as in, "tachat asher lo avadeta" — "because you did not serve..." (28:47). The Torah is saying, "You will be left few in number, tachat — because — you were [disunited] like the stars of the heaven."